EMT (electrical metallic tubing), sometimes called "thin-wall conduit," is a form of rigid metal conduit used to protect circuit wires where they must run in exposed locations, such as in basements, along the surface of walls, or in outdoor locations. The Electrical Code generally requires extra protection for circuit wires in these exposed locations, and EMT is one approved method for providing that protection where sheathed cable is insufficient. In EMT installations, individual wire conductors are pulled through metal conduit to link the various fixtures and outlets along a circuit.
EMT can be fitted in any number of ways, including mechanical elbows and sweep fittings that can be joined to straight lengths of conduit with union connections. These fittings quickly add to the cost of installation, however, so most pros save money by simply bending straight lengths of conduit to form sweeping angles. In addition to saving money, bent sweeps make it easier to pull wires through the conduit.
EMT is fairly rigid, but it's also easy to bend, provided you have the right tool and technique. The right tool is a conduit bender, and the right technique mostly involves measuring properly to account for the bend. A conduit bender is a standard tool owned by nearly all electricians, but for DIYers, the tool can be leased from home improvement centers or tool rental outlets.
Equipment / Tools
- Tape measure
- Conduit bender (sized for conduit you’re bending)
- Framing square
- EMT conduit
Calculate the Bend
The first step in making a 90-degree bend is to determine how long the bend needs to be. Let’s say that you’re running a piece of 3/4-inch conduit straight down a wall, then turning it 90 degrees to run horizontally to an electrical box that is 12 inches away.
Look at the head of the conduit bender. You should find a notation about the take-up dimension. It might say something like, "Stubs 5 to arrow." This means that for this particular tool, a 90-degree bend adds 5 inches to your horizontal measurement. (A stub is what electricians call a 90-degree bend.) The arrow is near the front end of the head and indicates the beginning of the bend.
In our example, the conduit needs to extend horizontally 12 inches from the vertical portion of the conduit. If the take-up dimension of your conduit bender is 5 inches, subtract 5 inches from 12 inches, giving you 7 inches. This is where the bend will begin on the piece of EMT.
Mark the Conduit
Measure from the end of the conduit and make a mark at 7 inches to indicate the start of the bend. Slip the end of the conduit into the bender so the 7-inch mark is aligned with the arrow. This 7 inches, plus the "Stubs 5 to arrow" will give you the total horizontal run of 12 inches, including the bend.
Bend the Conduit
Pull the handle of the bender back toward you while applying heavy foot pressure to the bender heel at the backside of the tool's head. Continue with a steady motion until the length of the conduit on the floor reaches the 90-degree mark indicated on the side of the bender's head.
Check the Bend
Remove the conduit from the bender and check your work with a framing square. The two sides of the bend should align with the two legs of the square, indicating that the bend is at exactly 90 degrees.
Next, check the length of the bend. Position the conduit with the long end on the floor and the short end pointing upward. Measure straight up from the floor to the end of the conduit; in our example, it should be 12 inches.
If the bend is less than 90 degrees, you can put it back in the bender and bend it a little more. If you somehow end up with more than 12 inches on the horizontal, you can trim off the short end with a hacksaw or a tubing cutter. However, if you came up short, you'll have to start over with a new piece of conduit.