The break is made from a flat surface that you set the metal on, and a clamping bar, with will hold the material firm during the bend. The clamping action may be manual (hand operated) or automatic (using electric or hydraulic system, as in a press brake. The front plate of the machine is hinged, and may be lifted, bending the material over a straight edge. You can make bend at any angle up to 120 degrees.
Brakes vary in width from 18” to over 8’ for industrial use. The breaks also can be manual (hand brake) or automated (press brake). They also vary in size depending on the gauge and type of metal you are bending. Obviously, it would be hard to bed ¼” steel by hand, but 1/16’ steel, or almost any aluminum sheeting can be bent by hand.
Small Sheet Metal Brake
A small sheet metal brake would be defined as a 18”-48” brake designed for thin or soft metals. It would be hand operated, and work well for home or small business applications. Small sheet metal brakes are often portable and can be used on a table top, or have attached legs. (See “portable sheet metal brake” for more information.)
Portable Sheet Metal Brake
When working in roofing or siding, a sheet metal brake is a must-have business tool. People who have hobbies that require metal work (such as car racing) will also find a metal brake is essential to have. Since roofers and siders will need to have the sheet metal brake at the site, it is important that they have a portable sheet metal brake. A large, hydraulic, brake is unreasonable to move from site to site. The portable models can be moved easily because they are manual, can only bend thin, lightweight metals, and are generally 2-4’ in width. They are lightweight, and may or may not have detachable legs.
When shopping for a good portable sheet metal brake it to know what you are getting before you actually make the purchase. Some new models will weigh only 50 lbs, while others can weigh as much as 200 lbs, which makes them not so portable. Be sure to ask questions before you make a purchase.
Sheet Metal Hand Brake
The sheet metal hand brake is simply a brake that is operated by hand rather than having an electric or hydraulic motor to hold or bend the metal. Most are portable and lightweight. These types of breaks are inexpensive and will suit most home, siding, roofing, and hobbyist needs.
Sheet Metal Press Brake
This type of brake is used for heavy duty applications. This includes either extremely wide metals, or heavy metals such as iron or steel, which will require much more ft/lbs of pressure than can be applied by hand. They are not portable, and are typically used in industrial manufacturing applications. The bends are usually created by a hydraulic system. Unlike the sheet meal hand brake, these types of brakes have many moving parts, motors, and hoses that require much more maintenance, often by trained mechanics or engineers. These type of brakes are not practical for home or small business use, and are expensive.
The most popular metal brake listed on Amazon.com is a Malco 48” portable metal brake. List price on this brake is $380, but you can purchase it for under $290 on Amazon.com. This brake will make bends to an amazing 135 degrees on galvanized sheet metal up to 22 gauge! It is compact ad lightweight at only 58 lbs. It has no fixed throat depth, so it can bend metal of any length. You will get tight, well-formed bends across the entire 48” of this brake thanks to the strengthening ribs on the brakes anvil and apron. The clamping mechanism is a cam-over style, which is the same type used on larger breaks. This ensures your project is held securely in place, and does not move during the bending. There are optional legs sold for this model, which attach and detach quickly and easily for quick transporting of this brake. The wide base on this brake, however, will hold it steady, even if you want to set it on a truck tailgate to use it.
The reviews on this brake rate it as an average break, but a better-than-average value at this low price. The reviewers agree that it works well, and gives consistent, even folds over the full width, and is easily portable. People using it for ductworks find it an irreplaceable tool, and recommend it to others in the HVAC field.
The next most popular brake on Amazon.com is the Shop Fox M1011. It is a 24” Box and Pan Brake. This is a small sheet metal brake used to create multiple bends in one piece of metal, including the ability to create boxes or pans with 4 bent sides. This model sells for just under $300, and can bend up to 20 gauge mild steel. This model, too, can make bends up to 135 degrees, and is considered portable, although weighs in at 91 lbs.
This tool is designed to fabricate more complicated brackets, gussets, boxes or fixtures. The “fingers” are removable and adjustable, allowing for accommodating varying widths of metal.
The customer reviews are very positive, and include one person has made hundreds of single bends with no problems. He has been bending 20 gauge sheet steel and 14 gauge brass bar and finds that the machine is sturdy, quality, and accurate. The users find it easy to use, and well built. Everyone seems to think that it is “incredible” and a “solid piece of equipment” regardless of what they are bending.
The final break I will tell you about from Amazon.com is the Industrial 36 In. Heavy Duty Metal Bending Brake Bender by Generic. This item sells for a modest $276.99. It is a heavy duty model made completely from steel. It is considered a small sheet metal brake, but is not easily portable, as it is quite heavy. It has a stand included, but can also be used on a work-bench, as the stand is removable. It will easily bend up to 12 gauge sheet metal, and quickly adjusts for different sheet metal thickness. The maximum bend angle on this model is 120 degrees. There are no customer review on this model.
Sheet metal brakes vary in size, weight, and purpose. You can find portable sheet metal brakes for when you need to be able to take the brake to the work, or you can find sheet metal press brakes for when the work is heavy duty. You can find small sheet metal brakes for home use, and they are typically hand operated. The sheet metal hand brakes are great for lightweight metals, where your power is all the power you need to bend the metal. Whatever your intentions, make sure you do your research before you purchase. Make sure the “portable” model you are looking at is light enough to make it truly portable. Make sure the rating on the brake is for the gauge metal you need to bend. Hopefully, this article helped you learn a little about the various brakes, and maybe now you know what questions you need to ask before your next purchase.