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BrassAssist Roller Set Mk ‘MC’

by John Prigent

I received the new BrassAssist from The Small Shop EU to use for a projected modelling book, and it has proved very useful indeed.

It is a neat tool for rolling rounded shapes in etched metal parts – and it should work just as well on items cut from the brass or copper sheets and strips that can be found in good hobby shops. I haven’t tried it on aluminium so can’t offer advice there.

The tool base is a 10 cm (4 inches) square block of aluminium, 1.5 cm (5/8 inch) thick so the whole thing is quite solid and stable in use. Into it recesses have been milled to take the rollers, each a perfect half-circle. The rollers come in five sizes to produce diameters of 2 cm (25/32 inch), 1.6 cm (10/16 inch), 0.8 cm (5/16 inch), 0.5 cm (7/32 inch) and 0.3 cm (1/8 inch). They are solid metal, aluminium for the two largest, brass for the next two and steel for the smallest so there’s no risk of bending them. As well as the roller recesses there are milled ribs to allow easy shaping of etched tie-downs in three different lengths and two alternative depths. On the front edge of the piece are milled slots for bending wire to make grab handles; these give four different widths, each catering for three different wire thicknesses and three different depths of handle bend if you need to turn out the bottoms of the handles to represent the type that isn’t butt-welded. And to top it, since the spacing of the slots is staggered you can use them to produce almost any size of grab handle from 1 mm up to 6.5 mm inside length – outside lengths from 3 m to 9.5 mm in the thickest rod, 1 mm diameter, or 2 mm to 5 mm in the thinnest, 0.5 mm. The whole top surface is engineered to provide a stable flat surface so you can turn it over to use the second feature – a soft rolling surface 8 cm (3 1/8 inch) square.

So how does it all work? Very well, actually. You do need to anneal the etched part before using the rollers, by heating it red hot and letting it cool. Then simply place it over the appropriate roller recess and press the roller down into it. This will give you an perfect arched shape, but if you want a complete cylinder you can turn the base over and use the next smallest roller with the soft surface to roll the part back and forward until the cylinder is complete. It is of course important to make sure the part is at a right angle to the roller recess before you start, if its angled you’ll end up with the two ends not matching! Although I haven’t experimented it does appear that rotating the part in its roller recess and re-applying the roller will allow you to form parts with more than a half-circle, and might even allow you to make a complete cylinder without rolling it on the back of the tool. The rolling surface can of course be used to form cylinders or partial cylinders that don’t correspond to any of the roller recesses, just use whichever roller suits and roll the part till you get the larger or smaller curve you need.

The tie-down ribs work equally well, but again the part must be at a right angle to the rib before you start. I tested the grab handle slots with both brass and copper wire and found that brass did not shape very well. The instructions do point out that only soft wire works! It’s quite easy to bend copper wire (I take it from various sizes of electric cable bought in 1 metre lengths from a hardware or electrical accessory shop) into an arc and pop it into the slot you want, then pull down on both ends with pliers till the top is almost flat and press it completely flat with the back of the pliers. Then either cut off the ends or, if you need the non-butt-welded type, turn out the ends and cut them to a suitable stub. Take out the new handle and flatten the stubs with your pliers and its ready to fix to the model. Although I managed easily without doing so, annealing the thicker sizes of wire might make the job easier still.

There is one thing I should mention: keep your work surface clean while you use this tool. The soft rolling surface will pick up bits of plastic shavings, the stubs trimmed from etched parts, etcetera, and these will spoil the nice soft surface when you try to roll parts on it. The Small Shop EU does sell replacement rolling surfaces if you ever need one!

Many thanks to them for supplying the BrassAssist. Their website is at www.smallshopeu.com.