Frankly, we had a lot of
difficulty deciding how to head this section. There were two primary contenders for the
top graphic position. Of course, Republic's new Top-O-Matic was an
exciting development. We wanted to live with one for awhile after seeing the prototype
early on and then again at last years NATO show. The fact that it is nearly identical to
the Supermatic perhaps had something to do with why we choose to place the RBA
logo as the masthead of this piece. A lot of debate around here went on about which to
use. So we compromised. (I hate the word and, in most cases, that process). RBA
got the head and the first thing we'll look at is the Republic Top-O-Matic.
To re-emphasize, for those that still don't "get" the culture or purpose of this magazine, we are not a shopping guide. We have no interest in becoming a quick-find catalog for products. We want (no, insist) our readers actually read and enjoy doing so. People who wish to just look at the "pitchers" and find a source for a product need to go somewhere else. While we receive a surprisingly large amount of mail from those who want to buy our products (thus proving they've not bothered to really "read" the publication), we have no intention of ever selling anything to them. Yes, we consult with the industry heavily on new designs and marketing strategies, and we are intrinsically involved in other ways with MYO, especially politically. The fact is, that even with nearly a million and a half readers per month, we resist all temptation to capitalize on that massive connection with MYO users to sell them things. We truly have a passion for the possibilities of this industry, one that goes far beyond commercial interests. We write only about products that meet our standards and if we are teetering on the edge of acceptance, we send out samples to select readers for their feedback. We don't write negative reviews. We simply ignore the lesser products but often reply to the manufacturer with recommendations. It's a nice process that winds up fostering better products in the long run.
The few retailers we allow to advertise here are the cream of the crop. We have very high standards for those to whom we direct our readers for commercial interaction. Those of you who've been "reading" this publication since its beginning, January 2000, realize this. We haven't submitted to a search engine in over four years. We are well known and have the trust of both our readers and the industry. So when you read about injectors this time, you must understand that we took a lot of time to, first off, let some scenarios play out until we were convinced, satisfied, and confident that what you will now read is fact, not hearsay. We also wished to have a chance to live with the first injector (the Top-O-Matic) we will look at, as it addresses an important concern of ours that we've had from the beginning. And that was that CTC was the ONLY manufacturer of worthy crank-style injectors. And since we've always considered the crank-style injector a primary cornerstone of the long term success of this industry, we were at times uncomfortable with the fact that we all relied entirely on this one company. When CTC was purchased by Imperial Tobacco, predominantly a cigarette company and a huge one at that, our fears were not eased. The Supermatic and Excel were suddenly in the hands of a cigarette company more than powerful enough to kill the whole process losing what would be to them, chump change. Fortunately, Imperial has acted with grace and class and with respect for this industry, and with RBA's (Robert Burton Associates - another subsidiary of Imperial) already being, at least, in the rolling paper and tube business (Rizla and other brands), we were somewhat initially relieved that if CTC was history, at least pros who had some empathy for MYO would be managing this important product in the US. Since then, RBA has done an outstanding job, over the last year or so, of representing these fine machines including upgrading the packaging and providing a professional (though a bit costly) repair center. So finally, we felt at last comfortable in writing about the situation.
We'll discuss in detail the good job that RBA has done in a moment but first we want to show you the Republic Top-O-Matic. This injector has given us great confidence that a great crank-style injector will always be available. Republic is a very large multinational company as well and they are, in a much more robust way, involved with predominantly the MYO/RYO sector. First off, if you look at the graphic of the Top-O-Matic box above left, you will notice how beautiful the packaging is. It is very 50's retro, much like DC Comics, Superman, Topps Baseball cards and those cool electronic science kits that showed up under Christmas trees in the past, all rolled into one. It is the happiest packaging design I have seen in many years and this glossy, warm and fuzzy box speaks volumes of Republic's commitment and frankly, their taste. The injector inside is superb as well. Now, we saw this unit sometime ago but wanted to wait for real production run samples to verify what we found with the prototype, which is that it really works and works really well! From the first, we noticed a slightly more direct feel when injecting than with the Supermatic. Not that it is better than the classic Super, but somewhat different. When Republic told us of their intention to create such a machine, our initial response (after we got over the fact that there really were no patent infringement issues), was that if they were going to produce such a similar machine, a few issues might as well be addressed. Most importantly, we felt the original Supermatic internals were perhaps a bit prone to bending, thus more easily losing alignment. Therefore, we recommended all internal parts be made stiffer, the metal components hardened as much as is possible with stamped metal parts. This was apparently done.
Most, but not all, of our concerns/suggestions (and those of our readers) were addressed. Yes, the instructions emphasize that the crank be used in a horizontal motion with NO downward pressure on it. The internals were in fact hardened and makes this machine less prone to the bending under higher pressure (which should never be applied in the first place) when clearing a jam. Again read the tips at the bottom of this page which have been there for several years and read the Top-O-Matic manual. Good (vital) information and well written. The rubber base has attracted the attention of several of our readers as having a strong smell. The reason is simple. It seems to be real rubber. Next time you are in a tire store, smell a tire. That's rubber and we really like the tackiness of this real rubber base which will not slide even when tobacco dust is present on your injecting table. All in all, this is a worthy machine. Is it better than a Supermatic? - NO. Is it worse than a Supermatic? - again an emphatic NO. Both machines, if used properly, will give great service and are so similar in design (compare graphic at right with the one below right) and performance that either will work just fine. And again, we feel it is dramatically important that another company, (especially one with the MYO dedication of Republic), makes such a machine. The box alone would sway me.
