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How to use a Sheet Metal Brake

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In a follow up to our recent review guide on sheet metal brakes we thought we would take a good look at how you actually use one.

Despite the fact the brake can vary in size, from the small portable offerings designed for contractors, auto shops and home garage, right up to industrial sized machines, the general principles of operation remain the same.

So with that in mind, let’s get to it. Here’s some simple steps to follow when it comes to using a metal brake to bend sheet steel.


Using a sheet metal Brake

For the purposes of this guide we will talk about bending light gauge metal using a regular sized 24 inch brake.

One popular contractor use for a portable machine is the cutting and bending of flashing for windows and doors.

However, what we will discuss here also applies to a number of small projects that require bent light-gauge sheet metal or vinyl

Metal Bending 101

Preparation

When starting out you need to remember that the tool will only bend the material in one direction (upwards).

This is why preparation is important. In fact if you are a beginner user it is recommended that you use a piece of scrap metal for practice first.

This will help ensure that the necessary bends can be made in the correct order and configuration in order to produce the results you are after.

As you map out the bend sequence, you should clearly mark the face and the back of the stock in pencil.

Then, at every bend point you should mark whether the action has to be made with the material facing up or down. Marking everything before you begin should help eliminate any mistakes.


The different types of bend

The sheet metal brake can produce a number of different bends. Clearly the throat size and capacity, as well as extra features will determine the sorts of bends your tool can make.

Let’s take a look at some of the more widely used bends.

90° and 45° bends

The two most common bends are the 90° and the 45°.

For this the handle of your brake should begin at the relaxed position of 0°.Quite simply, pulling the handle so that it is parallel with the ground will create a 90 degree bend in your loaded work piece.

To create a  45° bend you merely stop midway between perpendicular and parallel points of the arc of the handle, (halfway to being parallel with the ground basically).

This is where the design features of your sheet metal brake can help. Some manufacturers offer an accessory angle gauge.

This attaches to the tool and acts as a guide, displaying the degree angle of the bed as you operate the brake.

Creating a hem

We’ve all seen a hem; this is where the metal is folded back onto itself to create a clean edge with invisible burrs.

It also strengthens the outer edge of a work piece, providing a more attractive finish as a result.

To create a hem you should mark the metal make a mark 1/2 to 1 inch from the edge of the work piece. (As described earlier it is good practice to mark the up and down face of the material before you begin).

Place the metal face down in the brake, and lower the handles as far as possible, (this should create a 160° bend).

The release the metal and place the hem in the hemming slot of the brake. By clamping the upper jaw onto the work piece you will close off the hem for a tidy finish.

Flat Casing

When flat casing a piece of material you are simply creating a U-shaped in cross section.

It is also possible to add an additional flat leg on one side. This doubles up as a nailing flange to help reduce exposed fasteners.

Three uniform 90° bends are required to make this shape.

Bending a drip edge

When working to create a drip edge you to make a series of controlled bends in the metalBottom of Form. For best results you will need a slight kickout to a full fold.

Taking the drip-edge flashing as an example, first you should use the brake to fold the hem. Once this has been folded along the required length, you move on to the kickout.


A short Brake Bending Glossary

Leading edge

This is the sharp front edge of the clamp. It is here that the metal is bent.

Clamp

The clamp is controlled by the upper handles. It locks the work material in place between two long jaws.

Bending plate

The bending plate is situated parallel to the clamp jaws.

This is a hinged mechanism that is pulled up by the lower handles of the machine to create the bend.


Image Credits: Eastwood.com