Some people seem to light up when they talk about their passions. Josh Freeman is one of them. Watching and listening to Freeman in his Denton, Texas shop, Freeman Fabrication, you can’t miss the joy and contagious enthusiasm for metal fabrication.
As Freeman explains, “The ‘less is more’ doesn’t work for me. I like to get after every little bit of it, see how I can optimize it, or see how I can change it, put my own touch on it. That’s what I like to do.”
Case in point: Freeman’s own custom 1964 C10. It’s a stunner, inside and out. In this Baileigh Biography video, Freeman gave us an account of the modifications that make his personal truck special. He extended the hood and the front fenders, built a full frame and tailgate, and lowered the core support. He dropped down the radiator, condenser, and intercooler.
“Now you can see the big supercharged 6-liter in there, which is beautiful to me… makes me happy.” Freeman explains that he “pushed the motor back 10 inches, so now the harmonic balancer is actually behind centerline. It’s behind the rack and pinion, which really makes this thing handle badass. I mean, you can cruise this thing, just mobbing on the highway or freeway, at an inch off the ground.”
Freeman takes pride in “simple little things that to me are very eye-pleasing, but I don’t think a lot of people catch them. Like radiusing the door edges so that it matches the radius of the flush-mount glass, getting rid of the drip rails. One-piece windows that I made—wasn’t a kit. I made all the belt moldings.”
Folks tend to ask, is the C10’s large back window original to the truck? Nope, it’s another one of Freeman’s modifications. He brought the edge down to match the side window. He ordered a custom piece of glass and remade the entire reveal, with the help of his trusty Baileigh shrinker stretcher.
The truck’s blue-gray color palette carries an important family meaning for Freeman. “The color is inspired by my son,” he explains. “He loves sharks, so we got that grayish-blue like a Great White would have.” Freeman’s son has autism, and light blue is an autism awareness color. A symbol of family connection, the C10 is also part of Freeman’s family routines. It’s a sweet ride that makes a cool impression on the way to pick up donuts with the kids.
Fabrication is something that Freeman has an intuitive knack for. “I don’t even really quite know how I learned to work with metal. I just knew what it took to make it happen. I just kind of have a relationship with metal and I love it.”
Freeman’s childhood gave him plenty of opportunities to learn about cars through observation. “My dad was a race car driver, had his own little mechanic-style shop,” Freeman recalls, “so I’ve been in the shop my entire life.” His childhood love of BMX bikes motivated him to experiment: “As soon as I could ride a bike, I was trying to race BMX, and it was my first real custom thing that I could do. I was building my frames, messing around.”
When Freeman got his first truck, a 1955 Chevy, the local climate and its effect on metal pushed him to hone his skills. “I had to do all the rust repairs. I grew up in Wisconsin. Everything was rusty. Anything you found that I could afford was rusty as hell. It kind of started there, evolved into just wanting to take it to the next level.”
A pattern emerged in Freeman’s hobbies: “Whatever it came down to, it was always fabrication.” Of course, Freeman didn’t use that label at the time. But he followed what he enjoyed doing and parlayed his passion and skills into a career. “I didn’t even know what fabrication was. I just knew I needed to make this metal bracket or I needed to get rid of that hole. And so, I slowly turned into, ‘How can I get into cars?’ I needed to get a job at 16, and I went to the body shop because that’s where cars were getting worked on.”
Through that experience, Freeman picked up the tendency of solving problems the right way rather than the easiest way. “Fixing the metal before you start Bondo is key. Getting the body lines right, getting everything underneath the bodywork that you’re about to do, and using the thinnest amount of Bondo you can is very important in a quality repair. And I learned at a small shop which did high-end restoration type work.”
After 16 years in collision repair, Freeman gravitated towards the work that inspired him most. “I was done fixing people’s mistakes and problems and accidents. I wanted to make and create. So here we are.”
Freeman’s philosophy of automotive metalworking boils down to this: “Just bring it in and modify it and make it better. It’s kind of my biggest thing: smoother, cleaner.”
He describes himself as “an artistic kind of guy.” He zeros in on each detail on a vehicle and considers the possibilities: “I like to look at like that individual thing and see how I could optimize it or make it unique and different… or take something from a different scene, whether it’s motorcycle racing or road racing in general.”
When we visited the shop for a Baileigh Biography spotlight video, he showed us an 1963 C10 project calling for “a lot of shaping and custom metal work…. We did the engine compartment, all the sheet metal inside there… built a full radiator support and everything.” As Freeman notes, “I end up having a lot of C10s in this shop, just because it’s a love of mine.”
Another of the in-progress projects you’ll see is a 1948 International pickup with a client backstory that spans three generations. As Freeman told us, “This was actually the guy’s grandpa’s. This has been in his family since new, which is really crazy to me considering it’s such an old vehicle.”
When we stopped by, Freeman was focused on rust repair, the floors, and the firewall, “then we get into the fun stuff after that.” Roadster Shop had already 3D-scanned the truck’s underside and built a one-off custom chassis. “We’re going to do some cool shaping,” Freeman enthused. “We’re going to have some vents in there. We’re really going to bring it, obviously with the high horsepower motor and full chassis coilover suspension and everything.”
