Willys Jeep: Tailgate Practice

In Jeep by J Michel MetzLeave a Comment

While I was waiting for the degreaser to work its magic (so to speak, this is the fourth time I’ve tried using degreaser to work it’s ‘magic’ and clean the grease from the engine, transmission, and drive shaft) I decided I was going to do a little practicing on the bodywork. I decided that it would be a good idea to start with something relatively small, and get used to some of the tools that I had purchased (or had access to).

So, I decided to begin with the tailgate.I actually have two tailgates, believe it or not. I had the one that came with the Jeep that I purchased in January, and another one came with some additional body parts that I had purchased from someone off craigslist for a song (I really only wanted the grille, the windscreen, and the hood, all of which were in much better condition than what my Jeep had, but it all came as a package deal, so oh well).

Deciding to begin with the crappy tailgate for practice, I decided to practice with the new ‘abrasive wheel’ that is supposed to be designed for large areas.

Practicing on the unusable tailgate

I’m glad that I did some practicing, because this actually wasn’t what I was expecting. What I was expecting was a much shinier surface, similar to the way that my other abrasive wheel worked:

Practicing with another abrasive wheel

Even so, practicing with the damaged tailgate was pretty straightforward, if a little slower than I expected with the smaller, tougher wheel, and I decided to move on to the ‘real’ tailgate:

The ‘real’ tailgate – before

This is not to say, of course, that this tailgate is perfect. As you can see on the sides, there is a pretty significant dent on both sides that need to be worked out, and there are a couple of possible options to use for this that I’m contemplating. A closer look at the hinges resulted in quite an amusing discovery, in fact.

One of the hinges looks pretty normal, with a little bit of surface rust that isn’t too problematic:

Workable hinge

The other side, however, turns out that it was put together with a coat hanger:


Well, that’s new!

I began by trying to work on the raised bits in the tailgate and attempted to work into the corners the best I could.

Raised bits

Nooks and Crannies

This was taking a bit longer than I expected, and I’m not sure how long these wheels are supposed to last. It appears that they really don’t last very long after all, because it was getting harder and harder to see a difference as time went on.

Eventually, though, it looked like things were starting to improve, and I was pleased that the metal was in better condition than I had feared at first.

Emerging from the rust…

Once the creases were addressed to the best of my ability, given the tools I had, I turned back to the original abrasive wheel and attacked the bulk of the tailgate side.

Radical difference!

Obviously, the 4.5″ wheel couldn’t get into the corners very well, however.

Corner case

Need to ‘get up in there’

All in all, getting to this point took much longer than I thought it would. After 2-and-a-half hours, I finally got to the point where I could take the tailgate to the TechShop to use the sandblasting equipment to get into the corners.

Off to the sandblaster

The sandblaster at the Techshop works, but it, too, is slow and limited. There’s not much room in the machine for pieces, but I was lucky that I could get the tailgate to fit. It took an extra half an hour to get into the corners, but I managed to get pretty good rust and paint removal.

I also managed to use an English wheel to help flatten the steel where some of the holes have been punched into the tailgate.

Bringing it home, I didn’t want it to flash rust again, so I painted it with some rust primer. So, a side-by-side “before and after” comparison:

The ‘real’ tailgate – before


Willys Logo

There is still some work to do. For instance, this is only one side of the tailgate! All in all, the whole process for this one side took 3 hours of pretty constant elbow-grease. To me, it looks better, and I’m happy that all in all this was a success (and that I didn’t break anything!).

While I painted it with the rust primer, I need to figure out how I’m going to take it to the next level. Do I use POR 15? If I powdercoat the tailgate, what kind of prep should I do/not do? This is the kind of thing that I honestly don’t know how it all works. Going through various websites show me several options, but not really going into the comparison of why you’d want to do one over another, or how they could possibly be used together.

If anyone has advice, feel free to let me know what you think.

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