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So in a moment of weakness I purchased a Sworksdesign WDT Tool from its designer/maker in Canada. Some of you might have seen James Hoffmann using one in the course of his 'how I make espresso' video. I thought I'd provide a small review.

Straight out of the box, this tool is pleasantly heavy and does at first sight look and feel well made. Aside from the needles, it is comprised of three main parts: the outer case, an inner plastic core surrounded by 16 vertical indentations and a single central hole, and a hex adjustment screw. The outer case has three small magnets built into the top, and the plastic core has a single larger magnet set into it. The magnets hold everything together. They pull the core into the case and the adjustment screw is used to push the core out to allow needles to be arranged around the core. In theory, when the adjustment screw is withdrawn, the core retracts into the case under magnetic attraction and traps the needles in position. Two thin O rings set around the core aid needle retention.

The needles provided with the tool are 50mm long. They are set into coiled springs which add a further 30mm. These springs are intended to fit the indentations around the core, and the central hole. The needles come in two thicknesses: 0.22mm and 0.25mm. The Sworksdesign website claims that the 0.25mm needles provide significant extra rigidity over the 0.22mm needles and suggest that a combination of both provide the best results.

First thoughts: this is nice thing to use. It has surprised me how immediately consistent my puck preparation has become, and how much difference it has made to my espressos. And I was (I admit) a WDT non-believer. I suspect the reason for both the success with this tool and my previous doubts, is needle thickness. The needles on a home-made tool I had tried before were too thick. They just pushed the ground coffee around whereas this tool produces a really nice, even, fluffy consistency.

Using the tool does take a bit of getting used to. I have found results to be best if I distribute the bottom layer of coffee, then the top. Because the needles are so thin, it takes a bit of practice to work out where you are. I insert the tool until it touches the floor of the basket, then withdraw slightly and do my thing before just working the top layer.

Now the downsides. The case is sized to precisely fit the core. The indentations around the circumference of the core should be deep enough to accept the needles but not so deep that the needles are loose. The O rings should provide the necessary friction. However, the tolerances are extremely tight. Until the core is close to being seated, the needles move quite easily so getting them all them to the same depth is a pain. Getting them all to a depth which still allows the core to fully seat, is a nightmare. Seating the core without resorting to a piece of plastic piping and a hammer, has proved impossible. The importance of seating the core has become obvious as a result of the core and needles falling out three times. With the core fully seated, this should not happen.

If the tool suddenly falls apart is very annoying not least because if I want alternate thick/thin needles, I need to fetch my micrometer because I cannot tell needles apart with the naked eye (at my age). Having said that, on one of the three occasions it was both annoying and very funny, as I instinctively flicked the tool to remove coffee grounds off the tips of the needles, and the tool just disassembled across the kitchen. Finding the needles was fun.

I did also purchase a stand for the tool. It has a rubber O ring set into the underside to stop it sliding around. On reflection I did not need to buy this. The tool sits perfectly well upside down (so long as it is out of the way) or could just be attached to any ferromagnetic metal. Also, the design of the stand is not that good in my view. The opening at the top is a little too restricted and the action of putting the tool into it without snagging the needles is less fluid than it should be.

In summary, despite it being a 24 caret pain to set up, I am actually very pleased with how this tool does its job. It is however not exactly cheap at $50 plus shipping plus spare needles if you want them. If I had the time (which I don't) and the inclination (which I didn't) and probably a 3D printer (which I don't own) and a supply of these super-fine needles, I might have tried to make one. And yes, I could probably source one made by someone else, but needle thickness would perhaps have been the issue.

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It's well built by the looks of things, but that's a lot of money for some acupuncture needles.
 

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Ridiculous price for essential the same as the one for £10, I have the 3d printed one and it’s perfect.

nice write up though and good for folk to see the pros and cons in an in biased review
 
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