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Friday, August 8, 2014

Excel Hobby Blades tool reviews


Disclaimer: The tools featured in this review were provided to me at no cost by the manufacturer.

Intro

Now that's out of the way lets discuss tools. Like any craftsmen, scale modelers need specialized tools to get the best results out of their craft.

We've all heard the saying "A poor craftsman blames their tools." And it's true, but having a good set of tools to use can definitely make your craft easier, faster and safer!

Please keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are purely my own, and that they're only opinions. I have no empirical measures to test durability, sharpness or many other aspects of the tools in this section. Hopefully the body of work on display on this blog will indicate my familiarity with the tools of the trade

Tools

I have been provided with the following selection of hobby tools to review.

(includes) 
Aluminum knife handle
Medium duty aluminum knife handle
Heavy duty knife plastic handle 
An assortment of blades

Side Cutter



Sanding Sticks

Kit

I will beep reforming testing on the MG Aile Strike RM that has been sitting in my backlog for some time.







I'll be reviewing each portion of the set separately because each item in the set is available for purchase separately.

Storage box

My initial impression of the knife set was not stellar. The tools come packaged in a small Wooden box with a small closure. The finish on the box was very rough, there are little wooden splinters and small cracks in the material. I realize that the box has little to do with the quality of the tools, however to me it's indicative of the overall quality for a given product.

The aluminum knife is your standard hobby handle. It has a similar design to other hobby blades, but the grip is slightly larger with more textured grip areas. The standard number 11 blade included in this handle cuts just as nicely as other brands, and as an added bonus I found the tip was less prone to snapping off in my cutting mat than the x-acto brand blades I am used to. 

This style is in line with other hobby handles on the market. If you're already satisfied with the handle that you have I wouldn't recommend rushing out to buy one of these, but if you're considering getting a second handle or just starting out, you could do much worse than this handle. 


The medium duty knife's handle is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times the diameter of the standard hobby knife, out of the box it is fitted with a shorter shallower angled blade more similar to a chisel than a knife. The larger handle fits nicely in my larger hands, and promotes more of a palm grip than a finger grip. The blade After using this for a few nights, this may be my favorite combination of blade and handle in my toolbox. 



To test the sharpness of the blade I decided to see how much the blade would stree the black plastic of the striker pack. Dark colors usually show the white stress marks easily, however as you can see from the before and after photos no stree marks are visible on either cut!

Before



After


Although I don't recommend cutting this way (due to the obvious risk of self injury), I hold the knife in my palm and use my wrist motion to do the cutting instead of my fingers. I found using this knife this way took much less effort for me, but still provided a high level of blade control.


If the comments above haven't made opinion obvious yet, I would strongly recommend picking up one of these handle and blade sets to supplement your current hobby knife arsenal. I would double that recommendation if you have larger hands.



The heavy duty handle is the last handle packed into the blade set. Like the medium duty handle, the heady duty handle is a large diameters handle that maybe more comfortable to use if you have larger hands. 

I used this blade and handle combination similar to the medium handle, using a reverse grip to shave thin layers of plastic from parts. However I found the large plastic handle to be uncomfortable to hold in this position for extended periods of time.

I recommend using this handle for cutting sheets of polystyrene, it's much easier to apply force through this handle than a standard sized hobby knife, and the thicker blades do not flex the way a number 11 blade will.

Assorted Blades

I'll admit that I have not used most of the blades in this set, however I would like to talk about the few that I have used, and why I like to use them. 

The rounded scalpel blade is

The small chisel type blade is great for making cuts on masking tape in small or recessed area. The small blade tip fits easily into comfined spaces.




Side Cutters




Sprue cutters or side cutters are the bread and butter tool of gunpla; so it's not surprising that a good cutter can save you a lot of work, but a bad pair can cause a lot of headaches. Excel's sprue cutter falls into the lower end of mediocre, they're not good, but not terrible. 

My main issues with this tool are:

The cutting blades are too short, and too fat; they won't fit we'll into confined areas.
The cutting blades are not sharp enough to cut cleanly, rather they tend to crush the plastic.
The cutting blades don't 'bite' into the plastic, rather they tend to slip down the nub towards the part.
The spring action on the handle requires too much force. I prefer a tool that only requires the amount of force of a "friendly handshake" not a "death grip".

I did a few test cuts using the Excel side cutters next to the Xuron professional side cutters. In general the Excel side cutters seem much more prone to crushing the plastic, where as the Xuron leave much neater cuts.

Excel cuts



Xuron cuts


Based on these characteristics I can't recommend these tools. If you're new to the hobby stick with Xuron 410s or 170-IIs, if you already have a few kits under your belt consider the Xuron Professional cutters.





I've used various hobby files in the past with different levels of success; my past experience has taught me that files are typically only good for heavy sanding, and that sand paper is typically required to smooth everything out. Understandably I was wary of using these files on the kit. Surprisingly however the excel hobby files are very high grit; probably somewhere between the 500-600 grit sand paper range. 


The kit includes a variety of different shaped files, the flat file is definitely the work horse, and I would recommend picking up the entire set if only for the flat file. The set can be purchased with or without the file handle, I started off using the file in the handle, but I quickly transition to just using the file on its own. 



I really like this file set, but, it's not perfect. Unfortunately at the tip of the flat file there is a burr left over from the machining process. I did receive two replacement flat files once I raised this issue with the manufacturer, however one of the two flat files also had a burr at the end of it. So if you happen to order these make sure you check the tool before you start to use it. I give this file set a cautious recommendation. 






Excel hobbies has found a way to wrap thin strips of sandpaper around a ridged reusable surface. The sand paper bands are stretched onto the tool; as the sand paper cakes up with plastic you can shuffle the paper around to expose more clean paper. 



It's a good idea in theory, however I found the tool to be a little clunky. You can rotate the band around the tool without removing it, however it's somewhat difficult and I noticed the sand paper clogged rather quickly. I also found that the amount of usable sanding real estate on the tool was a little smaller than I would have preferred. 

I would strongly encourage any one interested in this to look into sanding sticks from Alpha Abrasives instead.

4.5 inch self closing tweezers

I have wanted a pair of self closing tweezers for a while now. I find that my hands get sore from holding a standard pair of tweezers closed during extended modeling sessions. As the name suggests these tweezers keep themselves closed. I found these tweezers to be very helpful for the Strike's decal job as they take a lot of effort out of the equation and they hold the decal backing paper very firmly.

I would highly recommend picking this pair of self closing tweezers if you're as into decaling your kits as I am.