Now a couple of the recommendations we made to Republic about this injector that were not followed were, though minor, ones we have been working on for quite some time. First the diameter of the "nozzle" - the tip that you place your tube on - is a perfect size for a perfectly made tube. Unfortunately nearly every reader who has been involved with MYO for a while has reported having gotten a box of tubes from practically all manufacturers that are undersized. This happens rarely but does happen enough that not only do we hear about it, but it has happened to us. The machines that make tubes have adjustments that occasionally get a bit out of tolerance and produce a slightly smaller diameter tube. It was our recommendation to give this machine a little wiggle room by slightly undersizing the nozzle. Instead the Top-O-Matic has a perfect diameter nozzle again, designed for a perfect diameter tube. Like the Supermatic, the TOP machine will have trouble with those undersized tubes you may be unlucky enough to get occasionally, and since many people buy a case of tubes at a time, this problem can be really annoying. Hopefully most of you will never have this problem but if you do, you can lightly sand/buff the nozzle, using emory cloth. Our testing showed that undersized nozzles, made so to accommodate undersized tubes, worked every bit as well with proper diameter tubes too. There is no reason the nozzles need a completely tight fit. In fact, after some use, most nozzles begin to lose some of the coating and are more friendly to these undersized anomalous tubes and normal tubes too.
We'll talk more about nozzle diameters in a moment but first, let's explore the other recommendation we made that Republic did not address with this machine. For over three years we have been experimenting with the spring tension on crank injectors. This was no accident or flash of brilliant insight. It came to us as most things creative do, by accident, or more accurately when the crank spring on one of our Excels snapped while on a road trip. We were forced to continue to use the machine, and to our surprise, it worked better than ever. We have since come to the conclusion that the return spring (the one that connects to the crank itself - not the smaller spring that connects to the tube release - see zoomed graphic at lower left and larger view at right for spring location) could almost be considered a design flaw that crept into crank injectors 60+ years ago. Now while it perhaps feels good to have the handle returned (it really only returns partially) after injection, the springs used for decades are unnecessarily heavy. In other words, they require more force to flex than they should putting unnecessary non-linear stress on the internal components. In fact, during our testing we found that Supermatics and Excels performed better, lasted longer and were incredibly more easy to use if the spring was removed altogether. Think of it this way. Attach a bungy cord to your wrist and to a door knob. Then stretching the cord, try to pick up a penny off of a flat surface. You'll find your arm, as tension increases, begins to "wobble" in a lot of different directions making a true linear motion nearly impossible. Over time, these same non-linear forces can play havoc with the internals of an injector. We have received several prototypes to play with and using various springs of various tensions find that in the Excel-style injector, for instance, a very light spring will actually last longer, still return the crank, and decrease the force necessary to inject by a very large amount. This is magnified in the larger machines, where the length of components increases the non-linear leverage a spring may apply. This is not a BIG issue. It does not solely CAUSE machine failures. At most, it may lead to more wear regarding alignment of internals and, of course, it does make the injecting motion more difficult. Still the major cause of machine failure is overfilling, moist tobacco, dusty particles, downward pressure on the handle, and forcing jammed machines in order to clear them. However, I do seriously like the feel of a lighter spring and the injectors themselves like it as well.
The return spring was not in some of the earlier more robust designs such as seen at right below which were actually used in the Orient many years ago for the hand-labored mass production of cigarettes. These machines (I tried one out in Montreal at CTC a few years ago and it still worked perfectly) were effectively indestructible. No return springs obviously, and with one component for packing the tobacco into the chamber and a separate component for pushing the tobacco into the tube (using a very direct drive for both elements), these machines were capable of high quantity production, longevity, and speed. In fact, I'm not altogether sure that this two component/system design won't, in the long run, be the design of the future especially in a small but effective hand cranker. Using stainless steel parts, such a design would be virtually unbreakable no matter how high the idiot (yeah, I've been guilty as well) factor. The point is that return springs came later and when we experimented with lower tension springs, we achieved results that were almost equal to the "no spring at all tests" mentioned further above. Republic put a pretty beefy spring in their Top-O-Matic. In one of our test machines, we removed the spring and the injecting effort was reduced by a factor of at least five, effectively becoming "effortless." Now if you do this (which is NOT recommended by the manufacturer of either the Supermatic, Excel or Top-O-matic) make sure you save the spring and put it back on before any warranty work. We can see no possible way the lack of this spring will effect the machine in any negative way, but save the spring anyway and perhaps consider doing this experiment first with an out of warranty machine. The spring is easily removed and replaced. And you may like the spring tension better anyway. We hope to see lighter springs on all future machines of this type but feedback from consumers will play a large part in this and perhaps lighter springs may become inexpensive, user installed, after-market parts. More on after-market parts in a moment, but first let's look at the other well executed features of the Top-O-Matic.
