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ARISTOCRAFT DUAL RAIL BENDER – A REVIEW
Five years ago, when I started work on my third layout, I decided to make the brave step away from sectional track and let the layout dictate the shape rather than the track vendors! So I bought an Aristocraft single rail bender. I used 5 ft straight track and 20 ft diameter curves as stock, removed the ties, and bent each rail independently on the work bench, using templates scribed on a piece of plywood to get the radius right. This works, but it is tedious and labor intensive, and requires some trial and error.
In the intervening five years, a number of dual rail benders have come on the market that allow you to bend both rails simultaneously and to the same radius, and furthermore, do it in situ. All that is required is to remove the screws securing the ties and get after it until it matches your roadbed. By most accounts I have seen, Train-li produces the Cadillac of dual rail benders, but I couldn’t get past the price. So when AristoCraft came out with their cheaper (and probably less functional) version, I gave it some thought. In August, I was moved to action when Aristo offered a free dual rail bender when you buy a box of 6 ft flex track. Since I needed more track anyway, I just couldn’t pass it up! Here in Texas, when the weather finally starts to cool off in October, it is the start of track working season (the opposite of our northern brethren!) so the timing was perfect.
Since I haven’t seen a good review of this product yet, I thought I would give it a shot, making it clear up front that I have not used any other dual rail bender, so I make no attempt to make a comparison – just my observations.
SUMMARY
I found it to be a good solid tool for bending code 332 track. It is simple and intuitive to use. I was able to bend track to fit my roadbed in situ in a fraction of the time it took me previously with a single rail bender, and more accurately. The only real problem (more of a nuisance) was that it rides a little low and sometimes snags the tie-plates. A thin shim on the bearing plates should solve this problem. It also will not traverse rail joiners. Overall, for what I need it for, it is a good tool at a reasonable price. Having said that, I cannot compare it to other similar products because I have not used them.
DETAILED REVIEW
This is a remarkably simple device – a slab of aluminum with two pairs of fixed rollers and two sliding rollers to apply the bending force. The sliding is accomplished by turning a single knob. Orthogonal spirit levels are mounted on the base as well to all track leveling, although frankly, it’s a bit heavy and awkward if you are just leveling track.



Here are some photos sitting on the track – top and bottom. You can see how it works.







I tried it out last weekend on several long sweeping curves shown in the photos below. In both photos, the right track was bent using the new dual rail bender in situ in a matter of minutes. The left track was bent five years ago using the Aristocraft single rail bender and took more like hours with a lot of trial and error.





So how did it go? Worked like a charm. You just open the slide enough to fit over the track as it sits (straight or curved). Sometimes it’s a bit tricky to feel if it is properly seated or not but you get used to it. You can use the screws on the top as a visual guide and feel underneath with your fingers. You then tighten the knob until you feel it grip the rails, and then slide it back and forth over the track with your hand. I found that if you adjust the knob a bit at a time, you have very good control. Sometimes I went too far, but found it quite simple to reverse the bender and correct it. In some cases, I had to vary the radius over a piece of track. This took a little effort but basically, I just worked it until it matched the shape I wanted.

Other observations
Unlike the Aristocraft single rail bender, which grips the entire rail with the base in a slot in the roller, the dual rail bender only bears against the head of the rail, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

It does sometimes catch on the tie plates. There are a couple of plastic surfaces that bear on the top of the rail. I think adding a thin shim or a few pieces of tape would raise the unit high enough to avoid this problem, but it seems to be more of a nuisance than a genuine problem. I only tried it on Aristocraft track. The interference might be better or worse on other brands.

It does not pass over connectors, at least Aristocraft standard connectors and Split Jaws anyway. I have not tried it with the new Aristocraft clamps that came with the new flex track. It is conceivable that you could shim the bearing pads enough to get there. I may try that this weekend. It would be convenient, but again, its more of a nuisance than a problem.

As a side note, it came packaged with a box wrench and two Allen wrenches (shown in one of the photos above). The box wrench fits the nut that secures the slider knob, and one Allen wrench fits the bolts that secure the rollers, but the other doesn’t fit anything I can find. There is a set screw in the knob that requires a 2mm Allen wrench that is not found, so I am guessing the included the wrong wrench. No big deal. I’ve got plenty of wrenches. Just odd.

