Alright, this is a continuation of the tool review project I started a couple weeks ago with Pliers. You can click over there for the full story, but I’ll give you a quick recap. I’ve agreed to give an open and honest review of some of the tools available at 3DMetalTools.com after the owner/operator of the business reached out to me. I am not being paid or compensated for doing this, other than getting to keep a few of these forming tools, and would have done it without compensation anyways. Because it’s a great opportunity to share information with you, my readers. Which is why I made it clear, up front, that I would give an honest review, with my honest opinions – and expressly noted that I am rather frugal, so my reviews would reflect that.
I worry that I might be entering a “he doth protest too much” area here, but I want to be up front and honest with y’all. I don’t do this blog for me, I do it to give back to the wonderful community that has grown around these models. I’ve been encouraged, inspired, and befriended by many other model builders, and this is my way of showing appreciation. So please, understand that I am not trying to sell you a bill of goods. What I say about these tools are my honest opinions, I feel no obligation to praise them or sell them as better than they are.
So… what do I mean by Shaping Forms? Well, I’m basically referring to anything that you might use to shape the model around. And yes, I do mean around, because these are mostly for forming curves. The most common set of shaping tools that builders use are just your average cylinders you find around the house. Pens, pencils, markers, drill bits, batteries, etc. These are all great objects for getting a good start on a simple curve.
But when it comes to more complicated curves, live cones and domes… well, you can still use these found items, but the process gets even more complex. And there are some found item tools that can help with this some (such as the sharpened end of a pencil for a cone, or a marble for a dome), but they aren’t as varied or easily usable as cylinder forming tools. But, as it turns out, there are some options out there for tools specifically designed for shaping things like this. I’ve mentioned before, in my tools post, that you can use fondant shaping balls for domes, as well as some 3D printed tools for both domes and cones. The following sets from 3D Metal tools are similar to the latter, but machined out of acrylic or steel.
But, before I get into the specifics, I’m going to tell you something that applies to all of these sets. These are high quality, high accuracy, and very durable sets. But when you apply the “you get what you pay for” adage, you will probably guess that they are expensive. And you would be right. So… it’s a little hard for me to recommend these sets to the average builder. Like I said, I’m rather frugal, relatively speaking. And there are cheaper options (the 3D printed kind) that are a fraction of the price. But, again, you get what you pay for… they are cheaper, but they are less precise, and less durable. That being said, they still work. You just have to be a little gentler, and they aren’t going to get you as close to the form as these. So… if you have the budget for these, then by all means, pick them up! I have very few complaints about these forms, and I am excited to have them in my toolkit.
So, the first set I’ll talk about is the one for forming cones. Each of these forms have the same diameter, but the tip is formed to different conical angles. There are nine different angles to choose from, from one that is almost flat to a very pointy one. There are numbers associated with each of them, which I believe represents the angle as measured from the outside of the cone to a flat surface across the top (effectively the angle representing the removed material from the cylindrical form). Conveniently these numbers are etched into the sides of the base of the cylinder, for easy identification, as well as in the form rack. In addition, there is a slide-out guide that you can use to decide which form to use. Much like my cylinder-tool-guide, you line up the part to the shapes on the chart and find which one is closest and use the corresponding form.
As I said before, I rather enjoy the quality of these forms, they make for very smooth curves, and the acrylic is firm enough to take a lot of pressure while forming the shape. It compliments my existing set of 3D printed tools, as that set is more focused on the the more pointy end of the spectrum, while this one covers more of the flatter end of the spectrum. If I could ask for one thing with this set, it would be to add a few of the pointier cones, using a narrower stock of acrylic cylinders (so they don’t end up way too tall). Also, on the flatter end, the shaping surface is rather limited by the fixed diameter of acrylic rod used, so it might benefit things to have a larger diameter for the 3 flattest cones.
Next up is this set of forms for shaping domes. Unlike the conical forms, these are all made from different diameter acrylic rods. What I love about this set is that they get BIG. With 12 different forms, ranging from 0.45″ to 1.5″, this set covers a wide range of domes to form. Much like the cone forms, these are all labeled with numbers (diameter in this case), and a guide that you can pull out to determine which form to use. Unfortunately, this one was not as obvious to me on how to use, because I didn’t watch the handy-dandy tutorial video that Brian links to on the item’s page. Because the guide is not for determining which tool to use for shaping a dome. The guide is for knowing which tool to use when forming a cylinder around the base of the doming tool. If you do need that, you can find whichever guide matches half of the guide width – and that’s the doming tool you need to use (at least for an exactly semi-spherical dome).
This set also has an option to come with the following set below, or you can get the below set independently. Personally, even if I had the budget for these high-quality tools, I would just get the doming set without the cylinder set. I have a much more varied set of cylinder forms already, with longer shafts, that I got from Harbor Freight for pretty cheap (a set of center-punch tools). More on that below.
The final set of tools are these steel rods for shaping smaller cylinders. In this set, you get 10 pieces, ranging from 2mm to 11mm in 1mm increments. They are really nice, smooth (super-smooth) steel rods. And being steel, they are definitely durable. But they are quite expensive for just 10 sizes. And not very long. Their guide / stand is nicely printed, and the way the rods sit in the guide is brilliant, but it’s also really hard to line up the smaller rods. Or, not so much hard, but moreover that it requires concentration and precision. And they are a bit unstable when moving the holder around (though not nearly as much as you might think).
So, these forms are really nice, but even if you have the larger budget, I would still recommend the center-punch set from Harbor Freight over this. That set is cheaper, has many more cylinder sizes, and they are all more than twice as long. However, if you need some larger cylinders, you get those in the dome forms!
And now for something different! The desk where I build my models is not super-big, and so having the two new tool racks on my desk limits it even more. In addition, I found that I knocked the forms over that rest on top of it a lot. They rest in a slot that is 3mm deep, and it’s really easy to knock them over. And, of course, I did have some complaints about how the cylinders were stored. So I decided to design my own holders for these tools, which I printed with my 3D printer. Making these two items (shown above) my 3rd and 4th custom, and currently being used, 3D Printed tool organizers. And if you include the plier racks that was designed by Brian, then make that 5th and 6th.
These holders are more compact and have deeper slots. I have set aside the tool guides, as I can use the ones I have made for other tools already. And I can pull them out if I need them, anyways. It’s not obvious, but the front three rows are joined together into a single holder, while the back row (cone forms), is a separate rack. I plan to add some felt pads on the bottom so they can be slit around easily.
Unfortunately, after having designed these models and exporting them as STL, my computer froze, and for some reason, TinkerCAD lost the designs. So I have the files, but can’t modify them. Which wouldn’t be that bad, except that I made the slots for the steel rods much too large (they flopped about). I ended up cutting up strips of electrical tape and pressing them into the slots to make them fit better. I might try recreating them or modifying the STL at some point, but if there is any interest, I’ll upload the STLs somewhere.
So, having finished this part of the review, I’m excited to tell you (again) 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 one 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:
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