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A press brake is a machine tool for bending sheet and plate material, most commonly sheet metal.

But why is it called brake? Why not press sheet bender? How did it come to be called brake?

I looked up brake in the Etymology Dictionary, but its explanation does not seem to cover the "bending" sense of the word:

Screenshot of definition of brake

Animation of press brake machine

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    You can clearly see the crushing action of the press brake in the animation! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 8 '17 at 3:34
  • @P.E.Dant - ah, I never thought of that. I imagined "crushing" as "crushing something to small bits and pieces". – CowperKettle Aug 8 '17 at 3:52
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    Nice animated .gif, by the way. I can't imagine how you found an animated press brake! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 8 '17 at 3:57
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    One of the slickest off-topic questions ever asked here on ELL. Etymological picnics summon the harpies :) Better ask over on ELU. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 8 '17 at 11:59
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo The help center has been updated to reflect that etymology is not explicitly off-topic on ELL because it was causing too many harpy flocks ;) (Well, and there is an argument that etymology is a very relevant and useful topic for folks learning English). – ColleenV Aug 8 '17 at 12:28
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In anticipation of a transfer by the mods over to ELU...

My suggestion would be that this use of brake comes from a particular meaning of the verb break (ME breken), namely, to bend, to change direction, to deflect, rather than the core meaning of 'to split asunder, to breach'.

In the 15th c. we could break (turn) eastward, and we could break (draw back) the string of a bow (to shoot an arrow), or break (deflect) a beam of light.

see MED, breken, #22.

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  • Very interesting information about the verb's 15th-century usage. This is what I was trying to find out, in order to better remember this term, by making it more logical. – CowperKettle Aug 8 '17 at 21:30

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