View Full Version : 3-in-1 sheet metal machines

01-06-2009, 04:36 PM
Hi all, long time lurker, first time poster...

I have occasional situations where I could use some limited sheet metal fabrication capability--things like small chassis, motor covers, that sort of thing. So I have been looking at some of the small "sheet metal machines" that have both a shear and brake function:

Harbor Freight 8-inch mini shear-brake (http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber=90757)
Grizzly 7-1/2" shear-brake (http://www.grizzly.com/products/7-1-2-Mini-Shear-Brake/G9950
Grizzly 12" Sheet Metal Machine (http://www.grizzly.com/products/G6089)
Wholesale Tool 12" sheet metal machine (http://www.wttool.com/product-exec/product_id/14630/nm/12_Shear_Press_Brake_Slip_Roll_WT_Import_)

I realize that these are pretty limited, but I don't expect to need to use them too heavily, and I think I'm OK with the size/thickness limitations.

Specific questions:

1. Can any of these machines shear more than the nominal width if done in multiple cuts? That is, can I shear a 24" sheet into smaller piece by a series of bites, or are they set up such that X" is the maximum piece it can work with?

2. Most of these state they can handle 22ga steel or 18ga aluminum; are these accurate or too optimistic?

3. Is Grizzly worth the extra price? HF has the small machine for about $60 less and WT Tool has the larger one where I can pick up locally and save $75-$100 on shipping charges.

4. Is there any other approach to doing basic stuff cheaply I should think more about? I think I could do 85% of the stuff I'd like inside an 8" envelope, but it'd be nice being able to buy larger sheets without having to slice them up with shears or anything. The only sheet metal tools I own now are a pair of aviation snips.

Liger Zero
01-06-2009, 05:17 PM
Over the last few years, I've setup and programmed CNC brakes for a living, got into it by accident... of everything I've done career-wise this was the "kewlest" thing by far. Figured since I have a modest understanding of sheetmetal under my belt I'd look into a 3-in-1 for home.

Ultimatly, after trying it out extensivly I found that the estimates they gave on the box were wildly optimistic and I purchaced a lathe and mill instead.

At a minimum if you are going to do sheetmetal get a decent brake, either a finger-brake or a press-brake if you can find one with tooling. Also invest in a simple shear that can handle the thicknesses you are going to bend. If you want to get fancy, manual turret punches can be had in the junk-dealers and on Ebay for cheap.

As it stands now if I run into something I "must have" out of sheetmetal I bike down to the Big Sheetmetal Plant where I originally learned this stuff. The foreman who trained me lets me run stuff on the old mechanical PBon Fridays after the Office Boss leaves. (He knows, but he maintains a "if I didn't see it it didn't happen" policy.)

01-06-2009, 05:55 PM
I have one of the horror freight 30" 3 in 1's and it is OK but not anywhere in the same zip code as great. They are handy for light gauge covers and brackets, but are not near as thick as they claim. Watch craigslist and the want ads, they show up fairly often at a good price.

01-06-2009, 07:56 PM
Thanks for the input. My other big limitation is that my shop space is down a narrow basement stairway, so it's hard for me to deal with anything too large for one person to lift. That includes most "real" shears or brakes.

I've been watching Craig for a couple months (Boston area + vicinity) and haven't had much luck. I've seen some big units for $500-$1000 but I don't have the space or the amount of need to justify that much machine. Really just looking for something to make the occasional widget.

Liger Zero
01-06-2009, 08:03 PM
As long as you keep in mind the limitations of the machine you'll do ok. Try to exceed them you will damage it.

The amount of force needed to bend is a function of width... don't try to cheat the machine by thinking you can bend a 2" thick strip 1" wide because the calculations said its the same amount of force as an 18" wide strip of thin material. You'll damage the machine right quick.

(ok I pulled those numbers out of my backside butt it illustrates my point)

01-06-2009, 08:11 PM
They won't shear 1" steel but they do great on 1" butter (as long as it is warmed first).

Liger Zero
01-06-2009, 08:12 PM
They won't shear 1" steel but they do great on 1" butter (as long as it is warmed first).

Wow, so you got the "deluxe" machine then?

01-06-2009, 08:22 PM
I have a 12" 3-in-one exactly like the Grizzly and Wholesale Tool 12". I use it for light hobby use and I am reasonably happy with it. At roughly the full 12" length I find it will shear a max of about .031" mild steel and groans at anything much more. Of course for a short cut like 3" you might be able to push that up to .062". On the whole it does a good job for me for light work.


