Bending sheet metal can be a time-consuming job, and when attempted by someone who lacks the experience to know what to do, or the passion to do it right, it can be considerably more time consuming than it should be. The best solution is to get a high quality sheet metal brake.
The advantages to a good sheet metal brake are numerous. With a sheet metal brake that matches your need you can get more done, you can get more consistent bends and angles, fewer mistakes and less waste. The investment in a sheet metal brake can be a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. For most contractors a sheet metal brake isn’t an option; a sheet metal brake is a necessity.
You can still go wrong with a sheet metal brake, however. If you go cheap, you’ll end up with a sheet metal brake that constantly needs adjustments for different widths of work metal, or you have to attach some sort of accessory for this function or that. That wastes time, kills productivity and could create more problems than it solves.
Yes, you can bend sheet metal without a sheet metal brake. You could adapt, improvise, experiment and hope for this best. Or you can decide your business is worth the investment to get a good sheet metal brake.
We’ll help you with that.
Here’s a list of the best sheet metal brakes that represent great value, dependability and craftsmanship that once experienced, will lead you to wonder why you waited so long to get one.
Top 7 Best Sheet Metal Benders
Best Feature: Can handle 20 gauge steel
For a sheet metal brake with the heft to handle most any grade steel or aluminum you want to use with it, the Shop Fox makes a great choice. Part of the line of high-performance machines from Woodstock International, the Shop Fox M1011 sheet metal brake sets the standard for the others to follow.
All of the sheet metal brakes on our list can handle metal stock up to 24 inches wide, but not all can bend 20-guage (mild) steel as effortlessly as this one can. This sheet metal brake weighs right at 100 pounds. That’s a bummer for mobility, but you’ll appreciate the weight when you’re putting a right angle on a long sheet of 20-guage metal.
Equal to this unit’s ability to bend wide pieces of sheet metal is its ability to bend narrow pieces. The Shop Fox sheet metal brake has 10 fingers of varying widths. Each finger can be snugged up to the work metal and locked into place for precise bends. The fingers and the bending bar are constructed of heavy duty stainless steel for strength and durability. You can combine fingers to virtually any width, and they are sharp, but not so sharp as to actually cut the work metal.
Moving the fingers is a simple matter of sliding the T-nut of each finger in the groove that runs the length of the base. When you have the fingers the way you want them, a hold-down stop flange that releases and clamps with ease holds them in place throughout the bending process.
The brake angle can be adjusted from 0° to 135°, and with a maximum box depth of 1 3/4 inches, there is a lot of maneuvering room for complex bends, complicated brackets, boxes and hems.
For all its attributes and power, the Shop Fox M1011 sheet metal brake is not an overwhelming machine, size-wise. Sure, it weighs in at 99 pounds, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s only 26 inches long and a little under 11 inches tall.
The mass is dense where it needs to be. Pre-drilled holes in the footers let you bolt this unit to a work bench or table. Clearly it’s not a portable unit that you can easily haul from job site to job site, but for bending your work metal at home or at the shop, this is a fantastic sheet metal bender.
The Shop Fox has one of the better warranties of the models on our list – 24 months.
A Quick Note About Warranties
When evaluating any product’s warranty, try not to think of it so much as the point where the money-back promise goes away.
Instead, think of it as the manufacturer’s extremely conservative estimate of the product’s life expectancy – how long will it continue to be a viable product and do the things it was designed to do. Manufacturers aren’t in the business of giving away free products because the originals bit the dust too soon. If they warranty a product for two years, you can darn well expect the product to last at least that long.
Best Feature: Portable
One of a couple of extra-wide sheet metal brakes on our list, the Malco represents versatility and mobilty. Its design is practically minimalistic, yet the way it operates and gets you through a work shift is a thing of beauty.
This sheet metal brake can bend 16 gauge metal up to 48 inches wide. The unit itself is made from 22-gauge metal, so it’s light enough to be carried from spot to spot without a lot of effort. At 58 pounds, two workers can easily tote it on their shoulders, or you could stand it on one end and roll it with a two-wheeler.
