Layout and Forming (Part Four)

in Aircraft Metal Structural Repair

Folding a Box

A box can be formed the same way as the U-channel described on in the previous paragraphs, but when a sheet metal part has intersecting bend radii, it is necessary to remove material to make room for the material contained in the flanges. This is done by drilling or punching holes at the intersection of the inside bend tangent lines. These holes, called relief holes and whose diameter is approximately twice the bend radius, relieve stresses in the metal as it is bent and prevent the metal from tearing. Relief holes also provide a neatly trimmed corner from which excess material may be trimmed.


The larger and smoother the relief hole is, the less likely it will be that a crack will form in the corner. Generally, the radius of the relief hole is specified on the drawing. A box and pan brake, also called a finger brake, is used to bend the box. Two opposite sides of the box are bent first. Then, the fingers of the brake are adjusted so the folded-up sides ride up in the cracks between the fingers when the leaf is raised to bend the other two sides.

The size of relief holes varies with thickness of the material. They should be no less than 1⁄8-inch in diameter for aluminum alloy sheet stock up to and including 0.064-inch thick, or 3⁄160-inch in diameter for stock ranging from 0.072-inch to 0.128-inch thickness. The most common method of determining the diameter of a relief hole is to use the radius of bend for this dimension, provided it is not less than the minimum allowance (1⁄8-inch).

Relief Hole Location

Relief holes must touch the intersection of the inside bend tangent lines. To allow for possible error in bending, make the relief holes extend 1⁄32-inch to 1⁄16-inch behind the inside bend tangent lines. It is good practice to use the intersection of these lines as the center for the holes. The line on the inside of the curve is cut at an angle toward the relief holes to allow for the stretching of the inside flange.

The positioning of the relief hole is important. [Figure 4-146] It should be located so its outer perimeter touches the intersection of the inside bend tangent lines. This keeps any material from interfering with the bend allowance area of the other bend. If these bend allowance areas intersected with each other, there would be substantial compressive stresses that would accumulate in that corner while bending. This could cause the part to crack while bending.

Figure 4-146. Relief hole location.

Figure 4-146. Relief hole location.

Layout Method

Lay out the basic part using traditional layout procedures. This determines the width of the flats and the bend allowance. It is the intersection of the inside bend tangent lines that index the bend relief hole position. Bisect these intersected lines and move outward the distance of the radius of the hole on this line. This is the center of the hole. Drill at this point and finish by trimming off the remainder of the corner material. The trim out is often tangent to the radius and perpendicular to the edge. [Figure 4-147] This leaves an open corner. If the corner must be closed, or a slightly longer flange is necessary, then trim out accordingly. If the corner is to be welded, it is necessary to have touching flanges at the corners. The length of the flange should be one material thickness shorter than the finished length of the part so only the insides of the flanges touch.

Figure 4-147. Relief hole layout.

Figure 4-147. Relief hole layout.

Open and Closed Bends

Open and closed bends present unique problems that require more calculations than 90° bends. In the following 45° and a 135° bend examples, the material is 0.050-inch thick and the bend radius is 3⁄16-inch.

Open End Bend (Less Than 90°)
Figure 4-148 shows an example for a 45° bend.

Figure 4-148. Open bend.

Figure 4-148. Open bend.

  1. Look up K-factor in K chart. K-factor for 45° is 0.41421-inch.
  2. Calculate setback.
    SB = K(R + T)
    SB = 0.41421-inch(0.1875-inch + 0.050-inch) = 0.098-inch
  3. Calculate bend allowance for 45°. Look up bend allowance for 1° of bend in the bend allowance chart and multiply this by 45.
    0.003675-inch × 45 = 0.165-inch
  4. Calculate flats.
    Flat = Mold line dimension – SB
    Flat 1 = .77-inch – 0.098-inch = 0.672-inch
    Flat 2 = 1.52-inch – 0.098-inch = 1.422-inch
  5. Calculate TDW
    TDW = Flats + Bend allowance
    TDW = 0.672-inch + 1.422-inch + 0.165-inch = 2.259‑inch.

Observe that the brake reference line is still located one radius from the bend tangent line.

Closed End Bend (More Than 90°)
Figure 4-149 shows an example of a 135° bend.

Figure 4-149. Closed bend.

Figure 4-149. Closed bend.