The tube length adjustment works quite well on the Top-O-Matic. It does its job in adjusting the release point of the tube holder such that all three sizes of tubes can be filled successfully (King, 100, and Regular - if you can find such a tube anymore - there will be in the future, but not now). The machine itself is very reliable and feels like it. We put 3 of 4 machines through a lot of harsh and heavy duty use and never found it lacking. We saved one for graphic/video purposes. Of course, we would have liked to see a radically new design (we feel the same way about the internal combustion engine) but creating radically new designs is expensive and there are certain limitations in designing machines that will deal well with both fragile tubes and uncooperative tobacco. The Top-O-Matic has served us well now for nearly 9 months and will make perfectly great sticks for a very long time if you take care of it. There are replacement parts available as you will note in the packet that comes with each machine which includes the 1 year warranty. There will eventually be retailers and other entities who no doubt will service these machines, and the card inside the box does use the phrase, "Service Repair Center." However, currently we are told that while parts are available to retailers no actual repair of these machines, that we know of, has yet been undertaken (perhaps none have broken - interesting thought) and that in the near term, at least faulty machines within the conditions of warranty will be replaced. Again, parts will be available for those machines that go out of warranty and for those machines whose misuse has voided the warranty. All things considered, this machine will function every bit as well as the Supermatic at its best. We think there is plenty of room for both products and in fact I seriously doubt either company will find it easy to keep up with increasing future demand. But that is a subject for another time. We'll do a video soon on the Top-O-Matic in the MultiMedia Injector Section.
As to after-market parts, the auto industry is perhaps the king of that territory. Who would buy a headlight at a car dealership for $25 when they can find a perfect replacement for six bucks at Wal-Mart or NAPA. Now all after-market parts are not designed simply to replace worn out parts. The after-market exists for many reasons, and often it is for those who want to improve an existing design. This happens in cars and guitars and countless other industries. At times one could wonder, if these replacement parts are actual improvements over the original or result in improved performance, why didn't the original manufacturer use the better parts to begin with? Well, putting aside the fact that once a design is finalized for production, creative people will almost always find a way to improve them anyway, the incremental costs of superior parts can add up enough to make a given product non-competitive. More often however, the improvements these ostensibly better parts provide are fairly minor and more a question of perception than reality. This is not always true though and it can be frustrating. For example, I needed another set of headphones for my studio. Now I have a number of pairs of very good headphones, each one that is particularly suitable for certain tasks. Like guitars, which I have a lot of as well, each has its strengths and weaknesses. I started reviewing headphones some time ago for our other publication, Fingerpick Magazine. I needed another set of audiophile grade cans (phones) and as I began to shop at my favorite source, I found that even the highest quality, most expensive in this already pricey category were offered in stock form or with cable upgrades. Now you'd think a $600 pair headphones would have pretty much the best of everything. However, to get even better sonic performance (and this is a fact, not perception) it is recommended that you spend another $150 for a special, ultra high grade cable. That's ~ 9 feet of cable for $1.40 per inch (no, I won't even go there). This aftermarket cable really does make a difference in critical mix down listening. The question is why did the manufacturer not use this grade of cable to begin with. Hell, charge a little more but with the manufacturer's mass buying power, the better cable would have added only $40 - $50 to the original phones. Fact is, the cans without the better cable knock your lights out. With the cable, sound becomes orgasmic. The point of all of this is that, even in the relatively device-simple world of MYO, a demand does exist, as will a market emerge, for things that can improve the few devices we use - namely injectors. So don't be surprised or offended when you see lighter springs and various diameter nozzle (tip) refits begin to surface. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with the initial design. It is simply that there may be ways to make the design even better, faster, longer lasting, and (gee whiz) cooler!
It is with great pleasure (and relief) that we announce that the transition from CTC, as manufacturer and distributor of the Premier, Supermatic and Excel lines of injectors, to Robert Burton Associates (RBA) here in the US has been accomplished in a surprisingly efficient way. I think few realized the size of the challenge that faced RBA, fewer still their ability to pull it off. First off, a lot of folks had developed great friendships with the CTC crew. Those personal friendships remain though few, if any, of the CTC staff remains. Montreal based CTC, now owned by the Imperial Tobacco Company UK, (as is RBA) has been renamed EFKA Canada,which handles the rest of the world market for these products. Here in the US, these products are managed and developed by RBA. From the beginning, several issues needed to be addressed with this new organizational strategy. Decisions had to be made as to which products, that were under CTC's banner, would remain. This was of utmost priority and while few will agree with all of the changes, there is clear logic to most of them. We've discussed, in the Filter Tube section, the fate of certain CTC paper products. For the most part, little has changed as far as the injector line. That is to say, no injectors of major status were dropped. However the packaging for this cornerstone line of injectors has changed a good deal. All of the packaging has been upgraded to reflect a very professional, much less industrial look. No longer are tubes and cigarette cases included with any of the injectors, but that is not a freebie that will be missed all that much. Everyone has their favorite tubes and not getting a free box of a tube, which may not have been your favorite anyway, affects a pretty small number of folk. The cigarette case, while handy I suppose, was never one I used nor did most of our readers. Considering the fact the RBA already had a large line of products to support (Rizla, ElRey, E-Z Wider, Club, Joker, and others), taking on a whole new line of products, especially ones of the importance of the Supermatic and Excel injectors, was no easy task. Mechanical devices such as these are a whole new degree of responsibility for a company that was mostly in the rolling paper and tube business. RBA is to be complimented on their execution of this process.
