by: James Bella [ ]
IntroductionI admit it, I’m a toolaholic. Having a well crafted tool makes the task at hand easier, professional and much more enjoyable for me, be it working on automobiles, doing home repairs or building a model of my favorite subject. I know that a well made tool in untrained hands will not make that person magically do a professional job; on the other hand, a poorly made tool in capable hands will hinder that person’s ability. With that being said, it’s my opinion that a high quality tool designed for the job at hand should be used and that I have no tolerance for a poorly made/designed tool.
the toolWith more and more kits containing PE, and after market PE sets available by the armload, beginners and advanced modelers alike should be prepared to handle these small delicate parts. Besides cutting these parts from the sprue and attaching them to the model, we usually need to bend them. And while bending them we need to secure them so they do not fly into the netherworld. So it is only natural that specialized tools will be offered to aid us in this task. I, like many others, started bending PE using tweezers, razor blades, and small pliers. Basically, the tools at hand. The time came for me to purchase a specialized tool for bending PE, and after a little homework, I ordered Mission Models Etch-Mate 3C precision photo-etch bending tool.
This is their latest offering, made of a plastic composite material instead of the original aluminum, and three adjustment (clamping) knobs to hold down the upper spring-loaded plate verses the single knob on the original. The upper plate has six fingers of varying width and can be turned 180 degrees to use a full-length section for longer bends. These are either stepped or angled to allow complex bends and all surfaces can be utilized (according to their website) for greater flexibility. At approx. 165mm (6.5 inches) in length it should handle most tasks. Also included are three non-metallic blades, two at 40mm and one at 76mm long, since a metal blade would cut and/or mar the composite surface. The flat base has a V groove running lengthwise directly in front of the fingers. The unit comes all assembled, though the instructions indicated that the rubber feet for the base would need to be attached, mine were already on. Some printed instructions are on the back of the package cover along with the Mission Models website address which offers additional information and a short video.
using and testsSo, how does it work? Just loosen the knobs and the top plate raises on its spring, slide the part to be bent under the appropriate finger, line up where you want the bend on the PE to the V groove, tighten the knobs (or just the center knob, depending on application), slide the plastic blade under the part and bend to 45 degrees. Now the blade should be in the V groove and the bend can be completed. Easy and precise!
Well, yes, it is easy. After practicing with the Etch-Mate on various leftover PE parts and pieces, I ran a few tests with the tool. I started with some small hinges, since I always have had trouble with them, they either flew away or I did not get a nice sharp bend since I could not hold them well enough. Onto the Etch-Mate 3C with one of them and into the V groove it landed. Since the sides of the fingers can also be used that is where I clamped it down. The Etch-Mate 3C held the small part with no problem. I slid the blade under and folded it to 90 degrees, removed the hinge, and found a not very sharp bend. In fact, quite a radius on that bend, so tried a few more, all with the same results. Even with the etched bending line they were not coming out with nice sharp bends.
Next up were some longer pieces of PE, let’s say to scratch build a storage rack. Here I was able to use the front of the fingers and the pieces were big enough to not fall into the V groove. I bent it to 90 degrees, this time utilizing the groove, and once again I could not obtain a sharp angle. Then I tried to bend a 3mm x 20mm piece lengthwise. No matter how much I tightened the knobs the piece would only slide under the clamp, so I could not achieve a bend on that part. Of course, that is a pretty tough bend to make given the narrow clamping surface, although I was able to get a half bend with 2 razor blades.
What the tool does do well is make multiple bends on the same piece, such as for a toolbox. Making a ‘U’ was a simple task thanks to the low profile fingers. Another plus is longer pieces such as fenders, using the full length finger.
The included plastic blades are nicely made with a good factory edge. After using one for my practice and tests though I found it was getting nicked and dull. They may be able to be re-sharpened using some fine wet and dry sandpaper, but it didn't take much to produce wear at the outset.
conclusionFirst off let me state that these are my findings and my opinions only. All in all, I’m disappointed in this tool. Given the favorable response to the original Etch-Mate, I foolishly assumed that this was an improvement. Since I have not used the original, could it be that it is an improvement and I expect too much out of a $60 specialized tool? I doubt it. The plastic blades will wear out fairly quick judging from my tests and will be an added expense since ‘cheap’ metal razor blades should not be used on this tool.