I find it harder to get brass structural shapes like angles and zee sections. I’ve tried mail order but haven’t been happy with the experience. Of the stock I do find, it’s often the wrong size or too coarse. Given all that, I’ve decided to make my own whenever possible.

I’ve looked for a small bending brake for a long time with little success. The hobby grade tools are often too small for quarter-inch scale work. I’ve tried various ways of making long bends with mixed results and I considered making my own bending tool, until I stumbled onto this 18-inch capacity model from Harbor Freight. I’ve looked at this tool before but dismissed it at first because I didn’t think it was precise enough to do the work I wanted. This time however, the sales clerk assured me I could return it for a full refund if it didn’t work out. With little to lose I decided to see what it could do.

This tool isn’t all it could be. The handles just slot into the holes with a friction fit and the bar has to be positioned manually. In spite of these shortcomings, it’s more than adequate for the work I expect to do with it.

I’m aware of the reputation for cheap low quality tools this company has and watched several You Tube videos of guys trashing this brake. In most cases they were trying to force the tool to do something beyond its capacity. I’m amazed one guy didn’t seriously injure himself or break something from trying to bend an 18-inch wide sheet of 16ga. steel. Considering how much he struggled, it was clearly beyond the reasonable expectation of this tool.

I put the online trash talk aside since I’m working with 0.005 -0.010-inch sheet brass, material well within this tool’s capabilities. My only question was could I make the fine bends, such as a 0.040” flange, that I want? The short answer is yes and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean they were.

Not bad. A roughly scale two inch flange (quarter-inch scale) in a six inch long 0.005″ sheet.

The long answer is a bit different. This tool has its shortcomings. As you see in the first image, the bar that clamps the material in place isn’t attached at all. You have to position and clamp it down before you can bend anything. It can be fussy to line up and secure everything in place but it’s doable as the photo below shows. This is more of an inconvenience than a deal breaker for me. My ideal version of this tool would have the bar attached with a way to quickly and easily clamp it down after aligning the stock.

This bar is also prone to bending if you abuse the tool and mine has a slight bend in it. Again, an inconvenience but these are trade-offs I’m willing to make given I paid under fifty bucks for the thing. With a little extra care in setup, I can achieve the result I want and that’s what matters to me. In addition to the brake I also purchased a pair of seaming pliers. These are ideal for small pieces and produce crisp clean bends. They‘re also handy for fine-tuning longer bends made with the brake. I’m happy to have both tools in the shop.

I scribe a line on the brass sheet and line it and the clamping bar up with the edge of the gap you see, and secure both in place. That gap under the stock is built into the brake and creates a softer bend because the material isn’t supported properly. I think playing around with positioning the material might get around that and allow for a smaller, more precise bend. Some experiments are called for.
In the top photo above, this hand seamer with 3-1/2 inch wide jaws does a nice job for shorter stock or to clean up longer bends from the brake (second photo above). Again, this is a cheap pair but I like the smooth interior surface of the jaws. They grip thin stock nicely without marring it. Bottom line is they work for my purposes until I find a better set.
WIth practice I can make a wide range of custom stock to my own specifications.
As you should know by now, I’m a firm believer in building your capacity and skill set as a modeler. With fewer hobby shops and reduced inventories in ones that are left, once common materials are getting harder to source.

I’m also learning to manage my expectations, especially in quarter-inch scale, with all the utterly stupid compromises the mass-market of this scale inflicts on people. Admittedly, my modeling standards are uncommon. I make no apology for this, as I’m enjoying the craft in a meaningful way. If I want a high level of quality and accuracy, I have to produce it myself. The ability to make my own parts allows me to keep moving forward with the work. I’d rather spend my time at the workbench than tracking down materials online. As always it’s a personal choice. One I’m happy to make.



  1. Craig Townsend

    How are you cutting your brass?

  2. mike

    Craig, I usually use a utility knife with replaceable blades for anything up to 0.010 inch. I buy the blades in bulk packs of a hundred at the big box stores. If it’s a long cut, I clamp the stock and straightedge to the bench so nothing moves. Depending on how big the piece needs to be, I also use the small table saw with an abrasive blade to do thick stock like 0.032 inch.

    At this point I don’t see getting a metal shear or anything like that. Most of the work I’m doing is pretty small and lightweight.

  3. Craig Townsend

    Thanks Mike for that info about using a utility blade. I wouldn’t have thought about that.

    Do you have a source for the abrasive blade for the mini saw? Once my regular blades are dull, I turn them into metal blades but it’s not a good long term solution.

  4. mike

    Micro-Mark probably has what you need Craig. That’s where I got mine.