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A Homemade Box and Pan Brake – A better way

Sometimes… sometimes… you just gotta admit it. There is a better way and it ain’t yours. Actually that is what makes the net a great thing. There is always something to learn if you remain open to learn it and isn’t that the true goal: To become better and better. The only thing I wish is that I would have seen this before I did all the work on mine.

The day before I was putting the finishing touches to the brace on my brake I received the following e-mail from Fred LaPlante.  Everything in this post is his design and is being published with his permission.   Also, please note that he makes a book recommendation should you start down this path.  I will underline the recommendation.

I just discovered your blog today. Amazed to see we have been both been covering the same ground and coming to the same conclusions.  Below is my experience to date for what it is worth.  My need is to bend up aluminum for electronics enclosures so my approach may not be applicable to to you.

I started with a couple of pieces of 2x lumber, 2×4 pine for the hinged bender, a 2×10 P.T.  for the base. (just because I had them laying around at about the right length – 24 in.). I also mortised in a couple of door hinges and quickly found the placing to be critical so used some shims (vinyl siding material) to get decent alignment.  I had thought about being sure the facing sides of the 2x were flat, but later found I should have flattened the top sides as well. – next time .

I elected to make the ‘die’ out of steel angle, so visited the local Tractor Supply and got a 36in piece of 2″x2″x3/16″ angle as well as a similar length of 1in angle for the clamp.  It seemed to me that the combination would be self-aligning.

Fred's Brake - Picture 1

Fred’s Brake – Picture 1

Here is photo of where I started.  (Picture 1)







Fred's Brake Picture 2

Fred’s Brake Picture 2

The test was a small piece of copper I found in the scrap pile, but it quickly found lot of problems with bend radius, starting point, and sliding just as you described. I also found the placement of the yellow clamps was VERY fussy. The ‘die’ in use here was a 2in cutoff of the 2×2 angle. I had worked out that a set of ‘dies’ cut to 1, 2, 3, & 7 inches would let me handle all lengths between 1 in and 13 inches in steps of 1 in. (Picture 2)



Fred's Brake - Picture 3

Fred’s Brake – Picture 3

In the above photo (Picture 3) I ground the leading edges of the dies so the they had about a 10 degree slant back from vertical. The original rounded edge was the main cause of mu large radius bends. I also ground the sharp corner off the tops of the dies as that did not nest well inside the 1 inch angle. The test bend you see here looked good enough to know I was going somewhere. With this setup I was able to bend up the two pieces of a small enclosure I needed the are in the next photo. the bends came out real good, but then this is aluminum.

Here I have added a couple of carriage bolts to simplify clamping. I have also added 2 pieces of angle behind the clamping angle in line with the hinges. These are intended to reduce sliding of the dies and clamp which showed up in the above tests. Haven’t tested this configuration as I completed it just an hour before finding you site. Next test will be a 8 x 5 x 3inch enclosure similar to the above, but in 3 parts.

Fred LaPlante

I replied back with this e-mail:

Wow Fred:
I like what you did.   My real goal is also enclosures, but I started out with 20 ga steel and set my goals too high for the depth of the sides of the boxes so I laid the wood backed “clamp piece flat.  The 2X4 pine seems to work well with the aluminum, and putting that on the back of the 1 X 4 piece of poplar is probably what I should have done.   But no… I designed a brace out of 1 X 1 X 1/8” steel angle.   I got the brace almost done, but it is a pain in the ……. neck.

Your enclosure box looks really nice.    Thanks for the pictures.
May I post what you did?   Yes you will get credit.

Fred’s Reply:

Hi Gary,

Sure, post it if you like.  But do say that little of this is original, I reviewed a LOT of Internet stuff, personal and commercial before I began working on it.  Initially I was going to buy one from Harbor Freight, but the reviews were not promising. And when I looked at the price of the only available small tab & pan unit (Grizzly), it was beyond what I was willing to spend.

Let me say that if I were to do this again, the wood would not be full of knots and dents, and I would run it through a jointer and surface plane so that the corners at the bending point are truly square and parallel.  An alternative would be to purchase short maple or oak pieces at Home Depot – they are pretty well milled in my experience and two feet wouldn’t cost much.

Incidentally, I read a book last night (“Sheet Metal Technology” by David J. Gingery, 2005, abt $10 at Amazon) that has a wooden brake construction process laid out pretty well. What struck me was the use of piano hinge sections. The argument for them was the small diameter hinge pin to improve accuracy of the pivot point. Definitely a worthwhile read, wish I had seen it before I began my own exercise.

By the way have you gotten any further with your own project.  You kind of left me hanging with the last one (“More Testing Work on the Homemade Box and Pan Brake”) – I looked all over to find the next step.

Fred LaPlante

I asked a question about the piano hinges and got this e-mail:

Hi Gary,

The piano hinges are just 3 inch length and appear to be mounted outside of the intended bending area.  Actually my hinges are mounted upside down to get the pivot in the correct position and as a result all my screw heads are above the surface.  Doesn’t matter though as the two sides never meet and are well outside my clamping area.

So far I have not attempted a box with all four sides. I suppose a chassis for a vacuum tube amplifier might need that, but I do not see that in my future (plenty in the past though!).

But main reason for this post is what I encountered today.  I began work on the front panel for my new 0.2 watt beacon transmitter and discovered when I picked up the sheet of metal that I had purchased 0.26 steel instead of aluminum as I intended.  I decided to continue thinking this will test what my brake is capable of.  It turned out surprisingly well.  The steel nested angles fell right into place where expected and the plastic knobs spun right down to provide adequate pressure with no real effort at all. Here is a picture of the result; at least the best looking corner anyway. Dimensions are 3×4 in with 1/2 in lib on the edges.

Fred's Brake - Picture 4

Fred’s Brake – Picture 4

Thanks a bunch for this Fred… you have educated us all. The following is the standard share and share alike copywrite I put on all my posts. However, on this one, if you do copy and share, credit Fred LaPlant as well as this site.






Creative Commons License
Homemade Box and Pan Brake – A better way” by Create-and-Make.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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5 comments to A Homemade Box and Pan Brake – A better way

  • Hey there guys, nice work. I started out with a pretty similar design measuring 1.8 meters, (no clue what that is in inche) lol. I made it out of 40x40x3mm steel with a reinforced front bending bar. It worked well for the long bends required, but did very little for the short bends, and was really time consuming.

    We reconstructed using much heavier gauge metal, but also have now used the vertical bladed approach with an assortment of 150x8mm blades pressing down into 2 angle end up 40x40x5mm angle iron side by side. I use return springs on the sides and 2 joined hydrolic hand pump 10 ton jacks to do the pressing. It’s taken 5 years to perfect, but works like a dream. Be well.

  • Dorothy LaPlante

    hey, that’s my brother, and he’s awesome!!!!! he helps me build stuff all the time. A true blessing to me…… Dodie

  • Good job! I read the whole thing, even the original typos – you didn’t have to be so accurate there you know :-))

    Hope others find it interesting.


    • Gary


      I pretty much cut and pasted the e-mails. If any typos were caught the software caught them because I hardly ever catch any, including my own.

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