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I imagine a lot of you do smaller metal bending projects and some of you have DIY brakes but I thought I’d share my experiences with the 18” Harbor Freight bending brake that I’ve had for over a year now.

 

https://www.harborfreight.com/18-inch-bending-brake-39103.html

 

This is the brake in use last night. It’s rated for up to 16 gauge aluminum (I think) and I’ve had no problem bending that gauge at 8” to 10” of width. As a matter a fact this photo shows me bending 1/8” thick by 1” wide aluminum. It bent like butter!

 

attachment.php?attachmentid=3639&stc=1&d=1523150955

 

The brake, as designed, is supposed to be clamped to your work surface. I made up a couple mounts so I could bolt it thru the front apron on my bench.

 

The one modification I made that really makes this brake worth using was the addition of an 1/8 roll pin to each end of the clamp bar.

 

attachment.php?attachmentid=3640&stc=1&d=1523151641

 

I drilled the appropriate sized hole (thanks Machinery’s handbook) in the clamp bar to retain an 1/8” roll pin. The bar was positioned back from the bed of the brake approximately the thickness of the material (+1/16”) that I intended to use. This was a guess, but it’s worked out fine so far. If anyone wants me to measure the exact distance PM me and I’ll check mine. It’s stowed in the shed as I write this and I’m not feeling ambitious enough at the moment to check it.

 

These pins make it sooooo much easier to position the clamp bar when you line up your material and tighten down your C clamps. You lose a couple inches of capacity but if I ever had to use the full width these pins are easily removed. The location where I drilled the pin holes limits you to a fixed, (tight), radius but since the material the brake is rated for is rather thin this hasn’t been a problem so far. Most of my work has been in aluminum so your results may vary.

 

The background of the picture above does show the rather tight C channel that I bent out of 16 gauge steel as an experiment. The brake struggled a bit with this. I’m not surprised since it’s not rated to handle that gauge material in steel.

 

I looked into possibly adding a truss to strengthen the clamp bar but so far that hasn’t been necessary. I just add a couple additional clamps if I feel they are needed.

 

I was used to using much more convenient, and way more expensive brakes, before I retired. This one took some getting used to in the beginning. Ok, I’ll admit it, I was spoiled. :D.

 

The C clamps can be a bit of a pain but all in all this brake was worth the $. I get way nicer results than I did with a bench vise, or with two blocks of wood and a mallet.

 

Note: The roll pins were not my idea. I think I read about these first on the Harbor Freight review page for this brake.

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thank you for posting this Jim... i've looked at this brake several times because i still use the vise and hammer method and never get a straight bend!

 

i was worried this would be just a waste of money, mainly because it was so inexpensive and also due to the specs on material thickness. but, it sounds like it could handle some 1/8" aluminum in say 2" or 3" widths? if so, it would certainly be useful to me.

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Kris,

Maybe we can set up a “try before you buy” arrangement. You could try the brake on the wider 1/8” material and I would try your nutsert tool on an M8 insert. ???

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sure Jim, as long as you aren't in any hurry! my schedule for the next 2 to 3 weeks is overly full already.

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I’m in no hurry at all. If you’re interested let me know and we can set something up around your schedule.

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i bought one of these Harbor Freight 18" sheet metal brakes, briefly...

 

after a couple quick tests, it became clear the major inconvenience is the clamping bar wanting to slide backwards unless you go mad-tight with the c-clamps. i was about to weld on some adjustable stops behind the bar, but the requirements for my current project changed in a way that this type of brake wouldn't work for - so it got returned.

 

also, the box says it can do 16 gauge steel, but it flexed substantially even on a 2" wide test piece.

 

if i ever need this type of brake again, i think this 28" KASTFORCE KF5002 might be worth triple the cost at around $140 on Amazon Prime... it the next cheapest thing i could find that looked a little beefier and included exactly the sort of adjustable stops i was going to add, as well as integrated clamps.

 

51zv9I9KGdL._SL1200_.jpg

 

what i ended up getting instead (for now) is a Magnetic Mount Vise Brake Die Set (KAKA BDS-6) . it looks like a cheesy contraption at first glance, but actually works very well.

 

41W9o6X+ZTL._AC_.jpg

 

by having open-ends, it lets me create complex "T" shaped corners that my project needs. i stuck it on a cheap 6" Harbor Freight vise that i've had for years. using a short cheater pipe on the vise handle, i'm able to bend 16 gauge cold-rolled steel with very little effort. (i know, tool abuse!)

 

FYI, if you have a welder you can make a DIY one quite easily...

 

i also found it surprising that folks have even created 3D printed versions, and standard PLA filament seems to be plenty strong enough:

 

 

Edited by theksmith
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Kris,

In the future, if you ever want to try or use the Harbor Freight brake I’ve modified, you are welcome to it.

 

I did very little with my brake before modifying it with the roll pins shown above.  

I’ve never had any problem with the clamp bar slipping with the roll pins installed and I’m sure I’ve pushed the recommended limits of my brake.  
In my experience 16 gauge steel is pushing it.  I’ve  had good success with 16 gauge aluminum.

I recently made these four  fingers for my brake to try and turn it into a poor man’s box brake.
I was able to use a friends Bridgeport in exchange for planning some wood  for him.

 

C3F987E7-0B06-43BC-9D2A-A488F073C9D9.thumb.jpeg.55b4b8b82480d03119b5290f139e7238.jpeg

 

There has been only one time I’ve wanted the added capability of a box brake but you never know.

When I made the tray below I could have used a finger to bend a box instead of making the tray ends out of plywood.

That said I’m not unhappy at all with the way the tray turned out.  😉
EA7711AB-425F-4B6E-9542-D28A955185F6.thumb.jpeg.07ed2f7188c29a2e9f18d6d1b42a0198.jpeg

 

 

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here's that Magnetic Vise Brake easily doing its thing on some 18 gauge metal:

 

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the only real issue i had, which was easily solved, was light gouging. if you look closely in the photo above, you can see lines of scratches near the 2 bends that i had already made.

 

i used a file to lightly round the outer edges where the machined surface met the rough cast surface on the receiving die, and problem solved. 

 

ACtC-3fHBDRA_muflwJhUP31JWrcLhXZZt70pgs7

 

it now just makes a shiny scuff mark, which doesn't show through a coat of paint.

 

ACtC-3eZ2mtyWW1d2Zvxjyf-5zyuJmOeanA3_Z_y

 

Edited by theksmith
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Looks good Kris.

What are you making with these parts?

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25 minutes ago, jgaz said:

Looks good Kris.

What are you making with these parts?

 

prototypes! ;)

  • Haha 1

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