Introduction: Simple Sheet Metal Brake: No Welding

Picture of Simple Sheet Metal Brake: No Welding

I love working with metal, but I've always struggled to get perfect 90° bends. Generally, I'll stick the piece to be bent in the vise and smack it around until it's bent. Since it almost always bends crooked, I end up rebending - and generally just making a mess of it.

For my next project I was going to need to bend some cardboard, which inspired me to first tackle a bending brake. Since I knew I would end up bending things much harder than cardboard in the future, I designed the brake to handle thin aluminum and steel.

Inspiration for the design came from several other DIY brakes, such as this one by Improbable Construct and one by the Youtuber JDCD Design. Since I don't have easy access to a welder (and also try to avoid welding as I'm not terribly great at it), I modified the design to make it weld-free.

Step 1: What I Used

Picture of What I Used

I used the following items for this build:

(1) 1/8" x 1.5" x 1.5" x 4' Steel Angle

(1) 1/8" x 2" x 3' Steel Plate

(1) 1/2" x 3' Steel Box

(1) 3/4" x 2.5" x 6' Dimensioned Board

(2) Hinges

(6) 1" x 5/16" Cap Screws

(6) 5/16" Lock Nuts

(10) 1" Drywall Screws

(2) 5/16" Wing Nuts

(2) 5/16" Washers

(2) 5/16" x 2.5" Carriage Bolts

(4) #10 x 1" Flat Head Machine Screws

(4) #10 Nuts

Wood Glue

Spray Paint Primer

Blue Spray Paint

I used the following tools for this build:

(Note that these links were made using my Amazon Affiliates account. I get a small commission if you buy anything on Amazon using my links. You pay the same price and are helping support me in sharing projects like these. Thanks!)

Hacksaw (not mine but similar): http://amzn.to/2cKr0Ei

Drill: http://amzn.to/2coO6yP

Circular Saw: http://amzn.to/2cp0gHU

Miter Saw: http://amzn.to/2cKrZnO

Dremel (a newer version of mine): http://amzn.to/2cu8Qn7

Drill Bits (not mine, but I like these): http://amzn.to/2coPscS

Forstner Bits (a larger set like mine): http://amzn.to/2dh66Zi

Metal File (similar to mine): http://amzn.to/2db0ALr

Box Wrenches: http://amzn.to/2db0BPR

Allen Keys (not mine, but the same thing): http://amzn.to/2ctX2RM

Step 2: Cut Stuff to Length

Picture of Cut Stuff to Length

All of the metal and wood bits were first cut to length.

The 1.5" angle was cut in half to make two 2' pieces. This will be used to make the bending plate as well as the hold down clamp.

The 2" plate was cut to 2' in length. This will be used to form the smooth surface beneath the hold down clamp.

The 3/4" x 2.5" x 6' board was cut in half to make two 3' long boards. These boards will be glued together to form the base for the brake. The reason I used two thinner, dimensioned boards was that they were the thickest dimensioned boards I could find at Lowe's. 2x4's were not straight enough for this project and since I don't have a planer I typically buy my boards already planed.

Finally, the 1/2" x 3' box tube was cut in half to create two 1.5" pieces that will be used for the brake's handles.

Step 3: Cut Slots for Hinges in Angle

Picture of Cut Slots for Hinges in Angle

I wanted to use off-the-shelf hinges for my brake, but I didn't want to compromise on the location of the pivot point like many designs do. Ideally, the pivot point of the hinge should be directly inline with the bending line of the metal being bent.

In order to accomplish this, the hinges need to be located outside of the work area. In addition, the angle used for bending the metal needs to be slotted along it's bent edge to accommodate the barrel (the hingy part of the hinge) of the hinge. To maintain the strength of the angle, I chose to not run the slots the whole way to the end of the angle. By starting the slots at around 3/8" from the end of the angle, I was able to keep the two legs of the angle connected, which should help with the structural integrity of the angle. The hinge was laid on the angle to determine the length of these slots, which were made slightly longer than the hinge.

