So you've got all the handtools you can fit in your roll-away. Your power tools are spilling from the workbench onto the floor. You've had your welder for a while and can even lay some good-looking beads. So, are you a fully functioning 4x4 fabricator yet? Unless you've got a tubing bender we're going to say, "Sorry, Charlie."
It's one of those tools that say you've really arrived on the scene and are serious about your sport. Once you get the ability to bend tubing a whole new world opens up to you. It suddenly doesn't matter anymore if "they don't make that for my rig." You can make your vehicle fit your wheeling style and not the other way around. But what do you need to know when picking your bender, where do you get it, and how do you work it?
We hooked up with Duane Walker of M-Tech Supply for some answers and to show you how to take your hobby to the next level. M-Tech carries a full line of bending machines and accessories for everyone from the novice enthusiast to the professional fabricator. The company can hook you up with surprisingly affordable manual (hand-operated) benders that are extremely consistent and are of professional-quality, to full-gonzo hydraulic benders. M-Tech's catalog also lists die sets for just about every size of round and square tubing as well as Schedule 40 pipe, plus there are tubing notchers, welders, band saws and other cutting tools, and lots of other stuff you'd need for serious metalwork.
Parts And Pieces
Our order to M-Tech consisted of the following parts: model NE5 mechanical bender with degree ring, a bender floor pedestal, a model TN-100 tubing notcher, and three die sets.
The NE5 bender is a newly redesigned version of the company's Model 3 bender. Some of its features that appealed to us were the quick-pull die sleeve pins that make changing forming dies a breeze, the beveled pin holes that make it easy to insert the pins into the pressure die and bender while you're balancing a 15-foot section of tubing with one hand, and the ease with which the degree ring simply bolts to the bottom of the bender under the forming die.
We have friends that have made their own pedestals on which to mount their benders, but none have seemed to hold up. The M-Tech pedestal we ordered for our bender features 11/42-inch-thick steel at the mounting points and, when securely bolted to the floor, does not wiggle at all.
Die, Tubing, Die
Die sets are available for different diameter tubing and for different radius bends. Most commonly, you'll see die sets that will accommodate a 90-degree bend or a 180-degree bend. The 180-degree die sets are usually a bit more expensive than the 90-degree die sets, but you're limited to the amount of bend you can put in your tubing. For our money, we'd rather get the 180-degree die sets and not be hampered in what we may build in the future.
Another point of consideration when selecting your die sets is the CLR, or Center Line Radius, of the die. This is the measurement of the center rotational point of the forming die (the pin that holds the die in the bender) and the middle of the tubing. For example, for a 180-degree die for 131/44-inch tubing, you can choose a die set with a 511/42-inch CLR or a 611/42-inch CLR. You'll be able to make a tighter bend with the 511/42-inch CLR die set than with the 611/42-inch die set, but the tighter the CLR, the greater the wall thickness of the tubing needs to be to resist wrinkling on the inside of the bend.
We had M-Tech ship us three 180-degree die sets for the most common tubing sizes, a 1-inch tubing with a 3-inch CLR, a 111/42-inch tubing with a 411/42-inch CLR, and a 131/44-inch tubing with a 511/42-inch CLR.
Cost To Bend
Here's what we used and what it costs. Not bad at all considering that labor for building an average rollcage is usually anywhere from $500 to $1,500. (Prices are correct as of press time.)