No question about it, some tools are more exciting than others. New lithium-ion cordless drills and saws and those nifty laser-measuring devices attract attention and interest. Other essential tools simply do not have the same appeal—they perform their jobs well, but seem largely taken for granted.

Put conduit benders in the second category, even though they are among the electrical trade’s most basic tools. Correctly used, they make bends accurately and consistently without damaging conduit.

There are four basic types of benders for EMT, IMC and rigid pipe: simple hand benders and mechanical, electric and hydraulic models. A common element is the bending shoe that supports the inside radius and walls of the tube as the bend is made. The type of tool used depends on type and size of conduit and the volume of work. While bending equipment has been improved over the years, there has been little change in basic designs.

“There have not been significant changes in the various benders, but rather more interest on the safety aspects of the benders, especially as it relates to hydraulic and electric benders,” said Chera M. Ellis, director of marketing for Greenlee Textron. “More and more emphasis is being placed on proper training and understanding the potential risk associated with bending the various diameters and types of ¬conduit.”

What bending product is used varies by the application and the type of conduit that is being used. Hand benders are most popular for small-diameter conduit when the number of bends are small. Larger electric and hydraulic products are used for large quantities of larger-diameter ducts and pipes.

Greenlee-Textron, Chera Ellis: “Hand benders, usually made of heat-treated aluminum or iron, are a good option for contractors who only occasionally bend conduit. When bending by hand, measure the job; check angles and verify calculations for offsets; use the correct multipliers and recheck all angles and calculations; use the bender’s sight marks to bend accurately; and have a reference guide, available from most manufactures.

“Mechanical benders use a ratchet device to make bends and are a good solution for a small contractor or maintenance worker who needs to occasionally bend conduit. Like hand benders, mechanical benders typically have built-in bending degree indicators and easy-to-use bending charts that help users make accurate, consistent bends.

“Electric benders, powered by either AC or batteries, are big units for big jobs, some weighing more than 500 pounds and are typically used by high-volume conduit installers. They have interchangeable shoes that allow them to handle all types of conduit. Some are programmable with digital readouts so the operator can make quick, accurate, repetitive bends.

“Hydraulic benders also can produce wrinkling on larger conduit if the bender isn’t mounted on a bending table, which allows conduit to be locked into place as it is bent, keeping the follow-bar, shoe and conduit in alignment.”

Current Tools, John Henry, general manager: “For metal conduit to 1-inch, hand benders and mechanical benders are the most popular. For metal conduit under 2 inches, we find most electricians prefer to use an electric conduit bender if one is available. For metal conduit greater than 2 inches, most electricians prefer to use a hydraulic conduit bender with an electric pump. We have developed a mechanical bender with an integrated ‘tweaker’ feature that allows the operator to correct over bends in ½- to 1-inch rigid/IMC conduit of up to 3 degrees This feature helps control job costs by reducing waste.

“Steel prices have affected the types of conduit being used on jobs—more EMT conduit is being used and, therefore, more EMT-type benders are being sold. Ergonomics come second only to safety in our bender designs; our benders are certainly designed with the comfort of the end-user in mind.”

Evans Benders, Kevin Weinstein, president/owner: “There have not been dramatic changes in the overall category of bending equipment. However, measurements and settings are more accurate today than ever before. The ability to recreate specific bends on a sustainable repeatable basis makes users’ lives easier, and saves time and money through eliminated waste and rework. Additionally, safety kill switches, guards and better ergonomic design have decreased serious injuries. We offer a bender to make offset bends and kicks, and our triple shoe can bend three pieces of pipe at the same time. When evaluating bends, consider cost, usability, speed, accuracy, repeatability and safety.”

Gardner Bender, Mark H. Benning, senior product manager: “No real changes have been noted in the bender industry, but manufacturers today are more concerned about safety, durability and reliability. No one has formally stated ergonomics is a significant or growing concern with benders, but manufacturers are adding ergonomic design to the product development process to better serve the aging electrical contractor audience and to remain competitive. Improvements made by our design team include placing handles in a more upright position; adding larger tires and casters to make it easier to maneuver; repositioning the unit’s weight over the wheels and casters. The first quarter of 2006, we introduced a redesign of our top-of-the-line power conduit bender. One important feature is a new circuit board with diagnostics capabilities. An ergonomic pendant control allows one-hand operation.”

Ideal Industries, Bruce Hartranft, business unit manager: “Hand benders can be found on every commercial electrical job; power benders are on the large jobs and larger diameter pipes. The durability and performance of cast-iron hand benders make them the choice of many professionals. The industry still uses the Benfield bending system developed by Jack Benfield, who personally developed our line of benders and assisted with training materials. We offer a wide variety of training materials for vocational education, IBEW, and similar professional training programs. Our training aids include personal training from our field staff, CD-and VHS-tape instructional programs, and booklets on training techniques.”    EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.