How it Compares to Larger Sheet Metal Brakes
While it is light and portable, there is no compromise on strength. The strengthening ribs on the brakes’s anvil and apron make sure your work metal won’t slip and the bend will be consistent from one end to the other. A cam-over style clamping mechanism keeps the anvil secure in any position. This is a great feature for a portable brake. Most of the bigger, bolt-in-place sheet metal benders have this type of clamping mechanism, but for a portable unit to have one, it’s a real plus.
You can set this on the ground or floor to use it, but that’s going to get old really quickly. Pony up the funds for the optional leg kit that lifts the unit to a convenient work height; you’ll thank yourself later. You can also set this on a work table, on a sturdy board supported by two sawhorses or on a pickup truck tailgate.
One other downer. The handles on the bar and the handles on the stops at either end are a little on the light side. They have polyethylene wraps on each of them, but they might not hold up as long as the rest of the unit.
Types of Jobs You Can Perform
For roof flashing bends and all-purpose sheet metal hems, this is a great device that easily transports from job site to job site. But the Malco sheet metal brake isn’t limited to four-foot widths. By moving the guide apparatus, you can bend metal as narrow as four inches and many increments in between.
Best Feature: Industrial Grade Construction
This rig doesn’t mess around with sheet metal. It’s not even trying to be a tool for the everyman (although it can be used with ease by anyone). It is industrial grade, professionally featured and ready for a full day of bending sheet metal.
The Kaka 48-inch sheet metal bender can handle 48-inch, 16 gauge sheet metal without breaking a sweat. And, if your business is fast-paced and productivity is crucial, this machine can be put through its paces all day long. Weighing in at a whopping 334 pounds, this sheet metal brake is made for constant use all shift long, all week long.
With 16 harden-processed fingers of various widths, capable of bends ranging from 0° to 135°, the Kaka industrial grade brake accomplishes a variety of bends with ease. The fingers are movable and removable, and can be configured to custom widths as narrow as two inches. Other widths include three and four inches.
This unit includes two independent cam action levers to raise the beam over the bed, and two levers on either end to control left to right movement. This helps secure the work metal solidly, reducing the chance for error and ensuring consistent results every time. For large projects where you need the same size
Another nice feature is the counter balance on the brake handle. Most bending errors come from a start-and-stop or unsteady motion by the brake. The counter balance on this model keeps the downward stroke fluid and consistent.
The Kaka 48-inch industrial sheet metal brake is a classic heavy duty device, with upscale stainless steel construction, heavy fasteners and double-strong welds. The bed and beam are precisely aligned, even when the beam is raised well above the bed.
The bed is fully trussed for strength and stability when making bends and moving work pieces in and out of the unit. At 334 pounds, this machine isn’t going anywhere without strong encouragement from the user (and two or three of his buddies). So obviously, this is a stay-in-the-shop device.
Best Feature: Able to accept 20-gauge steel
Bolt this blue baby down to a table or bench and you’re set to go. The Eastwood Versa Bend sheet metal brake is a model of minimalism in its design, yet performs as well as much more appointed devices.
This sheet metal brake is designed to produce both standard variable length bends, and can bend small pieces of metal as easily as larger ones. It can bend 18-gauge steel in widths of less than 12 inches.
Offset bends can be tricky, but not for this model. It’s capable of creating 1/2-inch offset bends up to 90 degrees in 20-gauge steel as well as 18-guage aluminum. This goes for work pieces as wide as 20 inches. The process is easy, but it does require removing the front fence after the first bend.
A recommended option is to get the optional forming brake that will allow you to bend hard-to-form panels, window channels, floor braces, weather stripping channels, door sills and other items.
Made with tempered steel, this brake is intended for frequent use and long hours. The center plate can be held in a vise in lieu of bolting the machine to a table.
Moving it about is a one-man show, since it’s only 20 inches long and weighs just 57 pounds.