One of the most significant challenges to be addressed by RBA was the continuation of repair procedures for the Supermatic and Excel injectors. Apparently, CTC consistently lost revenue on repairs. The process was very friendly but perhaps was not a particularly good business model. That will debated for some time, certainly by consumers of these products. However, it seems fewer people are breaking these machines as a lot more information about their proper use is available through many sources. Sure, there are still people who don't read directions or let a "friend" use their injector without training, which is a primary cause of failure, but in general, most people understand, finally, that these devices have limits which must not be exceeded and directions for use that must be followed. Unlike some product's directions for use, which are more like guidelines, the directions below and those that accompany each of these machines are specific and must be followed to the letter. The successful and long term use of injectors is not a creative process open to individual interpretation. Still some machines will malfunction, so repair and part replacement will likely continue to be a necessary part of the experience.
As the transition progressed, RBA created (actually contracted out) a new repair facility known as Arbroinc. George Armstrong, who was a skilled former employee in the CTC repair facility, got the contract. A website was created that showed not only contact information but a comprehensive parts list. (www.arbroinc.com) Today the site includes schematics in PDF format for each specific machine that are accessible from the website's Parts section. This is a great help to those who've had the machines long enough to have lost or thrown away the schematics that come with each machine, but be warned that these schematics are not detailed enough to help you until you've looked (direct observation) at the way the internals interact. Once you "get" the design, the parts list and schematics make a lot more sense. We have personally had little luck in effecting repairs on any of these machines by simply replacing a part or two. Many of our readers have had varying degrees of success including some who are quite skilled at making such part-swappable repairs. The point is, the parts are available and easy to identify at the Arbroinc site, you just need to know where the parts go in a three dimensional sense.
The downside to any warranty/repair strategy is, of course, that these machines can be costly to repair. Under warranty, one now must not only pay for shipping to the repair facility, but include a check for the return shipping as well. Most companies, when servicing a warranted item, pay shipping for the return to the customer. Shipping to the repair facility is almost always the responsibility of the user. For those machines out of warranty (one year in most cases except for about 1500 machines of the new blue Premier Supermatic design that initially had a lifetime warranty - if you don't have that "Lifetime" certificate, you don't have one of those machines) the cost is pretty high. For instance, with about $8 average shipping cost for the consumer to send the machine to the facility and the $5 required to be included for return shipping and a repair cost for the out-of-warranty Premier Supermatic of $21.95, one is looking at nearly $35 to get an out of warranty machine repaired. These machines commonly run about $45 new street price so for the extra $10, I'd simply buy a new machine. A major reason is that these machines once broken are not always easily or successfully repaired. Though individual parts are available, it has been our experience that, while it may appear that one part is damaged, these injectors work as a system. Very often CTC's repair facility would replace all of the internals to effect successful repairs of what the consumer thought was only one part's failure. The alignments are so critical that fixing one part often puts added stress on other parts that were also weakened, though may not have been noticed. First line of defense, of course, is not to break them in the first place. If you do, the dance can become a long one, and for those not excessively mechanically gifted, a frustrating one as well.
We still get too many emails from folks who have had problems with their repaired machines. This was the case when CTC was handling it and remains the case with the new repair facility. The old system allowed the customer to send the machine back again and at least the return to customer shipping was free. With the new facility, even in the rare case the repair doesn't succeed, you need to spend shipping both ways again. Repairs are warranted for 90 days but the shipping costs really mount up. More disturbing yet is what seems to be a proliferation of machines that are DOA (dead on arrival) from a number of retail (brick and mortar) sources in Michigan and Ohio. Our readers report that these machines, which are sold as new, have been opened, and/or certain things are missing, including new packaging, (some report getting them from retailers in a plain cardboard box, not with the professional packaging like shown above) and again, the machines too often don't work from the first use. Taking them back to these stores results in a refusal to do anything by the stores other than tell the customer to send them to the repair facility. Really bad business mode for a retailer. Eventually, we will pin down all of these sources and determine if there is a "gray market" distribution source, that is outside the control of RBA, that is dumping these machines on the market. As unlikely as this is, until such time as we figure all of this out, we suggest that any retail location that sells these machines as new but does not provide them in new, unopened, professional packaging, be avoided, or at least aggressively questioned and the machines tested before you give 'em your money. We would also like the names and locations of these retailers if you run into one with DOA machines. Please read on as there are exceptions and much more to this story.
