Q. I have purchased several tools that I do not know how to use properly, such as a box and pan brake, bead roller, slip roller, and assorted other tools. Is there a book or a video that explains how to best use these tools, and other tricks of the trade, such as making radiused bends with a brake?
Is it possible to build a recessed firewall using a slip roller to form radiused corners, rather than a brake, which would form a square corner? Would you use the slip roller as a press to form the radius?
Via the Internet
A. Ron Fournier, one of the "big guys" in the metal shaping trade, has produced two very good books, and several DVDs. His DVD Metalwork Basics: Large Equipment covers exactly the tools you asked about! His books are the bibles of the trade, and they cover not only your questions, but a great deal more. His phone number is (800) 501-3722, and the website is fournierenterprises.com Also, I have just released a DVD specific to the bead roller.
Ordinary (leaf) brakes normally have a sharp-edged top jaw, and when the lower apron is raised, it makes a sharp bend against the top jaw. There are several ways to get a bend with a radius. On most machines, you can cut several strips of sheetmetal as wide as the apron and bend them one at a time, creating a layered stack. For example, if the sheetmetal strips are 16 gauge, with one strip on the upper jaw, it will bend metal with a 1/16-inch radius. With two strips in place, it will bend an 1/8-inch radius, and so on. On my brake, I can bend up to a 3/8-inch radius this way.
These shims can be loose, or held to the top jaw with screws. On my Chicago brake, there is a step inside the upper jaw I engage with a flange on the back of my shims, so they hold themselves in place with no fasteners, and can be easily removed. Most brakes have enough adjustment to accommodate the thickness of a certain number of strips; this is necessary because you will have to move the top jaw up and back to accommodate the shim thickness.
On some brakes, you can make larger radius bends by fastening a piece of tubing to the top jaw. There are various ways to attach these dies, but they will require moving the top jaw back a lot, which is difficult on many machines. Since you have a pan and box brake, you can remove the fingers completely, and build your own radius dies from tubing and plate. Very often with large-radius top dies, you will need to attach an extension to the lower apron of the brake, since the part that contacts the metal may be only 1/4- or 1/2-inch wide, and it will need to come up to the centerline of the radius die to work properly. Many people bolt a piece of angle iron onto the apron of the brake to make this extension.
While slip rolls are great tools, they work best when rolling a radius across a piece of metal from edge to edge. For a firewall, you will probably want to keep some portions flat (the sides and top, typically) so unless you make your firewall from several pieces, a slip roll may not do what you want.
Slip rolls aren't designed to work as presses. You can certainly work them back and forth over a small area, tightening the rolls between each pass, and make a small, localized, tight-radius bend, but this is tricky work.
There is another version of a brake, called a press brake, that can make bends that do not go fully across a sheet, but these are very large, very expensive machines, and few hobbyists have them. For a one-off firewall, it is sometimes better to have the bending done by someone with one of these machines.
You can email your questions to Professor Hammer at Use for Email Links: firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to: Professor Hammer c/o STREET RODDER, 1733 Alton Pkwy, #100, Irvine, CA 92606; you’ll receive a personal reply. Ron Covell has made many DVDs on metalworking, and he offers an ongoing series of workshops across the nation. Check them out online at www.covell.biz, or call for a current schedule of workshops and a free catalog of DVDs. Phone (800) 747-4631, or (831) 768-0705. You can send a request by mail to: Covell Creative Metalworking, 106 Airport Boulevard Suite105, Freedom, CA 95019.