“Brake Metal” – What Is It?

Have you ever wondered why architects’ construction details often have notes that call out “brake metal” (or, possibly, and incorrectly, “break metal”)?

When I was an architectural intern, working on construction documents, I often used details from previous projects to get started on details for a current project. I often wondered, and sometimes asked, “What is brake metal?”

I never got a good answer.

But when I started writing specs, I learned that brake metal is sheet metal that is formed in a press brake. This metal is often specified for sheet metal flashing and trim.

Here’s a press brake in action:

In this photo, above, a length of prefinished sheet metal is being inserted between the male die and the female die of a press brake. Next, the workers will pull up the bottom die, pressing the dies together, which will bend the metal.

Violà! Brake metal.

Many thanks to Metal Sales Manufacturing Corporation for today’s tour of their Colorado plant, where they roll form tons of sheet metal wall and roof panels every year (and brake form lots of sheet metal trim).

This tour was organized by the Denver Chapter of CSI (the Construction Specifications Institute). If you’ve been considering joining CSI, now is a great time to join, because, for one week starting today, CSI has a 20% discount on national membership (November 9th through 16th). This discount is only available to new members joining at the professional (non-student) level. The discount doesn’t apply to your chapter membership, but chapter membership is where you get great benefits such as this plant tour I wrote about today, so it’s worth joining a local chapter, too! Here are the details:

Join CSI at www.csinet.org/join by Friday, November 16th and pay only $192 for national dues, a 20% savings.

  1. Log onto www.csinet.org/join
  2. Select “Join Now”, and then click “Sign Up as a New Member”
  3. Enter Promotion Code CSI1220 when prompted
  4. Click the “Add Discount” button



15 thoughts on ““Brake Metal” – What Is It?

  1. Thanks for reading, Sheldon! I love plant tours. They provide lots of “Ah-Ha!” moments. I don’t think I ever went on them before I got involved with CSI – except for a memorable brick plant tour in college.

  2. Plant tours are a great way to help understand manufacturing processes and limitation affecting construction. Just how big a piece of metal can a brake handle? And how small a surface can be created with a brake? What metals and thicknesses can be brake formed?

    Some basic understanding of some trades could be developed through junior high and high school wood and metal shop classes, if they still exist. I suspect funding cuts have drastically affected the availability of these courses. Perhaps they should be required college courses for architects. What do you think?

    The Architectural Glass Institute in Philadelphia is running boot camp classes intended for interns and young architects. They are providing hands-on experience cutting glass, cutting and assembling storefront framing, welding (simulated and real) with more to come. See photos at http://www.conspectusinc.com/firm-news.htm Just scroll down a bit from the top of the page.

    Bravo to all that help train our industry, however they do it.

    • Dave, thanks for reading and for commenting.

      There’s nothing like seeing something made to help understand how it’s supposed to be specified, drawn, and used.

      The AGI boot camp sounds (and looks) great!

  3. Not just funding but significant lack of student interest has caused the demise of shop, or as I knew it Industrial Arts. No new high school I have seen in 10 years has built one, and the closest things are fabrication areas for kids to build robots.

    Great that the Arch. Glass Institute is educating young architects. I wonder how they are training new young workers in the industry.

    It was a fine and well-attended tour. Thanks to Shirley Schaefer of the Denver Chapter, and to Metal Sales for opening their doors to CSI.

    • Dave, thanks for commenting.

      I believe that most of the lack of student interest in shop classes comes from the push to get every high school student to college, and the turn away from the building trades. Getting the classes you need to go to college often means forgoing working with your hands (but it doesn’t need to).

      This is something I’ve blogged about before – “Somehow, attaining a 4-year college degree has become the only respected post-high-school option for many kids. It may be the only avenue they hear about from their guidance counselors and parents.” https://lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/respect-for-the-construction-trades/

      So high schools offer more and more college prep classes, and fewer and fewer of other types of classes. I didn’t take shop; I didn’t even take drafting! They weren’t offered at my college-bound-oriented high school. Although art was offered, I didn’t take it. (Freshman year in college, I was pretty far behind many of my classmates in drafting and drawing!) Furniture design and crafting was, and still is, offered through the school of architecture at my alma mater (the University of Notre Dame) but I didn’t really understand WHY while I was in school… and it didn’t appeal to me at the time.

