Bending conduit is one of the most basic tasks of electricians, and there is a wide range of bending tools and equipment to fit the multiple bending requirements found on today’s projects, including hand benders, mechanical models, and electric and hydraulic equipment for high-volume work and larger conduit. Both “hot” and “cold” methods of bending PVC are available.

Which bender is best for a job depends on the types and sizes of conduit and the volume of bending work to be done.

While many types of electricians’ tools have changed significantly since first introduced, most bending tools remain much the same as earlier models. Benfield and Gardner hand benders are the same as they have always been, and equipment for bending multiple sizes and types of pipe don’t appear much different than earlier models.

“The process of bending conduit hasn’t changed, and the basic bending tools and equipment have not changed much, either,” said Todd Ellerton, senior product manager at Greenlee Textron. “Hand benders still very much have a place in the electrical construction market, primarily for ½- and ¾-inch pipe. For 1- and 1¼-inch conduit, mechanical or electric benders typically are used.”

The biggest changes in larger benders have been in portability and ease of use, Ellerton said. A focus has been to make larger bending equipment easier to move around the job and easier to operate.

For example, Ellerton said Greenlee’s 555 bender—the “Triple Nickel” is the most-used bender in the electrical industry. The Triple Nickel was introduced in 1968 and uses accessory shoe groups to bend EMT, IMC, rigid and PVC-coated rigid material. While many improvements have been made over the years, the 555 looks and functions in much the same way as earlier models. The newer Smart Quad Bender is faster and has automated features, but Ellerton said many still prefer the Triple Nickel.

Going electric

Electrical benders are used for high-volume bending requirements, and top-end models can be programmed to make repeat bends at the same angles and calculate layout measurements for various bends before work begins. Hydraulic benders are used strictly for rigid conduit or for conduit that is too large for electric benders.

One trend, Ellerton said, is an increase in the use of PVC-coated rigid pipe.

“Typically, PVC-coated pipe is used in corrosive environments,” he said. “The bend can be tricky, because the PVC coating must remain intact. Special shoes are required to make these bends.”

Greenlee offers more than 30 bending products that include hand-held, mechanical, electric, hydraulic models, and PVC pipe benders.

Other manufacturers have released recent models, as well. Rack-a-Tiers introduced a new hand bender at the 2007 NECA show in San Francisco last fall. What sets the Hoppy Bender apart from other hand benders is a locking swing-stop, said Rack-a-Tiers president Ken MacLachlan.

“For over 50 years,” MacLachlan said, “hand pipe benders have remained virtually unchanged. The Hoppy Bender is perhaps the first substantial improvement in hand pipe benders since they were introduced to the electrical trade. The patented locking swing-stop takes the guesswork and the mathematics out of bending pipe. This new bender allows inexperienced workers to precisely create offsets, three- and four-point saddles and 90-degree bends very easily and with minimal training.”

Rack-a-Tiers also offers an alternative to heating methods for bending PVC. “Significantly different from heat methods is the cold method of bending PVC,” he said. “Specially manufactured springs are quick to use and do a better job of maintaining the internal diameter of the pipe than many of the heat methods.”

Vince Kendrierski, Klein Tools product manager, believes a hand conduit bender is a core tool for any electrician—if not working for a commercial firm one is likely owned personally.

“For small/medium-sized contractors and individual electricians who don’t have to deal with handling heavy materials,” Kendrierski said, “steel hand benders are a very effective tool, both in application and cost position.”

From a design standpoint, he continued, the basic Benfield bender has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction in the 1930s.

“One of the most innovative features came when Jim Gardner incorporated built-in levels into his bender design in 1959,” Kendrierski said. “In 1986, Klein purchased the Benfield design from Jack Benfield. We own the design and rights to use the Benfield name. Jack Benfield retained rights to other Benfield branded products.”

Kendrierski added that because hand benders have lacked significant product differentiation, individual preferences may be more related to material type or brand.

Gardner Bender offers a wide range of bending products including hand (manual), mechanical, electric, PVC and hydraulic conduit benders that can bend ½-inch through 4-inch size conduit.

“Benders have evolved modestly in recent years,” said Mark Benning, Gardner Bender professional electric marketing manager. “With a focus on safety, durability and reliability, some manufacturers are offering more powerful motors and adding features that make electrical benders more user-friendly.”

The Gardner Bender B2000 Cyclone Bender features one permanent shoe that can bend all ½- to 2-inch Rigid, IMC, EMT and PVC-coated conduit. It features no loose parts. Other features include an advanced, “smarter” circuit board, easy machine diagnosis and ergonomic pendant control design for one-hand operation.

According to Benning, hand benders have evolved to feature foot pedals that are larger, providing better leverage and control when making bends.

“For example,” he said, “Gardner Bender has increased the size of the foot pedal by 40 percent on its hand benders to accommodate this new user preference.”

Other recent trends are models suitable for multiple applications, saving users time and money.

“An example of this,” Benning said, “is the Gardner Bender Vise-Mate. The user securely holds conduit in the head [vise] of the bender, making it easier to cut or ream the conduit to the desired length. Also, most manufacturers have been providing easier-to-read markings on the head of the bender, giving users the ability to make more accurate bends and save time.”

Benning said the use of PVC conduit is more popular, especially where the climates or applications require more rust resistance and is a popular choice for datacom applications, underground and where there are toxic issues. Gardner Bender markets boxes and blankets, with blankets being more popular for heat bends.

Ideal Industries is a leading manufacturer of hand benders—aluminum models for do-it-yourselfers and ductile iron benders for professionals.

“The biggest improvement has been in the materials and accuracy of benders,” said Bruce Hartranft, business unit manager, wire installation.

Old sand-cast iron benders have been replaced by modern shell-cast ductile iron. The shell molding process offers better surface finish and better dimensional tolerances while the ductile iron provides twice the strength of conventional gray iron. As a result, electricians get improved accuracy of the cast-in bending icons and angles and greater bender durability.

Hartranft said that Ideal benders also feature a heavy-duty hook and oversized foot pedal for improved control, and handles are expanded to accept standard conduit sizes and swedged ends facilitate bend backs when a conduit is over bent.

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