Bending wire? - RC Groups
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Jan 31, 2010, 10:54 AM
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Bending wire?

I have been building planes in one form or another since Jr. High way back in the 70s. Funny thing is you get stuck in a rut doing things the way you have always done them. Right or wrong you just dont give it much thought sometimes. I was looking at another thread and saw some wire landing gear that had been bent to shape. They perfectly matched the plans, mine are always just a little bit off So what tools do you all use and what methods do you use to achieve such perfection? All I have ever used is a pair of standard pliers and maybe a set of needle nose. How can I improve my technique?
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Jan 31, 2010, 11:22 AM
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Great questions, looking forward to answers also!
Jan 31, 2010, 11:37 AM
Hobby King Hater
Kimber's Avatar
Pick me, Pick me, I know the answer!!!

Brad tried to teach me to do it, but my hands just
don't have the strength..

You need a pair of duck bill pliers. They are wide and
flat on the end. You can grip the wire at just the righ
spot while it is laying on the plans then bend it and
set it back on the plans without releasing the wire.

When you get it done in one plane, you can grip the bends
and get it flattened, by gripping the bends and twisting,
you don't bow the long parts.

And they look like this:

Jan 31, 2010, 11:39 AM
Registered User
The PIPE's Avatar

Roy Vaillancourt from Maine has these good tips on bending music wire with a torch...

Dear Mikeflys:

The PIPE Here...back in 2004, I spotted some good tips from Maine-dwelling RC Scale flier Roy Vaillancourt about bending music wire, but exactly where I first spotted it is something I can't quite recollect at the moment.

Here's the text of the online article that Roy authored, about using a torch (either propane, or MAPP gas) to bend music wire, that's been on my hard disk for some six years now...

"Heat Treating Music Wire - by Roy Vaillancourt

The music wire used by modelers to make landing gear and cabin struts is medium carbon steel heat-treated to spring temper or about 45 on the Rockwell C scale of hardness (RC45). On this scale, RC20 is soft, RC45 is tough, and RC60 is hard. Tough wire can be bent and cut using the proper tools and techniques, but sometimes it's just too difficult to work with.

One way to soften steel music wire is to heat it, which makes it easy to bend and form. But after heating and form- ing, the subsequent cooling -- often at an uncontrolled rate -- can make the finished wire too hard or too soft since its hardness is determined by the rate at which it cools. For some parts, the final hardness isn't critical. But a land- ing gear formed from wire softened too much won't spring back to its original position; and a gear made from wire cooled to a harder than normal state will snap on its first use. To restore the wire to its original specific spring temper, it must be heat-treated a second time and cooled at a controlled rate.

To form wire easily, first anneal it; next, form or bend it to the desired shape; and then heat-treat the part back to spring condition -- that is, temper it. First the wire should be annealed at the location to be bent. To anneal it, heat the wire with a torch until it becomes a bright cherry red -- about 1400F, or 760C. Let it cool completely to the touch. Don't quench it or blow on it. Just let it cool naturally away from any drafts. The wire should now be in the RC25 soft range, and it will bend easily. After forming once again heat the wire with a torch until it becomes bright cherry red, but this time quench it -- that is, cool it rapidly by immersing it in room tem- perature water. Plunge the steel into the water with a twisting, swirling motion to keep water vapor from insulating the wire against the cooling action of the water.

At this point the wire should be very hard, probably above RC60. To test the hardness, try to make a mark on the worked area with a file. The file should slide off without cutting into the steel at all. If it cuts the wire, try the heat and quench cycle again. If the file still cuts the wire, it isn't high carbon steel. Get another piece of wire and start over -- you won't be able to add the neces- sary carbon to low-carbon steel.

When the file test signals success, the wire is ready for the final step, but not for use, because it's very hard and quite brittle, and will probably snap off. The final step is to temper the wire back to the desired hardness. Tempering is a form of annealing but is controlled so that the steel achieves a specific hardness.

Start by sanding the wire with steel wool or emery cloth. Then heat it gradually with the torch. Watch for the following colors as a guide: straw color (350F-175C), followed by dark blue (600F-315C), and then medium blue (750F-400C). At this point, remove the wire from the heat and allow it to cool slowly. Don't quench it or blow on it; just let it cool naturally in still air. Once the steel returns to room temperature, it should be at the target RC45 hardness, which has a good spring temper.

Try the file test again. You should be able to make a mark now, but only with some effort. If it passes this test, the wire is properly tempered. Besides parts for model planes, tempered music wire can also be used to make special pur- pose tools. Instead of tempering to 750F / 400C (medium blue), stop at the straw color stage. The wire will be at about RC60, which is still very hard, but not brittle. Wire at this temper can be used to drill wood and plastics, and most aluminum and copper.

1. Rockwell hardness testing, named after Stanley Rockwell who made his first testing machine in 1921, is a general method for measuring the bulk hardness of metallic and polymer mate- rials. Although hardness testing does not measure performance properties, hard- ness correlates with strength, wear resis- tance, and other properties. Rockwell hardness testing is an inden- tation testing method. An indenter is impressed into the test sample at a pre- scribed load to measure the material's resistance to deformation. A Rockwell hardness number is calculated from the depth of permanent deformation of the sample after application and removal of the test load. Various indenter shapes and sizes combined with a range of test loads form a matrix of Rockwell hardness scales that are applicable to a wide variety of materials. The Rockwell B and C scales are used for metallic substances.

2. Anneal: To heat and then cool (as steel or glass) usually for softening and making less brittle.

3. Quench: To cool (as with heated metal) suddenly by immersion (as in oil or water)."

Just hoping that this article from Mr. Vaillancourt might be of some help to Mikefly's questions...