I am curious to hear from others if they have had similar experiences, and how it compares to other vendors like Train-li. Thanks.

Steve H.
Cypress, TX
 

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I took and ground down the nuts so it will clear some joiners and American style rail spikes.
 

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As it compares to the Train-Li, the Train-Li is of heavier construction, has a dial/graduations on the knobs, and the parts that slide on the rail are nylon, the Aristo looks like fiberglas.

The "sliders" on the Train-Li are reverseable, it looks like the Aristo cannot do this, maybe you can fill that data in.

I think the Aristo may be a good value since it's about half of the competition's price.

Regards, Greg
 

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I have a Train Li. It will clear split Jaw and Hillman clamps but not the slide together aristo jointers.

Which ever one you have it is well woth it. You see any smoking deal on track straight or curve you can buy it because you can no bend and un bend all track. You can change pre bendt/factory bedt curves to fit you needs.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
John - You are spot on! It is all about freedom of action!


I retract what I said earlier about Split Jaws. Like the Train-li, it will clear Split Jaw and Hillman clamps (tested it this morning).

Greg - From your comments, it sounds like the Train-li is indeed the Cadillac! I think it would be ideal for a club-owned tool where you could share the cost and get a lot of good use from it. But for the price, I am quite happy with this one. I looked at the slide plates again and I they do look like fiberglass, but one could easily replace them.

I tried to solve the clearance problem by shimming the slide plates but after looking at it closer, I don't think thats going to work. To get it high enough to clear the bolt heads, the rollers are likely to be ineffective. Here is a close-up photo where you can see the relative elevation of the roller and bolt head on the bender vs the rail head and tie plates. I think Marty's modification is the best solution. Either that or locate some bolts with a shallower head.

Steve





 

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Posted By Greg Elmassian on 30 Oct 2009 08:44 PM
As it compares to the Train-Li, the Train-Li is of heavier construction, has a dial/graduations on the knobs, and the parts that slide on the rail are nylon, the Aristo looks like fiberglas.

The "sliders" on the Train-Li are reverseable, it looks like the Aristo cannot do this, maybe you can fill that data in.

I think the Aristo may be a good value since it's about half of the competition's price.

Regards, Greg

Greg can I borrow your Train-LI for a few weeks??????? Hah LOL The Regal know you have one of everything and always the BEST!! So can i huh Can I Hee Hee Regal
 

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Actually, I did my entire layout with sectional track, it was very hard to fit in the space I have AND keep a minimum of 10' diameter.

I borrowed Mike R's. The only thing I have bent for myself is a hairpin curve with very close clearances. I did connect all the track sections with SJ clamps while bending and got a very nice smooth curve all the way through each piece of track.

If the Aristo needs to be modified to handle SJ clamps, as Marty has shown, I would highly recommend this, as it really makes the curves smooth, not with tangents at the ends of the rail sections.

It looks like the best modification would be to have recessed head bolts for the rollers. That picture speaks words.

Regards, Greg

p.s. Steve, still one question: can you unscrew the slider blocks and reverse them? And what's your take on what they are made of?
 

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Greg,

My error regarding Split Jaws. It will actually pass over the Split Jaw and Hillman connectors quite nicely (but not stock Aristo joiners). You can see the clearance in the photo in my second post above.

Regarding the sliders, they look like some kind of phenolic with a polished surface (front and back). The holes are symmetric so they can be reversed with the same side up, or flipped over (although you would need to countersink the holes on the reverse side). They could presumably be replaced with another material as well.

Steve
 

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A couple of additional observations. I spent a good part of the weekend working on the railroad and learned some more about the Aristo rail bender -
[*]The tie-plate interference only seems to be a problem for Aristo US ties. I used some Aristo flex track with Euro ties (US was not available when I ordered) and the clearance was fine. Odd. The mold for the ties plates is different. Anyway, if you are using Euro ties, clearance is not a problem. [*]I also tried out the new Aristo rail clamps that now ship with the flex track. The bender does not clear these clamps. BTW, I am not thrilled with the clamps. They work but they are, how shall I say it, unsightly? Its a nice gesture on Aristo's part, and I will use some of them in out of the way places, but I will stick to Split Jaws I think. I will use them on my Christmas tree layout however because they are extremely easy to use! [/list] I do like this bender. I am sure the Train-Li unit is preferable but I have really had no problems that I can't live with. I am laying out a new loop with about 250 ft of track, of which about 100 ft requires bending in some form. I did nearly all of it in one weekend without mishap. Just for fun, here is a before and after shot. And some "all done" shots.

