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Review: PEPE Superior Ring Bending Tool
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Category: Tool Review

I am a demanding user who values quality and well-made items that are backed with good customer service. I make my own tools so I have a different perspective than the typical consumer. Designs are called out for what they are whether good, bad, or indifferent. Trademarks and copyrights are the intellectual property of their respective owners and used for reference and/or informational purposes.

From PEPE Tools comes the Superior Ring Bending Tool model 301.00A. For those not familiar with the company, PEPE stands for Precision Engineered Professional Equipment. I have some of their tools and they seem to work well but I saw very little of that in this tool. Maybe not so "superior" is my thought. Maybe not for professional use, either. Or precision. It is engineered equipment, of that I am sure.

I was excited to get this based on everything I saw on-line from videos to reviews. PEPE must have been loading the till with positive reviews. The first thing I noticed was the inferior quality of the finish work. All of the bending dies had sharp, unfinished edges, pits, and looked low-quality. The slop when the dies were in the holes was excessive. The cam interface was machined crooked as well as the piece that held the slotted forming die. Serious fail here.

I called them and explained the problems I was having. The gentleman assured me that it would be taken care of. He went so far as to say he would personally cherry-pick the replacement. They sent me a call tag, quite nice of them, and I waited for the promised phone calls and emails that never happened. The replacement was minimally better but was definitely not inspected by the QC person beforehand. Honesty goes a long way and this was a major fail.

The delrin inserts had perfectly machined surfaces, I'll give them credit. Unfortunately, most had a thinner profile than their equivalent metal brethren. Some pieces were too thin so the handle would rotate endlessly as the die passed over the shank. Another fail. Nothing working properly yet so what's next?

After bending approximately 15 rings, the handle no longer came out without putting a set of vise grips on it. It is way too spindly for the machine. Considering it would have cost virtually nothing to improve this area, I'm left wondering why they have "professional" in their company name. The handle is marred, teeth marks everywhere because the handle really doesn't want to come out. For real?! How many ways can this fail - it is becoming a joke at this point.

The cam action is bad. Using a friction interface was not a good idea. Professional equipment it is definitely not; it barely qualifies as prototype in this aspect! Has anyone there heard of ball bearings or even bushings? I expect this to be a huge area of concern in the near future if the handle doesn't break first.

The base was well-machined regarding the appearance and finish. However, it was not precise. In combination with the dies, there was so much slop that it actually distorted many rings because the dies would cant and tilt in the hole. I asked the company about this and they said it had to be that way. No, it doesn't because I made shims to take up the inordinate amount of slack and improved it significantly. Still, another fail.

They tout it as a way to make spoon or utensil rings, which was why I got it in the first place. Unfortunately, the die inserts are only tall enough to accommodate the handles, and only if the handles are not too wide. The bowl or tine section is way too tall and cannot be effectively bent using this machine. For just a few dollars more it would have been easy to make larger inserts. I will make some at a friend's machine shop, maybe re-make all of them in the proper diameter to eliminate the shims. Is it any wonder this is a fail again?

This is what I've had to modify in order to meet my needs. I would think anyone serious enough to buy a production machine like this would agree that it should be unnecessary:
  • Add shims to every metal die insert
  • File the edges of every metal die and insert
  • Continually lube the cam
  • Use vise grips to remove the handle - it is scarred beyond belief now

And here's what I can't fix:
  • Delrin inserts are too thin and too sloppy
  • Handle is too weak
  • Cam mechanism is too weak and has too much friction to be considered stable
  • Finish work in general
  • The dies are not tall enough
  • Metal forming dies are too sloppy, just as bad as the Delrin ones

Comparing it to the Ringinator in relative terms, it is much better for what it is supposed to do. It does an almost-satisfactory job of pre-forming the rings though they will require fine-tuning old-school. The price is so-so for the most part. I can actually give it a rating because it semi-worked if you didn't expect professional or precision results. Clearly the company has the means to make this much better so why it failed so bad can only be explained as complete incompetence, perhaps laced with a bit of laziness and relying on the consumer to be "happy" with what they get. In other words, they want to convey the message that PEPE made it so their word is God and if you have a problem it is because of you, not their design.

