Recently, I thought I’d check the internet to see what was posted relative to bending steel. It is a very broad subject, like asking “What is the price of a car?”

Very difficult to answer without lots of clarification, clarification not only relative to the nature of the steel, the hardness, the bend, the bend radius, the equipment, the operator, and so on. Will you be cold bending, or applying heat? Quickly run through the above questions and then give some thought to the tools you might be using you to bend the steel: pliers, hammer, garden tools? You’ll want to add some simple protective gear (for hands, face, head, feet, etc.)

BENDING STEEL IS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS. I’m not telling you not to attempt bending steel. But, if you’re a novice (beginner), your first consideration should be to have a professional, or experienced individual do it. If that is just not an option, then approach bending any steel with a high degree of caution. Bending even a small thin strip of steel may result in problems, including serious injury.

One foolproof caution a novice should employ before attempting to bend steel is this: Hold the bar of steel close enough to clearly see the surface finish and the sharp edges. Grasp it firmly in both hands and look closely to see if you can determine grain direction. Whack yourself in the forehead. It should hurt, causing you to reconsider what you are considering doing, or at least to insure you exercise extra caution and make use of safety gear such as gloves, safety goggles, helmet, whatever.

BENDING STEEL IS DANGEROUS!  BENDING HARDENED STEEL IS NOT ONLY DANGEROUS; IT IS POTENTIALLY DEADLY. How do you determine if it is soft steel or if it has been hardened?

If you can grip it in both hands and bend it, it’s probably on the softer side. If you feel that it should be bending but it’s not budging, it’s time for some extra caution. It might be a piece of steel that is dead hard. If you hit that with a hammer, or even if you just apply too much force, it may shatter, discharging projectile pieces.

In general, avoid tight radius bends. Slow, minimal curves are safer for you, your neighbors, and the steel. If you do need to make a 90-degree bend, the curve at the point of the bend (bend radius) will have to be large, maybe ever 2” diameter or greater. If that is not going to work for your project, it’s time to consider that your attempted blacksmithing is perhaps ill conceived.

Bending steel at colder temperatures is riskier than bending it at higher temperatures.

Granted, that makes handling it more difficult, but the chances of successful results are increased.

When you anticipate bending steel, whether it is behind the garage at home or in your basement, respect it as a serious material and approach it with the caution it deserves; think danger like you would if you were working with large hungry predatory cats, people prone to projectile vomiting, or high voltage electrical current.

-Howard Thomas, November 6th 2020

There is a famous saying; “A man must know his limitations.” I am sure it is also appropriate for a woman. So it is with this topic. Some steel grades can be bent fairly easily. And, some steel grades in some conditions should never be bent. Before attempting to bend steel you must fully understand its limitations. If you are one of those who never reads instructions and just charges ahead, then there is another appropriate quote from the same person; “Do you feel lucky, kid? Well, do you…?”

The thing is, bending steel is dangerous, even steel listed as “formable”. Ideally, it should be left to experts. But, if you are going to do it anyway, you must know some things about the metal you are contemplating bending. The grade and internal cleanliness are important. But more important is the hardness and the depth and uniformity of that hardness. Soft malleable (ductile) steel in a very light gage may take a nice bend simply by “hand”. Harder (heat treated) heavier gage steel may require high capacity sophisticated equipment that has built-in protections for the machine operator. Very hard steel may not tolerate even the slightest bend, or even pressure for that matter. To put it in perspective, when you think of very hard steel, think of a pane of glass. You wouldn’t push the center of a large pane of glass to see if it bends. At least I hope not. When hard steel fails during a bending process, it literally explodes! As in, loud noise and a section of the roof leaving the building rather quickly.

Before you attempt to bend a piece of steel say this out loud three times; “This is an angry piece of steel that doesn’t want to be played with, and there is a reason why everyone behind me is stepping back.” Then step into your safety gear, study everything you can about the steel, then call a person who bends steel professionally. If that is just not possible and you are required to bend it yourself, do some serious research before you begin and remember, wear appropriate safety gear. Bending steel is not a job for amateurs. Use certified/qualified expert technicians.

Some key words that may help you discover a bit about bending steel are listed below:

Forming, Press Brake, Rolling, Open Air Die, Bottom Die, Bullnose Die, Arc, Degree of Arc, Knife Die (as in; don’t use this type of die), Degree of Bend, Radius of Bend, Hardness HB, Hardness RC, Decarb Removal, Surface Preparation Steel, Brinell, Rockwell, Plasticity, Plastic Deformation, Spring-Back, Work Hardening, Heat Treating, Surface Hardness, Through Hardness, Gushing Head Wound, Depressed Skull Fracture, Life Insurance

4T, 8T, 12T relate to how many times you multiply the thickness of the steel to determine a suggested minimum bend radius. 4T would require a radius of four times the thickness, 12T would be twelve times the thickness, etc.

And, one more famous quote; “Don’t try this at home!”

-Howard Thomas, June 4th 2019