John McGraw Jr. started down his career path early in life, to say the least. “My parents told me that I knew how to tighten and loosen bolts before I could talk,” he remembers.
McGraw’s father raised him around the dirt cars he raced. “As far as metal shaping background goes, it leads back to the dirt car stuff. They tear their stuff up every single night.” McGraw recalls the routine of hammering, straightening out dents, welding, “and just kind of learning how metal moves and how it works.”
As a kid, McGraw was drawn to the work and excited to build on the skills his father offered him. “He was just kind of teaching me the ways that he knew, just to give me something to do. He didn’t force it upon me, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why I like doing it.”
At 15, McGraw built his own separate shop. “It kind of just started out as a hobby. I used to do drag bike stuff and started slowly doing customer stuff and just as the time needed, added on to the shop. And it’s been added on about… three times. Now it’s looking like it’s time for number four.”
Now McGraw runs Flashback Kustoms out of that expanded shop. “It’s pretty much my entire livelihood. It’s what pays the bills. It’s what I enjoy… anything from metalwork, wiring, fabrication. [We] do a lot of Chevrolet C10 trucks, but we do more than just that.”
In this Baileigh Biography video, McGraw walks us around some projects, including a 1970 Monte Carlo with a custom firewall, fully powder-coated chassis, and QA1 suspension coilovers.
Displaying a C10 with custom firewall panels, McGraw promises, “it’ll be a pretty sweet ride when it’s done.” He shares his technique for creating those panels in-house: “Started with the CNC router, making our own bucks: sandwich a piece of 18 gauge steel in there, and then we use our Baileigh power hammer to make them. [Take] a flat upper die and basically just trace around it, and it kept the panel a lot flatter, smoother.”
McGraw also mentions a clever workaround to make a dimple for a windshield wiper seal. “It’s an oddball size. We tried all of our dimple dies. Even looked some up. They didn’t offer the size we needed, so we had to get a little creative. And we actually took the back side of a socket and used the bevel edge on that, got a piece of exhaust tubing, kind of put the two together, and ran a bolt and nut through there and [then] flared it ourselves.”
“Just using tools around the shop to make stuff as we go” is a winning strategy at Flashback Kustoms.
Beyond the works in progress, Mcgraw shows off his gleaming cobalt blue shop truck, a vehicle likely to turn heads wherever it cruises. “It was actually my high school truck. Obviously, it didn’t look like this in high school!” As part of that epic glow-up, McGraw used his Baileigh bead roller to create all the inner panels in the bed.
McGraw still has the legacy tools that “got us started,” including an 8-foot brake purchased from a retired light fixture maker. “I’m pretty sure half of this stuff I’m showing you is older than me, but it still works good to this day, still helps us make money.”
He harbors a special fondness for those well-used tools: “No matter how much new stuff we get and how big we get, we’re still going to hang on to the stuff that kind of got us where we are today.” Those machines live in a smaller room of the shop, side by side with some of the new Baileigh metal shaping equipment.
Baileigh machines deliver a major advantage in time saved. “All my Baileigh tools… they’ve been really good to us. They help speed stuff up. They’re a huge upgrade. Just the function of them is a lot faster, more production style.”
We captured McGraw’s thoughts on some of his Baileigh equipment.
Power Hammer MH-19 – McGraw has one of the most stylish power hammer saround, with full custom pinstripe designs done by hand. He names the power hammer as his favorite Baileigh tool: “Just because it’s so big and loud and it moves metal around like you wouldn’t believe.”
He praises the hammer’s versatility: “it pretty much can do all sorts of things. We have the English wheel attachment…. [W]e mainly do lots of firewall panels and stuff with it. We use it more as like a Pullmax-style hammer, but it’s capable of doing all sorts of stuff we need it to do.”
Shrinker Stretcher MSS-16F – “It gets us out of a bind a lot of times. I love it. It’s nice, small, doesn’t really take up a lot of real estate. Super handy for whether we’re trying to bend a channel whether we’re straight in a panel we made. It’s just a good universal tool.”
MPS-1 Manual Throatless Shear – “Super small, compact, bolts right to the table. [This] thing cuts metal like butter. It’s awesome.”
Metal Bench Press BP-10E – “[We] use it a lot… if we’re doing stamping type stuff on on material punching holes. It works really good for pushing out bushings and stuff on control arms. So we use it for a little bit more than what it’s intended to. But the ram is so much faster than your traditional H-frame hydraulic press. Anytime we can use it, as long as it fits in the throat, we go for it.”
Bead Roller BR-16E-36 – “I absolutely love… the throat and depth on it. We can fit very large panels in there, whereas [with] your other bead rollers, you’re limited to more… super small flat panels for doing artwork, nothing really structural you can fit in there.”
In general, McGraw appreciates the variety of tools that Baileigh offers, spanning woodworking and metalworking, inexpensive models and full industrial machinery. “It’s huge on helping everything just kind of grow together. They offer different lines. They offer a cheaper line if, you know, you’re just starting out… or they offer full professional, everyday use [equipment],” he says. “So it’s just really cool to be able to go to one location and get everything you need.”
As for Baileigh’s social media presence, McGraw values the way the network allows fabricators to pool their expertise and learn from others’ tips and tricks. “Some of the cool stuff that you wouldn’t really see on the normal day, [Baileigh] kind of bring[s] it to the spotlight. And it kind of helps the industry grow, because you can see what the next guy is doing that you wouldn’t normally necessarily see. He might have a faster or cooler way of doing something. Or again if you don’t have the proper tool to do something you need done, you might learn what you know somebody else did with just some basic tools.”
McGraw shares his process not only on social media, but also with his two sons. “I hope part of the legacy that I pass down is that I make my kids proud of what I achieved.” Like his father, McGraw doesn’t want to pressure his kids into following his path. “I hope I’m leaving them… a successful business that if they want to step in and run one day, here it is. If not, you know, hey, that’s up to them.”
Judging by the grins on his sons’ faces while playing around with their dad’s Baileigh toys, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they carry on the family business. “They love playing with body hammers. They love playing with the bead rollers. I’m so afraid that they’re gonna smash their finger one day! They enjoy it, so I think they’ll pick up on it.”