Cutting the slots proved to be a bit difficult since I did not run them to the end of the angle. I used my Dremel to help cut the flat spot to start the hacksaw in. After this it was simply a matter of cutting away the rest of the slot using the hacksaw. Since the hacksaw doesn't leave a particularly smooth (or straight) cut, I smoothed the slots out using a metal file.

Step 4: Cut Slots in Plate for Hinges

Picture of Cut Slots in Plate for Hinges

This step ended up being completely unnecessary as shall be shown, but I thought I would include it for completeness.

Next I cut slots in the steel plate to accommodate the barrels of the hinges.

Step 5: Drill Holes in Hold Down Angle

Picture of Drill Holes in Hold Down Angle

The second 2' piece of angle needs to be prepared for use as a hold-down clamp. Two points were marked 2.5" from each end of the angle. Since these points mark the location where holes need to be drilled, and since they lie on the bend in the angle, I created small flat spots at these points using a file.

I initially used a small (~1/8") drill bit to drill these holes since it fit nicely onto the flat spots. These holes were then enlarge to 5/16".

Step 6: Prepare Wood

Picture of Prepare Wood

This step also ended up being completely unnecessary, but here it is for completeness.

Since my initial design was to have the hinges lie beneath the flat plate, I cut recessed slots in the one 3' board to accommodate the hinges. I simply lowered the blade on my circular saw so that it protruded by 1/8" and made many cuts to create the groves.

I also needed to make angled cuts on the edge of the board to accommodate the barrels of the hinges. To do this, I locked the slides on my miter saw so that when the blade was fully brought down it would cut a 45° bevel on the edge of the board. Then I simply brought the blade down over and over again as I slid the board along the fence of the saw. I wasn't sure how this would work, but it ended up working out pretty well. Too bad I didn't need to do this.

Step 7: Attach Hinges to Board

Picture of Attach Hinges to Board

The hinges were carefully aligned into the recesses on the board and clamped to hold their position. The centerline (pivot) of the hinges were aligned along the edge of the board. Once positioned, the hinges were carefully mounted to the board using drywall screws.

Step 8: Glue Boards Together

Picture of Glue Boards Together

After the hinges were secured, their screws were partly removed as they protruded through the bottom of the board and would prevent the board from being glued to the second board. After coating the bottom of the first board with glue, I positioned it over the second board and re-tightened the hinge mounting screws. These screws held the boards together as the glue set up and no additional clamps were needed.

Step 9: Attach Plate

Picture of Attach Plate

Recessed holes were drilled in the steel plate, which was then mounted above the hinges using four drywall screws. The edge of this plate was mounted flush with the edge of the board on the hinge side.

Step 10: Attach Bending Angle

Picture of Attach Bending Angle

Once the hinges and plate were attached to the board, the bending angle was temporarily clamped to the hinges to work out it's correct position. The edge of this bending angle needs to be perfectly inline with the pivot point of the hinges. The angle's edge will also be perfectly parallel to the edge of the steel plate and edge of the board. Once the position of the angle is correct, the holes in the hinges were used as guides for drilling 5/16" holes through the angle. The 1" cap screws were fitted through these holes, with the lock nuts being tightened onto them to secure the angle to the hinges.

Step 11: Design Correction

Picture of Design Correction

At this point, it became apparent that I had made a mistake in the original design of the brake. Ideally, the pivot point of the brake will lie perfectly inline with the bend line of the metal being bent. However, as I had designed the brake, the bending point was 1/8" above the pivot point of the hinge (see left side of drawing). The reason for this was that I had placed the steel plate over the hinges. If I were to place the steel plate at the same height as the hinges (inline with the surface of the hinges), the bend point and pivot point would be perfectly aligned (see right side of drawing). Since this was a relatively simple change to make, I decided to modify the brake.

Step 12: Trim Steel Plate

Picture of Trim Steel Plate

The main thing that needed to be changed for the new design was that the flat plate needed to be trimmed so that I would lie between the hinges. I simply cut the ends off the plate at the point where the slots for the hinges had ended. This plate ended up being around 17" long.

