Rod Busting101 – Tying, Bending and Shaping Steel for Concrete Footers

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Rebar sticking out of a footerSo you think your job is tough? Try being a rod buster. These iron working heavyweights have to lift, tie and bend steel rebar all day long in the hot sun while being bent over or crouched for the majority of the time. Imagine going to the gym and lifting free-weights all day, 5-7 days a week. But instead of just lifting the weights, you’ve got to bend and tie them together. But don’t just think it’s all dumb muscle. These guys follow blueprints and schematics that make Chinese algebra look like third grade addition.

While bridges, foundations and mega structures that require a whole team of rod busters to complete are quite the undertaking, smaller projects like a house slab can be done by a small crew or stubborn individual with the right tools and techniques. If you’re thinking about pouring some concrete that requires steel work with rebar, you might want to consider doing the work yourself. Use these tips and techniques for busting rebar and you’ll be sure to get the project done right and on time — every time.


Most rod busters use a pair of 9” Channellocks with a spring loaded handle and a roll of black annealed tie wire to make rebar connections. They use this tool most often to tie loose pieces of steel rebar together to make one solid connection. But this tool is really tough to master and can take years of experience to even be somewhat efficient at it. That’s where loop ties come into play.

Chop-Chop! Chop Saw for Cutting Rebar and Concrete
Chop-Chop! Chop Saw for Cutting Rebar and Concrete

While a double loop tie and loop tying tool are going to get you laughed off of a real rod busting job, they work great for the layman who wants to tie steel. Simply loop the steel tie around the rebar and insert the funny little hook into the each end of the loop. After that, simply rotate the handle (or pull it straight up with some loop tying tools) and the loop tie twists around itself just like a bread tie.

The other major tool used for rebar work is a rebar cutter/bender. This heavy duty tool is necessary for cutting and bending rebar and can set you back a pretty penny if you’re looking to buy one. Unless you’re a concrete or steel contractor who plans on using it frequently, it’s best to rent this tool. Be sure that when you rent a rebar cutter/bender you get one that can accepts at least #4 or greater gauge steel or you’re just going to break the thing.

I also like to have a good gas powered chop saw with a carbide or diamond blade at hand to make odd cuts that won’t really fit into a rebar bender/cutter. I’ve even used an old circular saw before, but keep in mind that after the job, it’s probably not going to be good for much else.

This Footer just got Served with Rebar
This Footer Complete with Rebar is Ready for Concrete


It may prove impossible to bend a piece of rebar by hand, but with the extra leverage of a rebar bender, you can easily bend these tough steel rods into nearly any shape. But it takes a little knowhow to get the measurements right. The following bending and cutting techniques can help you to get it right the first time:

  • Measuring- Always measure at least 3” more than you need to prevent being short on the overall length and lap. It’s always better to have more steel overlapping than not enough. Also, when you place the rebar into the bender, move the handle to where the bender arm engages with the steel—and your measurement. This will help you get an accurate bend every time.
  • Bending- All rebar has a seam on each side of the steel. This seam should be placed on its side when making a bend or else you’re going to have a difficult time making a good bend. A framing square can verify that your 45 degree angles (the most common bend) are right on the money.
  • Multiple Bends- Sometimes you need to bend a piece of rebar with two bends on one piece of steel. This can be nearly impossible if you don’t have someone else holding the other end of the rebar in exact position. Without a helping hand for this job, you might want to consider cutting and lapping the rebar instead of making a multiple bend.
  • Tying Rebar- Place the rebar into the form/footer first and tie it into place. Come back and add the chairs last to make it easy on yourself.
Rebar Ready to be Manipulated by Man-Hands
Rebar Ready to be Manipulated by Man-Hands

Building Codes

While all building codes differ from area to area, the following rod busting codes stay the same in most locales:

  • Laps- Where two pieces of steel join, you need at least 26” (or more in some locations) of overlapping rebar to make a proper joint. I like to go at least 30” just to be sure.
  • Burning- Rebar needs to be away from rebar, forms and footers a minimum of 3” so it doesn’t weaken the concrete. The only exception to this rule is when rebar is turned out for an electrical ground connection.
  • Chairs- Rebar needs to be off of the ground to prevent burning as well. Metal rebar chairs ensure this doesn’t happen and they stay properly spaced in the footer/form. It’s a good idea to keep chairs spaced four feet or less to ensure they stay off the footer when heavy concrete is poured on top of them.
  • Ties- A minimum of one tie per 10” of overlapping steel is the recommended schedule for loop or wire ties.
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About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

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4 thoughts on “Rod Busting101 – Tying, Bending and Shaping Steel for Concrete Footers”

  1. Real rod busters don’t use the Channellock rebar pliers. They use Klein tie pliers.
    On our swimming pools we must make multiple 90 degree bends for the bond beam (top). Usually we set up an assembly line of cutting ad bending and then they are tied in place. We bend everything with 2 hickey bars or we use the large manual bender/cutter.

    The shoulders and arms burn by the end of the day.

    A demo works wells for multiple cuts as does an electric cut off wheel.

    We use concrete brick as spacers on the floor or occasionally steel rebar chairs. The plastic chairs don’t really work well in pool applications.

    Our bar sizes are generally 1/2″ (#4’s) but sometimes 5’s are used on for particular reinforcement.

  2. Great article.
    I’ve taken many a bundle of rebar and turned them into rod packages for buildings. 3, 4, 5, 6 bar cut and bent into all sorts of shapes and bundled up for specific portions of the buildings. One day all I did was cut and bend bar to use as “plunkers” to join footing to poured wall sections. Something like 2 tons of bar processed that day. 5 rod at a time. My arms were torched.


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