Now to be fair, some very large distributors/retailers buy these machines without the outer packaging sleeve as a way to save some money. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this scenario as long as the machines are indeed new and contain all warranties and other paperwork. The OEM market has been around a long time in the computer accessory business. For instance sound cards, video cards, and other peripherals can be purchased at significant saving as OEM stock sans retail packaging. The part inside is new and has full warranty but they come in generic boxes. The point is, it is up to the consumer to check machines to make sure they are new in appearance and all paperwork intact. You can also call Arbroinc, to check if the machine's serial number has been registered previously. And again, SEND IN YOUR WARRANTY CARD!. We can't begin to emphasize enough how important this is to stabilizing this entire issue. It is important here to note that, considering the number of machines out there and that are sold daily, all of the above is a relatively small problem in total numbers. However as we all must agree, even a few incidents that have a negative outcome are disturbing and can result in a lot of bad word of mouth that seems to spread like a rash. RBA is committed to making sure every customer is provided quality merchandise. They've built a reputation over many decades for this philosophy. But still it is up to the buyer to always be aware of what they are getting. For instance, with any purchase made of one of these machines that are not in the original professional packaging, I would recommend that the consumer have the retailer (whether online or local) state in writing, on the invoice, that this is a "new" machine
We have also been made aware that the repair facility was for a while selling "new" machines directly from their site or when a customer called them for service. We have verified that this WAS true, but has since been revamped (sort of). While they had every right to do this, I suppose, it may not be in RBA's best interest for this competition to other retailers to exist, especially since the repair facility has a built in sales advantage as people contact them for repairs and on their site they state they are the "only authorized repair facility." They would seem to have have an unfairly captive audience. Again, this practice has been revised as this is written but just today we found banners on the Arbro site linked to a sales facility that shares an identical address. How RBA views this is really none of our business and the fact is this repair facility was, again, contracted out by RBA - they have no other relationship with RBA, except as perhaps customers. We address it because we've been asked many times by our readers, "what's up with that?" Even more puzzling though, we have had some readers who bought these ostensibly new machines from the repair facility and they were, in some cases, at least claimed by the reader/consumer, to be DOA as well. And of course, the customer had to pay shipping both ways to get an advertised as new, yet defective, machine repaired. A few boxes of tubes were offered as compensation reportedly. Several of our readers tell us the Arbroinc "new" machines come in plain cardboard boxes, not the newly designed retail packaging (see the graphic above that represents the full packaging scheme for the Excel, but is similar for all of the new machines). This does happen, as mentioned above, but again, in all cases, no matter where you purchase the machine, insist on a written verification that this is indeed a new, never used, never repaired machine. Think "refurbished." We are still concerned about the high number of machine failures from Michigan and Ohio. Hell, maybe its the weather! There is a mystery here that needs solving and RBA is aware of it, and we are looking deeper. For now, my advice is never buy a machine locally that has been opened or is missing anything, and if it is less than "new" you should expect a significant refurbished style price discount. Even then, I would make sure it works really well with tobacco before you leave the store. Even a damaged machine will appear to inject well "dry" (no tobacco in it). There are great retailers on the web who sell them at great prices and we know what they sell is ready-for-retail merchandise. There are many relieable local outlets as well. Every source has to get them from RBA or their immediate distributors and they all come with full retail packaging except again as noted above. When you order a machine sight-unseen, verify that it will arrive in full retail ready packaging or with written certification that it is indeed new. If it isn't, let us know. I know we are being redundant here, but we are getting a bit weary of hearing about this problem and truly feel the pain of our readers who have had these frustrating experiences. It's a negative for the whole industry. Remember, lack of full outer packaging does not necessarily mean a refurbished or defective machine, but the incidents of DOA failures are almost non-existent for those machines that arrive "never opened" and fully packaged for retail. We will update this section IMMEDIATELY as more information is available. Please remember that the vast majority of these machines arrive in perfect shape, but even a few lemons are enough to concern us, especially when we begin to see some commonality of sources.
Now before we (or you) get too weirded out over Arbroinc's repair pricing, one must understand that even at $21.95 plus shipping both ways, ARBRO is not getting rich fixing Supermatics and the $5 they ask to send the machine back to you does not even cover the entire cost of return shipping. As I said, repairs, if done successfully and completely, can be quite costly to the repair facility - rarely is it just one part. So if RBA remains dedicated to a contracted repair organization, there probably is no more cost-effective way of doing it. All we do ask is that repairs are done successfully and we urge those that have needed repairs to their machines to examine closely what elements (force, moist tobacco, untrained users, etc) may have caused the failure in the first place so it will not be repeated. In all fairness, we have many more readers who report great success with Arbro, despite the cost. And we know for a fact as well that some users of these machines seem to chronically break them. Once the issue of selling "new" machines without full packaging is fully addressed and understood, I think this professional repair scenario will be of great value to many, especially while the machine is still under warranty. Just make sure you send in the warranty card, even if you, like me, would rather buy a new one than pay almost as much to get one (out of warranty) repaired. Obviously, the real solution is to first to get a perfect machine, and then make sure it never needs repair. You have a whole lot of control over this, again, as long as the machine works well from the beginning. These machines are part of a combination of components that saves so much money over packaged brands, while enabling all the other even more important advantages of MYO, that if they lasted only a few months, you would get your money's worth. Having said that, our experience has shown that you should expect many years of service from these machines. Again, that has been our experience once we learned how NOT to break them. At the bottom of this page we repeat our usage recommendations. RBA is a professional organization and their oversight, as to the repair issue, must be one of vigilance and consistency, and we are confident that will be the case.
There is also an issue that is common with some folks who seem to have higher failure rates with these machines. This issue involves the desire of some to inject a whole month's supply of sticks at one sitting, or other similarly massive amounts at one time. These machines were not designed for this, especially in more humid climates. And one loses an important component of MYO when they make too many beforehand as well. That is freshness. Letting tobacco sit in a paper tube for a month (no matter how it is stored) is going to seriously degrade the flavor of the tobacco and the paper taste will eventually get into the leaf. This is one of many reasons packaged cigarettes taste like they do. It should take no more than 5 minutes or so to inject a pack and, as I mentioned (rather aggressively, I admit) in the Tobacco section, if you are coming to MYO so you can afford to smoke 4 packs of cigarettes per day, then you are not only missing the entire point of MYO, but are a serious negative to the future of tobacco use period. And if you are injecting sticks for your friends, you'd better not be charging them. The first offense penalties for non-licensed cigarette manufacturing (no matter how few) are far more serious than for selling most illicit street drugs. (We've heard from readers that in Seattle, with the newest Washington state 901 smoking ordinance, the fine for smoking a cigarette in public is $100, the fine for smoking a joint in public is $25.) Silly politics aside, we do recommend, when home, to inject one as you want one. Inject a few for the road or for work (if you can even smoke there anymore) and keep the injector and tubes and tobacco in the trunk of your car in case you run low. Get a small bag or daypack to keep your supplies and injector in so you only have to grab it and go. Getting an extra injector for away from home injecting is a wise investment. Excels are great for this.