Step 13: Cut Slot for Cap Screw Heads

Picture of Cut Slot for Cap Screw Heads

During the re-design I realized that I also needed to cut a slot in the side of the board to accommodate the heads of the cap screws used to mount the bending angle to the hinges. Without this slot, the cap head screws contact the board and keep the angle from fully opening. This is important because the bending angle needs to fully open to allow its face to be flush with the flat plate at the beginning of the bend. I cut a 3/8" deep slot in the side of the boards using the circular saw.

Step 14: Re-Attach Hinges and Plate

Picture of Re-Attach Hinges and Plate

Since the hinges are now inline with the plate, I needed to flip the board so that the hinges were no longer recessed into the previously cut groves. I carefully positioned the flat plate and hinges and screwed the plate and hinges to the board. As seen in the last picture, the new groves for the cap screw heads allow the bending angle to fully open so that its face is flush with the plate. Also, since the pivot point is now inline with the bend point, the bending angle can be fully rotated to where it is flat against the plate.

Step 15: Notch the Hold Down

Picture of Notch the Hold Down

The ends of the hold down angle need to be notched to accommodate the hinges. I cut these notches using the hacksaw and cleaned them up with the metal file.

Step 16: Install Carriage Bolts

Picture of Install Carriage Bolts

The carriage bolts are used to attach the hold down angle above the flat plate. I positioned the angle above the plate and used clamps to hold it in position. The front edge of the angle lies parallel to the edge of the plate, and is slightly inboard from the bend point. Using a 5/16" bit, I was angle to mark the position of the holes in the angle onto the hinges below. After the removing the angle, these marks were used to drill a small pilot hole through the hinge and board.

Flipping the board over, a 7/8" forstner bit was used to create a recess for the head of the carriage bolt. Next, the pilot hole was enlarged to 5/16", before the carriage bolt was fitted into it. I used a standard nut to tighten the carriage bolt into the wood as I was able to get it much tighter than I could with the wing nuts.

Step 17: Attach Handles

Picture of Attach Handles

Two small holes were drilled in one end of both 1/2" box tubes to accommodate the 1" #10 screws. The box tubes were positioned on the bending angle just inboard of the hinges, and the holes in the tubes were continued through the angle. On the backside of the angle, the holes were countersunk to accommodate the heads of the screws (I used flat head screws). Once all the holes were drilled, the handles were bolted onto the bending angle.

Step 18: Bend Away

Picture of Bend Away

I primed and painted the brake to give in a nice finished look and was very happy with how it came out. Currently I don't have a permanent home for the brake, so I simply clamp the wood board to our kitchen table. This was the reason why I made the wood longer than the brake as I knew it would have to be used in this configuration for the time being.

I've only used it to bend a small piece of 1/16" aluminum (most likely similar to what I'll typically use it for), but it bent it like it was cheese. I'm confident it can handle a much wider piece of aluminum and even thin steel. The working area is around 17" wide, which should be more than wide enough for my current needs. I'm excited to finally be able to bend stuff correctly and know that this brake will get plenty of use in the future.

Comments

jwzumwalt (author)2016-11-14

Could you please provide a detailed cross section. Your opening picture would have helped except it does not show the entire end. Thx

makjosher (author)jwzumwalt2016-11-21

I apologize for this taking so long, but here is a cross-sectional drawing of the side of the brake. Hopefully this helps :-)

jwzumwalt (author)makjosher2016-11-24

Just what I needed - thx

THEMONEY (author)2017-10-30

Great work! You have shown that the device can be made in a straightforward manner and made well. Having made it, and having how factory makers basically gouge buyers, have you given any thought to making a dozen and test marketing? I'm believing the DIY'ers would eat them up. At $99 I would!

Rykundo (author)2017-10-19

Hey man, this is a great instructable! I would Echo those who would suggest a few extra tools to add to your workshop: a drill press and an angle grinder. I waited for years before I spent the money on an angle grinder because it seems kind of expensive. But trust me, you will be glad you got it as soon as you can! The same kind of thing with the drill press. You don't even really know how useful it is until you have it!

Gofish (author)2017-10-17

I have a pan & box folder so don't need this but it would be great for occasional light use, well done. Could I suggest that the use of 'lift-off' hinges could be of use if folding a box for example, this would allow the blade to be removed.

