Low Tunnel Hoop Bender

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In this post I discussed our garden plans, which included building a few low tunnel covers to help protect of squash from the bugs, and our greens from bolting. I looked into buying the hoops but was unimpressed with what I found. Either they were too expensive, or they looked cheap. I knew I wanted metal hoops but I wasn’t sure how to bend them.

I’ve been listening to the Chicken Thistle Farm coopcasts (podcasts) a lot lately and in one of them they mention their Johnny Seeds hoop bender. I was intrigued. If I could bend the hoops myself, why wouldn’t I—but did I need to buy a bender or could I make a bender? While using the Johnny Seeds hoop bender would be faster, I knew the cost benefit wouldn’t be there considering I didn’t need a ton of hoops, and the hoops I needed to make were small.

Before I knew it my fingers were flying as I looked up DIY hoop benders. I had a feeling I was going to find something and YouTube didn’t let me down. I really enjoyed this video from Brock Hammill who explained how to build a hoop bender from nothing more than plywood/subfloor, 1/2 inch EMT (electrical conduit pipe from a home improvement store at about $2.00 for 10′), screws, scrap wood, a tape measure, a piece of string and a pencil.

IMG_4104The video does a fantastic job of explaining how to do this, but in case you can’t watch it right now here’s how I did it. Mind you I also had access to a grinder to cut my pipe when I was done, but if you don’t you might want to have a metal pipe saw which you can get at Home Depot.

1. Figure out how wide you want your hoop, so you can get your measurements correctly. I knew that my mounds for my squash would be about two feed wide more or less, same with the rows for my greens. I decided to make them a little wider at about 30 inches. I made sure I had at least 40 inches of plywood to work with, since I needed some room for a next step.

2. Once you have your width figured out for your hoops (in my case 30″) measure out so you have half the distance (15″) on each side and put a screw in the center. Tie your string to the screw, measure out half the distance (15″) and with your pencil swoop around to make a half circle.

IMG_41063. Place screws around this half circle you made, with more screws at the beginning as they will take the brunt of the bend. Keep in mind that as you use this your screws will bend some, so choose a heavy duty screw like a deck screw. Note in the photo below, I didn’t use deck screws. I wish I could remember what I used but they were heavy duty. When you put these in keep in mind to leave at least a 1/2″, if not a little more, sticking out. You need the screws to be slightly taller than your 1/2″ EMT you’ll be bending.

IMG_41094. Once you have all of your screws in, place a piece of scrap wood about 1″ away from the beginning of your screws. You’ll use this as leverage.

5. To bend your EMT place it between the screws and scrap wood, about 6 inches below the jig. These extra 6″ will be what you will use to help stake it into the ground. Now, start bending! You will need to secure down your piece of plywood before you start bending or else it will move all around and screw up your bend. This was hard for me to do because I did this in a garage and the ground is frozen. Once it thaws outside this spring I’ll put some stakes in the ground around the plywood so I can easily bend the EMT. I used whatever heavy I could find in the garage, and used my weight on the board when the angles allowed. My first hoop has a weird bend in it because part way around the plywood jarringly slipping and it caused an awkward bend (the hoop on the left in the first finished photos below). Truth be told, it will still work fine. No biggie.

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6. Once you’re done bending, I suggest taking each end in both hands and give it a quick tight squeeze to help ensure you get the width you need as it will be slightly wider. You’ll feel super strong. It’s like a thigh master for your arms. Plus, who doesn’t feel cool being able to bend metal with their hands? Trust me, you’ll be like “I’M AMAZING” and run around like Rocky with your hands above your head. *disclaimer: I’ve never seen Rocky. I only assume he does this because why wouldn’t he?

7. Once you have your bend, cut the extra off. I used a grinder because it was there, and I could. Another option, which I did with my second hoop was to cut it to size more or less prior to bending. I have to say though, I love the grinder. Grinder, I hardly knew her. #imsupermature #getwiththetimesheather

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Once you’ve done all of the above – you have hoops! Tada! They aren’t perfect hoops but they are perfect for our use. I think once I am able to securely stake my jig into the ground this spring I’ll have smoother bends. As far as the size difference it’s due to the fact I have extra metal on the second one I made (right) to put it into the ground (which I still need to cut a little), and I gave the first one (left) and extra squeeze which made it a little narrower. Once I actually place these in the garden I’ll be able to press them all in so they are all the same more or less.

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So here are a few tips I learned from my first take at this:

  • I bent my first piece at full length, and cut the second piece shorter pre-bend once I got an idea of how much I needed, simply because it made it easier to bend.
  • How to figure out how much EMT you need per bend: A general and easy way of figuring the length of each hoop is the following equation (width of hoop x 2). So for me this would be 30*2  = 60″ / 12″ = 5′. This means generally I need 5 feet of EMT to make my 30″ hoop. However take in account the fact you need some extra on each end. I made mine about 5’7″. Why? It’s my height so it made it easy to measure the EMT against myself to get the right length.
  • It’s so important to have your jig staked down unless you want a few messed up hoops. They’ll still likely work but once it’s bent it’s bent.
  • Don’t use over 1/2″. According to the video above he had trouble with anything above 1/2″ EMT conduit so I listened to his advice. 1/2″ is all you really need anyway.

So that’s that! I expect as I keep making more of these I’ll have a lot more conformity to the hoops. Honestly, as long as they just work I’m okay. I’m very happy with how the hoop bender turned out and any errors in the bending are operator error, not the jig. If I end up having to make a lot more I might buy the bender, but for now, for this season, this jig is where it’s at!

Happy garden planning!

xo,

Heather

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