Tool Review: Rio Grande Swap-Jaw Pliers

Digital Fabrication
Tool Review: Rio Grande Swap-Jaw Pliers


There’s nothing especially complex about these pliers from prominent jeweler-supply house Rio Grande: one jaw features a rounded bending mandrel about 5mm in diameter and 20mm long, and the other, a cupped steel band holding a nylon forming block with a matching V-shaped groove. The cool part is that the nylon block is removable (via a pair of nylon screws in the back), and replaceable (Rio Grande sells spare jaw inserts as well as replacement screws), so if you want to file, sand, cut, or otherwise modify the bundled jaw to suit your particular bending task, it’s easy to do so. Better yet, if you have access to a 3D printer, you can print your own custom jaw inserts and mount them in place using small wood screws.

Which is what I’ve done here. I have this trick of making chain mail from soda can tabs, and the mail really looks best if all the tabs are bent to exactly the same angle. This is hard to do, by hand, but with this pair of pliers and my little custom-printed forming block it becomes super easy. You can download the forming block from Thingiverse, and the pliers are available from Rio Grande (#111605) for $24.50.

Here’s a second example. When I make lampshades out of soda-tab chain mail, the tabs that go around the top and bottom wire hoops have to be bent much more deeply than the tabs that make up the rows. Basically, they get bent into a deep “U” shape, slipped over the wire, and then fully closed around it using a small flat-blade screwdriver.

By pairing a second custom-printed replacement jaw with Rio Grande’s “Half-Round/Flat Forming Pliers” (#111189), I was able to produce a tool that greatly simplifies this step, as well. This version took a few prototypes to get right and had to be a lot bigger / hurkier because of the greater stresses involved in these deeper bends, but even so, thanks to my trusty MakerGear M1, the whole process only took a few hours, and most of that was just printing time, during which I could work on other stuff.

Rio Grande actually sells several different types of forming pliers with replaceable/removable jaws, and though my particular application, above, is pretty specific, the trick of fitting these with custom 3D-printed forming blocks worked out so well I thought it was worth sharing.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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