A panel beater is a person who specializes in auto body repair. Restoring automobile body panels back to their original shape after a collision is a task for a panel beater. Many jobs such as repairing damaged chrome trim and aluminum grills is difficult, even for an experienced panel beater. Collision work is the primary duty of a panel beater, though many workers in this occupation choose to forgo the collision repair aspect of the job and focus on restoration only.
Typically required to work as an apprentice for several years, a panel beater is schooled in many crafts to best perform his job. Welding, metallurgy and painting technique are only a few of the many methods of repair that a panel beater must master. A good body repair technician must also posses some basic automobile mechanics traits. Often, automobile body panels must be removed from the vehicle in order to be worked on.
The skills of a panel beater are not limited only to automobiles. Many individuals specialize in motorcycles, exotic vehicles and even aircraft. It is very important that a body repair technician be knowledgeable in alloys since most aircraft are skinned exclusively with aluminum. Working with an English wheel, a metalworking tool that forms smooth curves in sheet metal, is a skill that should be mastered by anyone wishing to become an auto body repairman.
Oxyacetylene torch cutting, brazing and welding are also very useful skills for a repairman. A skilled auto body repairman uses his hands as much as his eyes. Being able to feel when a body panel is just right is a skill that must be learned through repeated trial and error. Working with a body hammer and a dolly, a good panel beater is able to stretch and shrink the metal body panels and make dents virtually impossible to detect.
Steel and aluminum are not the only materials that a skilled body technician must master. Fiberglass and composites such as carbon fiber and plastic are also used to create body panels. Working with body putty, different adhesives and fiberglass must be mastered in order to achieve certification. Disposal methods and treatment of toxic waste materials are also areas of certification testing.
One of the biggest expenses for a panel beater are tools. Specialty hammers, cutters and grinders are required, along with many other specialized tools of the trade. Safety equipment, such as protective eye wear and coveralls, are needed as well, along with gloves and boots. One benefit of the long apprenticeship is that it gives an up-and-coming panel beater time to purchase all of the equipment needed for the job.