With all of the above to think about, (and please don't dwell obsessively on the negatives, they really are relatively minor - just be a smart, informed consumer) keep in mind that RBA has done an incredible job of adapting the CTC operation to fit their own existing model. The beautiful new blue Excel is exactly the same as the Platinum Excel which was updated several years ago. This is a great machine and, frankly, my favorite Premier injector still. The new color fits the line perfectly and these machines are extremely well constructed, easy to hold, and small enough for travel. Of course, were I the type of person to make larger amounts of sticks per day than the 6 or 7 which is my usual consumption, the larger Premier Supermatic or Top-O-Matic would likely be an even better fit. As it is, I have yet to overstress an Excel, even when making a whole cigarette case full (18) at one time. Much depends on the condition of the tobacco as you will read throughout this magazine. Really moist tobacco is a huge problem with any injector as are the dusty particles found at the bottom of tobacco containers. And we do put all these machines through heavy testing which involves making far more sticks than I would ever consume. Nonetheless, you should seriously consider making fewer sticks at one time, especially in humid weather. This will dramatically extend the life of your injector.
We've often looked at the internals of the Supermatic. Many people have never looked inside an Excel, mostly because it is not nearly as easy to do so. However, we thought it would be interesting to look at the different design strategy that makes the Excel a more straightforward machine, and though made more of plastic, a very long lived one as well. It is also worth noting that these machines, while more difficult to thoroughly clean (because of the extra base component that needs to be removed), do need cleaning at times. The tobacco dust in an Excel can build up to the point of causing problems with the internals so take a look at the inside and follow the disassembly directions. Along with a video of the Top-O-Matic's performance, we'll show this process for the Excel as well, soon in our Injector part of the MultiMedia section. The video will be in real time and will be much more informative than a few pictures, but if you need this procedure before the video is ready, we hope this will help. Take it slow and easy until you understand this machine.
We'll start here with a basic animation of the first part of the disassembly (at above left). We're using an older Platinum version but the internals are identical to the new blue one. Basically, you flip the unit over, remove the rubber pad, remove the 4 screws in the base, and carefully lift the base out. If you are careful at this point cleaning is pretty easy with compressed air or a mini-feather duster. If you dislodge the mechanism (the drive components) or wish to fix or remove springs, nozzles (tips), or clean deeper, the following graphic tour below will identify some issues you need to be aware of. All in all, this is a very simple machine compared to the Supermatic or Top-O-Matic and frankly its simplicity makes it very difficult to break or knock out of alignment. However, it is more difficult to clean deeply. Most cleaning can be accomplished, with no disassembly at all, by merely shaking the machine with the rubber pad off, until all the tobacco dust comes out. This is our first recommendation, as once you remove the base plate, a larger adventure will begin. If you decide to go further, always look carefully at how the machine is assembled and make notes if necessary so you can get it back exactly as it started. If you choose to go further, again the tips below will help but no graphics can replace common sense and a breadcrumb trail (Hansel and Gretel) approach to getting back to where you began. By the way, this machine is an original Platinum prototype that is at least 4 years old. It has never been taken apart before now, other than to shake the dust out with the rubber pad removed, and it still works perfectly. I know there is risk in showing the following to some folks who may get in over their heads. If you are the least bit nervous, don't proceed. Just remove the rubber pad and shake out the dust. For the more adventurous, proceed carefully and methodically with the next part
First off, look at the graphic at right above to see the areas we'll cover. Refer to this graphic frequently. Remember this level of disassembly is rarely needed and should be undertaken only if changes of springs, nozzles or other components are needed and should be done by those with at least basic mechanical skills. Its not tough once you have it in front of you, but as with most mechanical adventures, pay careful attention as to how it comes apart and put it back together in the same manner and order. Before we go further, please note that while what we show you is pretty easy, avoid if at all possible loosening either the Hex Nut or the lower arm screw labeled "Screw" in the graphic above. These two parts are the most challenging to get back together properly and over many years and many machines, we have never had to touch them. The point is, if these parts have failed, I'd buy a new injector. Below are some tips again for other parts of the injector, but don't adjust the Hex Nut or Screw unless you want to make a real project out of this.