01-06-2009, 09:50 PM
We have one of the grizzly 12 3in1s in the shop just for odds and ends. I've really only used it for the rolls, had to make some 3.5" diameter rings out of .125 X .5 304. Tore the gears all to hell and some other stuff, about $60 to fix it. It is a handy little thing to have around though.

For cutting bigger sheets, get one of the HF throatless sheers. About $70 and probably the best money I've ever spent at HF. It paid for itself in about 10 minutes. The handle gets in the way when its not in use, I'd recommend a pin or clip instead of the bolt so its easy to remove.

01-06-2009, 11:03 PM
Wow, so you got the "deluxe" machine then?

as long as it can slice velveeta i'll be fine :)

J Tiers
01-06-2009, 11:50 PM
The little HF I have used (don't own it).

It actually is nice for one feature.... it has a "V" bender. I like that because it is a little easier for me to do accurate locations that way. otherwise you have to estimate the bend location a different way, with a finger brake.

Now, the finger brake will do boxes etc easier, because it has better clearances.

The width.... its a hard limit. The shear is barely good enough.... it is tough to adjust for thin stuff... not that nice.

01-07-2009, 09:30 PM
I had a 30" 3-in-1 machine, traded up to a 40" unit. It isn't heavy-duty, but will do the work it's rated for. Although I don't claim to be a sheetmetal worker, it's amazing just how often I use that machine. It's so darn handy to be able to shear some .062" aluminum stock and bend it into a bracket or something. We used it to bend up a bunch of boxes to go in library card drawers so they'd be useful for storing junk. It's also neat to be able to roll a round cradle/strap/bracket and have it be actually round.

01-07-2009, 09:43 PM
I have the 3in1 from Grizzly. When received it was a piece of work. The shear/table would move every time you tried to cut anything. I remachined the table mounting system and adjusted the shear clearance. It now shears quite well. The next "repair" will be the brake dies. I will match the ends of the male dies, so I can use the multiple width feature. I am also going to build a single piece male die out of thicker material. The slip rolls appear to be somewhat of a piece. The rolls get improved when I have the time/need.
I guess they should be classified as a set of assembled parts that really are a "kit" to finish.

01-07-2009, 09:55 PM
The only real issue I had with my machine was the bolts, they're made out of taffy or some similar material. After snugging up the bolts that hold the stand together, then squaring things, I welded everything. Replaced a few of the adjusting bolts on the machine itself also.

01-07-2009, 10:32 PM
Who knows what model I have- I forget- but it's one of those. I believe the ratings are overly optimistic, but it's still useful. I cut my fingernails on it, and some light cardboard. It's pretty much useless for aluminum foil. :).

Within its limits it's ok. Probably the best advice to give would be to make sure you set it up properly before making even one cut. Like any shearing tool, the blades have to be kept pressured together so it will shear rather than fold sheet material. There should be some pressure between the blades right at the start, and the bow adjustment must be made so the blades don't force apart as the cut is being made. Otherwise it will begin to fold, and it's so easy to ruin your shearing edges in one fatal stroke. If you get one and aren't sure how to adjust it, either get someone locally who understands it and can help you, or ask here again.

My 30 inch 3 in 1 was a piece of work right from the start. Everything needed to be worked on before it was ready to use. The 'manual' was a particular joy, probably written by a student of INLE (I'll never learn English). I'm sure the instructions are better these days, but suffice to say that if set up properly, the machine will work nearly to it's specs, but if not it will be a source of frustrations.

01-08-2009, 01:33 AM
My .02 would be to skip the 3-1 contraptions and look for/buy the following US made machines on the used market, auctions etc. Of course if .02 is all you have to spend then..

Diacro #12 finger brake 12"/18 ga mild steel capacity
Diacro #2 tab notcher 6" x 6" x 16 ga mild steel
Diacro #12 slip roller

The notcher can be used to shear material up to 6" wide which is fine for small brackets etc. All of these machines are managable into a basement shop with a hand dolly. (The #2 notcher will probably require 2 people and the dolly)

Now. Finding this stuff used in good or "reconditionable" shape takes some patience. There are a few guys on E-bay that always have these for sale but they are smokin dope high on price. I know because I buy my stuff at the same auctions they do and I see what they paid and what they then turn around and try to peddle them at. Get onto the mailing lists of as many auction houses as possible and watch and wait. Something will turn up.

You should be able to get these for $100 to $500 each low to high range in my estimation. Call it $900 for the package.