Yours Sincerely,

The PIPE... !!!
Jan 31, 2010, 01:59 PM
Thanks PIPE. I could have used that info many, many times over the past few decades of model building.
Jan 31, 2010, 02:00 PM
High Exalted Poohbah
planeman's Avatar
Kimber has it right. Duckbill pliers and the method she mentions. It takes a little fiddling adjusting the bends but you can pretty much get it spot on. A Vise-Grip plier with a flat end to the jaw tips works too. You can grind the jaw tips flat if necessary. And the landing gear in Kimber's photo is nicely done! Good work.

Jan 31, 2010, 02:20 PM
Don McGill's Avatar
This is my favorite tool for bending wire.

Jan 31, 2010, 05:42 PM
Registered User
Sweet thanks for all the suggestions. I think I will start out with the Duck billed pliers. Thanks Kimber for the suggestion. The binding jig looks good as well. The heat treating method is a little more intense then I want to go after right now.
Jan 31, 2010, 05:44 PM
Registered User
Oh by the way, any suggestions on a place to get the duck billed pliers?
Jan 31, 2010, 07:42 PM
Hobby King Hater
Kimber's Avatar
Originally Posted by mikeflys
Oh by the way, any suggestions on a place to get the duck billed pliers?

Brads are Snapon.
Jan 31, 2010, 07:46 PM
Registered User
Michaels has small ones in their jewelry/beading section. They also have various other specialty pliers that are useful for making smaller wire bends. I like to have pair of round nose pliers around too. (Good for bending hooks.)

Google "jewelery pliers" or "jewelry tools" for lots of hits.
Jan 31, 2010, 09:49 PM
Registered User
Snapon O.K. those look good. I used to work for Sears back in the late 80's. After the way they treated me I will NOT shop from them again.
Jan 31, 2010, 11:05 PM
Hobby King Hater
Kimber's Avatar
Originally Posted by mikeflys
Snapon O.K. those look good. I used to work for Sears back in the late 80's. After the way they treated me I will NOT shop from them again.
I just asked Brad, his are older than I am. Most of them are, he got them
in the late 60's, early 70's. Some of his wood working tools were his
Great Grand Fathers, from the late 70's,, 1870's!
Jan 31, 2010, 11:20 PM
Registered User
Joe'n Kody's Avatar
Don McGill has the correct tool for bending music wire. This tool is the only correct way to bend music wire. When bending music wire, the radius in the inside corner must never be less than the diameter of the wire. A radius of 1 1/2 times the dia. is much better. When I had my gunsmithing business, I made more springs than I can count. These springs were made from music wire, spring steel and Ni-Chrome wire. Many of the springs were hand forged, hardened and tempered. The great success I had in making these springs came from completing and understanding the metalurgy courses I did when I went to college. There is no way I would attempt to harden and temper music wire as described above. This is really a true hit or miss style of doing heat treatment. You might be lucky enough to succeed a few times, but one day you will lose a very valuable aircraft when the landing gear fails and the plane cartwheels into a pile of balsa.
If a series of bends are to be made, make a set of soft steel jaws for your workshop vice. File the required radius on the verticle end of the jaws, position the music wire and bend it around using a hammer and tapping the wire carefully. Thick wire eg. 3/16" dia. will need to be hit hard. Bending the wire will strain harden (also called workharden) it at the bend but not enought to cause it to become damaged metallurgically so it becomes brittle. But don't bend it more than once.
The best way to colour temper steel springs, especially when they are small, is to use a large steel plate. For a leaf spring for a shot gun, being a standard form of spring about 3 inches long, I use a piece of ordinary mild steel plate. This plate is about 5" long, 2" wide and 1/2" thick. One face is cleand off with an angle grinder so it is all clean of scale and is shiny steel. It is essential that you dont touch the surface with your fingers, they are yucky and oily from your own skin. Place the steel across 2 bricks that support the very ends only. Now start to heat the steel with a gas torch from underneath carefully and evenly. Watch the colours forming on the surface of the steel. Stop heating just before the colour you want comes into view. You stop heating early 'cos the heat is still being transfered from the bottom of the plate. When the colour is correct and stable, place the hardened spring on the top of the steel. Watch it change colour. It cannot get any hotter than the steel plate so it is quite safe to leave it there. When it is cool, grind the plate nice and shiny again and repeat the process. Do this at least three times. All the springs I made were heated all over to the required red heat for hardening. After hardening they were carefully cleaned and polished ready for tempering. Fully hardening the spring all over is the best way to obtain a high quality spring, you should never heat a section of any spring in the middle to harden and temper it.

Joe n Kody
Feb 01, 2010, 01:05 AM
AMA 910957
EJWash1's Avatar
Using pliers will only work on smaller diameter wire, unless you're Ah-nold (Schwarzenegger). It will also cause cracks in the wire if bent in too tight a radius. I use the wire bending tools shown below.

The smaller bending tool I picked up from Micro-Mark (,7044.html) and the larger one is manufactured by K&S Engineering. I ordered that one from Tower hobbies ( The smaller bender handles smaller wire (up to 1/8") and the larger one 1/8"-1/4". The larger bender also coils wire.

You are stuck with the radius that these tools produce, but I haven't been in a situation where I've needed anything different. If you need to make larger radius bends, you can use either of these two tools, although you have to practice making small bends and feeding the wire along.

Make sure to account for the additional length in wire needed to make a bend. In other words, if you need a simple 2" X 2" 'L' shaped wire, you'll need longer than an even 4" of wire to make the piece. Always go long and cut back to required dimension when you can.

When you cannot cut long and trim back to dimension, such as in bending landing gear where it attaches to the fuselage, you have to experiment with where to make the second bend in the wire to allow for the start of the radius. Constantly check and re-check your wire against the plan.

Another important part of bending wire is keeping the wire level. Again, practice will develop skill here.


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