Wrapping exterior windows and doors in aluminum is a great way to add detail and simplify exterior maintenance. If you have a few windows or an exterior door to wrap, it can be be a fun do it yourself weekend project. The tools to do an aluminum wrapping project are readily available, unfortunately, information on how to use a siding brake is not.
When I considered wrapping the three windows and the door on an addition I built, I had a hard time finding any information for the layman on how to use a siding brake. I was able to borrow an aluminum brake from a friend and he gave me a quick run down on how to use it. After some careful planning and a few mistakes, I ended up with three decently wrapped windows, a pretty good looking french door, and enough knowledge to write a basic primer on the process.
Step 1: Get together everything you will need
The list of tools and materials for this project is relatively small and easy to track down. The first and most important thing you will need is a siding brake. This can be rented from a tool rental place or you might be able to borrow one. If you do not know anyone you can borrow one from, you could try running an ad on a site like craiglist.
Once you have a siding brake, you will need to head over to your local home improvement store to purchase your materials. You will need a roll of aluminum trim coil and a box of white aluminum trim nails. You can get aluminum trim coil in a variety of lengths, widths, and colors. For my project, I purchased white trim coil with a reversible finish coat.
Finally, you will need a few common tools. You should have a framing square, a hammer, a tape measure, a utility knife with extra blades, and a screw driver for changing the knife blades. It would also be helpful to have a nail punch and a pair of snips. If your window or door is not already framed by wood, you will also need a saw and wood to frame it out.
Step 2: Think the project through
Before you start cutting and bending pieces of aluminum, it is helpful to take a moment to understand your project and to think it through. When you are wrapping a window or door, you start at the bottom and work your way up to the top. This method along with caulking your final product, will give you the best chance of keep water out.
For my project, I started with a French door that I framed out with some scrap lumber. The wood is 1.25 inches deep, so that will be the depth of my bends. The edges of the wood are 4.75 inches wide, so that will be the width of my bends. (Note: Jchannel is typically 1 inch deep. You may want to frame your door or window out at 1" if you do not want your wrapping to stick out past your siding.)
Step 3: Cut your side pieces
You are finally ready to get to work. Measure the distance from the bottom to the top of the side of the door then add an inch. This will be the length of your first cut. Since I purchased 24 inch wide coil, I was able to cut the piece in half lengthwise and have both my side pieces.
As you can see from the picture of my brake, It is a fairly old and non snazzy variety. There are some brakes that come with cutters built into the machine. I used a utility knife and a framers square to cut mine. When you using a utility knife, do not try to cut through the piece of aluminum. The trick is to score the piece and then gently bend the piece over the score a few times until it snaps. For the long cut you can score the entire length and then put it in the brake and bend it a few times that way.
Step 4: Bend your side pieces
The first bend will be for the inside of frame nearest the door. As I mentioned previously, the dimensions that I am covering are 1.25 inches deep by 4.75 inches wide. This means my first bend will be 1.25 inches. Take your time and line up each side on the brake so it is exactly 1.25 inches or whatever your depth will be. It can be helpful to have another person hold one end of the piece in place while you adjust the other end. Take your time here and don't rush. When you have the piece clamped down and ready to bend, check you measurement one more time and make sure it is correct.
When you are sure that your placement is correct, you are ready to bend the piece. Reach down, grab the handle of the brake, and pull the handle upwards until the piece is bent to a 90 degree angle. Release the handle and unclamp the piece.
Pull the aluminum piece towards you and line up your bend for the width part of the piece. The first bend should be pointing straight up as pictured above. Measure the distance that you need for the width (Mine was 4.75 inches) and clamp the brake back down. Double check your measurement one last time. Bend the piece upward at to a 90 degree angle.
You are ready for your final bend on the piece. Unclamp the piece and rotate it 180 degrees on the short axis so the second bend is facing downwards but still out. Measure for your depth again. I measured my bend 1.25 inches from the previous bend like my first bend. Clamp the piece down and double check your measurement. Bend your final bend 90 degrees upward. Your piece should look something like the picture below.
Repeat the process with your second cut side piece to make the other side piece of the door.