Paul Alciatore
01-08-2009, 03:25 AM
Specific questions:

1. Can any of these machines shear more than the nominal width if done in multiple cuts? That is, can I shear a 24" sheet into smaller piece by a series of bites, or are they set up such that X" is the maximum piece it can work with?

2. Most of these state they can handle 22ga steel or 18ga aluminum; are these accurate or too optimistic?

3. Is Grizzly worth the extra price? HF has the small machine for about $60 less and WT Tool has the larger one where I can pick up locally and save $75-$100 on shipping charges.

4. Is there any other approach to doing basic stuff cheaply I should think more about? I think I could do 85% of the stuff I'd like inside an 8" envelope, but it'd be nice being able to buy larger sheets without having to slice them up with shears or anything. The only sheet metal tools I own now are a pair of aviation snips.

Specific Answers:

1. On all the 3 in 1 machines the cutting area is between two solid sides. You can not make a longer cut.

2. I have a Grizzly at work and the rated gauges are accurate. You will not be able to exceed them by much, if at all. HF may not be this good.

3. I'm not sure about the WT machine. I have used the Grizzly and have seen HF stuff. Grizzly is usually a grade above in quality. Personally, I would not buy HF, ever.

4. The 3 in 1 machines are the low end approach. They are better than tin snips and hammering it into shape in a vise. (been there, done that). The next step up would be individual machines for cutting, bending, rolling, etc. This will be more expensive, but you could choose machines which would have the exact specs you want, for instance the ability to handle heavier gauges.

A bit more on HF vs Grizzly. I have been in HF stores and the Grizzly showroom in MO. As far as I am concerned there is simply no contest as far as quality is concerned. The machines may all come from China and look a lot alike in the catalog pictures, but when you see the actual machines it is easy to see that Grizzly obviously takes a LOT more care in assuring the quality of what they import. HF simply accepts whatever the Chinese send. Yes, the price difference is valid.

01-08-2009, 01:25 PM
Cheeseking: Thanks for the tips. I've watched CL and eBay for Diacro stuff for a while and it's above my price target, at least given the amount of need I have for sheet work now. I'll keep it in mind if I get serious though.

Paul: Thanks for the specific feedback, that answers some of what I was wondering about. I could deal with an 8" max brake but I think the 8" max shear would get old pretty fast.

Darryl: Consider this a request for more info on setting the shear blade up. I've read the Grizzly manual and it has about six lines on this, amounting to "align the blades and set the bow tension appropriately." Aligning things I think I understand well enough but bow tension is another matter.

I'll probably go down to WT Tool this Saturday and take a look, they say they have the 12" 3-in-1 in stock. Grizzly is going to be over $100 more by the time the freight charges are done so the difference is significant.

01-08-2009, 06:26 PM
Finding the tools you want for what you want to pay generally involves some give and take between the time and money. Less of one invariably means you'll need more of the other. That said, I trolled Craigslists and eBay for DiAcro machines for ages. A couple years easy. Finally there was a seller on CL less than 10 miles from my house selling a nice pair of DiAcro 24" tools, the finger brake and the 16 gauge shear. He was a bit challenging to deal with, but ultimately the pair is in my basement along with the matching DiAcro 6" notcher (cheap 'cause it was spelled "diarco" on eBay) all for under a grand.

These are rock solid, accurate, beautifully made machines. I looked at the various 3-in-1s, and it was plain to see that they were guaranteed buyers remorse.

If you can only have one sheet metal tool, I'd get a small finger brake. Then the shear, then the notcher.

(Then a small press brake, a punch, a louver machine, a plasma table...)

01-08-2009, 07:30 PM
I like the idea of separate machines. When I got my 3 in 1, I had no other means of shearing, bending, or rolling. Now I have built myself a second brake, and that will bend rings around the combo machine. I'd love to have a finger brake as well, but I'll probably just make one when circumstances come together to motivate me enough. I had to start somewhere though, and the 3 in 1 was it. I still use it of course, and I'm not kidding about cutting my fingernails on it. I don't think anything significant about doing that, though I freaked out a friend a couple weeks back when I did that. :) He was seeing blood- I was wondering where the file was so I could clean up afterwards-

