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Bending photoetch made easy with The Small Shop’s Bug

Drew Hatch sent in this very useful tutorial for bending photoetch. Though he’s using The Small Shop’s “Bug” bending station, the basics he covers will apply to just about any bending tool.

The Small Shop
You can get your own “Bug” by visiting The Small Shop’s website. Based in Kalama, Washington, USA, they have a line of photoetch bending tools, as well as other modeling accessories.They also list retailers around the world who carry their products.

When photo etch bending stations first came into the market, their need was questioned. Their usefulness has now become redundant. Today, very few modelers can get along without one. The complex development of photo etch has created a necessity for them. Although many different types have become available, there are two manufacturers that are recognized in the industry. The largest one being Mission Models, and the first manufacturer, The Small Shop.

Choosing a bending station can be as difficult as picking out a new car. There are so many different models with different features. The Small Shop has a range of benders to suit every type of scale modeler. Keeping with that trend I chose their “Bug” some three years ago for the tidy sum of $40. I would have had less usefulness from Mission Models main design at a higher cost of $60.

Working with the Bug, I have had nothing but success with it. I was fortunate enough to have a lesson on using the workstation from the designer, the late Pete Forrest. The lesson lasted about an hour and covered most every aspect that the bender could have been used for.

The first thing to do with any new bending station is to look at the function of the head. I was surprised at the amount of “play” mine had. Pete assured me that was part of the design and was done on purpose. (We’ll cover that in a bit) The different sizes of hold downs and grab handle recesses made this one complex little block of aluminum. For standard bending, I prefer to use the “Swiss Comb” side of the head.

First thing to do is take your razor blade and ‘dull’ the edge. I did this against a medium grit sanding stick. This is to reduce the chance of damaging the base during a bend and to lessen wear. It will still be sharp, but not enough to cut you. A few quick passes and it’s ready to go.

Now for the first few bends, make simple bends on larger boxes or single bends on medium size pieces. Don’t try for the tiny multi bend working hinges or anything like that.

For this one I have a 1/32 pilot map case to bend. Something that is rarely put into the finished model due to it’s bends. First bend will be the side. You can start where you like naturally, I find it easier to start there. Open the lock and raise the head about twice what is needed for the part. Insert the piece up to the fold line. Here’s where the ‘play’ in the head comes in. Instead of trying to constantly adjust the piece to the right position and screwing the locking nut down, push the head down and use the adjustment built into it to make the last corrections. You will find this far easier to do. Once you have it pressed down in the right position, screw the locking nut snug. Do not over tighten – It is common for modelers to over tighten these and cause damage to the tool. It just needs to be tight enough to hold the piece down.

Now for the bend. Take the dulled blade and slide it under the part from one end, gently lifting, until the blade is completely under the part. Gently lift the blade until the part has approximately a 60° bend.

Now release the locking nut to re-position the part for the last step of the fold. If you notice the bend was slightly under the ‘finger’ from when I started. Move the part out slightly until the bend is no longer under the hold down fingers. Position the fingers just at the edge of the bend and tighten the locking nut down again.

Now, this is where modelers say these things don’t work. Don’t just bend the part up to the final angle. Start by gently pressing the blade into the base of the part and lifting up as you ’slice’ across the base. Do this three or four times until the final angle is reached.

Undo the locking nut and look at the bend. You now should have a very sharp bend with no distortion. Repeat those steps using the same techniques until the box is completed.

The first time I tried this, I had a curved part. The bend was straight, but the folded piece was curved at the top. This is also a common problem with bending etch. It is preventable though. It takes practice and a few ‘honest’ efforts to get through it. I have no idea how I stopped making them, I just did.

I finished the map case in my hobby room. First gluing the inside of it to seal and hold everything in the right position. Once the CA had cured, I filed the edges smooth removing any lip or overhang that remained. It took a matter of two to three minutes at most. Once painted, it is ready to be installed in the fuselage. These little details that are common to the model and easy for the modeler to re-create. A few simple tips that can make difference between a good model and a great model are a few tries away.