LouisA15 (author)2016-12-25

Defnititly unpractractical for the diy person.

marcpilot1 (author)LouisA152017-10-17

Impractical? Elaborate? Is it too big or something, doesn't work well when you're all finished, cost to build too much maybe? Could you elaborate a bit? Thanks.

ghostgeek (author)LouisA152016-12-28

"Defnititly unpractractical?" Sounds like someone had a little TOO MUCH holiday cheer! Lolol

Syncubus (author)LouisA152016-12-26

It's hardly impractical if you need a metal brake.

makjosher (author)Syncubus2016-12-26

Haha. Agreed!

stribout (author)2017-08-11

Just a thought. Instead of the wood base, next time try "C" channel for stiffiness. Also the for the pivot angle iron go for say 2x3 angle. 2" for the pivot and the 3" for the handle. More meat for support. I might have to make one for my tailgate. LOL

makjosher (author)stribout2017-08-26

Good idea! I find the wood to be holding up pretty well and it is better for using on our kitchen table :-) I agree the angle could be more substantial. So far I haven't had any issue, but I've only bent 1/16" or thinner aluminum.

marcpilot1 (author)makjosher2017-10-17

And weight? Would some rigid c make it heavier? Or not enough to make a difference?

marcpilot1 (author)2017-10-17

Eexcellet idea. I cant be the only one that wished I had a brake here and there for stuff around my shop. I always thought they'd be just a lil to much money though, I'm just now getting brave enough to spend any extra money on a mig welder(feel free to recommend ANY, I used to be welder 20 years ago), and I always thought it would just sit out there taking a whole lot of space for only a few bends on things here and there, rarely. So to me, this is an ex idea for a "starter" brake!

fletchprint (author)2017-10-17

Nice build. I built one similar for bending aluminum for a cover for window sills. I used old Iron bed frames. Free rugged and easy to come by. I also added springs under the V on the bolts where the wing nuts are.

burnsd (author)2017-08-26

I was wondering if this could be extended to make a 6 foot brake. All the dimensions would remain the same, except the length of the bending surface would be extended. Thanks for the great instructable and any input.

makjosher (author)burnsd2017-08-26

You could. However, if you go any longer than I did I would recommend using thicker (and wider - longer legs) angle iron. The reason being that extra support will be needed to keep everything straight in the distance between the hinges. Great question!

burnsd (author)makjosher2017-08-26

Thanks for the information. That is a good suggestion to use thicker angle iron. I have a project that requires a six foot brake, and this is a great alternative to paying several thousand dollars for a prebuilt one.

Lorddrake (author)2017-01-10

Is there any offset between the edge of the plate and the edge of the hold down angle iron to accommodate for the thickness of the material?

what is the thickest material you can bend with this brake?

crabapple0001 (author)2016-12-25

Have you read

Build your own metal working shop from Scrap Series by David J. Gingery

It is 7 books in the series, book 7 is on Sheet metal Brake.

makjosher (author)crabapple00012016-12-26

I haven't. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

Tanzer26 (author)2016-12-25

Very nice and easy to understand. A small brake is something I've wished for. A couple of suggestions, if you decide to rebuild, or up size. I'd splurge on some hardwood, rather than pine, much stronger, but I'd stay with 2 or more pieces laminated, less likely to warp on you. And I'd use T-nuts inset slightly on the underside (I use a speedbore type bit, with the outer points ground off to match the cutting angle. Much stronger than screws.
thanks for sharing.

makjosher (author)Tanzer262016-12-26

Thanks for the suggestions. Most likely I will end up changing the mounting configuration in the future so I'll keep your ideas in mind.

schabanow. (author)2016-09-27

My friend has built similar device to yours, but it can bend black metal sheet up to 2,5 mm of its thickness and up to 400 mm of sheet's span... Sure, welding has been deployed there thoroughly and intensively. A pair of tube arms of about 1 meter with a crosspiece (a kind of semi-frame is formed by them) is necessary to operate it at its maximum load. My friend produces solid fuel boilers for house heating systems and this bending press is necessary for him in his day to day business... Thanks for the video! I do love metal bending / pressing (with a help of my hydraulic cylinder) and I consider it to be a kind of art... ))

makjosher (author)schabanow.2016-09-29

Thanks! It sounds like your friend needed something a tad more sturdy, which I'm sure it is. Maybe someday I should test the limits of my rig - although I'd hate to have to make it all over again.