Thanks,
Steve







 

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First of all I am a dealer. The Aristo railbender is Ok. Its economically made. Train-Li is very nice. We have our own. PTM Railbender. I actually sell all 3. Aristo is made in China, Train-Li in Switzerland & the PTM in the US. I don't care which one a person buys. It all depends on the Quality you want. Anyway, A dual track bender is the only way to go. as stated you can make curves of straight track and curve track into straight track. Its well worth the money to have one. The layout above is a good example. It wasn't built to the curves available. It was build the way he wanted it. Thats the great thing about a 2 rail bender, it gives us flexability in our designs.
 

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Robby, I also saw another all aluminum rail bender at the show, I forgot whose it is. I think it was a mistake to make it from aluminum, but I'd like to list it on my site, do you remember who makes it?

Thanks!

Greg
 

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I agree with Robby, I laid about 200 ft of track, using the Train-li rail bender, and custom bent every 5 ft section of stainless track to fit exactly where I wanted it to go, I actually enjoy laying track this way. I fit it to where ever I want. Some 20 ft curves, and some way more.
Paul
 

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Greg: The machined Aluminum bender was on my tables. I had the PTM bender and the other one which is by G scale specialties.and sell both. I have sold a lot of these and they are very nice. I have some pictures of the G scale unit on my web site which you can use if suitable. I have used it and it is very smooth and works well. It will also do code 250 and code 215. Because it is light, you can feel what is going on with the track, where as super heavy benders rely on brute force. This can be important when working with lighter rail such as code 215 or 250. The handles on G scale specialties are particularly good, but as stated above as long as you have any one kind you are ahead, they all do the job. The fact that the G scale specialties design is Aluminum has not been a factor, it is very precise, is light and easy to use and costs much less to ship. If you have a lot of track to bend, it is not tiring to use at all and is easy to move around and handle. The Aluminum used seems to be a very high grade and very hard.

Jonathan
 

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Thanks for the info Jonathan. I see that it bends 332, 250, and 215 without changing rollers.

I'll add it to my page. Any experience using it on 332 stainless?

Regards, Greg

p.s. the wife loves the railtruck, do you still have that goose?
 

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Will the aristo bender work with code 250? ...... query from Manco

I would expect not as the bearings and holding bolts would ride too low and strike the ties or "spikes".
It's such a solid and basic construction that a sensible user with a basic home workshop experience could surely make his own modifications to make it work. Maybe different bearings and modified bolt head shape (grinding) and modified slide plates could get it right.

More to the point, I came across this thread when searching for something else. So a bit more of the review type talk.......

I bought my Aristo bender from RLD Hobbies in Illinois and had it posted to Australia.

As found it had some loose screws and felt "rough" in the main adjust screw. I pulled it apart (the supplied Allen keys do the job) and realigned the slot that carries the moving bender and also pulled apart the trunnion bearing and realigned that and greased all appropriate places with Moly grease. Now the adjust moves very smoothly and feels extremely nice to use.

With AML Euro 332 brass track the bearing bolt heads do catch the "spikes" so about 20 thou of plastic shim under the slide plates fixed that.

In use it seems that only a tiny bit of adjust for each pass of the bender works best. Get too heavy handed on one pass and you may leave a rail kink where you applied the pressure too enthusiastically. Seems easy though to roll out mistakes and kinks with a bit of care.


One of the spirit levels was not level so that needs to be fixed but for me that's a low priority and I'd probably be using a digital level riding on a test unsprung truck to see how the track is shaping up.

The bender contacts one rail before the other so is obviously optimised for a certain diameter but I haven't worked out what that "optimum" curve is yet. Anyway the ties and spikes are what hold things true even if the rail bends are slightly fighting each other.


Regards......... Guy
 
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