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How to Use a Hydraulic Pipe Bender to Make a Metal Sculpture

The Voice: Hey, Kev. What are you doing?

Kevin Caron: I'm working on a metal tree, a piece of public art commissioned by the city of Avondale.

This long piece of metal is one-inch tree bark stock; solid stock. I'm running it through my hydraulic bender and putting bends in it so I can make "roots" and give the tree a little texture and shape. The tool I'm using is a hydraulic pipe bender, which consists of a 12-ton hydraulic jack inside of a crane.

You can take this tool pretty much anywhere. It's not only meant to be used standing upright the way it is, but it's got special little hooks on the back of it so you can lay it down.

This feature would allow you to take it off and into another piece of machinery if you were bending a pipe, or making a roll cage for a race car, or something like that. You can muscle this thing inside the roll cage and put a little tweak on a pipe that's already been welded in place.

It's got these dies inside - little roller dies. This is what the pipe lays inside while in the machine. It?s got another little die that sits on top of the jack that the metal goes into to keep it from moving, so you can get a nice, smooth bend in it one way or the other.

Also, you can adjust it in and out for different sized pipes, different size radiuses, using the different sized dies that go on top of the jack. You can bend metal pipe up to a 2-inch diameter, or 2 and a half inch, all the way down to half-inch. That's what we're doing - we're bending metal.

This particular model is not one of the high-dollar hydraulic machines where you just push a button and things happen.

This piece is the pattern I want to use, so I lay it out on my work table next to a piece of stock. When I come to the first bend, I put a little mark then I go to the bender. Then I go to the next bend; mark it and go back to the bender. That way I can repeat a pattern pretty closely every time.

With the bigger machines, you can put little metal pins in so the machine will only go so far, and you can repeat it that way. It's really just a poor man's way of cheating.

As you can see, this is what I've been doing - just getting this nice, smooth curve to it, so it looks like a tree root with the trunk starting to come up.

This is a portion I've just finished. It weighs a lot more. Each piece is about 40 pounds of stick, so we've got a lot of weight here already. You can see that nice shape I've got going and it's beginning to look like a tree trunk. If you look down toward the base you can see there are roots coming out. They sort of look like hands, don?t they?

With me standing next to it, you can see from the chalk outline how big the tree is going to be. This part is going to fit in here, like that. I?ll have to make five more to go all the way around the tree to connect them all together.

Next I'll start making my trunk going up, and then the branches going across the top.

I've got a long way to go, but we?ll get there. See you next time.

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