Plumbers overwhelmingly choose copper as the pipe material for their own homes at a rate of 94 per cent, according to the Copper Development Association. To properly fit copper for plumbing applications or to create decorative copper art, you will need to bend the pipe without causing kinks or collapsing around the bend.
Manual pipe benders work well for annealed copper pipe. Annealing is the process of heating the metal until it turns almost -- but not quite -- red hot. Even after cooling, the pipe will remain softened and easy to bend. You can anneal your copper pipe to prepare it for a hand bender by using a blow torch. Once it is cool enough to handle, place it in the groove of the hand bender and bend it to the desired angle by following the instructions that came with your hand bender. You can also buy pre-annealed pipe, which will have a flat finish rather than the traditional copper shine.
Power pipe benders are useful if you will be bending copper pipe on a regular basis rather than for a single plumbing project. The most common powered pipe benders use a process called rotary draw bending. As the pipe goes through the bending machine, it is drawn between two dies: one that is stationary and one that turns on the specified radius of the curve you are bending. Power benders come in stationary and smaller portable versions, and each variety has dies for specific radius curves. If you want an uncommon radius, you may need to purchase additional dies or use a different bending method.
Ram style benders may be manual or powered, but they are often not the best method due to the potential for damaging or collapsing the pipe. The bender holds the pipe in place at one point on either side of the desired curve and then uses a ram to press the pipe outward between those two points, causing it to bend around the ram. This type of bender may come with rams set for a variety of pipe diameters, but it works best on smaller diameter pipes, such as 1.2 or 1.8 cm (1/2 or 3/4 inch) diameter. Use annealed pipe for this method. Try filling the pipe with fine sand before bending to help it hold its shape.