Bending stainless steel tubing can be challenging—the tubing is stiff, and it often gets harder as you try to bend it. However, it's not impossible. Here's a look at three tools that can help and the pros and cons of each approach.
1. Mandrel-Bending Machine
These machines are small enough to sit on a workshop bench, and they will give you the most professional-looking bend in your tubing. However, they typically cost well into the thousands of dollars, and if you've got a small budget or if you only bend stainless steel tubing once in awhile, they may cost more than you want to spend.
These machines work by inserting a flexible mandrel tube into the stainless steel. That helps preserve internal integrity. Then, the machine uses hydraulic power to draw the tubing through its bending process. As an additional advantage, you can use a single machine with multiple sizes of tubes, and thanks to the digital angle reader, you can look forward to accurate results.
2. Handheld Tube Bender
A handheld metal tube bender is significantly less expensive than a mandrel-bending machine. This tool features two long handles, similar to the handles on a large pair of gardening shears. Squeezing the handles together forces the metal tube around a curved bit of metal, which forces the steel to bend.
These tools are made of stainless steel so you don't have to worry about cross contamination when you're working with stainless steel tubes. They also allow you to specify many different angles. However, each tube bender only works with a certain size of stainless steel tubing—as a result, you may have to buy multiple handheld tube benders to meet all of your bending needs.
3. Homemade Tube Bender
If you prefer a more creative, budget-friendly solution, you may just want to make your own handheld stainless-steel tube bender. This bending tool also uses the concept of leverage to provide the strength you need to wrap stainless steel over a curved gear.
However, instead of squeezing, the homemade varieties rely on a long crank connected to one of the round elements of the tool. You can make this with a plank, a couple of old gears, and some scrap metal for the crank handle.
Finally, you may want to consider outsourcing the work. A professional has the tools and experience to bend stainless tubing without crimping the tubing or creating other unwanted issues.