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Nuts & Bolts: Getting Educated

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on November 10, 2016
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

I wasn’t sure where to write, but I have questions and you have answers. As you can probably tell by the envelope, I am currently an inmate. I didn’t hurt anyone, but I made the poor choice of using drugs and got caught with some. I have served three years and hope to be out in one more, and yes, I’ve learned my lesson for sure!

I have collected Jeeps and been into rebuilding and fabricating them. While here I have completed an 18-month Autocad course and I currently work in the auto maintenance shop doing repairs on prison vehicles and farm equipment. We even do some welding and metal fabrication. Do you have any suggestions on reading materials you could send me on building a buggy? Any information for fabricating parts for Jeeps and other vehicles? I was in the process of rebuilding two CJs and am wanting to convert one of them into a buggy, especially now that I know Autocad. Any info, literature, or technical resources you can provide would be appreciated. It’s crazy how few programs they offer us to learn a trade, and most of the knowledge I’ve gained is through my own research. It’s amazing how many low-risk inmates are housed here with no job or educational trade offerings. It would be great if places would donate trade-learning materials to prisons. Many of us are eager to learn and better ourselves, but we don’t have many resources.
Tyler P.
Address withheld

It sounds like you have tried to make the best of your time. Knowing Autocad is a great step toward improving your goals. It is difficult to imagine a world without the internet, even though almost everyone on staff here remembers a time when it didn’t exist. While the web is certainly a valuable source of good information, there’s also a ton of misinformation out there, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Books may seem old-school to some people, but generally speaking, someone who managed to get a book published is going to be more of an authority on the subject than someone with a following on a forum. There aren’t any books dedicated to building off-road buggies that we’re aware of, but there are hundreds of books about chassis and suspension design for racecars out there. Lucky for you, much of the theory and geometry surrounding suspension design applies to any vehicle, whether it’s an Ultra 4 car or a circle track racer. Learning and understanding the fundamentals of suspension and chassis design is a great start. Though there are several excellent books out there, Chassis Engineering by Herb Adams is often recommended. Also, engineering icon Carroll Smith published several books that are considered valuable resources. Although some of the information in books might be a bit dated, having a good knowledge base can accelerate hands-on learning. The same goes for welding. Welding: Principles and Applications by Larry Jeffus and Welding Essentials by William L. Galvery are just a couple of good welding books that can provide an excellent foundation for practical welding knowledge.

Unfortunately, though, books will only get you part of the way there. As any fabricator will tell you, the only real way to learn is by doing. Your experience in the maintenance shop might be more valuable than you think. You should take every opportunity to learn about everything you can, whether it’s hydraulics, welding, or simple mechanical repair. Once you get out, you might consider enrolling in a welding program at your local community college because welding is really the foundation for most types of fabrication. Welders are also in high demand. Good ones can end up making very good money. Being a certified welder can also help open a lot of doors, both within and outside the automotive industry.

If you want to get serious and make a career out of automotive fabrication, you might consider going to a trade school. Wyotech is a well-known and respected school with campuses in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. There are several other good trade schools out there. In California there’s even one geared toward off-road vehicles and racing called The Fab School.

If your circumstances dictate being closer to home, then getting hired on at a local shop is always an option. Most shop owners will tell you that reliable, dedicated employees are rare, so focusing on being both of those will go a long way toward opening doors for you, often more so than knowledge or experience. The latter will come with time, and finding a good mentor can be invaluable.

If any companies or publishers are interested in donating educational trade materials, write us at and we’ll give you Tyler’s mailing address.

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