Best Feature: Wide range of applications
This sheet metal brake screams industrial. From the counter-weighted handle to the fully-adjustable stop levers on either end, this is a serious bending machine. JetTools makes a full line of metal shaping tools, and this one is their Coupe DeVille, embodying the attributes of the other models in one no-nonsense package.
The counterbalance weight is adjustable, meaning you can customize the operation to your size and to the amount of “umph” you need to complete a bend. The apron assembly is not easily adjusted, however, but you shouldn’t need to make adjustments unless it gets out of alignment.
One of the widest sheet metal brakes on our list, the Jet BPB-1650 can handle work pieces as wide as 50 inches and can put clean bends on metal as thick as 16 gauge. The box depth is a generous four inches, allowing for easy manipulation of the work metal for complex bends.
Sixteen fingers allow for an almost limitless amount of widths. Adjusting the fingers is a cinch. Simply loosen the cap screws and lift the fingers you don’t intend to use to a 90° angle. Then push the fingers you intend to use together and forward and tighten the cap screws.
One of the things that sets industrial grade brakes from lesser units is the clamping pressure. Other models can accept work pieces up to a certain width and up to a certain thickness, but it’s often hard to hold the metal in place securely enough to make a clean bend. Not so with this beast. Clamping pressure is adjustable and powerful to the point that that the operator’s manual cautions against overdoing it!
Dimensions and Weight
One knock on this unit is that it doesn’t come with a stand. At 358 pounds, that’s quite a consideration. There is a stand that comes as an option – and it’s not cheap. Still, this is your best bet, so go ahead and order the stand unless you have a strong work table that’s going to be this device’s home for the rest of its useful life. Clearly, this is not a portable unit.
Best Feature: Compact operation
Eastwood lands its second model on our best-of list with this 24-inch box and pan set that could be all you need for your work or your weekend warrior projects. Not terribly big and not terribly powerful, this still handles everything like a pro. As it might not be an everyday tool for you, this stores easily in a storeroom, under a bench or in a quiet corner of the shop.
You might be familiar with the Eastwood name and logo as a maker of premium automotive tools. Auto restorers use Eastwood products to fabricate parts that they can’t buy anymore, and many of them order this sheet metal brake to help them make body parts like fenders, door panels, hoods trunk lids, brackets, supports, etc.
It can bend work metal as wide as 24 inches and as thick as 20-gauge for steel, 16 gauge for aluminum.
Five adjustable fingers (1×1 inch, 1x 2 inch, 1×3 inch, 1×8 inch, 1×10 inch) allow the creation of pans and boxes as narrow as four inches in diameter. Other possibilities include floor reinforcement channels and ribs, corrugated pickup truck beds or roof panels, automotive parts, ductwork connectors and more. It can bend angles up to 135° in a nearly infinite number of increments.
Dimensions and Weight
This is a bench-mounted or table-mounted unit. The mounting dimensions are 26×11 inches, and the units measures 14.25 inches from top to bottom. It weighs 94 pounds, which gives it plenty of mass for tricky bends with large pieces of work metal.
See this Sheet Metal Brake in Action
Best Feature: Industrial strength in a compact size
The first thing you’ll notice about this sheet metal brake is how solidly built it seems. Like the 48-inch version of this tool by the same manufacturer, this half-size wannabe is more than a wannabe. It’s the real deal.
Heavy duty steel dominates the make-up of this little brute, which can slap a nice bend on sheet metal as wide as 24 inches and as thick as 20 gauge steel. Like nearly all the other sheet metal brakes on our list, it can bend angles from 0 to 135°, but the solid construction of the Kaka gives the user the added assurance of accuracy and consistency.
The 24-inch sheet metal brake includes eight adjustable and removable fingers to accommodate narrow pieces of work metal. The fingers ride in grooves that hold them in place securely – an important feature when you’re working with a big piece of sheet metal that you don’t want to mess up. Complex bends are no problem for this device, allowing you to make. things like brackets, gussets, boxes or complicated fixtures that you’d rather work on than explain.
