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There is indeed a lever. It's not in the photos but the current models have a spot where you can take the pressure off the drive gears to pull your filament out. How hard it is to do depends on how firmly you have the frame bolted down and how hard you have your springs set.

I forgot to answer your question on shafts, I just use 5mm steel or stainless bar cut to length. The 3 shafts are 75mm, 80mm and 85mm long.