The basics are trivial; you need these items:
Hard tubes of choice. For example, this Pacific kit ($21).
A heat gun capable of getting the tubes into a malleable state. This would work ($30).
Silicone insert to retain the tube's structure when heated. This 3ft option would work. Make sure the diameter matches the tube diameter, though.
Bending kit to assist in making the angles desired. Thermaltake's kit includes a silicone insert and other tools.
Time: About 5 minutes. This becomes more difficult and takes more time as bend complexity increases, but a simple 90-degree bend is quick work.
To bend hard tubing, the tube must be made malleable – done with heat – and must also keep the full internal diameter so that flow is not kinked. The entire process takes a few minutes for a simple bend.
Get a glass and fill it with soapy water. You'll want about 10-20% of the glass to be soap – nothing too crazy. Place this off to the side. Next, prepare the heat gun and stand it on its back (if possible) so that it is ready to use hands-free. If you purchased a bending kit, locate the guide with the angle desired. A 90-degree bend or 135-degree bend guide are among the most common. Place this in front of you.
Next, grab the silicone insert and apply soap water to the entire insert. The soap will prevent evaporation of the water while in the tube, which is important for ensuring easy removal once the bend is complete. Insert the silicone into the tube while ensuring it is still retrievable at the end of the process; you'll want to leave at least a quarter-inch of the silicone protruding from the tube.
Making the Bend
Next, turn on the heat gun and hold the tube (with insert) about 1” above the surface of the heat gun, or per the spec of your particular gun. Rotate the tube at a moderate pace while retaining a fixed height offset from the top of the heat gun.
This shouldn't take long, with a decent amount of heat. The tube will feel malleable soon, at which point you should disable the heat gun, place it to the side in a safe fashion (standing up, so that any residual heat on the surface doesn't burn you or nearby elements), and quickly bend the tube in the shape desired. It's ideal to use some sort of guide for this, e.g. a bend kit. Hold for about 20 seconds, then test to see if the tube has hardened.
Once complete, the tube will remain in its new shape permanently and is ready for cuts. You do not have to worry about the bend losing its shape.
That's it. Easy stuff. The rest, of course, is a little more time consuming – but the absolute basics of hard tube bending are easy to get into. It's the more complex bends, like corkscrews and other spirals, that make hard tube bending a skill of greater depth.
Check back soon for the rest of our California tour coverage. We've got Part 1 of our Sean Tracy interview (Technical Director of Star Citizen) going live tomorrow, alongside some MSI laptop coverage.
Editorial: Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke
Video: Andrew “ColossalCake” Coleman