I've trained as a plumber in France and like to share advice to help others with their DIY projects: "Every plumbing job made easy."
You Don't Always Need Plumbing Tools for Bending Copper Tubing
Even though there is a wide range of plumbing pipes and copper tubing available now, there are still many people who prefer the durability of the traditional copper pipe. Copper pipes can be bought in rolls for use behind walls, but you might want to mount the pipes on the surface of the wall, and in this case, you'll want a nice, neat job and you'll need to bend your pipes.
There are several ways that you can bend copper pipes with and without specialised plumbing tools. These are a few of the methods that I learned while training to be a plumber in Limousin, France (see article below).
Some Useful Plumbing Tools for Bending Copper Pipes
- Blow torch
- A vice
- Dry sand and a funnel
- Pipe bending springs
- Pipe benders
- Pipe cutters
- Bucket of cold water
- A square (not illustrated), used to check that your pipe is a true right angle
Always have protective gloves and safety glasses to hand.
What Happens If You Don't Bend Your Pipes Properly?
If you don't support your copper pipes during the process of bending they will collapse and pleat. This not only looks ugly but, more importantly, the water will not be able to pass freely.
All the methods of bending pipes outlined below involve supporting the pipe one way or another while you bend it.
One way to bend tubing is with a plumbers torch.
The above photo shows a small butane torch with a handheld bottle is perfectly adequate for soldering your pipes and you can just about manage to bend pipes with this, but it can be difficult to get the pipe up to temperature.
If you have a lot of pipework to do, you might like to invest in an oxy-acetylene torch which will allow you to heat your pipes red hot, at which point they will bend like butter.
How to Use Pipe Benders
Pipe benders like this one are designed for one pipe size only. If you have lots of different sized pipes to bend you'll need to invest in a pipe bending set. This is only worthwhile if you have a lot of work to do.
- No need to heat pipes
- A different bender is needed for each pipe size or
- A set is needed
- This can be expensive
Pipe Bending Springs
With this method, heat the pipe until red hot along the length of the bend. The pipe is then slipped into the spring as quickly as possible and you then bend the pipe which will be supported by the spring.
Note: Always use protective gloves and cool the pipe afterward in a bucket of cold water.
- Can be less expensive than a pipe bender
- Easy to store and transport
- A different bender is needed for each pipe size
Sand to Support Your Copper Tubing
Yes, you can bend pipes with sand. The sand must be fine and absolutely dry. Block one end of the pipe with a screw of newspaper and then fill the pipe with sand.
Tap the pipe vigorously to ensure that the sand is compact. Air or moisture in the pipe will allow the pipe to fold and collapse. When no more sand can be added, block the other end of the pipe with paper, heat the pipe until red hot along the length of the curve and bend manually.
Note: Always use protective gloves and cool the pipe afterwards in a bucket of cold water.
- Time consuming
Bending Pipes Using a Vice
You can use just your hands and a vice to bend pipes. Heat the pipe until red hot along the length of the bend, and quickly put into the vice and close the vice until just touching the pipe. Pull the pipe up at both ends to achieve the correct angle before it cools down. The vice supports the sides of the pipe to avoid collapse.
Note: Always use protective gloves and cool the pipe afterwards in a bucket of cold water.
- Only a vice is needed
- You need to be quick and be skilled as this is quite tricky.
What Am I Doing Now?
Sadly, France wasn't quite ready for an English lady plumber and so I set to work, with my husband, renovating a beautiful French farmhouse and barn to create Les Trois Chenes, a four-room bed and breakfast and a three-bedroom holiday cottage, vacation rental or gite, in Videix, Limousin, SW France. We have now moved on to buy a couple of lovely old French ruins that will make a great home for our family and, if all goes to plan, two or three great holiday cottages.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is plumbing?
Answer: It is the system of pipes, tanks, fittings...water supply, heating, and sanitation in a building.
© 2011 Les Trois Chenes
Did this article help you bend your copper pipes?
skoronesa on January 31, 2017:
I am not sure why you said "heat the pipe until red hot along the length of the bend. The pipe is then slipped into the spring as quickly as possible". I would venture a guess to say you confused copper pipe with steel. Copper pipe does not harden from cooling, it work hardens, yes theoretically you make it a bit easier by keeping it hot but with a bending spring you really only need to anneal it once. You can even cool it quickly as quenching doesn't harden copper as it does steel.
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on November 10, 2013:
Thanks for your comment Angela. It's true that you need the tools but I do think if you are at all handy and you need to conserve your cash then investing in tools is a good idea. Calling out professionals these days is so expensive. Recently I had to pay over £50 for a professional to fix my oven door. Expertise? He tightened a screw. Tools needed? One small screwdriver. He showed me how to take the door off and if it happens again I'll be tightening that screw myself!
Angela Smith on November 10, 2013:
Well It is very hard to bend pipes manually even it is a soft type pipes. Unless you have some plumbing tools. But these days we prefer to make our jobs to be done instantly so we may call some professional plumbers. And that makes sense.
Thanks for Sharing. :)
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on June 28, 2013:
Thank you for visiting my lens, Rajan. I did have fun learning all these skills, but sadly didn't find employment as a plumber. I think you're right - it can be quite a tough job.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on June 27, 2013:
This is a very useful hub and like Simone said sounds like one can have fun while doing a tough job.
Voted up and useful.
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on May 20, 2013:
Thanks for dropping by paulplumb. I can imagine that you don't use sand professionally, but it's great for anyone without the expensive pipe bending tools who just wants to do one or a few small jobs. I've never used internal bending springs, but found the external ones worked OK but not 100% effective.
paulplumb from Solihull on April 10, 2013:
Crikey the last time I packed copper tube with sand and annealed the pipe was back in college. Never used the technique in the field in 20 years of plumbing. I use machine benders mostly but use external bending springs for microbore pipe. I hate the internal bending springs they last about 5 minutes! Thanks for the hub and the trip down memory lane :-)
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on May 30, 2012:
Thank you so much for this, plumbersedinburgh. It is praise indeed coming from a fellow plumber. Do they teach you the same things in Scotland?
plumbersedinburgh on May 30, 2012:
Wow what a guide! ... very very useful for anyone that likes to get their hands in there and do it.
DIY?? Not any more, its now Do it with this hub! ha
Thanks again :)
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on May 18, 2012:
Good question Mike. This was an exercise and we were told what to do. I think you can do either. The crimped end would be good if you didn't intend to continue the pipe in the future (change of plan or new installation). The cap is good if you know you're going to continue the system. Many thanks for leaving a comment.
Mike on May 18, 2012:
I'm soaking up knowledge and ideas before beginning bike porteur and pannier rack builds. You've been most helpful.
What do the crimped dead ends do versus capped end in the "Pipe bending made easy?" photo?
Also, nice work on the bike-a fine choice for the Paris-Roubaix:)
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on October 28, 2011:
Thanks, Derdriu, for these kind words. Much appreciated. Just need to get another house so I can practice my skills.
Derdriu on October 28, 2011:
Les Trois Chenes: This is such a humorously written, nicely organized and wonderfully illustrated practical hub. Congratulations on your training and on your B&B owner/operation!
Voted up, etc.,
Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on September 10, 2011:
Hi, thanks Simone for your lovely comment. It was a good refresher course writing this hub.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 06, 2011:
Gosh, this is an incredible guide! I love your breakdown of the various tools one could use... bending copper pipes actually sounds like fun! I'm sorry you're not able to put your plumbing skills to better use, but I'm sure glad you're sharing your expertise online... and I bet the B&B you've helped create is positively stunning! From everything you've written about it and from all the pictures, I can tell it is a remarkable place.