The handle isn’t counter-balanced, but it is easy to use, and allows consistent downstrokes for consistent bends time after time.
Dimensions and Weight
This is a portable unit, but at 99 pounds, it’s a two-man lift and tote. Most users will want to bolt it to a worktable or bench, and when you don’t need it for awhile, it stores easily (or as easily as a 99-pound machine can).
Best Sheet Metal Brake: Honorable Mentions
The following sheet metal brakes are reliable and worthy of consideration, and just missed the cut-off for our list. Some of the units missed the primary list simply because their features were more specific to one type of use.
This is for narrow work pieces eight inches in width or less. It can handle 20-gauge mild steel. The best part is this machine can cut and roll the steel pieces. So if your line of work is limited to narrow segments of sheet metal, this might be the unit for you.
This little brake also comes with a one-year warranty.
Best Feature: Compact size, high bending angle of 135 degrees
For lightweight steel and occasional use, you might need no better brake than this one. But keep it light. It will bend 28-inch wide steel as heavy as 20-guage, but the unit is not built for heavy duty use. Width adjusters on each end of the unit accommodate narrow work pieces.
It works as a press brake capable of 135° bends. The five fingers actually serve as dies in this application, and they’re made of sturdy, high grade steel.
At 44 pounds, it’s about as portable as these things get. Bolt it to a table, bench or heavy flat board, drop down the tailgate of your pickup truck and bend away.
Best Feature: Accepts 96-inch sheet metal
How often do you need to bend an eight-foot wide piece of sheet metal? Not that often, right? That’s why this machine didn’t go on our main list. But make no mistake. This is a quality tool that a few of you will genuinely benefit from. And for the record, it can do narrower pieces of sheet metal. It’s just overkill if you never need to take advantage of its full 96-inch width.
With dual, counter-balanced handles, this makes an intimidating task a little more approachable. It can bend 16-gauge mild steel and has a one-inch beam adjustment to accommodate various thicknesses of work metal. This lets the user make boxes, pans, brackets and other shapes that require multiple angles or obtuse angles.
Baileigh distributes exclusively manufactured metal and woodworking machinery. Their metalworking division is located in the USA.
Best Feature: Portability
This is the little engine that could. As long as you never need to bend pieces of sheet metal larger than a foot wide, here you go. Everything about this unit says industrial, except for its size. Seven fingers allows it to adjust to truly narrow slices of metal, and the deep box allows for complex and compound bends.
Best Feature: Three functions
This unit is great for the workshop that needs a multi-function machine that doesn’t take up a lot of room. Ths SBR-1220 will cut, bend and roll work pieces as heavy as 20-gauge mild steel and 16-gauge aluminum. Maximum width is 12 inches and minimum width is four inches. It has six fingers that can be removed or combined to accommodate the narrower work pieces.
It’s a hefty little dynamo, weighing in at 125 pounds. You know the drill – team lift, team tote.
Three Types of Bending
1. Air Bending
The most common type of bending in metal shops is air bending. The work piece is bent along the edge of the die and the tip of the punch. The punch overshoots the die and extends into a V-shaped opening.
The V-shaped opening is slightly deeper than the angle selected to allow room for the work piece. The advantage of this type of bend is that the user can control the angle simply by swapping out the die.
The disadvantage is that the margin for error is rather substantial, compared to other bending techniques. For applications where absolute precision is not necessary, the speed at which you can produce bends in work metal far outweighs the inaccuracy factor.
Coining is simply “stamping” the work metal between the punch and die. This is more intrusive than air bending, because the punch tip presses into the work metal and forces it into the die. The shape of the bend is determined by the orientation of the die.
This produces a very accurate bend, one that can repeated faithfully and predictably. However, this method requires a heavy hand and a lot of pressure to complete the task.
3. Bottom Bending
Bottom bending is like a combination of air bending and coining. The die angle matches the desired angle of the finished work piece, with a few degrees of adjustment (larger) to account fo the thickness of the work metal.
