Monday 9 July 2018
I have used machines similar to these for more than 10 years. I bought mine from the USA as I was not aware then of any suppliers in the UK. Since then they have been made available through online suppliers, but are mostly sent from the Far East. The initial attraction of these two models is that they are supplied in this country which could, therefore, make them more desirable to the average enthusiast.
On first inspection they appear better than their American counterparts in that there are no moving parts at the 'business end'. Others tend to have the ends of the collets protruding from the casing. That can be very uncomfortable if the user's fingers happen to slide to the end of the hand piece. The cheaper model runs at 35,000rpm and comes with a single hand piece, with a choice of collet size – 3mm or 1.5mm already fitted. If you wish to work with one handpiece and change collets as needed, this can be done with a little practice. As the collets are around Â£15 each and a second handpiece can be supplied with your initial purchase of this model for Â£60, I would tend to question the wisdom of bothering to go through the process of changing collets every now and again.
Putting it to the test
I asked some of my students to try these tools as they had not used anything like this before and they would be likely to notice problems that maybe I would overlook. The general opinion was that they were much quieter than they expected and much easier to use than the products they had tried before, with considerably less vibration and dust and were also much easier to handle.
We tried them both with a Typhoon burr, sintered carbide cutter and rotary chisel on lime and boxwood, removing quite a lot of waste at a time. My experience of the rotary chisel on other larger power units has been somewhat scary, but with these units it was a totally different tool capable of removing quite large amounts of waste material without the expected 'chatter'.
The finish was more than acceptable and certainly better than many other power cutters that are readily available. Where they really come into their own is when using fine dental type rotary burrs. The control you have is remarkable and the finest work can be done with the minimum of fuss, dust and inconvenience. I have tried them on hardwoods, horn and antler as well as on ivory snooker balls – these are the only kinds of ivory I am prepared to use as they are dated pre-1947.
They can be very difficult to hold and, consequently, if there is any vibration with a power tool the cutter can skid on the surface – there was no sign of this whatsoever and full control was possible at all times. If your only experience of power carving has been with the more well known tools you will be amazed at the difference with equipment such as this. Both tools are quiet to use with almost no vibration at any speed. At slower speeds you might even get away with using them indoors with the TV on! Which one you choose is really up to what you require, how much you would use it and how much you want to spend. Whichever you decide I am sure you will wonder how you managed without it.
I tried the smaller unit first and, personally, I found the grip of the handpiece rather thick and uncomfortable after using mine with a narrow nosed grip but I suppose you could get used to it. For very fine work, such as miniature carving and netsuke work, this grip would be a decided disadvantage.
On speaking to the supplier I understand that he has the intention of making a narrow nosed handpiece available in the future. It should be noted, however, that this only comes with the 1.5mm collet and cannot be changed. I must admit that in all the years that I have used this type of handpiece I have never felt the need to have a larger capacity collet. I am told that the Typhoon burrs, supplied by Foredom, come with an 3mm shank in the coarser grades and only the finer ones come in 1.5mm – the choice is obviously up to individual needs.
If you are buying a replacement for an old unit and you already have different sized bits then you would be advised to get an extra handpiece. This would still be considerably cheaper than the larger unit. Other than this personal observation I found the whole thing of good quality and convenient to use. It should be noted that the foot pedal supplied is only an on/off switch, it is not a variable speed control. There is also no provision on this unit to fit a variable speed foot control.
The larger unit appears to be an altogether better piece of equipment and covers all bases – at a cost. Although it is advertised as being for two handpieces, the buyer should be aware that it actually comes with only one handpiece as standard but a second one can be bought at a reduced cost of around Â£75 instead of the normal Â£105. It does, however, have a full speed control on the foot pedal, provision for two handpieces – these can only be used one at a time, not by two people at the same time – running at up to 40,000rpm and like the smaller model, is reversible.
As I have never found it necessary to use my unit at its full 35,000rpm capacity I am not sure whether the extra 5,000rpm is any advantage, but others may think differently. I assume that the larger unit is more heavy duty – and it does have a full foot control included â€“ and may be more suitable if it is going to be used for long periods, but if money is an issue you could get the smaller unit with two handpieces for around Â£175 less. You could actually buy two complete smaller units and still be in pocket. What you save could buy an awful lot of burrs and cutters. If you are happy with just one handpiece you could save another Â£60 or so.
Whatever route you wish to go, in my opinion you couldn't go far wrong with either of these units, they are both good quality and will make small detail work in any suitable material a real pleasure.