Tool Review
Etch-Mate 3C
Etch-Mate 3C Precision Photo-Etch Bending Tool
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by: James Bella [ C5FLIES ]

I 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 tool
With 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 tests
So, 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.

First 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.
Highs: Lower price than original and most competitors. Multiple bends easily achieved.
Lows: Quality of bends is poor, longevity of tool questionable. V groove is more hindrance than help.
Verdict: Not recommended. Equal or better bends can be achieved using simpler and lower cost items.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: MIO-21
  Suggested Retail: 59.99 USD
  PUBLISHED: Feb 08, 2008
  NATIONALITY: United States

About James Bella (c5flies)

My main interest is 1/35 scale WWII armor, Axis and Allied, and will occasionally branch out into other areas. The builds I have done so far have been pretty much OOB, and considering what most newer kits include, that is usually more than enough for me. Even though my projects do not always end up ...

Copyright ©2021 text by James Bella [ C5FLIES ]. All rights reserved.


Hi Guys, just a note or two from "The designer" of the Hold & Fold 5 Speed together with (co designed with the late and great Pete Forrest) the H&F Bug and H&F 8"MkRv2 . Like Mike I am NOT now connected so like Mike and as the designer I thought I bring some more info to the thread and would make some corrections to a couple of errors and omissions. I WILL keep to topic and only comment where I feel it is required. As I had 7 years of "intensive" folding tool action (production, selling use trains plane auto blah blah "the Tools Wars" balh blah, I thought I could offer some thoughts 1. The "COST" of aluminum was never an issue and even when it did rise the % was increase minimal. The real reason costs increased for us at the time was the costs of machine shop time, eg people. This was true for both production plants in the UK and I believe in the USA, to put it simple, put a hand on it and pow, you have costs, increase the head travel distance and needing to up grade to a 6 head production machine and you have more, the trick is to keep it down by clever design. Thus the more complicated the design, the more the cost. then add all the shipping costs. your folding tool has many a carbon mile on it chaps !. QA was very problematic with "far eastern production" and numbers were low, we rejected mainly for low numbers (not in the 100's of 1000's but QA came in a very close 2nd with small detail updates also simpler to action by keeping it local 2. The material of choice remained aluminum at the time of production BUT we were investigating a number of "plastic" options , the reasons were numerous for staying with the aluminum but in reality as we were not suffering on material costs we stuck with what we knew worked and had proven itself over a long time (The H&F was after all designed by Pete years before any of the clones came out and at the time we had over 10 years with it) Because of the unique thin edges of the fine fingers on the Hold and Fold designs, we also needed to make these as stiff/strong as possible but not brittle, we did this by using the combination of our specific alloy choice, the anodizing which is functional and adds stiffness and surface hardness as a process as well as by forming a structural outer shell matched to the very specific webbing design. [iThis was by far the hardest part of the design to achieve in reality and it took the us and production units many hours of trials to get it all working correctly before we started production. 3. We rejected all the resin options offered (there are some very good specialists in the Bristol area with Airbus, Westland Helicopters etc local) for two reasons. The first (and this relates to our designs only and does not reflect on the MM tools as these are very different , esp. the edges which are thicker by some margin and WILL perform differently from Hold & Fold design) was the lack of strength in the profile we required. To archive the thin micro edges we uniquely needed resulted in the material fracturing, bending or fretting. Resin was rejected as it would of compromised this fundamental and unique design improvement, all very specific to our design. The second reason concerned "creep" or "material flow" distortion. Under a constant sheer load ALL resins can suffer this problem as can all metals to either a higher of lower degree, it is often mis identified as bending which is a "forced distortion". The massive improvement in resins has been in this area as well as surface erosion resistance. We had to look. It was only when as said above, a combination of all aspects both functional and material gave us the stiffness needed and the resistance to creep distortion in aluminum that we decided to stay with what we knew best. 4. It is possible IF you screw down tight enough, to bend even a H&F at the edges or even a thin finger BUT you really have to be ham fisted and misuse it but you can !. I would imagine any tool can be damaged. As part of the cost we always just replaced these and used the opportunity to educate a little more. Pete always used to say, if you need to screw it down hard your DOING IT WRONG !, Me, I say “these are high quality modelling INSTRUMENTS and should be used