Every application you encounter is bound to require tube bending, and this is one procedure where practice makes perfect. Some refer to tube bending as an art form.
You may want to have several of these tools in your toolbox. They range from the simple spring tube bender to the specialty ratchet hand bender. Each is designed to help you do your work more efficiently no matter what the situation.
The tools covered are for use with soft copper only, unless otherwise noted.
Spring Tube Bender
The Spring Tube Bender has been around for quite some time. It’s a fast way to bend tubing from 1/4” to 7/8” outside diameter.
- Slip the proper size spring over your tubing and bend to the desired angle.
- Remove the spring by twisting it as you pull it off your tubing.
It’s easy to use and, provided you use the proper diameter spring for your tubing, prevents the tube from collapsing. If the wrong size is used, the tube will collapse. If you ever notice compromises in the spring, such as gaps or a crease, the tool must be replaced. And don’t forget to remove it before brazing.
Full Range Heavy-Duty Tube Bender
Next is a Full Range Heavy-Duty Tube Bender for making fast bends up to 180 degrees on 1/4”, 5/16” and 3/8” outside diameters. Although this tool bends multiple diameters, there are individual benders for larger sizes up through 7/8”.
This tool uses leverage through the actuation of two handles to bend tubing.
- Visualize and then mark the bend. A quality tool will include instructions on how to mark and bend tubing.
- Place the tubing into the bender and slowly apply leverage to make the bend.
- Additional bends can be made accordingly until the demands of the installation have been met. Carefully mapping out the necessary bends and the order in which they will be made will save both time and aggravation.
- To locate 90° bends on this type bender, mark the centerline of the first bend location on the tube.
- If the dimensioned length is to the left of the 0° mark, align the bend location mark with the “L” on the bending handle. Rotate the bending handle until the tube is bent to the 90° angle.
- If the dimension length is to the right of the 0° mark, then align the bend location mark on the tube with the “R” on the bending handle.
Ratchet Hand Bender
A popular specialty bender is the Ratchet Hand Bender. It’s perfect for gaining access to soft copper tubing in tight spaces where it’s next to impossible to gain any manual leverage.
- Start by choosing the desired size bending mandrel.
- Slide the square hole on the ratchet bar.
- Fasten the correctly sized crossbar assembly on the bender body so that the desired size bending shoes are in the same plane as the mandrel.
- Use the wing screw to fasten them together.
- The bending shoes are marked with the various tube sizes. Rotate until the desired shoe size faces the tube that you will be bending.
- Pull the feed lever away from the handle and push the mandrel and ratchet bar back towards the handle.
- Release the feed lever and you are ready to bend tubing.
- Put your tubing between the mandrel and bending shoes. Again, make sure the bending shoe and mandrel are matched for size.
- Squeeze the feed lever a few times to begin the bend.
- When the bender is in the desired position, continue squeezing the lever until the bend is complete.
- To remove the tube, pull the feed lever away from the handle, push the mandrel back toward the handle and take the tubing out.
Use the two indexes on top of the mandrel to locate your bends. If the desired bend is to be finished 10” from the left end of the tube, locate the 10” mark to the right side index and bend. Likewise, if the desired bend is to be 10” from the right, locate the 10” mark to the left side index and bend.
You can accomplish a bend in the opposite direction by mounting the reverse bend adapter to the ratchet tube bender. No matter which direction you are working in, the ratchet tube bender is restricted to a maximum of 90°. When you make a bend with this tool, the distance between bends depends on the diameter of the tubing you’re working with.
If you have to bend hard copper, first anneal and then cool it prior to bending so the bending mandrel and shoes are not damaged.
One Final Note on Safety
It’s important to understand how each tool is designed to function and make sure you have all the right tools in your bag to do every job correctly. Attempting to use a tool in a manner it was never intended might result in personal injury, damage to the equipment or destruction of the tool. Also, always be aware of the refrigerant you are working with and the state the system is in when beginning your work. You may or may not be required to perform a lockout procedure before doing anything to the system. Finally, be responsible and always wear eye protection as well as a good pair of work gloves when it’s appropriate.