Introduction: Inexpensive Soft Metal Bending Tool

Picture of Inexpensive Soft Metal Bending Tool
This project may not seem extremely exciting but it is very useful and satisfying to create other parts with once it is finished.  It IS exciting, get EXCITED!  If you are a true Maker, you are already teeming with excitement over the fact that you are reading another instructable and expanding your mind's quiver.

Recently, I needed 90 degree bends in aluminum stock to create brackets for a project I have going.  I grabbed $25, ran to Home Depot and after a few hours created my own metal bending tool.  Quick, dirty, simple and cheap.

A Few Quick Notes:
The symbol " denotes inches.
Quantities come before descriptions of materials and are followed by an "x".
Images will be referred to in steps based on the numerical order they are placed within that step.
I used button head machine screws but in retrospect, it would be better to use flat head screws and countersink them.
Everything you need can easily be purchased at Home Depot or similar.

1)  1x  2" width by 1/8" thick flat steel stock
(I bought 36" of this for $6.97)

2)  1x  6" lengths of 1" Steel L bracket
(I bought 36" of this for $6.47)

3)  9x  #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws (preferably flat head)
(I bought a box of 100 button heads for $5.80)

4)  2x  #8-32 x 1" machine screws
(I bought a 4 pack for $1.18)

5)  2x  #8-32 wing-nuts
(I bought a 6 pack for $1.18)

6)  9x  #8 Lock washers
(I bought a 30 pack for $1.18)

7)  10x #8-32 hex nuts
(I bought a 100 pack for $3.92)

8)  2x  1/2" hinges
(I bought a 2 pack of 1.5" loose pin zinc hinges for $2.27)

This all adds up to just under $29 but if you skip the 100 and 30 packs of screws and washers and just get what you need, you should be able to get it down to $25.

1)  Metal saw
(I got by with a hacksaw with a metal cutting blade)

2)  Power Drill

3)  5/32" drill bit for metal
(just big enough diameter to get a #8 screw through with a little coaxing from a screwdriver)

4)  5/16" drill bit for metal
(not a must have but useful for cleaning up the edges on the smaller holes you drill)

5)  Screwdriver
(whichever type that corresponds to the machine screws you buy)

6)  Pliers
(For holding nuts while you tighten machine screws)

Cost: < $25 (not including tools)

Time: ~2 hours

Drink: Coffee.

Follow the Making...
Twitter:  @ImagineN4tion

Step 1: Cut Metal to Length

Picture of Cut Metal to Length

First things first, take the steel L bracket and steel flat stock you have and cut it to length.  You will need the following lengths:

1)  4x  6" lengths of steel L bracket (see image 1).
2)  1x  6" length of steel flat stock (see image 2).

I cut these lengths the hard way using my hacksaw with a metal cutting blade attached.  If you do not have any way of cutting metal you can pick up a hacksaw for cheap and get by.  If you have a chop saw or band saw you can get through this stuff with, even better.

Note: Disregard the holes in the metal on the images on this step.  We will take care of those in the next step.

Step 2: Drill a Few Holes!

Picture of Drill a Few Holes!

Take your four lengths of L bracket and individually label them parts A, B, C and D.  From here on we will take about each length in this way.

In retrospect I should have purchased flat head #8 machine screws and counter sunk them as that would make the tool all that much sexier, as well as alleviate some of the issues I had with the screw heads interfering with the hinges fully closing.  Thus, if you can, find a large drill bit you can use to drill countersinks after drilling the initial holes and use flat head machine screws.

Part A:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "A" and drill one hole on the center line of one flange 1/2 inch from the end of the part (see image 1).

Part B:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "B" and drill one hole on the center line of one flange 1/2 inch from the end of the part (see image 2).  Note the difference in location of the hole between part A and part B.

Note: The hinges mount to parts C and D and thus, the hole placement is critical and will differ by what hinges you use.  The critical elements are placing the holes appropriately so that the round part of the hinge is flush with the edge of the L bracket (see image 3) and mounting the hinges as close to the end of parts C and D.

Part C:
Take the length of L bracket you labeled part "C" and drill four holes on one flange to mount your hinges to (see image 4).  These four holes are for your hinges and it is critical that they are placed appropriately.  Make sure you line the rounded edge of the hinge up with the edge of the L bracket when defining your hole placement.

