Bending Thick Metal

I’m looking to buy a metal bender that can bend a piece of aluminum 20" wide and 0.12" thick, 90 degrees, in a compact space and at a reasonable price.
We don’t have any welding gear or experience and so would like a fully built setup.
I found the following items that might work. Let me know what you think.


At that point, would it not be easier to just use extruded aluminum L? You could always waterjet a bending pattern and bend it by hand, but I’m not sure if you have the resources available in a short enough time frame.

Looking at this, you would have to buy both, as the amazon link is a press brake that does not come with a press. Perhaps look into a sheet metal brake?

The Swag Offroad kit is pretty nice one (I have one). I’d suggest getting the ‘finger’ version instead. For a little more dough you get a lot more flexibility.

Otherwise, something like thismight be more flexible in the future. We’ve found it easier to do good bends with a pan and box brake instead of a press brake.

Thanks for your quick comments.
We are looking to buy this spring, so we have time to place an order.
Over the years we have found a need to bend a large piece of aluminum and while we could use an extruded piece of angle and rivet a sheet to it, we end up either hand bending or hammering a piece into shape. The goal is to speed things up and produce a better result.

Most of the sheet metal brakes I’ve seen only claim to handle 16 gauge metal. Can one of these bend 1/8" or thicker sheet aluminum?


Usually if the product is claiming 16 gauge steel then you can drop 2-4 gauges for aluminum depending on what type you are using (more for 5000 series, less for others).

A 12 gauge sheet metal brake will handle 1/8 aluminum, however it is going to cost multiple thousands of dollars.

Depending on the width of the aluminum and your ability to tolerate bend radius variation across the length of the bend (because the leaf deflects) you can likely get away with it.

I must ask: what are you doing where you’ll need 1/8in and thicker? We’ve had great luck bending things out of 10AWG (.100in) 5052 aluminum with no significant structural issues. Seeing as bending force goes up with thickness cubed, .100 requires about half the force as .125 to bend!

If a brake is rated for 16awg steel (0.0598in, 210GPa E), it can bend 0.088in aluminum sheet (70GPa E) as well. A small de-rating from full-width and, ta-da! You’re bending 10awg aluminum all day!

I don’t know what the correct answer is for your team.

But I think I ought to build a press brake…I have the press already…for home use.

Thanks for the comments.
We are highly space constrained so one option would be a bender that can be stored out of the way when not needed.

If we buy thinner material like 0.1", what would bender would you recommend we buy that is mobile? (clamp on a table then store out of the way when not needed)

Would something like this work?


We sought a similar machine and got some advice in this thread:

We ended up buying the brake Bruce recommended and we’re happy with it. I would note that we haven’t been able to effectively bend anything but 5052 without a shoe (even adjusting the various things you can adjust). We’ve bent 1/8" in the range of 12" wide (haven’t tried wider) and full width 0.09".

Before purchasing a metal brake, give some carefull consideration of your future needs. A standard Finger Brake allows you to make more complex and adjacent bends. We can easily bend a battery box and other complex shapes that you simply can’t do with a simple press brake.

Heavier gage material simply requires a bigger machine. Take a look at some of the Grizzley models.

We have a large 48" floor standing finger brake that’s rated for 12 gage steel (0.1046") that weighs 1200 lbs.

Also keep in mind that 6061 aluminum doesn’t always bend well. It has a tendency to crack.

A 20-ton press will serve you well. You can then buy two pieces of heavy angle iron and make a fixture for 90 degree bends, no welding required. But that fixture will do only that. (The press can come in handy for many other things)

A bending brake will allow you to form angles other than 90, and partial or full width bends are possible with fingers. As already said, a 12 Ga bender will handle 1/8" aluminum.

Consider the used market for such a machine. New doesn’t make sense.
However these are often large and heavy, and not ideal for a “space-constrained” shop.

A final alternative is a local metal shop, they’d probably make the bends free or cheap as part f a sponsorship… HVAC guys can tell you about ductwork shops, and check the yellow pages for machine shops.

There’s no issue bending 6061 if you use an appropriate bend radius. That’s the only sheet aluminum we use. I’d suggest just adopting some conservative bend radius such as 0.125 for all FRC designs. Unless your trying to bend something ridiculously thick you should be fine.

Anything above 0.100 your better off using an extrusion profile.

We’ve had this same dilemma but I made a bender this fall to fit on our tube bender (Harbor Freight, 12-ton, $110). I spent about $50 on steel plus $30 to ship the steel.

It’s an “Air bender” normally, with two pieces of 1/4x3 mild steel spaced one-inch apart, but I also made an angle piece that can fit in to do 88 degree bends (spring-back from 90)

The bending ram is just a big piece of 1/2 x 3 mild steel with the front edge put on manually with a grinder. The sides are guided by a groove in the ends of the ram.

During build season, we accidentally cut a side of our AM14U-3 too short. Rather than stall our build, I grabbed a piece of .125 5052 --23 inches long–and we made a new kit-bot side panel. It looked better than the original because it doesn’t have all the holes in it that we don’t need.