  1. Look up K-factor in K chart. K-factor for 135° is 2.4142-inch.
  2. Calculate SB.
    SB = K(R + T)
    SB = 2.4142-inch(0.1875-inch + 0.050-inch) = 0.57- inch
  3. Calculate bend allowance for 135°. Look up bend allowance for 1° of bend in the bend allowance chart and multiply this by 135.
    0.003675-inch × 135 = 0.496-inch
  4. Calculate flats.
    Flat = Mold line dimension – SB
    Flat 1 = 0.77-inch – 0.57-inch = 0.20-inch
    Flat 2 = 1.52-inch – 0.57-inch = 0.95-inch
  5. Calculate TDW.
    TDW = Flats + Bend allowance
    TDW = 0.20-inch + 0.95-inch + 0.496-inch = 1.65- inch

It is obvious from both examples that a closed bend has a smaller TDW than an open-end bend and the material length needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Hand Forming

All hand forming revolves around the processes of stretching and shrinking metal. As discussed earlier, stretching means to lengthen or increase a particular area of metal while shrinking means to reduce an area. Several methods of stretching and shrinking may be used, depending on the size, shape, and contour of the part being formed.

For example, if a formed or extruded angle is to be curved, either stretch one leg or shrink the other, whichever makes the part fit. In bumping, the material is stretched in the bulge to make it balloon, and in joggling, the material is stretched between the joggles. Material in the edge of lightening holes is often stretched to form a beveled reinforcing ridge around them. The following paragraphs discuss some of these techniques.

Straight Line Bends

The cornice brake and bar folder are ordinarily used to make straight bends. Whenever such machines are not available, comparatively short sections can be bent by hand with the aid of wooden or metal bending blocks.

After a blank has been laid out and cut to size, clamp it along the bend line between two wooden forming blocks held in a vise. The wooden forming blocks should have one edge rounded as needed for the desired radius of bend. It should also be curved slightly beyond 90° to allow for spring-back. Bend the metal that protrudes beyond the bending block to the desired angle by tapping lightly with a rubber, plastic, or rawhide mallet. Start tapping at one end and work back and forth along the edge to make a gradual and even bend. Continue this process until the protruding metal is bent to the desired angle against the forming block. Allow for springback by driving the material slightly farther than the actual bend. If a large amount of metal extends beyond the forming blocks, maintain hand pressure against the protruding sheet to prevent it from bouncing. Remove any irregularities by holding a straight block of hardwood edgewise against the bend and striking it with heavy blows of a mallet or hammer. If the amount of metal protruding beyond the bending blocks is small, make the entire bend by using the hardwood block and hammer.

Formed or Extruded Angles

Both formed and extruded types of angles can be curved (not bent sharply) by stretching or shrinking either of the flanges. Curving by stretching one flange is usually preferred since the process requires only a V-block and a mallet and is easily accomplished.

Stretching With V-Block Method

In the stretching method, place the flange to be stretched in the groove of the V-block. [Figure 4-150] (If the flange is to be shrunk, place the flange across the V-block.) Using a round, soft-faced mallet, strike the flange directly over the V portion with light, even blows while gradually forcing it downward into the V.

Figure 4-150. V-block forming.

Figure 4-150. V-block forming.

Begin at one end of the flange and form the curve gradually and evenly by moving the strip slowly back and forth, distributing the hammer blows at equal spaces on the flange. Hold the strip firmly to keep it from bouncing when hammered. An overly heavy blow buckles the metal, so keep moving the flange across the V-block, but always lightly strike the spot directly above the V.

Lay out a full-sized, accurate pattern on a sheet of paper or plywood and periodically check the accuracy of the curve. Comparing the angle with the pattern determines exactly how the curve is progressing and just where it needs to be increased or decreased. It is better to get the curve to conform roughly to the desired shape before attempting to finish any one portion, because the finishing or smoothing of the angle may cause some other portion of the angle to change shape. If any part of the angle strip is curved too much, reduce the curve by reversing the angle strip on the V-block, placing the bottom flange up, and striking it with light blows of the mallet.

Try to form the curve with a minimum amount of hammering, for excessive hammering work-hardens the metal. Work-hardening can be recognized by a lack of bending response or by springiness in the metal. It can be recognized very readily by an experienced worker. In some cases, the part may have to be annealed during the curving operation. If so, be sure to heat treat the part again before installing it on the aircraft.