Thin sheetmetal has the benefit of being light in weight and resistant to being loaded under tension (pulling force), but when a compression or torsional force is applied it can be kinda floppy and flappy. Floppy and flappy are rarely good things when you’re building a 4x4. Luckily, a bend or two in the right place will quickly and easily make even thin sheetmetal rigid and more resistant to compression and torsion. This is the basic idea between stamped fenders, stamped or formed frames, and so on. Thin sheetmetal parts are light, strong, and good at resisting tension, compression, and torsion.
Flat pieces of plate steel are a great place to start when you’re making brackets or tabs to mount parts on your 4x4, but being flat doesn’t always help them clear nearby components or let you put them the right place. Adding a bend or two to flat bar or plate steel helps put things where you want them. Plus, as we described, bends add rigidity. Bending sheetmetal and flat plate takes a little knowhow and experience, but it’s far from complicated. Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you get compliments when you are on your next bender—er, bending project. For more details on bending sheetmetal check out fourwheeler.com/how-to/tech-qa/1712-sheetmetal-bending-101/
An old trick for making lightweight yet strong door panels is to make two slight bends from catty-cornered corners, forming an X. This takes a piece of metal that was easy to twist and flex and makes it rigid. You can buy a sheetmetal brake from lots of sources (Harbor Freight Tools and Swag Off Road come to mind) or make one with a vise, some clamps, flat steel bar, and angle iron. Hammers and locking pliers are also a great help with bending sheetmetal.
The floor of the official 2017 Ultimate Adventure vehicle, the UACJ-6D, is made of metal and wood. Building it required lots of complex bends in sheetmetal to make a surface that would fit together and wouldn’t too many huge holes. Truth is we used CAD to design and build most of the floor. Nope, not computer-aided design (that’s expensive), but rather cardboard-aided design. Beer boxes, cereal boxes, and poster board are all good sources of cardboard for making templates. You can also use it to practice where bends will need to be to make everything fit. Use a ruler or length of bar stock as a rudimentary cardboard break to get sharp bends in the cardboard template.
The dash of the 2018 Ultimate Adventure Derange Rover is very simple, and that’s how we like it. The center part is easily removable and is made of 10-gauge aluminum. The bends on the sides and top make this part of the dash very rigid. The bend on the top also helps meet the contour of the dash bar. To build the center part, all we did was take some measurements of the general shape we wanted it to be and then added an inch to each side. Mark that 1-inch strip and bend it in the break to add strength and a finished look.
This piece of 3x3/16 steel bar makes a nice strong bracket holding the Derange Rover’s Cummins R2.8 fuel filter. The two equal but opposite bends form a lazy Z that allows the bracket to mount via factory holes on the inner fenderwell and still clear the drip rail under the hood. To make this part, we used our Swag Off Road brake in our 12-ton Harbor Freight Tools shop press.