What Is a Press Brake: Its Purpose and Origin

Looking to learn more about press brakes and how they are used in the metalworking industry? Look no further than this comprehensive guide from MachineMFG.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newcomer to the field, this article has everything you need to know about press brakes, from their basic components to the different types available on the market today.

Discover the history behind the term “press brake” and learn how this versatile machine can be used to bend and shape sheet metal with precision and accuracy.

With easy-to-understand explanations and helpful videos, this guide is the perfect resource for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of press brakes.

So why wait? Dive in and discover everything you need to know about this essential tool for metalworking professionals.

If this is your first time encountering the term “press brake”, it’s possible that you are unfamiliar with its meaning and may not immediately associate it with a machine used for bending sheet metal.

So, let’s start by defining what a press brake is.

Press Brake Bending Animation


What Is a Press Brake?

In the metalworking industry, a press brake refers to a specialized machine tool designed to bend sheet and plate materials, with sheet metal being the most commonly utilized material.

This machine tool employs a clamping technique whereby the workpiece is secured between a punch and die that correspond to one another, allowing for the creation of accurate and precise bends.

Types of Press Brakes

Currently, there are five widely used types of press brakes in the market, each with its own advantages, disadvantages, and usage scenarios.

Of course, hydraulic press brake is still the most popular at present. The following are the five main types of press brakes:

Mechanical Press Brakes operate using a flywheel and crank mechanism to generate the force required to bend the metal. They are renowned for their speed and accuracy.

Hydraulic Press Brakes utilize hydraulic cylinders to generate the force required to bend the metal. They are known for their power and versatility.

Pneumatic Press Brakes employ compressed air to generate the force required to bend the metal. They are known for their speed and ease of use.

Electric Press Brakes use an electric motor to generate the force required to bend the metal. They are known for their precision and energy efficiency.

Manual Press Brakes require the operator to manually apply the force required to bend the metal. They are known for their simplicity and affordability.

What Does a Press Brake Do?

A press brake is a vital machine in the metalworking industry, employed to bend and shape sheet metal or plate materials. This machine utilizes a hydraulic or mechanical press to apply force to the top punch and bottom die, which in turn alters the metal to a desired angle or shape.

Press brakes can be operated manually or by using a computerized numerical control (CNC) or numerical control (NC) controller, enabling more precise and intricate bending operations. These controllers allow the operator to enter specific bending parameters, such as bend angle and depth, resulting in highly accurate and repeatable results.

To better comprehend the functioning of a press brake, we recommend watching the following video.

After viewing the aforementioned video, I am confident that you now possess a more comprehensive understanding of the purpose and functionality of a press brake.

Why Is It Called Press Brake?

As we delve into the topic of press brakes, a common question that arises is why they are called “press brakes” instead of simply being referred to as bending machines.

In modern times, the term “press brake” is used to describe a hydraulic bending machine that is specifically designed for sheet metal bending.

However, the origins of the term may not be immediately clear to everyone.

Like many, I too was once perplexed by the use of the term “press brake.” It made me question whether the term was an accurate description of the hydraulic bending machine.

After conducting extensive research on the topic, I have finally discovered the answer.

It’s worth noting that the term “press break” is incorrect as nothing is being broken or shattered.

So why is it called a press brake? Let’s explore this question in more depth.

“Press Brake” Development

It is commonly understood that the word “brake” in modern usage means to slow or stop. However, in the 15th century, the definition of “brake” was quite different. It was used to describe an instrument for crushing or pounding.

As time passed, the term “brake” became associated with the machine used for crushing grain. Therefore, when referring to a machine used for pressing, the term “press brake” emerged as the simplest term to use.

Over time, the two terms became synonymous and began to hold the same meaning.

The Old English verb “brecan” and its Middle English form “breken” were the predecessors of the modern English verb “break”. They meant to divide solid objects into parts violently or to destroy.

The term “brake” is closely related to “break” and has its origins in the 15th century, where it was used to describe an instrument for crushing or pounding. Eventually, it became associated with the machine used for crushing grain, and then later, the term “press brake” was coined to describe the machine used for pressing and bending sheet metal.