that way, they are not "tools" guys. 5. We decided that the principle of the “groove” was not advantageous to vertical stress on the tool head edges during folding. No need to further comment as this has been argued over long and hard in the past. 6. The H&F 5-SPEED and the other two tools CAN BEND SHEET BRASS, There are selected fingers to enable this. These are thicker and have a specially designed profile to allow this. Naturally there are thickness limits and un etched parts will have the radius profile the review and Mike are talking about. A tip here, by scoring a few times with a knife on the inside side, when you fold this up, instead of buckling it will “spill away” giving a slightly tighter fold. I also agree with Mike that heating is required for un-etched folds but I would like to add this should always be carried out after EACH time you move the metal with thick material. It is a good habit and in machine shops it is good practice to ensure you always work to reduce the stress on the tool head. This will improve your technique and results will be tighter and reduce load on the tool head. 7. Allied/Sherman headlamp guards and stuff, the 5-Speed or 8", they both have the top plate “shaped bending profiles”. This was a MAJOR factor in the justification of the new designs, the design brief we did included the wish to get every surface working. This area is often over looked for some reason As said, this is for your info, I hope it gives a better insight into these tools and the choices the differing makers of such have to balance to get it to you guys J Aj
FEB 12, 2008 - 02:23 PM
Like-wise! Listening intelligently, with open understanding to all sides of the story, helps the individual modeler/consumer/hobbyist to make a better judgement of the product in question, and exactly just what to expect from said product...as with any tool, there is going to be positive and negatives, and no one tool will work the same for everyone (trust me, I know my limitations! ) Regardless, I do believe that this product will have it's own niche in the hobby! Thanks again to all involved in the discussion thus far ( Hi, Mr. Johnston, nice to see you about!).
FEB 12, 2008 - 05:38 PM
Thank you Alasdair, for the input on the HOLD & FOLD, its interesting to know what type of decisions and thoughts go into making these tools. As mentioned before, here on the website and within my circle. I love the H & F, its great, never had complaints with it. I've reommended it to many and will continue to do so.
FEB 15, 2008 - 08:10 AM
I have been very impressed with the quality of information given and level of respect and civility displayed here. I don't bend a lot of brass, and I'll probably have to blow a bunch of dust off my H & F the next time I try to, but in any case I have learned something here, and I always appreciate that.
FEB 21, 2008 - 07:16 AM
Thank you gents, I am very glad I helped. What I did not cover were the "real" costs and numbers. This is private info and it would be wrong to pass about as it is sensitive to those who now retail/manufacture the product, they never make a fortune I can tell you The "$1.00 to make if you have a milling machine " comments often seen are rubbish as well Aj
FEB 27, 2008 - 07:14 PM
Thanks to both Alasdair and Michael for bringing a very welcome additional perspective to this complex subject. This is one of the most informative threads I can remember in ages...
FEB 27, 2008 - 07:59 PM
I've bent 1000's of PE parts and as I get older I look for an easier way. I looked at the Etch-Mate 3C and thought ok that will work, but at the same time I thought the cost was a little out of line. Fact material cost for this item is not that high, even with the war, oil cost, inflation etc. There is just not that much material there to justify the cost. Machine cost after setup is not that high either, this is a Etch-Mate not a rocket part, pretty the tolerance aren't that tight. So not wanting to drop $65 on the unknown, I read reviews etc and I had a friend with one that offered to loan me his as he's like to sell it as he wasn't impressed. He's bent his fair share too. So I used his, I found the bends less than quality and did not find it that amazing or useful and I definitely did not find it anything close to the cost of it. Simple fact, for $65 you'd expect a better product it's worth about half as much. Sorry. I can make just as good of bends with a few cheap tools around the house.
OCT 26, 2008 - 03:26 PM
Hi Dave, Glad you read different reviews, and more importantly, had the opportunity to try out the product before purchasing to see if it was what you were looking for. Reviews can only guide so far, and a high (or low) rating does not necessarily mean that it's good (or not) for every individual. It took me almost 8 months to purchase another brand, like you I stayed with my razor blades, tweezers, etc.. At first I was afraid to plunk down another $50-$60, but for about the price of a new kit I found something that suits me perfectly. Good luck in your search
OCT 27, 2008 - 09:43 AM
Wow! While I read the article with considerable interest as I'm one of those people with the $60 tool that largely sits in a dark drawer, I really found the above comments even more useful! Thanks everyone, for your considerable and varied input. Still can't bend hinges worth a Damn, though...
JUL 02, 2017 - 05:59 AM

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