I made my own press brake for bending plate steel and small tubing years ago and still use it to this day. Check out this post for how you can build one for yourself.
When it comes to bending heavy gauge steel you pretty much only have a couple of options.
1. Put it in your vice and beat the snot out of it hoping your bend will be straight, assuming you are ok with some hammer dents in your piece
2. You could take your grinder and make a groove until the steel is thin enough to bend by hand then weld up the groove once you get it to the angle you want
3. Buy or build a press brake.
At this point pretty much everything has already been invented. So when I am trying to make a tool, I start searching for bigger professional examples of the tool I am trying to make. a quick search for press brakes brings me up with some quick ideas as to what they look like and how they work. Swag Offroad has recently started their own DIY Press Brake and DIY Finger Press brake kits which are great options if you have a welder but don’t want to cut out all the pieces yourself. Check them out by clicking the pictures below.
20 Ton Remove-able Finger version:
20 Ton Non-Finger version:
12 Ton Non-Finger version:
The examples above can be bought un-assembled weld it yourself or pre-assembled and ready to use. Even the DIY kits can pricey, click the pictures above to check out more details on them.
I built mine way before anybody offered kits, so read on for ideas on how to build your own. I have actually built two sets of press brake jaws for my press over the years because one time I was in the middle of a project and couldn’t find it so I made another one. Also, I don’t have any pictures of them in the process of being built because I built them a long time ago.
The first part you need is a 6 ton, 12 ton or 20 ton press depending on what you are planning on bending with it. Our goal is essentially to make a V shape so we can bend metal. This is not rocket science and I try not to overthink it. You can get a 6-20 ton press for less than $200 just about anywhere (Harbor Freight, Northern Tool, Amazon, etc.). Mine is a 12 Ton floorstanding press similar to the one pictured below:
You could also get a smaller 6 Ton Press that is only ~3ft tall and is made to be put on a workbench if you don’t have a lot of space.
You then need to find a piece of tubing that fits over the press rod. Then we will need four ~1ft long pieces of 3/16″ thick angle iron. This part will make the upper part of the press. Another tip that I learned is to make two extra tabs on the top with holes so you can attach bungee cords. This will keep the upper die attached so it moves up and down with the press
Next you will need an ~4″x8″ piece of sheet metal ~1/8″ thick to attach the three bottom pieces of angle iron to. Also you will need three pieces of angle iron similar in length and thickness to what you used for the top die. Two will be welded with the point up /\/\ then the third will be upside down between them for extra stiffness like this /\\//\. See the pictures below.
Here are some pictures of my home built press brakes. The non painted one was version one and the blue one is version two. Another tip I learned is that it helps a lot to lubricate the bottom die so the metal can slide against it easier.
The below pictures are version 2 that I built when I couldn’t find version 1. Yes it is the same press, just cleaned up and painted.
Can you buy these already made? Sure, but that can cost quite a bit of money depending on what you get. This style uses a standard automotive style press and some scrap steel that you can get easily and relatively cheap. So if you need to bend a piece of steel, don’t go out and spend a lot of money, do it yourself and save!
I found the above vice metal brake while I was researching this article. Same concept, but it fits inside of your vice. Should work great for small projects. The thickness of metal it will bend depends on how much you can crank down on your vice without it breaking.
The above picture is what a sheetmetal brake looks like. They have “fingers” that can be removed so you can make boxes, etc. The problem with these is that they will only do sheetmetal, this one is rated for 20 gauge which is less than 1/16″ thick.
Hope this article helps. The whole point is that if you need to bend some thick steel for a project, there are a lot of options. It doesn’t have to cost lots of money, just get some ideas going then go out in your shop and try it! (in a safe manner of course)