In coining, it is the die that forms the angle in the metal. In bottom bending, it is the punch that creates the angle. It does not require as much pressure to perform. This technique creates accurate, consistent bends, but the user must have a certain amount of skill to get the angles right.
Build Your Own Sheet Metal Brake
If you’re an accomplished metal worker and frequently look at products and say, “Shoot, I could make something like that for a quarter of the cost,” then you might want to look into these DIY sheet metal brake plans.
The finished product will bend sheet metal up to 18 inches wide. No data is provided on how thick the metal can be.
What you get when you order is a set of plans, drawn with CAD software by Ben Stone, a retired engineer living on a farm in Canada. His building plans come from 30 years of working in the construction industry and fabricating devices for use on the job and around the farm.
Stone’s plans are marketed by The Best DIY Plans Store, which sorts, collates and edits shop drawings, blueprints and DIY plans. Plans are thoroughly checked out for accuracy and ease of understanding.
This particular set of plans advises on the purchase of the raw materials, and the tools needed for assembly. If you have any questions, you can even email Mr. Stone directly.
Refresher Course on Sheet Metal Brakes
Just in case you’ve not handled a sheet metal brake in a while, or your knowledge of them is hit-or-miss, then the following guide should bring you up to speed. It may also help you narrow down your choices when you’re in the market for a new one.
Your decision on which one to get depends almost entirely on what you typically use sheet metal for. You might not build cars, trucks or airplanes but you might build and install metal roofs, metal siding, metal barns and shop buildings. Infrastructure construction also calls for a lot of sheet metal.
You certainly want a sheet metal brake wide enough to accommodate the width of the sheet metal you primarily work with, and one strong enough to bend the thickness of the sheet metal you primarily work with.
Another consideration is the demand you will be putting on the unit. How often do you need sheet metal and when you do, how much do you need? If you’re in the construction business doing turn-key projects on metal barns and shops, there will come a time when you’re done with sheet metal until the next project. For this type of need, a lighter, easier-to-load sheet metal bender might be your best option.
If, on the other hand, your need for sheet metal is nearly constant, then you might want to consider a high-end brake that can churn out finished pieces quickly and consistently.
What is a Sheet Metal Brake?
A sheet metal brake bends and shapes sheet metal. That’s obvious, but it’s important to understand how they work in order to get the most out of them.
The sheet metal brake is heavier and the moving and bending parts denser than the work metal that is fed into the machine. The sheet metal goes in as a flat piece and comes out with either a U-shape to it, or V-shape or in the shape of a channel or other specialized form.
How a Sheet Metal Brake Works
The Flat Surface
When you introduce a sheet or work metal into the sheet metal brake, it lies on a flat surface, sometimes called the bed. On the better machines, this flat surface is machined to be exceptionally smooth, so as not to influence the bending process in any way. The flat surface merely provides a temporary resting place for the work metal.
Next, the sheet metal must be firmly held in place to assure accurate angles and consistent results. While clamping of the work metal is done in a number of different ways by different model sheet metal brakes, there are three basic methods related to the desired angle or type of bend.
The clamping bar holds the metal in place and works in one of three modes:
- Manual mode
- Automatic mode
- Foot pedal mode
Hinged Gate Plate
The hinged gate plate is located on the front of the machine, below the work area, and is the part that applies the force to the metal that creates the bend. It encounters the part of the metal that extends beyond the clamped area and forces it to bend to the selected angle.
A one-hinge gate plate can bend metal at angles up to 120°. All of the sheet metal brakes on our list have a double-hinged gate plate that allow bends up to 135°.
Types of Sheet Metal Brakes
There are four basic types of sheet metal brakes. Some manufacturers have developed combination machines that do more than just create bends, but for reference these are the four types of sheet metal brakes:
- Cornice Sheet Metal Brake
- Box and Pan Brake
- Bar Folder Brake
- Press Brake
1. Cornice Sheet Metal Brake
The clamping bar on a cornice sheet metal runs the entire length of the bending brake. Assuming the clamping bar is secure enough, this allows the machine to make exceptionally clean, straight bends the entire width of the source material. Typically, sheet metal brakes top out at 48 inches, but specialty devices can work with metal as wide as 96 inches.