Step Five: Cut and bend the top
Once you have your side piece bent, it is time to position it on the door and mark it for some additional cuts. When you place the piece on the wood framing, you will notice that it will not go all the way on because of the top framing. Mark the aluminum with your pencil where it needs to be cut.
You can either use a pair of snips or a utility knife to cut the piece where you made your mark. I used my utility knife and my framing square since it was a short cut. On this cut, you will need to cut the aluminum all the way through instead of just scoring it. This is not difficult to do if you have a sharp blade and take your time. After you have made the cut, fold the top portion flat against the interior.
Place your piece back onto the wood framing.
You should now have a piece that fits snuggly and uniformly onto the wood framing with the exception of about an inch that sticks up at the top.
Cut the two exterior bends down to the top of the wood framing and bend the resulting "flaps" over the top. You can either cut the piece with snips or mark the piece, take it down, and cut it with your utility knife. Bend the front longer piece down first and then bend the exterior side shorter piece over second.
While you could omit these cuts in the process by cutting the pieces to length instead of one inch long in step 3, I do not recommend doing so. This portion will be completely covered by the top aluminum piece with the exception of the corner. Having an extra bend over the top corner adds another layer of water protection in addition to the caulk you will be putting on later.
Once you have all the parts of the two sides cut and bent, you are ready to put some nails into your work. If you have bent the piece right, you shouldn't need too many nails to secure the piece. Try to be strategic about where you place the nails. You want the least number of nails showing as possible on the finished product.
There will be a few places where a nail will definitely need to be visible on the finished product. In these places, it is important to be very careful when driving the nail in. You can use a nail punch to prevent your hammer from dinging the piece. You could also pre-drill the few holes that are going to be showing.
Repeat the process with the other side of the door.
Step 6: Cut, bend, and affix the top piece
Once you have secured both the side pieces, it is time to make the final piece. Measure the distance between the top outside left corner and the top outside right corner. This will be the length of your top piece. Try to get an accurate measurement and cut on this piece. If the piece is too long once it is bent, it is hard (but not impossible) to cut the piece down to size. If the piece is too short, you may have to cut a new piece and waste that one.
Repeat the same bending process that you did with the side pieces. The top piece should look the same as what the first two pieces did when you took them off of the brake. The location of the cuts on the top piece will be slightly different.
Line up the top piece with framing and check your length. Like the side pieces, you will have to mark and cut the ends of this piece to make it fit. With the top pieces, I do not bend the piece inside like I did with the sides. I simply run my utility knife along the crease to score it and break the end pieces off. (See picture below). This makes your finished product a little less bulky and easier to caulk.
When you have cut out the two tabs on the ends, you are ready to put the final piece up and nail it in. Remember to be careful and not be overly exuberant with your hammer. Take your time and make sure the nails are in a good spots.
Step 7: Caulk the door and enjoy a job well done
Congratulations, you have successfully wrapped a door in aluminum. The only thing left to do is to caulk the seams. Caulking the seams will not only be able to hide some of your small imperfections, it will also seal the wrapping from exterior moisture penetration.
If you are going to be wrapping a window instead of a door, the process is the same. You just start with a bottom piece before you put on the side pieces. Make the appropriate cuts and bends to insure the wrapping fits on the wooden framing snug and secure.
Here are a few tips that may save you some hassle:
1. Be very careful with the aluminum from the moment you unroll it until you affix it to your house. The aluminum will scratch and dent easily. If you are going to be cutting the trim coil on a floor or piece of plywood, make sure there are no small rocks or debris under the sheet, it can put small divots in the sheet.
2. Take your time, there is nothing worse than cutting something in the wrong spot or making the wrong bend. Before you cut, bend, or nail something, think about what you are doing one last time and make sure it is what you actually want to do.
3. If you do make a mistake, recycle it. I actually had to pull down on of my wrapping jobs and redo it because of an error I made. The result was 14 pounds of bent and sad aluminum. I took it to the scrap yard and got seven dollars (Hey money is money).
Do you have any tips you could add or a process that would improve upon my basic tutorial? Did I do something wrong that needs to be corrected? Feel free to leave a comment and I will be more that happy to add tips or update the information.