4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 765

By Christian Sturtz, [email protected]

Photos by Christian Sturtz

One of the most performed procedures in off-road fabrication is to bend flat-plate or strap. The most common tool used to perform this procedure is called a brake. It is common language to say that you are “braking some parts out” when you are making a part(s) that have a bend in them which requires the use of a brake. There are several types of brakes, each one having a specific use, but there is some overlap with their intended uses. Two of the most common types of brakes are a box and pan brake and a hydraulic press brake. Box and pan brakes are used for precise bends in sheet metal, with a capacity typically under 11-12 gauge mild steel. Box and pan brakes are mostly mechanically hand-operated and come in a wide range of sizes. A small fabrication shop would typically have a 4-8’ box and pan brake. Hydraulic press brakes have a thicker capacity, and their hydraulic operation makes them more suitable for production-type applications. Box and pan, as well as hydraulic press brakes, are available with finger-type designs. This allows you to remove and rearrange the segmented fingers/blocks of the dies to bend in restricted areas or around an obstruction.

So, where does this leave a do-it-yourselfer or small shop? With the cost of a good quality box and pan brake in excess of $1,000 and a self-powered hydraulic press brake in the $10,000+ range, it is not really in most consumers’ budget. Additionally, this type of equipment takes up a lot of real estate, and could require upgra4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 766ded electrical service. A great option for this dilemma is a press brake kit from Swag Off Road. Swag Off Road products are designed with quality and budget in mind. Many of their products are available in DIY builder kits, which require the consumer to complete the welding and assembly. Fully welded options are also available.

Swag Off Road makes several different sizes and configurations of their press brakes. Some of the available options are: finger die design, gooseneck dies, and flat top adjustable bottom “V” die. We already briefly touched on the finger design, which is most commonly used on parts requiring brakes in more than one plane. Gooseneck dies are most commonly used in bending pans with shallow sides or “U” shaped parts with complex bends. The flat-top adjustable bottom “V” die allows you to bend shorter pieces and adjust to a tighter radius on thinner material.

We decided that the 20 Ton Finger Brake Heavy Duty Fully Welded (HD 20) would be the best option for our shop. The HD 20 fits in a Harbor Freight 20 ton hydraulic press (Part #: 32879 or 60603) which is not included but available at your local Harbor Freight. The HD 20 is large enough to do most DIY jobs with a 19” wide bending capacity on 1/8” or less mild steel; it has lots of versatility. If we want to expand the capabilities of the brake, we can add the gooseneck dies and flat top adjustable bottom “V” die at a later time.

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 764The assembly of the HD 20 is very easy and straightforward. The only welding that is required is if you choose to install the optional centering tabs. We started screwing in the threaded guides and squaring off the notches that the centering tabs key into with a file. Then we clamped and welded them into place with our ESAB Rebel Emp 205ic AC/DC. Next, the bottom “V” die was set into the press, the springs were put into position, and the depth stop and die holder were tightened. Finally, the centering tabs were clamped to the press frame.

It was then time to try it out. The integrated stop makes bending multiple parts a breeze. The press didn’t even break a sweat bending 6 inches of ¼” mild steel. With the presses removable fingers, even bending pans is possible. Hopefully, we have shown you how to get bent without being broken.

Tools Used:

Swag Off Road: 20 Ton Finger Brake Heavy Duty Fully Welded (HD 20)


Swag Off Road

20652 Camen loop #130

Bend, OR 977024x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 763


ESAB Welding and Cutting Products

2800 Airport Rd.

Denton, TX 76207

800- ESAB- 123




APEX Tool Group

910 Ridgebrook Rd. (Suite 200)

Sparks, MD 21152



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