Advice for Building Sheet Metal Brakes
A sheet metal brake is an essential tool in the shop of any auto enthusiast or metal-working hobbyist. Anyone who has ever worked with sheet metal knows how difficult it can be to bend in just the right shape or at the right angle. This is where a sheet metal brake comes in handy. You can use a sheet metal brake to bend metal for a variety of jobs such as repairing gutters, auto restoration, heating and cooling reapirs, and a wide number of other tasks. Many racing enthusiasts need a sheet metal brake for repairs on their dirt bikes or cars.
Sheet metal brakes can be bought in almost any hardware store that deals in tools and shop fabrication equipment. But many metal workers have opted to make their own sheet metal brake. This way they get it to the exact size and specifications that they need. There are a couple of different ways to do it depending on the size that you want and the gauge of the metal you need to bend and shape. All sheet metal breaks, regardless of size, work on the same principles. There are levers that open the break’s clamp, which is a heavy flat piece of steel. You slide the piece of sheet metal inside the clamp and then pull the lever back to close the clamp, which holds the sheet metal in place. There will be another lever that is attached to the bending bar. You can move that lever until is starts to bend the sheet metal. When it gets to its desired shape or angle, you pull the lever to open the clamp and release the sheet metal.
So now you know how a sheet metal brake works but where can you learn how to build one. Luckily, you have a couple of options: books, the internet, and your local shop and hobby groups.
Sheet Metal Break Books
There are a couple of books out there that give you detailed instructions along with illustrations and photos on how to build a sheet metal brake. Since these books are specialty books, your best source of finding them is online.
- The Ultimate Sheet Metal Fabrication Book – The Eastwood Company is a retailer in specialty shop tools for automobile restorations. They have several books available that cover metal fabrication and the building of custom tools such as a sheet metal brake. This book covers all areas of basic to advanced sheet metal fabrication as well as how to build a sheet metal brake.
- Metal Fabricator’s Handbook – Another good instructional guide from the Eastwood Company. This book gives step-by-step approaches to sheet metal fabrication and is s good source for both the beginner and the advanced. Contains information on sheet metal brakes and how to use them.
- Designing and Building a Sheet Metal Brake – This book deals with the specifics on how to build a sheet metal brake. Written and published by David J. Gingery, the book gives an easy to follow process with materials needed and requirements. You can pick this one up online at Amazon.com.
Sheet Metal Breaks Online
The internet is a great resource for any project. For sheet metal brakes, there are several websites that give instructions on how to build one yourself.
- BD–4 – This is a homepage for experimental aircraft builders. Aircraft builders use sheet metal in all their modifications and designs. There is an article on the site with some instructions on how to build your own sheet metal brake. It includes a link on where to get the plans for the brake along with some tips and photos of the brake they built.
- Van’s Air Force – Van’s Air Force is a site dedicated to a group of builders and hobbyists of RV kit aircraft. The site includes a section on building your own tools, which includes a PDF file with the plans on how to build a simple sheet metal brake.
- Major League Duning – This is a website dedicated to sand dune racing. Enthusiasts of this sport are also well acquainted with fabricating their own sheet metal. There is a section on the site on how to build a brake. The article includes a list of needed supplies and a step-by-step process along with photos on how they built the brake. Great reference.
- Casting Foundry& Lathe – This is a personal website with several projects centered around casting and different lathes. The author has a page on the sheet metal brake that he created following the instructions in the book Designing and Building a Sheet Metal Brake by David Gingery. There are some photos along with it to show the finished product.
- Metal Web News – This is a site dedicated to offering online guidelines to metalworking. It is probably one of the best resource sites on the internet for metalworkers and hobbyists. They have discussion groups, classifieds, guides, and links to other metal sites. There is a section which includes instruction on how to build a sheet metal break.
- Don’s DIY Den – Don’s DIY Den is a website where you can buy plans for building your own go-carts and ATV’s. They also offer a downloadable e-book that you can buy which gives instructions for a six-foot sheet metal brake. The e-book has simple instructions, photos, and you can either view it on your computer or print it out.
Local Shops and Hobby Groups
If you want some hands on learning and the opportunity to talk face to face with people who use a sheet metal brake, check out one of the local metal shops or autobody repair shops in your area. They may have a brake that they bought or one that they built but both types use the same principles. You can see first hand what a brake looks like and how it works. Try asking them how they would go about building one and what kind of materials they would recommend.
Local hobby groups are also a good place to talk shop with others with the same interest. Depending on where you live, a group may be hard to find. Try making contact with drivers at the nearest dirt track or race track. It is a guarantee that they have had to do metal work on their vehicles at some point or another.