By Justin James
It seems as though there is an automated process or a machine that does everything for us these days. We have an app for this, a program for that and so on. Our worlds are so dependent on technology that we rarely take the time to do things manually or by hand. When I say by hand I don’t mean plugging in a power tool, flipping a switch and simply guiding the tool while it does its thing. I mean good old fashioned elbow grease and eyebrow sweat.
This is the manner I have gone about nearly all my fabrication work since the day I decided to mesh my metalworking skills with my love of motorcycles. I can count on one hand the number of power tools I own, including my compressor and welder. It’s not that I have anything against power tools or machinery. I’m no stranger to operating a lathe or CNC router. I acquired my skills and tooling out of necessity. Over a span of several years I was forced to practice my craft in a storage unit without a power source. Throughout this time, I collected different hammers, files, hand saws, hand crank grinders and hand crank drills. I even picked up the art of blacksmithing. By the time I got around to constructing my shed I had become so proficient with the use of this antiquated technology that I kept on with it.
Enough with my life story. I would like to dedicate the rest of this article to showing you one of the anti-automated techniques I use, specifically to bend metal. I will show you how I applied this technique to form a simple sissy bar upright using a four-foot stick of #4 rebar. As I move through this example I will at no point be using a power source other than my own muscle. The only tooling that will be utilized is a bench vise, some measuring instruments and some old hardware (2 flange bolts, a spacer, a coupler nut and a lock nut, all 3/8”).
Step 1: Bending Jig
I began by setting up a jig to bend the rebar using a bench vise and the hardware. This was accomplished by clamping the bolts (inserted from bottom) in the vise jaws. The spacer was installed onto one of the bolts followed by the flange nut. I then threaded the coupler nut onto the second bolt. The spacer acts as a pivot point to bend the rebar around while the coupler nut will help the rebar to remain in place.
Step 2: Top Bend
The exact center of the rebar was measured and marked. I aligned the centering mark on the rebar with the center of the coupler nut. Once everything was in alignment, I adjusted the position of the spacer to eliminate any free play between it, the coupler nut and the rebar. The lock nut on the spacer and the coupler nut were then secured as tight as possible to ensure they would remain in place under the force being applied to the rebar while being bent. Using even pressure on both sides I then bent the rebar around the spacer until I achieved the desired radius.
Step 3: Lower Bends
For this application I needed the lower bends to be 10” apart to accommodate the desired mounting position. In this case that point was exactly 6” from the bottom edge. For these bends I did not use the jig I had set up to perform the top bend. Instead, I marked the bend point on one side of the bar and inserted the rebar directly into the vise jaws. The ends needed to come straight in to the mounting point on the frame. This was achieved by bending the end thirteen degrees inward. The process was then duplicated on the other side.
After making these three simple bends, the sissy bar for this application was complete. This isn’t the most beautiful work of art, but it will tie in well with the rigid frame, springer front end old-style chopper it is destined to go on. The only thing that will be added to it between now and then is a rack to hold a skateboard, and some paint.
The intent of this edition of Tinker Talk is to show you a way to bend metal that is not only manual, but minimal. Should you wish to use these techniques to make a sissy bar or anything else, I will leave you with a few extra pointers. Put plenty of time and thought into your measurements and desired mounting configuration. Make good use of a tape measure and angle finder. Consider utilizing some old cardboard to make a template. If you have difficulty bending the metal, you can use a section of pipe to gain leverage or heat the metal with a torch. Either of these techniques will assist with the bending process. Most importantly, have fun with it and take pride in the fact that you are creating something from nearly nothing.
-Justin James (Follow more of my Tinker shenanigans on Instagram @justinjamesmoto)
P.S. For my loyal Tinkerer’s who have not heard… I will be competing in the 2019 Blue Collar Build Off. I will be posting regular updates to the Quick Throttle Magazine Facebook group page. There you can follow the action as Team Tinkerin builds a beautiful handcrafted custom motorcycle from the scrap yard remains of what once was four different motorcycles.