Interestingly, in modern sheet metal bending, the Middle English verb “breken” or “break” is used to refer to bending, changing direction, or deflecting. Even a light beam can be “broken” by using a mirror.

Therefore, it can be said that the verb “brake” in the context of a press brake refers to a machine that bends sheet metal.

You might be curious about why the term “press brake” includes the word “press.”

In the 13th century, “presse” was used as a noun meaning “to crush or crowd.” Later, in the 14th century, “press” was used to refer to a device for pressing clothes or squeezing juice from grapes and olives.

As time passed, “press” evolved to mean “a machine that applies force by squeezing.” For sheet metal fabricators, the punches and dies that exert force on the sheet metal to make it bend were referred to as “presses.”

This is where the term “press brake” originated.

Different types of sheet metal bending machines are named based on the power source that actuates the machine, the tools used to bend the metal, and the type of bend produced. For instance, a leaf brake uses an upward-swinging leaf to bend the metal.

Leaf Brake

A box brake, which is also commonly known as a pan brake or finger brake, is a machine tool that is primarily used for forming boxes or pans from sheet metal. This is achieved by bending the metal around segmented fingers that are attached to the upper jaw of the machine.

Finger Brake

A press brake performs bending using punches and dies.

See also:

Advancements in technology have led to the creation of different types of press brakes, which include manual press brakes, mechanical press brakes, hydromechanical press brakes, hydraulic press brakes, and electro press brakes. Despite the various names, the term “press brake” still refers to the machine used for bending, as illustrated in the video below.

Basic Components of Press Brake

A press brake is made up of several basic components that work together to bend and shape metal sheets. These components include the frame, ram, controller, punch and die, backgauge, oil cylinder, motor, backgauge, and safety device.

The frame is the main structure of the press brake and provides support for the other components. It is typically made of heavy-duty steel to withstand the forces generated during bending.

The ram is the moving part of the press brake that applies force to the metal sheet. It is attached to the punch and moves up and down to bend the metal.

The controller is used to control the movement of the ram and backgauge. It allows the operator to set the desired bend angle and depth.

The punch and die are the tools used to shape the metal. The punch is attached to the ram and presses the metal sheet into the die, which is fixed to the frame.

The backgauge is used to position the metal sheet accurately on the press brake. It can be adjusted to control the depth of the bend.

The oil cylinder is used in hydraulic press brakes to generate the force needed to bend the metal. It uses hydraulic fluid to move the ram up and down.

The motor is used in electric press brakes to generate the force needed to bend the metal. It drives an electric screw or belt system that moves the ram up and down.

The safety device is used to protect the operator from injury during operation. It can include features such as light curtains or laser guards that prevent the machine from operating if a hand or other object is detected in the bending area.

These basic components work together to provide precise and accurate bending of metal sheets.

Press Brake Bending Techniques

There are several operations and techniques that can be performed using a press brake. These include air bending, bottoming, and coining.

Air Bending is a technique where the metal sheet is bent by pressing it into a V-shaped die. The metal is not pressed all the way to the bottom of the die, but rather is left slightly above it. This allows for a wider range of bend angles to be achieved with a single set of tools.

Bottoming is a technique where the metal sheet is pressed all the way to the bottom of the V-shaped die. This results in a very precise bend angle, but requires a different set of tools for each desired bend angle.

Coining is a technique where the metal sheet is pressed into the die with enough force to permanently deform the metal. This results in a very precise bend angle and high repeatability, but requires a large amount of force and can only be used with certain types of metal.

Each technique has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the best one for a particular job will depend on factors such as the type and thickness of the metal being bent, the desired bend angle, and the production volume.

Related reading: Types of Press Brake Bending

Press Brake Tooling and Accessories

Press brakes can be equipped with a variety of tooling and accessories to improve their performance and versatility. These include punches, dies, and clamping systems.

Punches are the tools that press the metal sheet into the die to create the desired bend. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different bend angles and radii.

Dies are the tools that the metal sheet is pressed into to create the desired bend. Like punches, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different bend angles and radii.

Clamping Systems are used to hold the punch and die securely in place on the press brake. They can be manual or hydraulic, and allow for quick and easy tool changes.

