It’s the weekend and you’re all set to go on a bender. Unfortunately we aren’t talking about the type of bender where you wake up with your eyebrows shaved off and wearing a tutu. No, this is the more wholesome activity of pipe bending. The thought of bending pipes can strike fear into the heart of even the hardest labourer—the slightest kink can send that expensive piece of copper straight to the tip. However, by following this simple guide, you’ll be bending pipes like a pro in no time.
Choosing a Pipe Bending Machine
There are a number of ways you can manually bend pipes, but if you’re undertaking a large-scale bending project or just want to save yourself time and effort you’re better off investing in a machine. Machines range from portable, handheld devices which retail for a few hundred dollars, to large-scale industrial machines which will set you back a few thousand. There are six types of pipe benders: incremental, ram, mandrel, induction and roll or hot benders. Each bends pipes in different ways. The main difference between pipe benders will be the level of hydraulic force applied by the bender and the size of the dies which accompany the machine.
When it comes to dies, size matters. Dies are small pieces which attach to the machine and hold the pipe in place for bending. There are different die sets depending on whether your pipe is round or square and different sizes depending on thickness. For example, if you are bending a one-inch thick pipe then you will need to use a one-inch thick die. Most machines will come with a die set which includes dies that range in size, such as from one-inch to four-inches thick. You can also buy die sets separately.
Copper vs Aluminium vs Stainless Steel
The mantra for anyone about to undertake tube bending is: know your metal. Whatever material you use will bend more or less easily depending on how hard or soft it is. As a general rule of thumb, aluminium is harder than copper and stainless steel is harder than aluminium. This may change if you are using an alloy, but it’s a good rule to stick with. As a result of this, different metal pipes are used for different jobs and often they’ll come in different sizes. For example, stainless steel pipes will be thinner due to their strength.
Practice Makes Perfect
As the old adage goes, measure twice, cut once. The same can apply to tube bending. Test your machine on a bit of scrap metal. Bend it to a 90 degree angle and take note of the force required to make the angle. If you have different types of metal lying around, compare the force needed to bend them. You’ll feel more confident when it comes to bending your expensive piece of metal.
Ready, Steady… Bend
Once you’ve chosen your pipe and have attached the correct die to the machine it’s time to start bending. Mark where you want to bend your pipe and insert the pipe into the die until that point. If you are making multiple bends in a pipe, mark those as well. Some machines won’t automatically measure angles, so you will need to use a digital angle gauge to ensure you achieve the correct measurement with your pipe. Simply attach the gauge to the pipe and as it bends, it will display the angle. When you’ve reached the required angle, release the pipe and remove it from the machine. If you’re having trouble bending your material, or the pipe is coming out kinked or damaged, try putting sand in the tube before putting it in the bender—this will help it to bend evenly.