FINAL RATINGS (0=low/bad/none to 10=high/good/a lot, YES/NO, N/A, or text; hover over topic for specific information)
  • Item being reviewed: Pepe Superior Ring Bender What's this all about anyway?
  • Manufacturer: PEPE Tools Who is responsible for this gem or monstrosity
  • Retail price: $259 Supplied by the manufacturer, discounts are likely to be found with some searching.
  • Appearance: 7 Simply, how does it look. It is somewhat subjective but clean lines, professional appearance, etc. It looks slick and its design is heavily copied by other manufacturers. It could be markedly improved nonetheless.
  • Packaging: 8 Is it thrown into a box or packed like a new smartphone. This has a nice appearance and is well-packaged.
  • Initial set-up time: minimal After removing contents from box, how long before the first use. Expect to spend about 10 minutes before it can be used.
  • "Plug and play": ready to go Is everything included or do you need to purchase additional equipment, supplies, or parts.
  • Additional costs or equipment: perhaps Not included with the purchase, what else will lighten your wallet. This requires a vise or something similar to hold it, perhaps a mounting plate of some sort.
  • Set-up time for each use: minimal From being stored properly and completely, is it grab-and-go or much more involved. This takes about five minutes.
  • Storage provisions: 8 Factory provisions to store equipment when not in use. The cardboard box will work for a while. There is a machined plate for holding all the parts minus the delrin inserts.
  • Storage time: minimal Time it takes to store it safely and completely, cleaned and lubed, liquids drained, and ready to go. This takes under five minutes.
  • Ongoing costs: some Replacement parts from wear-and-tear, expendables, supplies, etc. I expect to replace some parts as they are just not professionalk or strong enough. The nylon inserts will wear out first.
  • Maintenance: minimal What is expected to keep the machine working properly: periodic maintenance, lubing, etc. Keep it oiled and clean with a little mnore attention to the moving parts.
  • Usability: 6 Is it a pain in the ass or complicated to use. It is somewhat easy to use however they mention making spooon rings with it. Not so good at spoon rings unless it is only the handle and it is a straight bend, i.e. the handle overlaps itself as opposed to a helix or spiral. It is unsuitable for the bowl or tine section which could have been easily accommodated by making longer inserts and forming dies.
  • Functionality: 5 How well does it do its job. It works OK for most things but some drawbacks were the thinness of the delrin inserts - why they are thinner than the metal ones makes no sense. Why their thickness isn't consistent among the grouping is another big issue and effectively renders some of the inserts unusable for thin materials. Not great foresight in this manner.
  • Robustness: 4 Durability, how well-constructed or flimsy it is
  • Value: 5 Based on the price-vs-performance-vs-function, is it worth it
  • Adjustability: none Can it be easily modified to accommodate different situations
  • Meeting expectations: 4 Does it work as well as others say or the manufacturer claims. I was hoping for more given its cost. After using it for hundreds of rings, I raised it from a 3 to a 4.
  • Innovation: 4 The ingenuity of the design or concept
  • Results: 6 This may or may not replace a manual method or previous way of doing something. In any case, what is the quality of the finished product or process. Anything below 6 - realistically, an 8 - is not jewelry quality.
  • Timeliness: 7 How do the results compare to the amount of time it took. If it replaces a manual method, what are the differences.
  • Skill level: virtually none What mechanical aptitude or skills does one need to set it up and use it. This item requires almost no skill to use.
  • Documentation: 8 Does it have detailed instructions, whether written (which it should no matter what) or on-line
  • Customer service: 4 How quickly they respond, can you speak with someone on the phone, are their answers satisfactory. They have ample contact information. They were mostly helpful but holding them to their word was where they failed.
  • Comparative: 5 If other machines or tools are available within the general price range that do the same thing, how does this compare.
  • Recommendation: Meh My personal assessment of the device - basically, would I buy it again knowing what I learned about it. It works but there are better tools for less that do the same thing.

Final thoughts: Slightly disappointing overall. The hype certainly exceeded the performance and while they generally make OK tools, this is not one of them. What I'm learning about this company's tools is that as long as there are no moving parts, they usually work fine. This is definitely not a professional-caliber machine designed for serious use or high-quality results. No way, no sir, no how. It is barely hobbyist level at best. If making mediocre-ish goods is the only goal, it will probably work. For me, it dangerously teeters on being a piece of shit. Well, let me clarify: As it sits, it is a piece of shit but with all the modifications it has become marginally usable for some aspects of making rings. There are good tools out there and eventually I will review one but they are few and far between. Our disposable society mentality has reached into the tool category and that's totally uncool.

Posted by M: December 17, 2019

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