So here’s something a little different. Instead of reviewing a model, I’m reviewing a bunch of tools. I didn’t come up with this idea on my own, but it will be the first in a series. I was contacted by Brian Gray, who runs 3DMetalTools.com, about whether I would be interested in reviewing some of the tools that he sells on his website, which is geared exclusively towards builders of Metal Earth style models. And I’ll be honest with you, the first thing I told him was that I would be glad to do so, but that I would give an honest review, even if I didn’t like some of them. Because I write this blog for you, the reader, not for how I can benefit from it.
His response was that he wouldn’t expect otherwise. I may have annoyed him a little, because I kept on mentioning that sort of thing, and that I would need to use them for a while to get a good feel, etc, etc. He was very kind and open to all the “stipulations” I made, even if they seemed like ones that didn’t have to technically be stated. And, for full disclosure, he offered to let me keep some of the tools he makes himself as a form of “payment” for the review, but that if I wanted to keep the tools that he is a reseller of, I would need to pay for that. Which I was okay with, I would have been glad to do it without the “payment” as well, because information for y’all is what I trade in.
With all that worked out, he packaged up some tools and sent them to me, giving me a tracking number and everything. A few days later, the package arrived, and I was like a child on Christmas morning. In the package were several boxes of things, and I got to work through them and open each and every one to find what was inside. As it turns out, Brian sent me almost every tool that he sells on his website (as of a few months ago). And believe you me, that was a LOT of tools. So many tools that I’ve decided to break up the review into several posts, and focus on “categories” of tools for each.
And today, I’m starting with the category that represents the largest chunk of the tool count that I received: pliers (which you already probably knew from the title of this post, eh?). I have been sitting here for the last few months with a ridiculous number of pliers available to me while building. Literally ridiculous, because he sells two “grades” of pliers, and many of the types of pliers are available in both grades. Basically, there are the professional grade jewelry pliers – specifically the Tronex brand – and the economy grade pliers, of which I’m not sure the brand, though they are custom etched to match his website.
The Tronex tools are amazing quality. I mean, when I say professional quality, I mean it. These things feel great in the hand, have excellent machining, and I would love to keep the full set of these tools. Their precision is immaculate, and I’m not just trying to sell you on these, I’m just rather impressed by them. But they are rather expensive. I mean, you’re getting the quality you pay for, without a doubt. But at around $50 a piece, I can’t afford a full set. I’m a bit more frugal, and I will take a cheaper, lower-quality set and just live with it because I can’t justify the extra costs. But if you have the money and want some top-notch tools, you wouldn’t go wrong by picking up some Tronex tools. Still, I am probably going to be purchasing at least one of these, which I’ll detail later.
On the other end, even the economy level tools are fairly impressive, and I am definitely purchasing at least one of those, if not multiple. And while these tools are not manufactured to the same exacting specifications as the Tronex, they are still rather solid and dependable. Also, I’m honestly baffled at how they heck they make them. I know, that’s a weird thing to say, but just before these tools arrived, I’d had some trouble with a regular pair of pliers and wire-cutters at my house (for non-metal model making projects). Both pairs had the same problem: the joint or “axle” between the two arms of the tools had gotten loose, and so the whole thing ends up wobbly, and the jaws don’t meet evenly. So, I had been wondering how quality tools prevent that from happening. Well, these economy tools somehow have one arm pass through the other at the point where the joint/axle occurs. And it looks like it’s all one solid piece of metal. So… how did they get it through? Anyways, no need to worry about these things starting to wobble!
Okay, so… that was kinda generic information, which I kinda wanted to get out of the way, but now it’s time to get specific. There are a few pliers that I know I will be purchasing, and I know it because they became part of my “core” toolset. The tools I would pull out from the tool stands and set on the desk whenever I was sitting down to start building.
The first of these is the Ultra Wide Flat Nose Pliers, in the economy group. I have been looking for something, anything like this, for quite some time. And there are some weird tools I’ve found, and some really expensive fancy tools, too. But these… I love these. They are great for those long folds that you hate to try to fold, even with long-nose pliers. They have a really nice, smooth and broad flat head that’s really grippy. And the ground flat edge of the mouth also makes it really easy to get a nice 90 degree fold, to boot. It’s a no-brainer, for me, on purchasing this one, as it’s only $15 (at the time of writing this post).
The second pair is the Tronex Round Nose Pliers. Now, these seem really weird at first, and I’ve seen some pliers like them before, and never quite imagined they would be useful for building metal models. I had usually seen them in conjunction with jewelers / jewelry repair. And, for whatever reason, I finally figured out why they are awesome when looking over Brian’s tool website: shaping curves and cones! So often, when shaping a cone with pliers, I’ll start at one end and bend a little, shift, bend a little, shift, and repeat until I get to the other end. It never ended up even or the right size, but it got me close. The next step after that was that I had to shape it by hand, cause if I put the regular pliers back in and tried to form it, it would flatten out part of it. But that’s not the case with these! If the ~$50 price tag on these is a bit high for you, there is an economy version of it (which I forgot to photograph, sorry), but I found myself gravitating to the Tronex pair in this case. It’s longer, has a narrower tip, and has a much more friendly shoulder (where the gripping jaw meets the arm of the pliers).