The right combination of tooling and accessories can greatly improve the performance and versatility of a press brake, allowing it to handle a wider range of bending jobs with greater precision and efficiency.

Related reading: The Ultimate Press Brake Dies Guide

Advantages and Limitations of Press Brakes

Press brakes have several advantages and limitations that should be considered when deciding whether to use them for a particular bending job.

Advantages of press brakes include their ability to produce precise and accurate bends, their versatility in handling a wide range of metal thicknesses and bend angles, and their relatively low cost compared to other metal bending methods.

Limitations of press brakes include their relatively slow speed compared to other metal bending methods, the need for skilled operators to achieve the best results, and the need for specialized tooling for each desired bend angle and radius.

Overall, press brakes are a versatile and cost-effective tool for bending metal sheets. However, they may not be the best choice for every job, and their limitations should be carefully considered before deciding to use them.


What are press brakes used for?

Press brakes are used in manufacturing for bending sheet metal and plate material. They can create a variety of bends across multiple axes, allowing for complex parts to be manufactured from single pieces of material. They are commonly used in industries such as automotive, aircraft, electronics, and construction.

Why is it called a press brake?

The term “press brake” comes from its function and operation. The “press” part of the name refers to the machine’s ability to apply force or pressure. The “brake” part of the name refers to its function of bending or ‘breaking’ the material along a straight line, similar to the way a brake in a vehicle ‘breaks’ momentum.

What are the main types of brakes?

In terms of metalworking machinery, the main types of brakes are press brakes, panel brakes, and finger brakes. Press brakes use a set of dies to press and bend material. Panel brakes bend material along a straight axis using a folding mechanism. Finger brakes have adjustable fingers that can bend different parts of the material at varying widths and angles.

What are the advantages of press brake?

Press brakes offer several advantages including high precision, versatility, and efficiency. They are capable of creating complex bends and forms with high accuracy, making them suitable for intricate designs. Press brakes can also work with a variety of materials and thicknesses. Additionally, modern press brakes often come with automation features, which can greatly improve productivity and reduce labor costs.

What is the difference between press brake and bending?

“Press brake” refers to the machine used in the process, while “bending” is the process itself. The press brake applies pressure to a piece of sheet metal or plate material along a specified line to create a bend. So, a press brake performs the action of bending.

What is press brake structure?

A press brake structure typically consists of a bed or frame, a ram, and a set of dies. The bed is the lower, stationary part of the machine where the material is placed. The ram is the upper, moving part that applies pressure to the material. The dies, which are attached to the bed and the ram, are the tools that shape the material into the desired bend. Additionally, modern press brakes may include computer controls for precision and automation.

What is the difference between finger brake and press brake?

A finger brake and a press brake are both used for bending, but they function differently. A finger brake has adjustable fingers that allow for the bending of specific parts of the material at different widths and angles. This is particularly useful for forming boxes or pans. A press brake, on the other hand, uses a set of dies to press and bend the material. It is more versatile and precise, making it suitable for a wider range of applications, including complex multi-axis bending.

Is it called a press brake or a brake press?

The machine is more commonly referred to as a “press brake” in the metalworking industry. The terms “press brake” and “brake press” are sometimes used interchangeably, but “press brake” is more widely accepted and understood. It refers to a machine that uses a set of dies to press and bend material, typically sheet metal. It’s important to note that regardless of the terminology, the function of the machine remains the same.


Now that we have gained a better understanding of what a press brake is and why it is called as such, those who are seeking more comprehensive information about press brakes can refer to the ultimate guide to press brakes. This guide covers in-depth details on the different types of press brakes, their working principles, tooling, applications, training, programming, and also provides valuable tips.

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2 thoughts on “What Is a Press Brake: Its Purpose and Origin”

  1. Thanks for the insightful information on break press. Our small scale business enterprise is into design and assembly of DC to AC inverter for the growing renewable energy market in Nigeria.
    Over the years we rely on Indian market for parts like sheet metal enclosure/cabinet etc. Post covid Government has increased import tarrifs making things difficult. Because of this bottleneck, we have to look inward for our sheet metal enclosure needs.
    We will appreciate if the author can assist in recommending all the necessary machinery needed (semi-auto) for small scale sheet metal forming business.

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