Bending Under Pressure ~ I Need A Brake! ~ Part 1

No, I didn’t make a spell-o. I really did mean to write Brake, not Break.

A brake, or Sheet Metal Bending Brake is a piece of shop equipment that facilitates bending angles on sheet metal. They can be quite small and portable like in the next photo (source):

Or they can be industrial giants like this wowser (source):

You can purchase brakes for the hobby or small shop like this (next photo) floor model from Grizzley for about $2,050 delivered in the States:

The above brake is nice, but allows for bending metal only 48-inches long. I’d like to make sheet metal trim twice that, or 8-feet long. Can you imagine the price of this hundreds-of-pound tool delivered here in Panama?

What’s a (cheap frugal) guy to do?


A sheet metal bending brake like I would like to own develops massive forces, as in thousands of pounds of pressure, to bend steel and aluminum. I knew my DIY brake would have to be VERY BEEFY or the tool would bend out of shape and simply not perform. Hmmm.


A year or so ago I had the opportunity to pick up some used steel I-beams. We needed them to support the crane in the mud as the containers were placed on the support columns. But beyond that I had no clear vision as to what I would do with all this steel of varying lengths from 2-feet to almost 9-feet long.

I went into container #1 where I was storing the beams. I measured and pondered, even going so far as to bringing a 5-gallon bucket into the container to use as a chair while I pondered. Yes, I determined by rule of thumb, the beams were big enough, perhaps even massive overkill. Cool. Building a shipping container house, I like overkill.

Now that I had a project in mind, I also bought a couple pieces of used, heavy angle iron.

The metal was rusty and pitted and needed a good cleaning and initial prime coat of paint to keep it from re-rusting while I spent weeks working on the project. Here is how I started:

The beam on the right needs cleaning. The one on the left is all cleaned and prime painted.

To clean the steel I used an angle grinder with a grinding disk and another grinder with a wire brush:

The grinder worked well, but the wire brush deteriorated too fast, and the flying wire bristles are no fun when they stick into your arm or Jabo’s paw. So I switched to a sanding disk, and it worked like a charm to remove the fine surface rust:

“So”, you ask, “how big is this brake going to be?” Here’s a clue; So far I have the three beams that will make the base. I wanted the cross beam to be a bit elevated so the whole mess wouldn’t rock and roll on any high spots in the floor, and also so I can blow the floor clean with the air hose. So I cut notches in the vertical web so that middle beam would sit on top of the side legs:

Hey Fred. Why’s your shop so cluttered? It was time to clean the last of the bits and pieces out of container #1. The stuff sat on the floor of my shop until I could make shelves in the little alcove next to the front door. The shelves are now done but no photo yet.

Next I cut two, 4-inch square tubes for legs. I turned the top I-beam upside down and welded the legs to the beam. I did this outside of the shop, then slid the heavy assembly into the shop on planks. Then I turned the beam/leg assembly right side up and welded the legs to the base. I can barely lift one end of this monstrosity.

In the next photo, a piece of angle iron is sitting on top of the I-beam. When the tool is completed, the angle iron will lift a bit so I can slide the sheet metal between the two. Then the angle iron will be clamped down for bending the sheet metal:

Let me diverge for a moment. The bending brake will be really swell, but there is another opportunity here. There is a related tool called the press brake. The press brake uses hydraulic action to bend heavier steel plate. A small press brake can easily bend one-quarter-inch steel, so if I had one, I could make all kinds of brackets and do-dads. Here is a photo of another guy’s homemade press brake (source):

I recently purchased a 30-ton hydraulic jack, so I figure I can build a small press brake in the rectangular space between the bottom cross I-beam and the top I-beam. You can see the jack sitting on the floor beyond the brake:

I am about to start work on the top piece of angle iron. I’ll call it the Down Clamp. To accomplish a sharp bend in a piece of sheet metal, it is important that the Down Clamp and the long I-beam mate perfectly together. In the next photo you can see that the angle iron for the Down Clamp has a high corner where it contacts the I-beam. That corner needs to be ground away. I’ll do that next:

The next part of the project is to make arrangements to lock the Down Clamp firmly in place. Also, I need to attach another angle iron that will serve as the piece that swings up and bends the sheet metal. The swinging part, I’ll call it The Swinging Part, will be under tremendous forces; the hinges will have to be quite stout so that they don’t bend or stretch. Also, the hinges have to be perfectly welded in place so that no slop is introduced during bending of the metal. I’m engineering that in my head now. That and the rest of the construction of Fred’s Pretty Big Sheet Metal Bending And Steel Plate Press Brake will have to wait until Part 2.

So how big is it going to be? Pretty big. And so far, I have $130 in the metal and another $30 or so in the hydraulic jack. Not bad.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.