The next most likely tool I will probably be purchasing is a pair of Long Flat Nose Pliers. This style is available in both economy and Tronex variants, and I’m still wavering back and forth between the two. I really like the fact that the Tronex pair is effectively “shoulder-less,” especially compared to the small, but not insignificant, shoulders that appear on the economy pair. These are great for long folds, and even short folds where you want to get a really good grip along a flat area – they give a much better grip than a pair of tweezers. The straight edge along the length of the mouth is much easier to use for long folds than your usual needle-nose pliers. Still, I can “make do” with what I have already, and while the shoulder is slightly annoying, is it enough to justify 4 times the cost to get the one without the shoulder? Again, if money was not an issue, I would be all over that Tronex pair.
This next pair of tools, flush cutters from both the Tronex and economy groups, might arguably not be pliers, but I figured they fit in this category. Now, Brian sent me only the Tronex Razor Flush Cutter, which is understandable, because it is impressive. As far as flush cutters go, this is your Ferrari. The edge is so sharp that it becomes somewhat delicate. Not against the thin steel that you’ll be cutting with it, but delicate versus itself. So there’s actually a factory installed set screw that prevents them from being closed too far (pressing edge to edge). And these things clip parts out like a dream, complete with a nice solid “click” every time. I never once had a “partial” cut when I used them. However, I didn’t actually use them very much, because of one little niggling detail. I had trouble fitting the tip into the spaces (especially the smaller, hard to reach ones) to clip parts out. The “nose” of these flush cutters is quite thick, and then tapers rapidly right out near the tip, and so it doesn’t fit in quite as well as the flush cutters I already had (which was a pair that came packaged in with a Piececool model). If it weren’t for that small detail, I would probably be considering purchasing this pair, even at the higher expense of over $60. Because they cut super-duper close, with practically no “nub” left over.
Now, for a tool that I sorta really want, but can’t justify purchasing, the Tronex Extra-Long Needle Nose Pliers. Ironically, it’s not the length that makes me want it, but the ultra-fine tip on them. I included a close-up above just to point out just how tiny that tip is! I didn’t use these very much in the past few months, but when I did, it was for that teeny-tiny tip. It may be small, but it still grips really well. However, the slightly curved sides of the long edge (or at least the vague impression of it) resulted in me not reaching for it very often for long folds. Plus I had the long flat-nose pliers, which seemed better suited to those use-cases.
The rest of the tools I did not find myself using very much. That begins with the Chain Nose Pliers, two sizes in each of the price categories. These are what I generally think of as needle-nose pliers, to be honest. And it isn’t that they are bad or anything, I just have a pair of pliers from Piececool that I prefer to use, because they are very narrow, whereas these widen out quickly. Which makes sense for pliers that are not specialized for metal model building, as that gives them more stability. However, the ones I use were specifically designed for metal model building, so they are super narrow along the length, allowing you to “squeeze” them into tight spaces. So, while these are nice pliers, I just didn’t find much use for them.
The final set of pliers are the Bent Chain Nose Pliers. I can definitely see a use case for these, but I never actually ended up using them. In my mind, these would be most useful for holding a part up during alignment, when it would be difficult to hold at the right angle with a straight pair of pliers. But I rarely ever hold anything up with pliers during alignment – mostly I just manhandle the things with the fat sausages that I call fingers. Something about the tactile feedback with my fingers makes me feel more comfortable in the process. I will say, though, that I don’t think I would ever use the economy pair, personally. And that all comes down to the fact that they have knurling or serrations along the tip, and that can scratch a model in the blink of an eye. So, if you want bent-nose pliers, either spring for the Tronex, or find some without knurling/serration somewhere else. At least, that’s my advice.
So, having finished this part of the review, I’m excited to tell you about something I worked out with Brian – a discount for you! I left the type and amount up to him, but suggested that it might be a nice feature for these posts. I also specifically said that I didn’t want any sort of kickback / commission or anything like that. I’d rather you get the discount. And so he came back with the idea of a 10% off discount. Of course, it’s not like he prices his items such that he can just sell everything for 10% less forever, so this will be a time-limited coupon code. I think that’s understandable, right? I’ll be following this post up with two more posts about other tools from his store (and eventually some reviews of tools from other sources) and the coupon code will be good through a couple of weeks after the third post related to 3DMetalTools.com. Anyways, here’s the coupon code:
This was fun! I am a tool guy. I look forward to seeing the rest of the tools reviewed.
Yeah, my build desk is rather crowded now, lol. So many tools! The next two posts for 3D Metal Tools will be spaced out with a build inbetween each, and then possibly a break before a review of Piececool Tools, Metal Earth tools, and AnimateOrange’s 3D-Printed tools.