How to Make Your Own Magnetic Sheet Metal Pan and Box Brake - DIY Metal Bending

How to Make Your Own Magnetic Sheet Metal Pan and Box Brake - DIY Metal Bending
Table Of Content

Introduction to Sheet Metal Pan Brakes

Sheet metal working is a common fabrication technique used by hobbyists, automotive enthusiasts, HVAC professionals, and manufacturing facilities. One of the most useful tools for bending and forming sheet metal is a pan brake, also known as a box and pan brake or bending brake. This versatile machine allows the operator to make straight bends, boxes, pans, and custom metal parts out of sheet steel, stainless steel, or aluminum.

A pan brake works by clamping the sheet metal between an upper and lower beam. The upper beam is hinged and able to apply pressure and create a bend when lowered. Pan brakes come in a variety of sizes from small portable units to large industrial models. The machine's capacity is rated by the maximum bend length or working width. Common sizes range from 24 inches up to 144 inches or more.

Benefits of a Magnetic Pan Brake

One popular type of pan brake design utilizes magnetism to hold the sheet metal workpiece. This magnetic pan brake clamps materials securely without marring or scratching the surface. Magnetism also allows for quick adjustments and convenience when frequently changing setups or bending small parts.

Here are some of the benefits of a magnetic pan and box brake compared to other designs:

  • Holds sheet metal firmly without clamps or screws leaving marks
  • Quickly switch between different material thicknesses and sizes
  • Ideal for short production runs and prototyping
  • Simpler operation than hydraulic or mechanical brakes
  • Compact size takes up less space in home shops
  • Lower cost compared to industrial style pan brakes

The magnetic holding force allows metal sheets to be bent repeatedly to precise angles. This is invaluable when making boxes, chutes, brackets, tray floors, and other parts requiring multiple bends. The magnetism also concentrates the clamping force right at the bend line for accuracy.

Building a DIY Magnetic Sheet Metal Brake

Constructing a magnetic pan brake is a rewarding metalsmithing project. With some basic skills and the right plans, you can create a versatile sheet metalworking tool and save substantially over buying a commercially made unit. Here is an overview of how to build your own magnetic pan brake:

Design and Materials

Most homebuilt magnetic brakes use a straight forward design with an upper beam and lower table. The length depends on the maximum sheet width you need to bend. Common materials include:

  • Steel frame and stiffening gussets
  • Top and bottom plates made of quarter inch steel
  • Hinges to connect the swinging brake beam
  • Industrial strength magnets or magnetic sheet
  • Adjustable screw stops to set bend angles

For a 24 inch brake, 16 to 20 inches of stroke allows for decent box and pan forming. The frame can be fabricated from steel angles, channel, or tubing. Consider adding supports underneath the working area and small wheels for mobility.


The magnets supply the clamping force so powerful ones are essential. Neodymium rare earth magnets offer excellent strength for their small size. These types of magnets are readily available online. Use at least 10 pounds of pulling force per inch. Arrange the magnets side by side and test their coverage across the brake width.


Follow standard metalworking safety precautions when operating your magnetic pan brake:

  • Wear eye protection - bits of metal can fly when bending
  • Keep fingers away from the bend area
  • Watch out for sharp metal edges and corners
  • Securely clamp materials before actuating
  • Prevent accidental magent contact like pinsching fingers

Bending Tips

Here are some useful tips for bending sheet metal on a magnetic pan brake:

  • Allow clearance between the magnets and workpiece
  • Use multiple light bends instead of one extreme bend
  • Keep metal as close the bend line and magnets as possible
  • Add filler strips for short parts to fully engage magnets
  • Use curved jaw corners to prevent sheet marking
  • Adjust bend angle with stop screws and test pieces
  • Factor in springback - most materials won't bend to 90 degrees

Project Ideas

A magnetic pan brake is perfect for making custom boxes, chutes, brackets, trays, shelving, and more. Here are some project ideas to get you started:

  • Electrical enclosures and junction boxes
  • Metal covers to conceal ductwork or mechanicals
  • Automotive patch panels, floorpans, and fender flares
  • Sign backing panels and sign frames
  • Trash can wraps and decorative waste receptacles
  • Brackets to mount auxiliary equipment
  • Kickplates and door armor for high traffic areas
  • dust collection hoods and fittings

With some creative thinking and basic metalworking skills, you can create an endless array of parts with a magnetic pan and box brake. Building your own machine is a rewarding weekend project that will provide years of use.


A magnetic pan and box brake is a useful addition to any home or professional metal shop. This versatile sheet metalworking machine utilizes magnets to clamp and bend a wide range of materials. Constructing your own brake allows you to save money while gaining valuable fabrication skills.

Follow a set of plans to build the steel frame, hinged beam, and magnet holding forces. Be sure to use adequate magnet strength and implement safety precautions. With practice, you'll be able to quickly bend panels to form boxes, chutes, brackets, and custom enclosures.

A homebuilt magnetic brake can handle all your sheet metal fabrication needs at a fraction of the cost of commercial units. If you work with sheet steel, stainless, or aluminum, this is one metalworking project you don't want to miss out on!


What size magnets are needed?

Use small but powerful neodymium rare earth magnets. You need around 10 lbs of pulling force per inch of brake width. Arrange multiple magnets close together for full coverage.

What thickness of sheet metal can be bent?

Most DIY brakes can handle 18 to 22 gauge steel and stainless up to 1/8 inch thick aluminum. Capacity depends on magnet strength and frame rigidity.

What angle can be bent?

With most materials, around 85 to 87 degrees is the maximum bend possible in one hit before springback occurs. Make multiple smaller bends for sharper angles.

What safety precautions should be used?

Always wear eye protection and keep fingers clear of the bend area. Watch for sharp metal edges and secure workpieces to prevent slippage.

What projects are ideal for this brake?

It's great for boxes, chutes, brackets, panels, dust collection fittings, and any part requiring lengthwise bends. Use your creativity to make custom metalwork.

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