For now, there is only one other injector to look at that's new and currently available. Nothing revolutionary really as it is a hand injector, but it does have some pizzazz as it carries the name Three Castles. First though, regarding "Electronic" injectors. Since we get so much mail about them, it remains an important topic to share with you. Now we've been pretty clear that, for most people, a Supermatic, Excel, or new Top-O-Matic is every bit as fast and certainly a whole lot less expensive than current attempts at powered injectors. These "human" powered devices are decades proven designs with well defined warranties and repair/parts strategies. Even so we are, just like you, always fascinated by innovative new products and design strategies. We have a few parameters that need to be satisfied before these electronic wonders get our unqualified recommendation. To begin with, the Revolution prototype we discussed last time and the Easy Roller (or whatever name it adopts in its upgraded final state) that we featured in the MultiMedia Injector Section, have still not come to us as final products to look at. Until we see them successfully function in OUR own tests, we can only share with you what we know so far. The updated and renamed Easy Roller may show up for as little as $150 MSRP while the Revolution looks like it is going to cost about $400. In both cases, they need to be awesome machines to justify that kind of cost - especially the higher priced Revolution. Both machines will still require you put tubes on one at a time and both will hold varying amounts of tobacco up to a few ounces at best. For these machines to be worth the price, ("gee whiz" factor aside) especially for those who have the dexterity (or lack of physical handicaps) to use a hand cranker, they must be able to use a variety of tobaccos (within the tolerances or better for moisture and cut commonly necessary for mechanical crank-styles) and be very reliable. I am hard pressed to see how they can be much faster as the tube placement is often a most time consuming exercise. However, they do save loading tobacco one stick's worth at a time, but future hands-on tests will see if they can distribute the tobacco into the chamber in an efficient way without human intervention. The Easy Roller uses a worm drive which "screws" and pushes the tobacco into the tube. Again, watch its video in the MultiMedia Injector Section and remember the machine shown is a former model that needs (is getting?) upgrading to get our recommendation.
The Revolution, according to reports, appears to use a motor-driven spoon instead, and that CAN be a problem without the "feel" human hands contribute, at least to mechanical crankers, but this is not an absolute. Evidently, most of the patent on this machine involved ways of preparing, measuring and packing the proper amount of tobacco before each injection. If this is accurate and the machine can do this consistently, AND fill the tube with the tobacco placed tightly against the tube's filter element, and at the same time leaving no empty space or over hang at the tube's end, then I'd probably buy one myself. I would certainly wait for full production runs but it's way too early to dismiss either of these machines no matter what they cost, OR overtly recommend them either. It's mainly because of their price (from 3 to 8 times as much as a Supermatic or Top-O-Matic) that we are being careful here. On the other hand, knowing what we do about injectors and how difficult it's been to even partially automate the process, we would probably be more suspicious if these new machines were coming in at a much lesser price. We have great respect for the risks innovative entrepreneurs take to bring such products to the world. It's really expensive to do so and often the process can take years. However before we take the full evaluation plunge, there are still issues that we must be satisfied with. For instance, the issues of warranties, parts, and repair facilities/strategies that have yet to be answered as well as durability are vitally important to the acceptance of this new breed of machine. When we find out more and have a chance to put these machines through their paces, we will let you know. You will eventually see comprehensive videos of these "final" machines in action in our MultiMedia section, where we will fully demonstrate tobacco versatility and speed as well as the other aspects of concern mentioned above.
The Revolution appears to be closer to a final version and we expect to see one in the next few weeks. The Easy Roller (again, whatever its new name will be) still lurks in Denmark and the timetable to see a finished improved prototype has jumped around more than we like. There, of course, is no obligation for any manufacturer to send us a prototype. We will eventually see any machine made for the US (and for much of the rest of the world) - one way or another. Manufactures send us prototypes freely for feedback, not for assistance in hyping their products. If we like them we tell our readers. If we don't, we tell the manufacturer. And of course, no matter how good either prototype may be, we will want to see a production model as well, as prototypes can certainly be made to work more effectively, as they are often one of a kind machines that have been finely tuned. We'll let you know when we see enough to be satisfied. We'll also, as is our custom, let you know what our many readers think of these products. It is one thing to test a single product. It is quite another to consider the opinions of hundreds or even thousands of users combined with our findings. There is quite a bit of information circulating already about the Revolution. One advantage is that it will be made, at least initially, in the US. We philosophically and emotionally look forward to a resurgence of American manufacturing. It is more expensive but we feel it is worth it. However, that one fact alone does not guarantee a better product. It does logically imply that servicing may be easier and more timely than a Danish machine. Of more concern is that the Revolution's makers have begun a program whereby prospective buyers pony up $10 to get on a waiting list. Now ten bucks is not a lot to risk, but that kind of non-refundable, pre-paid marketing does make us (and a number of readers) a bit uncomfortable and perhaps a bit concerned that the company may not have the financial depth to fully develop a support structure (create the all important service and parts scenario) or to go into full scale manufacturing. This is only speculation, which we tend to avoid when it comes to radically new designs, and if the Revolution works well, even if it IS a limited production, ostensibly handmade machine, it may still have great value for many. Considering the lawyer revenue required to secure a rather lengthy and detailed patent and produce such a nice looking prototype, we suspect the company has the resources for support. However, in all fairness we've seen other such pre-paid or pre-sold products from time to time, and they do not all reach market successfully. We do know the Revolution exists as we have talked with a couple of people we trust who have used it and have assured us it is a "good machine." I wanted to hear "GREAT," but again time will tell. I can tell you that the design strategy employed by the Revolution is the smartest, most unique, and most professionally engineered we've ever seen in an electric injector. There has obviously been a LOT of talented thought put into this design and that kind of envelope pushing can never be frugal. We truly hope these machines will live up to expectations and we wish both manufacturers only the best of success. To me, innovation is nearly a theology, certainly an addiction. We'll let you know when we honestly can, with first hand experience, share with you what level of success these products have achieved.