On the opposite flange of part C drill one hole along the center line of the flange 1/2 inch from the end (see image 4).

Part D:
Create part D just as you did part C but this time place two holes (one at each end, 1/2 inch from the end) on the opposite flange from the flange the hinges will mount to (see image 5).

Finally, take the 6 inch piece of flat steel stock and drill two holes as seen in image 6.  The holes should be placed 1/2 inch from the end edges and 1/2 inch from the top edge.

Step 3: Ahhh, Screw It!

Picture of Ahhh, Screw It!

Let's assemble the parts now.

Using four #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws along with lock washers and hex nuts, attach the hinges to part C as shown in image 1.  Again, note that the rounded part of the hinge should be flush with the L bend in part C.  Now attach part D to the hinges using another four #8-32 x 3/8" machine screws, lock washers and hex nuts (see image 2).

You should now be able to bend the hinge with parts C and D attached.  You can create an X configuration (image 2) or a T configuration (image 3, looking at the top of the T) based on how it is bent.

Image 4 shows all of the parts left to be attached to one another in roughly the positions they will be attached.  Attach part A to part C (upper right in image 4) using the one hole left in each part along with one #8-32 x 3/8" machine screw, lock washer and hex nut.  Image 5 shows part A connected to part C (left side) as well as part B connected to part D (right side).  When you connect part B to part D you will want to use one of your long #8-32 x 1" machine screws and do not put a lock washer or hex nut on it.  I also inserted a hex nut between parts B and D to reduce the parts from rattling around when the tool is not in use, however, this is not necessary (image 6).

Once you have everything looking like image 5, flip the tool over (image 7), and insert the other long #8-32 x 1" machine screw through the final hole in part D.  Then, place the flat steel plate on the two long machine screws and place two wing-nuts on the screws (images 8 and 9).

Step 4: Fini!

Picture of Fini!

You are now finished and can start bending aluminum stock at will to create the worlds meanest brackets to hold your Arduino or whatever else you need to secure. Just don't use it for evil. Unless its only slightly evil, then it's probably OK.

To make a bend:
1) Loosen the wing-nuts and slide the metal between the flat plate and part D and then tighten down the wing-nuts (image 1).
2) Grab part A and rotate it towards part B (image 2).
3) Rotate it to the appropriate angle you are trying to achieve, in my case 90 degrees (image 3).
4) Return part A to its initial position once the bend is made (image 4).
5) Loosen the wing-nuts and remove your newly bent metal (image 5).


desolderer made it! (author)2017-11-11


Thanks for this great instructable. It motivated me to build a brake myself. Far away from home and tools (and my most desperately missed vice) I needed a solution to make some room in my cellar - so bending some aluminium to hook up something the door came to my mind (I am not allowed to drill holes due to fire regulations).

During home vacation I then built it and put it to use this weekend.

I made some adaptions though:

The holes in the hold down flat steel stock are a bit off center allowing me to have 2 different gaps to the lifting L bracket when pulled on (this came in handy when bending short lengths).

During testing the fastening screws kept falling out of the holes on inserting the metal. This was when I realized that I should have put a thread on the below L bracket. I went for safety discs instead.

For the very small hooks that I needed for hanging to the door I simply used the brake as a vice and hammered the hooks into shape. Fortunately the flat steel stock clamp had a usable thickness.

So after some tries and hammering I got my hopefully not too evil holders

to mount my working table to the cellar door

Unfortunately I could not bend 3x30mm aluminium stock without killing the hinges. So I reverted to 2x30mm which worked fine then.

Thanks for a great inspiration and a great tutorial!

hectorR85 (author)2017-06-21

Greetings, I am trying to make a box of electrified project, it serves me to make box

efoster6 (author)2017-05-20

half made one years ago but drew a blank half way through thanks for showing a complete one

solitaire27 (author)2017-01-18

Do you think it can work on a larger scale, to bend aluminium sheet of 3 feet long?

