Durable and easy to work with, copper pipe is frequently used in homes as a water supply pipe. Since copper is a beautiful metal, whether polished and shiny or left to age to a green patina, copper pipe is often used as a crafting material for its own decorative qualities.
While copper is soft, it's not soft enough to bend smoothly and perfectly on its own. Bending copper pipe without special methods or tools usually results in pipe collapse. Instead of a continuous curve, the pipe will crimp and fold at the intended bend point. For crafting, it's generally not the look you want. For plumbing, it impedes water flow.
There are a number of reliable ways to bend copper pipe. A few of the methods don't even require special tools. Instead, they use simple materials that you may already have on hand around the house. Listed below are four of the most common methods, along with some general tips.
Tips For Bending Copper Pipe
- Pipe Support: Supporting the copper pipe along the entire length of its bend is key to a consistent shape. Support can either be inside or outside of the pipe.
- Bend Slowly: Bending the copper pipe quickly might still crimp it, even if it is properly supported. Or, if you do manage to get the right curve, ripples may develop on the inside of the curve. Always bend slowly.
- Shape the Bend: Bending the pipe over a padded knee is the quickest way to bend copper pipe to an approximate 4- to 8-inch radius. But you can also use other curved shaping items: metal cans, buckets, or large pipes.
Copper can be expensive. If you're attempting to bend copper for a plumbing project, hiring a qualified plumber to bend the pipes may be more cost-effective than having to buy multiple pipes, should your attempts at bending the pipes yourself go awry.
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Use a Spring to Bend the Pipe
Tube-bending springs fit in the copper pipe and act as support to better distribute the force. Bends as extreme as 180 degrees are possible with tube springs. Tube springs come in kits of various sizes that fit copper pipes ranging from 1/4-inch to 5/8-inch diameter.
To bend a copper pipe with a tube spring:
- Use an indelible marker to mark the spot on the copper tube where you want to make the bend. The mark should be at the outermost point of the bend's radius.
- Clean off any burrs on the end of the copper pipe from cutting.
- Choose the correct size of spring for the pipe. Some springs fit in the pipe, while other types are designed to fit around the outside.
- If the spring is longer than the pipe, you can easily retrieve the spring after bending the pipe. If the spring is shorter, attach a wire to the end of the spring.
- After padding the copper pipe with a soft cloth, bend it over your knee. Move the pipe back and forth to the left and right side of your knee to create a smoother bend.
- Remove the spring. If the spring is difficult to remove, try twisting it clockwise.
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Use Sand or Salt to Bend the Pipe
Dense materials packed inside the copper pipe produce an effect much like pipe bending springs. They prevent any single area from receiving all of the bending force. Instead, the force is distributed along the entire length of the curve. Fine sand and salt can be used.
- Straighten out the copper pipe or tubing. It doesn't have to be perfectly straight; only straight enough to allow the material to flow.
- Tape off the bottom of the copper pipe with duct tape or electrical tape.
- Fill the copper pipe with sand or salt, using a funnel.
- Tape up the other end of the pipe.
- Bend the pipe to the desired curve.
- Remove the tape and let the sand or salt flow out.
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Use Ice to Bend the Pipe
Like sand and salt, water is another dense material that can be used to fill a copper pipe for bending. Even though water is denser in its fluid state than as ice, freezing the water helps to better contain it in the copper pipe.
- Coil up the copper pipe so that the two open ends point upward.
- With a funnel, fill the copper pipe with water.
- Put the pipe in the freezer and let it freeze completely.
- Remove the pipe from the freezer and bend it.
If you have sand or salt on hand, those will be easier for you to work with than this method.
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Use a Pipe Bending Tool to Bend the Pipe
A pipe bender is a small, inexpensive, dedicated tool that does only one thing but does it very well. It bends various sizes of copper and other soft metal pipes to a set radius, usually about 2 or 3 inches.
Shaped like a set of pliers, a pipe bender allows for the insertion of pipes down the middle. A marked gauge indicates the angle of the bend, from 0 up to 90 degrees.
The secret of pipe benders is that the top part of the tool—the shoe—travels along with the bend, ensuring a smooth curve.
For anyone who needs to bend copper pipes frequently, a pipe bender is a good investment.