Sansbury, the bow adjustment is what compensates for flex, mostly in the upper shear blade, when a shearing action is trying to force the shearing edges out of contact. I just took a look at my machine again to refamiliarize myself with what adjustments I can do- the upper blade rides up and down against metal blocks which are not adjustable. Instead, the table can be made to slide sideways at both ends. When the handle is pulled and the blades just begin to come into contact, they should touch with some pressure between them, but still having the upper blade pass the lower one. This is equivalent to having a pair of scissors in your hands and manipulating them so the blades are in contact as you begin shearing the paper. The opposite end of the table is adjusted so that end of the blades is still in contact with some pressure as the blades finish sliding past each other. The bow adjustment acts to warp the central portion of the upper blade towards the table. This is what compensates for the inevitable side pressure that a cut will put on the blades tending to separate them. The moment they separate, the cut becomes a fold and the workpiece is effectively junk and the blades could sustain damage. The adjustment is a compromise- thinner and easier to shear material requires less compensation pressure, thicker and tougher requires more. Normally it would be adjusted to just over what is required to keep the blades in contact when steel at the rated capacity of the machine is being sheared. Too much adjustment and the blades could become damaged, particularly as they slide past each other 'dry', which is what happens when you are bending with the machine. Same as operating scissors without any material being in them to cut. I have heard this is a no-no, though I kind of like the sound-:)

I can't say for any particular machine 'how many turns of the adjusting bolt' to make, but in the absense of a direct instruction from the manual, it might be a 'cut and try' procedure. The moment there is any sign of a shear becoming a fold, stop, throw away the test piece, and increase the bow tension. Trying to resume a shear where a fold has begun is going to give you a bad day. About all else I can say at this point is that you should start by adjusting the bolt to the point where you know that the bow is being put under significant pressure, and the proper point is probably going to be a little more than that. Lightly tap on the bow as it begins to tension, and you'll hear the tone rise as the point of tension begins. If you don't get that, the bow isn't doing its job yet.

I would urge any of you sheet metal guys to chime in and give your .02c or more at this time.

Liger Zero
01-08-2009, 09:07 PM
My expertise is setting up press-brakes and bending, not shearing. But I am taking note of this information. The lathe and mill are fun no doubt about it but I miss bending. Cash-flow improves I want to get some kind of bender-thingy. Dream machine would be a Diacro press-brake with an older Hurco back-gauge or possibly a Warcom Futura if suddenly become insanely wealthy. :D

01-09-2009, 02:58 PM
I have the smaller Harbor Freight machine and have used it a little. It does what I expected it to and since I bought it on sale and don't have room or need for three separate machines, I am quite satisfied.
The only drawback, after machining some parts to fit correctly, was that the "V"s on the bender are really roughly finished. Therefore, any aluminum or stainless which will show will show some scratches. I am planning to "in my spare time" take it apart and polish them.
For light work they are fine.

01-11-2009, 12:17 AM
Well, I picked up the 12" earlier today at WT Tool and was able to clean and test it out a little.

As expected, there was a lot of cosmoline and rough edges. I've never bought from Grizzly so I don't know how their stuff compares, but I would say the standard was comparable to Harbor Freight.

The shear seemed to be adjusted properly out of the box, much to my surprise. It looked aligned and I gingerly made a series of cuts in some .035 aluminum and 26 gauge steel. Both sheared without any sign of folding or pinching and left a clean edge. There was no difficulty taking a full 12" sheet all the way through which I was glad to see as a poster somewhere else complained that his would only go a little less than 12.

The press brake is a slightly more mixed bag. The finger dies were full of burrs and rough edges from the grinding. Some had a sharp chisel point and others looked like the chisel point had been filed or ground down a little. The first few test bends worked but were a bit uneven. I ran my finger down the female die and felt some waviness--but I think I need to experiment a little more, it may just be a simple alignment problem. Other than that, it bent the relatively thin stock I fed it without complaint. It's usable for my purposes as-is, and if it can be improved a bit it feels like it will serve my needs pretty well.

On that note, can anyone recommend a website or book that has some good examples in pattern layout? One of the things I want to make is a coolant tray that sits around my vise, and while I can sort of visualize it, I have no good idea how to calculate the angles and dimensions and whatnot.

01-11-2009, 12:46 AM
While this has little to do with the posted question, it reminds me of a job I did on my house. I had to make some 45 degree bends in several pieces of thin aluminum sheet, each bend being about 6 feet long. I made a bending brake out of 2 x 6 lumber, and it worked just fine. I still have the brake, although I haven't used it since that one occasion about 20 years ago.

01-11-2009, 11:28 AM
Lindsay Books (http://www.lindsaybks.com) has a Gingery book on basic sheetmetal work. It includes plans for building some of the tools.