I'll try it for sure! I will use more door hinge and thicker metal

Thank a lot for your post!

full_metal (author)2012-08-07

cool hand held sheet folder

i use actual power presses what do same thing but on mutch larger scale for my job, if you want i can give you mathmatical formulas for working out all your bend area and your bend radiouse, also useful for geting your leg lengths corect size

ccncomm (author)full_metal2016-03-31

I would love to have that

sensei09 (author)2015-08-16

pls someone give me an idea on how can i make a pvc bender ... tnx .. proud pinoy here

mamajr96 (author)2015-02-15

i need to bend 13 gauge aluminum (.090) and am already half way through making one of this except welding instead of bolting, and was curious what was the largest gauge of aluminum you bent with this, thanks

csiu3 (author)2014-09-08

Inspire by yours y make this one. Thanxs

csiu3 (author)csiu32014-09-08

* I make

Youripasted (author)2012-08-29

Congratulations, one of the most detailed and well explained instructables I've ever read. I'll be following your guides in the future. Regards :)

ongara_01 (author)2012-07-31

simple machine..good job

Mr.Sanchez (author)2012-07-31

You know what would be cool..?What if you place some kind of protactor to measure propertly the angles of the bend.Just thought.

Mr.Sanchez (author)2012-07-31

CLEVER!! thnks for share.

0xyJin (author)2012-07-30

I think this would be great to use as a small acrylic bender. Just need to add a heating element.

ImagineN4tion (author)0xyJin2012-07-31

Hi OxyJin. That is a great idea! We have some old ceramic heating elements from a women's hair straightener lying around here somewhere... That idea might warrant a quick mod and new instructable :)

slabcitymr (author)2012-07-29

Great project!! Thank you!

altered14 (author)2012-07-27

I think it's great, i have a the litttle 18" brake from harborfreight and the little vise 5" brake but i think this might work even better.

What was the gauge metal can you bend up to?

ImagineN4tion (author)altered142012-07-27

Hi altered14.

Short useful answer: The only metal I have bent is 1/8" aluminum and I have not tested it with anything else. Naturally, it will depend on the metal you are trying to bend and the cross sectional area of it.

Long useless answer: I worked out on paper the thickest aluminum stock you could bend assuming you were trying to bend a 1" wide piece and could impart 50lb force on the lever arm. However, considering I found yield strengths for aluminum everywhere from 35MPa up to 414MPa and was unsure which is actually correct for the standard aluminum (which I think is annealed 6061 Aluminum) that we are using the numbers were pretty useless...

If you are worried about not getting enough force I would suggest following some of the suggestions in the comments here and placing longer handles on the tool, slotting the flat plat to accommodate different thicknesses, and perhaps anchoring the tool to a bench.

If you make your own rendition be sure to share some pics here :)

dj_nme (author)2012-07-27

Nice hack-together.

If you used larger sized angle-bar for the fixed back jaw, the wingnuts could be set further back and allow bends greater than 90degress.
Using angle-bar the same size as the flat-bar use for clamping, the wingnuts could be set twice as far back.
A second "stabilising/trailing arm" on the back of the fixed jaw would also make the whole thing more stable.

Jasparus (author)2012-07-27

Very nice. Perhaps by welding a 5 inch round pipe inside the angle handle it may ease presure on the hand when bending.

scook9 (author)2012-07-26

That's a nifty tool. A couple of things to consider for perhaps future versions:

1) Find another way to hinge the two pieces anywhere but over where you're bending the part would allow for a cleaner, near right angle bend, and a smaller radius for the bend will allow you to make an even more compact, right angle bend. You could accomplish that by being able to change the thickness of the hold-down plate.

2) Bench mounting the tool and as mentioned above, attaching a longer handle would allow you to bend heavier gauge metal.

Muddle (author)2012-07-26

Why not reassemble the brake using flat head screws in countersunk holes from the face side of the assembly and then you would be able to get acute angle bends?

lsykes (author)2012-07-26

I did the same thing with a hammer and vice, (was a lot cheaper.)

barista (author)2012-07-23

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Aluminium bar is my material of choice for a lot of projects and I usually bend it in the vice with a hammer. this is:
1. rarely accurate;
2. brutal ;
3. hard to avoid damaging the material.
Was considering this, but now I'll be making my own.

aristide202 (author)barista2012-07-26

That's was my situation too . I usually use my heavy duty blacksmith vice, very nice but too much for brass and aluminium smaller parts and hammering is proper just for steel .
I'm gonna make thi device as soon as possible

ImagineN4tion (author)barista2012-07-23

Hi barista, you are welcome :) Glad you will be finding it useful and very stoked it is saving you from buying one. DIYing our way through life.