Part of the client’s vision for the project is to have the vintage truck customized and restored in order to complement a new Ferrari V8. As Freeman notes, the 1940s truck “has more horsepower than the Ferrari that he’s ordering in, which is pretty funny to me.”
In addition to customer projects, Freeman has been reviving his childhood passion for BMX bikes: “I got a Hyper Metro Pro. This was like my Holy Grail of bikes. I found an old Hyper Metro Pro XL, and now I’m pretty much obsessed. It’s kind of like an addiction. This right here just really brings me back and makes me excited.” He’s finding that the project brings back the thrill he used to feel as a bike-obsessed kid.
Freeman is also passionate about his arsenal of Baileigh metalworking machines. Having Baileigh tools, he explains, “equates to having the capability of making my family money. And… every tool that I get just makes every step, every process even easier. And it allows me to offer more to my customers, which is huge.”
Here’s what Freeman had to say about the Baileigh essentials in his shop:
Power Bead Roller Machine BR-18E-36 – Freeman calls this bead roller “my pride and joy.” A bead roller was the first Baileigh tool that Josh ever bought. He had to sell his bead roller when he relocated to Texas. “I can’t tell you how much I hated not having it in my garage,” he recalls, “so as soon as I got the shop again… this is the first thing I got. I love this tool. This is one of my favorites.”
According to Freeman, this bead roller makes it relatively easy for fabricators to deliver the wow factor through custom details. “It really does put a huge detail into your work. It really does make the work pop. It makes it look so custom. And it is the simplest thing. You draw some lines, draw some radiuses and bust them out and it is awesome, the things you can do with this thing.”
English Wheel EW-40 – “I’m fortunate enough here to have a bitchin’ English wheel,” Freeman says. However, he prefers to use the planishing hammer for shaping jobs that either machine could handle.
Planishing Hammer PH-24A – “It is just where I do most of my metal shaping,” says Freeman. “There’s a huge throat to it.” The planishing hammer suits Freeman’s projects and needs.
“I’m not doing full coach builds. A lot of edges, a lot of things that round off real quick, instead of shaping that [on an English Wheel], I’ll just run over here and quick do it, and then jump over to my Baileigh shrinker.”
Metal Shrinker Stretcher MSS-16F – “This kick shrinker, it’s just awesome. It doesn’t shrink up the metal and make it all bunchy, which is what I love about it. One day I’ll get an extra one so I don’t have to switch out the dies.”
Disc Grinder DG-500 – “This is another key. I mean, you can notch tubes with this thing. People will say you can’t, whatever. You can. If you’re doing some work that isn’t that precise, this thing gets it done. This thing moves some metal.”
Magnetic Sheet Metal Brake BB-4816M – “Having a sheet metal brake is key, but having a magnetic sheet metal brake? Next level, baby. Next level.”
With its variety of dies and the ability to make enclosed shapes, “this sheet metal brake right here is the jam, man.”
Bench Vise BV-5I – Freeman happened upon this vise while cruising the Baileigh website during a sale. “I don’t even remember what I got it for.” Since then, the sturdiness of the vise has proved impressive: “The table is going to break before this ever does, so this is a must-have in any shop. It’s probably the first tool you should buy. This is a badass tool for entry level. Just have it in your garage, and it’ll be with you until the day you die, and then your kids can have it, and then their kids can have it. This thing’s just a beast.”
Baileigh tools are tough, but that doesn’t stop Freeman from babying them like a proud papa. “It’s a weird thing that each one of them is like my kid. I talk to them. I tell them, ‘Hey, here we go.’… They get scratched and I get bummed, you know what I mean? Like, I try to make sure I dust them off and come over to them and ‘feed’ them and bathe them and do all that stuff.”
Freeman credits Baileigh with making high-quality tools more accessible to fabricators. “What I think Baileigh does better than any other company is actually bring the baddest tools to the little guy.”
After all, not every fabricator can find and/or afford legacy machines. And if they can find them, can they get the dies that fit them? Nowadays, to get a high-performance machine, “all you have to do is just go on Baileigh and click on it. You have a tool that you know is going to work, different dies that were never even offered back in the day.”
Josh Freeman isn’t the only one working in the shop and using Baileigh tools. Kathryn Freeman, his wife, repurposes metal from his truck projects for her business, Jalopy Jewelry. She creates one-of-a-kind pendants, earrings, and more from the old patina metal. “She has her own tools. She has some Baileigh tools. She’s looking at getting a Baileigh hole punch, so she can make her circles, and that’s a fun part of having this shop too.”
Freeman hopes that his business and the craft he loves will continue to be part of his children’s lives. “Like, if I died today, they would get Hammerhead [his beloved C10] and all my tools, but I would feel unfulfilled, because I would like to teach them how to create and build.”
The shop can also provide for his family in the future. “My legacy… is also a space for my son to come work, that he’ll always have a place of employment, and that’s important to us,” he reflects. “I think he’s going to be out here metal shaping, but it’s really important to me for my family to have the opportunity to have a family-owned business and build it bigger and better than I ever could.”