      I grew up in an excessively un-handy household. I’m somewhat handy now, but it’s taken work as an architect, plus years of marriage to a guy who has lots of tools. A lawyer who has lots of tools… which may be kind of rare, now that I think about it.

      • Liz, I think high schools are putting way too much emphasis on pushing students toward college. I believe it may be an issue with their perceived academic ranking. If they only send 20% instead of 90% it must be a really poorly performing school. Never mind that at least some students should consider options other than college. There is no shame in being a good plumber.

        Most do not have the opportunity to live in a handy household. For that I was really fortunate. My father was a carpenter, elevator repairman, and jet engine electrician. There was virtually nothing around the house that we needed help with. I had the additional benefit of working on a farm where i was required to maintain and repair the equipment and build a barn. We usually rebuilt a tractor over the winter months.

        There are opportunities to learn these kinds of trades if you are willing to get your hands dirty.

        These kinds of practical experiences can go a long way to help anyone visualize and understand how things – like buildings – go together.

    • Dave, thanks for mentioning AGI and our Architectural Glass Boot Camp program. The participants have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to try their hand at the craft of a glazier; equally so have our craftworkers enjoyed “teaching” their craft to the design community!

      The Camp takes place at our training partner’s facility, the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region (FTI-MAR), in Northeast Philadelphia. We are very proud of the fact that FTI-MAR has receieved FULL ACCREDITIATION as a technical community college. So in addition the training our apprentices and journeymen glaziers receive (everything from storefront construction, entrance systems, curtain wall systems, welding, skylights, photovoltiacs, blueprint reading, communications, and safety training) they will also receive an Associates degree and have the opportunity to pursue Bachelors degress as well.

      See AGI’s website for a video of the training center and FTI-MAR’s website for more information on their curriculum!


    • Thanks for reading and for commenting!

      Capabilities, limitations, and lead times are things they don’t teach us in architecture school… actually, sometimes they discourage architecture students from considering limitations…

  4. The brake press, or more simply, the “brake”, shown in this post is suitable for thin materials. Industrial brakes can be more formidable machines to bend thicker metal.

    A recent development is the used of digital fabrication (CNC) techniques that can speed brake forming and allow tighter tolerances. Last year, the Los Angeles CSI chapter toured Ceilings Plus, a specialty ceiling and wall panel manufacturer (www.ceilingsplus.com). The company has a machine that automatically feeds a sheet of metal into a brake, adjusts the size and spacing of the dies to the length of the product being fabricated, bends the sheet to the precise angle, rotates the sheet and readjusts the size and spacing of the die to form other edges of a panel, then discharges the formed panel from the equipment. It takes less than a minute per panel and is impressive to watch.

    But your initial question, what is “brake metal”, is unanswered. A spec for “brake metal” does not address the alloy, thickness, or finish of the material. Instead, better Part 2 – Product specification language would be:

    Material: Define alloy and thickness or criteria governing the thickness, such as resistance to oil canning.

    Finish: This could be electro-galvanizing for steel, mill or anodized finish for aluminum, etc.

    Fabrication: Brake form.

  5. Most of the brake metal that you see called out in specifications is usually smaller custom size pieces that usually fall into the Glass Sub-Contractors scope of work. It is usually some sort of flashing, drip leg, or corner cover.

    The most common color is usually anodized in Clear or Bronze to match Storefront and Curtainwall systems. The most common thickness is .040, .063, .080, and .125. Other common finishes are Mill, Brushed or Mirror finish Stainless Steel, Brass, Copper, Muntz.

    We have been a manufacturer of Brake Metal / Storefront / Doors / Steel / and Curtainwall Fabrication for 40 years in the Denver area.

    The CSI tour program looks very informative. I would be very interested in putting our company on that list of facilities to tour.

    Kyle Crone
    Director of Operations
    Commercial Architectural Products, Inc.

  6. Thank you for explaining what brake metal is. I think it’s interesting that it’s just sheet metal that has been formed with a press brake. I appreciate that you included pictures, but now I’m kind of interested to see it being made in person. Not only that, but it could be cool to see it being used afterwards.

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