I want to build a custom Bimini frame. What do I need to know about bending stainless tubing? Can I do this myself, or am I asking for trouble? Heat, or no heat? 7/8" or 1"? Any advise or experience would be greatly appreciated.
Use 1" diameter stainless with .062 wall thickness. Anything thinner will tend to kink when it's bent, and 7/8" diameter is too flimsy. You can make the bends with a "low buck" manual tubing bender from McMaster Carr. Make sure it is designed for 1" TUBING, not pipe. NO HEAT. I used one of those benders to fab part of a hard top years ago and it did the job fine. I'm only assuming they still sell that same model. Way back then it was about $100. The easiest way and sometimes even the cheapest is to just pay someone to do it who has the right skills and equipment. You're the one who has to live with it and look at it every time you jump on board. Good luck with the outcome.
To keep from marring the stainless I've been told that the guys who do this for a living use nylon or some other type of plastic rollers on their equipment. Just a thought, any chance your local marina has some derelict with a bimini frame you could recycle?
I have bent chrome-moly tubing for motorcycles and airplanes with "bendalloy." You melt it, fill tube with it and it becomes a solid bar that you can bend without kinking or collapsing. It melts at 70C (160F) Although there are a lot of trade names for it, I had some made up by non-ferrous foundry about 40 years ago. I've still got it. Oddly, I don't see much on-line about it, but this can get you started:
Pack with dry sand, pack down solid. Cap the ends using your fittings and setscrews. Two guys can bend 7/8 around a telephone pole but it ain't easy.
Why not take your measurements to the salvage place in Quincy, MA, he has piles of tops & get something you can use or modify for use. Sorry, forgot name
I have a few bimini frames I'd let go for very cheap. They would be a good place to start at least also have a couple covers to go with them. If you're in the Northeast, they are worth a look. DM me of interested.