Capt McGyver (author)2012-07-26

Great project which i'm excited to go and do. i'm with Barista, i use by vise and beat the bend on the aluminum with rubber mallet :( . Thank you for sharing.

BlueCabbie (author)2012-07-26

Nice simple design!

You should mention that when drilling metal bar, ALWAYS use some kind of lubricant. Tapping fluid is the best (available at any hardware or auto parts store, or Google it), but any oil will help. The oil pulls the heat away from the bit, allowing it to cut faster, and prevents dulling the drill bit.

When drilling aluminum, using a fluid for tapping aluminum will prevent the sticky aluminum from welding itself to the bit.

I use 'AlumTap' and 'Mystic Metal Mover' I googled off the net (for no other reason than I liked the names.) :)

maxman (author)2012-07-26

Great. This is exactly what I've been looking for. Will vote for this.

Edgar (author)2012-07-26

Since it's a neat Model that can bend not only Metal, but both Plastic and other newfangled sheet materials, I've put a link to this on Nice Paper Toys:

Edgar (author)2012-07-26

Where do I vote?

AcidHawk (author)2012-07-23

Thank you, I really like the simplicity of this design.

I realise you only needed 90 degree bends however I sometimes need a more acute angle for some of the brackets I need to make up. I would suggest one thing for consideration ... what about if you made the bench piece that you have the wing-nuts on, a little bigger than the part you use to actually do the bend ... so that the piece you are holding in your hand can actually fit between the wing-nuts... that way you could actually get a bend of less than 90 degrees. (I.e. you bend past 90 degrees for the acute angle I sometimes need.

Nice job though.

ImagineN4tion (author)AcidHawk2012-07-25

Hi AcidHawk, thanks for the suggestions. I think if I build another one of these it will definitely be MUCH larger, employ something similar to your suggestion for more acute angles and have the ability to bend certain areas and not others (like a Box N Pan Brake).

In fact, to get more acute angles with this brake I might just notch out holes for the wing-nuts to slip into.  If so, I will post that mod.  Thanks for spurring thoughts :)

Topcat2021 (author)2012-07-22

Nice work on the brake, I may have to build one for myself as it sure beats using the bench vise for small stuff.
Keep up the good work

ImagineN4tion (author)Topcat20212012-07-23

Hi Topcat2021, thanks for the nice comment. It definitely beats pounding it out with the vice. Funny thing is, I actually went this route because of the lack of a vice in the location I was building. I probably would have just pounded out the parts on the vice to prototype quickly but this is definitely a better long term solution. It will surely see lots of use.

thoraxe (author)2012-07-22

An improvement could be to add a slot so the bending handle can be extended to get more leverage for thicker pieces/stronger metal

ImagineN4tion (author)thoraxe2012-07-23

Hi thoraxe, thanks for your suggestion. Yes, extending the lever arm would allow for much healthier bends!

joen (author)2012-07-22

One suggestion would be to widen the holes on the flat stock to slots so that you can accommodate different thicknesses of soft metal to bend.

ImagineN4tion (author)joen2012-07-23

Hi Joen, thanks for the suggestion. It sounds like a great next step, especially if combined with thoraxe's suggestion too. Collaborate and innovate.

blkhawk (author)2012-07-22

Great project! I have a few pre-drilled L-shaped steel bars like the ones depicted on your Instructable. Thank you for sharing!

ImagineN4tion (author)blkhawk2012-07-22

Hi blkhawk, glad you liked it. Get to it with your extra metal stock! One more project to add to the queue of many :)

kelseymh (author)2012-07-22

Most excellent! Building your own jigs is a core skill for any metal- or woodworker. It usually takes longer to create all the jigs you need than it does to actually construct the project at hand. You've done a great job describing a DIY brake!

ImagineN4tion (author)kelseymh2012-07-22

Hi kelseymh, thanks for the comment and support!

strube1369 (author)2012-07-22

Nice project. Incidentally, they call these "metal brakes". Just thought I would mention it...

ImagineN4tion (author)strube13692012-07-22

Hi strube1369, thanks for the pointing that out. One more tidbit for the quiver :)

About This Instructable




Bio: Guided by Whim; Promoting collaboration and innovation; Startups to kick start the economy; Gonzo builds; follow along via Twitter: @ImagineN4tion;
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