And one final issue we've addressed above and in other parts of this magazine from time to time. We've seen comments on certain tobacco related discussion websites - comments to the effect that, to paraphrase, "heck I can justify spending this much money on an electric machine by making smokes and selling them to my friends." Please, PLEASE, ignore this kind of stumble bumpkin foolishness. It is plainly and completely illegal and the penalties for following the advice of those perpetually "Stuck on Stupid," are egregious. Of course, this applies to hand crankers as well, as they may turn out to be every bit as fast as any partially automated design. Remember, cigarette manufacturing is a highly specialized, specifically licensed, and aggressively regulated business. It is extremely costly to get started in as, for instance in Oregon, if you want to stamp your own cigarettes, the minimum buy on these absolutely required stamps is $500,000. And that is after you satisfy all the other parameters (think paper work taken to the level of full body cavity searches). Penalties, for those who even once have violated these stamping laws have included serious jail time, as well as financial losses that make the $500K look small in comparison. MYO means precisely that: Make Your Own - for yourself. - for your own well considered level of consumption.
Now the new injector we mentioned above that does exist in a real distribution chain is HBI's Three Castles namesake hand injector. It looks good and works well for a hand injector. It is smaller than some of the larger designs we covered last time, which we felt were easier to use BECAUSE of their increased size. Nonetheless, the Three Castles "Shooter" (In HBI "Speak") is a reliable unit for the beginner, working well enough to give a novice a pretty fair test of the possibilities of MYO. We like the color scheme and design but eagerly await an HBI owned Three Castles crank-style. This will likely happen sooner rather than later, but until it arrives, the Three Castles hand injector serves its function as well as any similar size hand injector we've seen. It is very well made and should last (at least until the user becomes convinced the larger, more efficient crankers are where they are heading). As we've stated throughout the history of this publication, even though we greatly prefer and recommend the larger (and a bit more expensive) crank injectors like the Supermatic, Excel and now Top-O-Matic, there is no doubt that most people who first encounter MYO will be exposed initially to a hand injector. It is therefore imperative that these small devices be a good as possible. This new one from HBI with, ostensibly, the same design as many others is of such quality that, compared to what hand injectors used to be, this one carries itself spectacularly. All injectors are useful to some degree and certainly as entry level production tools. They are a bit less easy to damage than the larger ones, and even if you do, you have not lost much in revenue. Some people actually become quite proficient at their use, but it would be disingenuous for us to give anyone the impression that these can compete with a cranker. And as people discover MYO and become dedicated to it exclusively, the large machines inevitably win out. Hand rollers are completely sensible devices as they use papers which are easily carried in small spaces, thus allowing one to have machine and papers in a very compact state. Tubes however are hard to carry. So as one figures this out, the size of the injector begins to make less difference portability-wise. However you choose to make your own, at least you can be sure that all of the products in this category only get better and better with each new design. This newest little hand injector from HBI really is quite good. MYO is here to stay and the injector is a crucial part of it. So, as always, we will close this section with recommendations for the successful use of these machines (these tips apply to all injectors generally, but MOST especially to the crank style).
Critical Usage information for the Supermatic, Supermatic II, Excel, & Top-O-Matic
The RBA/EFKA Canada/Imperial line of Supermatic, Supermatic II, and Excel injectors have given a boost to the make your own industry like no other single product line. With the introduction of Republic Tobacco's Top-O-Matic this industry necessity grows even more in influence and credibility. These company's commitments to quality, reliability, and customer service continue to set a standard to be followed by all other accessory manufacturers. But even with all of the above true, some people are still having trouble with these marvelous machines. Since 1995, we have been using, taking apart, tinkering, and making recommendations for the design of these machines and, in reality, we find little left to criticize. We share a lot of reader input as well with these manufacturers in the spirit of cooperation to make even better products. However, there are some parameters that must be followed in order to have your machine last as long as the ones we use, which is to say effectively, for many years. Although some of the following information is already included with each manufacturer's instructions, we felt, knowing most folks hate reading directions, especially regarding products that appear so simple to operate, that an instruction/recommendation sheet from RYO Magazine might further aid those who manage to miss/lose the existing directions for use. What follows should be read carefully by all users of the aforementioned machines, including and especially friends who may only wish to use your machine once.
As a last note, all of the above is written with a huge amount of gratitude that is daily expressed by our readers, as well as we at RYO Magazine personally, for the efforts of those manufacturers in the MYO industry who, often at great financial risk, continue to provide significantly improved and evolutionary products to help make the case for MYO. The possibility that one's first experience with making their own sticks will be a negative one, is quickly dwindling. the ed.
|EDITOR'S NOTE: These reviews are solely for the convenience of people of legal age who already smoke, are trying to cut down on smoking, wish to spend less money on their smoking, want to roll their own cigarettes from high quality tobacco, and, in general, wish to have a far more satisfying, and economical smoking experience when compared with smoking pre-manufactured cigarettes. We, in no way, encourage people to smoke. Further, we prescribe to a sane, more logical approach to smoking that involves common sense as to quantity coupled with a strong desire to manage the habit until it becomes an occasional, freely chosen, diversion, that can be fully enjoyed with minimal health risks. Finally, we strongly encourage those who do smoke to take it outdoors, or to appropriate environments where tobacco can be enjoyed away from those who do not smoke, most especially children. We do not sell tobacco or related products from this site; We distribute information about our perceptions of the quality of what is available and where it can be obtained. If you are under 18, it is illegal to buy tobacco and you should immediately exit this site. If you do not smoke, it would seem illogical to start.|
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