KonamasterSA14 (author)2016-09-27

You are good! Working entirely by hand like that is not so easy. No bench, no vise, no drill press. Crouched on the floor hacking away, you did very well. I'm sure you have dreams of a spacious well equipped workshop.

makjosher (author)KonamasterSA142016-09-27

Thanks! Right now I'm just dreaming of a workbench :-) It's actually my next project on the list.

JoeyyBoyy (author)2016-09-26

Very cool. Approx cost to build? Thanks.

makjosher (author)JoeyyBoyy2016-09-27

Great question! I looked through my receipts and the total came to around $33 without the paint.

vk6abb (author)2016-09-26

Nice job. You could sharpen up the bending radius a bit by flattening off the edge of the hold-down angle!

makjosher (author)vk6abb2016-09-27

Good point. At this point I find that it bends sharp enough for my needs, but I'll keep this in mind.

kwhit190211 (author)2016-09-25

You might want to invest into a 4 1/2" hand held angle grinder. You can get thin metal & masonary cutting disks for it as well as grinding wheels of all types, flap wheels, diamond cutting wheels & etc. It's a lot faster then using a hacksaw and even safer, as long as your cautious

The 4 1/2" grinder is the next step up the tool evolution ladder. It's only limited by your imagination. Necessary is the mother of invention. Great job!!

pfred2 (author)moperformance2016-09-26

I like my 7/9" grinders the best. But i do have some 4.5" ones too.

makjosher (author)pfred22016-09-26

That's quite the collection of angle grinders! 9" are quite beastly! Make my 7.5" miter saw look tiny.

makjosher (author)kwhit1902112016-09-26

I totally agree! It's on my list of tools to purchase next. I was even thinking it'd be cool to make on into a mini chop saw.

PSacc (author)2016-09-23

Nice work! I have one suggestion, get a sawzall.

makjosher (author)PSacc2016-09-24

Haha. Yea, or maybe this thing: http://amzn.to/2cUzPva. If I were to build a nice stand for it it would be a semi-portable metal-cutting bandsaw.

pfred2 (author)makjosher2016-09-26

What you really want is a 4x6 horizontal/vertical bandsaw. They're cheap.

makjosher (author)pfred22016-09-26

If only I had a place to put it... Yea well, future plans I guess.

cathyvaughn (author)makjosher2016-09-25

Check out Swag Off Road for well designed portable band saw stands:
www.swagoffroad.com/SWAG-V30-Portaband-Table

makjosher (author)cathyvaughn2016-09-26

Those are nice stands! I like to build stuff though ;-)

mach1950 (author)2016-09-26

Great article. You could always get a metal off-cut blade for your mitre saw instead of hacksawing?

makjosher (author)mach19502016-09-26

I should look into that. It would sure make the straight cuts easier.

pfred2 (author)2016-09-21

If I had to hack saw through metal stock I think I'd hang up metalworking. Or take it up on a much more scaled back level. I love my 4x6 band saw! I've cut railroad track in half with it.

Making a finger brake is on my list of things to do someday. But it isn't high priority, so it has to wait. You're roughing it. The first brake I made was pretty rough too. I even welded it. Heck I burnt the holes in it with a cutting torch. Because back then that's all I had.

makjosher (author)pfred22016-09-22

Haha. I thought the same thing years ago when I had the pleasure of using a bandsaw. Yea well, you make do with what you got I guess - that's part of the fun of it.

pfred2 (author)makjosher2016-09-24

Yeah you have to use what you have. You would not want to try to hacksaw through something like this

http://i.imgur.com/QsCXj.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/YvLQO.jpg

makjosher (author)pfred22016-09-25

I would not. Looks like an interesting project there!

pfred2 (author)makjosher2016-09-26

I was just splitting the piece of track with a buddy of mine.

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