2. Box and Pan Brake
Possibly the most popular type of sheet metal brake, a box and pan brake, uses a clamping bar that is actually a series of removable blocks. These blocks – called fingers in many cases – slide left or right and can be removed altogether to accommodate varying widths of work metal. The better box and pan brakes use high quality steel for the fingers, so that the angles is creates are crisp and accurate.
The box and pan designation has more to do with the finished work piece rather than the machine. With the movable fingers, you can create pans – segments of metal that are offset from the main piece – and boxes – sheet metal that is bent into a completely enclosed box. Boxes and pans provide good “attach points” for the sheet metal, and are frequently pre-drilled for screws, bolts and rivets.
3. Bar Folder Brake
The bar folder brake initiates and completes the bending process in one easy motion, doing clamping and bending simultaneously. The bar folder brake is a simple-looking device without a lot of parts or adjustment, other than a back gauge that regulates the depth of the bending brake.
4. Press Brake
Press brakes are more common in industrial settings than in workshops or in work site set-ups. They’re big, complicated and durable, built to be used all day long. It can create complex bends in repetition.
The press brake clamps the work piece between a punch and die. Both punch and die are oriented to the desired angle and when they come together, the force the metal to assume the shape that they created between each other.
Size, Tonnage and Pliability
Sheet metal brakes come in widths ranging from 12 inches all the way up to 96 inches. The width listed is the maximum width, and all the sheet metal brakes have ways of adapting to narrower widths.
When a manufacturer claims that its sheet metal brake can bend work metal as thick as 20-gauge metal it’s saying that it has the mechanical strength to bend the metal, but the operation still depends on human interaction, and that can sometimes be substantial. The technical term for it is tonnage.
The way the force is transmitted from user to the work metal can be the difference from a brake that’s easy to use versus one that can wear you out over the course of a work shift. Some brakes have a counterweight on the handle to assist with the operation.
High-end sheet metal brakes have an adjustment called a back gauge that maintains steady clamping pressure on the work metal so that the results are accurate and repeatable. A sheet metal brake is said to have good pliability if the adjustment of the back gauge is easy. A difficult-to-adjust back gauge can be a major time-waster in a production setting.
Tips On Using a Sheet Metal Brake
Practice, Practice, Practice
Spoiling a good piece of sheet metal can be expensive. Use scrap pieces for practice before loading up the real thing. Turn the practice metal to an unused edge if needed to get the most out of it.
Operate Your Brake Safely
Sheet metal brakes are dangerous, even the best sheet metal brakes carry the same risks as all the others. So, be sure to follow all the safety guidelines when using a sheet metal brake. And be sure to wear gloves and protective eyewear when using a sheet metal brake as well. Cut-resistant gloves are an excellent choice to protect your hands from being cut by sheet metal.
Mark the Work Metal for Consistency
As you mark out the bend, or bends, if it’s a compound sequence, you should mark the face and the back of the work metal with a pencil or felt marker.
Then, at every point where the metal will be bent, you should mark which way the metal should be facing. You may be tempted to skip these prep practices after you’ve had a run of success, but they’re very important for achieving consistency.
Know Your Machine’s Limitations
Many of the best sheet metal brakes can achieve the same results, but how they get there can be quite different. Some require a lot of adjusting between sessions and some can do it all on a single setting. One thing is for sure though, the best of the best sheet metal brake machines have more automatic features.
More Sheet Metal Bending Tips
Mastering sheet metal bending is a mix of art and science. You’ll always be learning new techniques and new ways of bending sheet metal. Here are some expert sheet metal bending tips to help you in your journey into the world of sheet metal bending.
If you’re working with siding, you might also enjoy our article on the Best Fiber Cement Shears.