3D Printing: A Tour of Stuff

Since picking up an Ultimaker nearly a year ago, I’ve printed many things (and wrote a very well received article for Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing).

These are many of them and some lessons learned from each.

Printed Ornaments

Koch Snowflake Tree Ornament Baubles

This is Thingiverse Object #35561.

Every year, we have an annual ornament exchange in our neighborhood. Last year, I used EMSL’s Egg-Bot to create an Eichler themed ornament.

This year, I started down the path of custom designing an ornament for printing, but grabbed the Koch snowflake baubles from Thingiverse.

Lesson Learned: Design software is hard to use. 3D design software is harder. You’d think a simple circle with some stars and words extruded in 3-space would be easy to do. Still, people totally dig the unique texture and shapes of these. In hindsight, I probably should have used Inkscape (awful, but works and is what is used for the egg-bot) to do a 2D design and then extrude that.

Wii Sensor Bar Mount (For Panasonic Plasma TV)
Wii Sensor Bar Mount Draft Prints

Custom Wii Sensor Bar Mounts for Panasonic Viera Plasma TV

This was one of my early DIY projects and can be downloaded from Thingiverse as Object #17834.

The Wii has a sensor bar that, ideally, needs to go on top of or under your TV. In the middle. Tape is often used. Or the bar is balanced precariously somewhere. Annoying and often ugly.

It would have been preferable if the sensor bar came with some means of mounting on the TV that didn’t involve adhesives, but doing so would have required some kind of clamping mechanism because TVs have become really thin and there are 10s of thousands of different cross sections.

With calipers in hand, I was able to quickly draw a cross-section of our TV’s profile along with a cross-section of the sensor bar to create a set of clips that exactly fits our TV while providing a sturdy and attractive solution.

Lesson Learned: This was an a-ha! moment. Yes, with a reasonably amount of effort and minimal clue as to how to use the design software (SketchUp, in this case, which is OK for simple 2D -> 3D extrusions, but the learning curve is pretty vicious after that), it is possible to turn out a custom solution for a problem unique to your household in a relatively short amount of time (a little over an hour in this case).

The bottom image shows the evolution of the design (and evolution of my understanding how to design such things).

Aerogarden Pods & Covers
Aerogarden Custom Pod w/Grow Medium (Rockwool)

Aerogarden Compatible Grow Pods

Probably the last thing I designed with ViaCAD (a mediocre 3D design program) and it is available on Thingiverse as Object #32613.

I found a 7 hole Aerogarden at a garage sale for $5. I’ve always wanted to experiment with hydroponics and this seemed like a great (cheap) way to start. As Aerogarden’s business model is definitely razor vs. blades, the grow lamps and consumables for the Aerogarden are quite expensive.

After an initial run with “official components”, I took what I learned and designed printable grow pod inserts. These are a much better design than the ones that Aerogarden sells in that they are roomier, giving the plant a solidly rooted foundation, and, quite frankly, they fit much better in that these snap into place and don’t have a long tail that bottoms out on the unit’s internal support structures.

They work great, too.

Lesson Learned: 3D printing can also be used to replace consumables in various kits, etc, thus disrupting the razor vs. blades business model. I don’t fault Aerogarden for their business model at all, but I do hold them accountable for the awful design of their “universal” grow pods. My design — while the mechanics of it are horrible — works much better and is fully reusable.

And it is awfully nice to have fresh parsley, basil, and other herbs all winter long.

Bird Cage Feeder

Bird Cage Feeder

Son: “I can’t feed Steve [our accidental parakeet] because his feeder is broken.”
Me: “OK. How did it break?”
Son: “I stepped on it.”
Me: “….”

Sometimes, there is no point in investigating further. Chaos surrounds an 11 year old. Embrace it or lose your sanity trying to fathom it.

Now, I could have easily hopped in the car and gone out to buy a new one. But what is the fun in that? Besides, this was, by far, the most complex piece of 3D modeling I had faced and I welcome a challenge.

It took me a while, but I came up with a design that seemed workable and, then, the first test print totally failed because I neglected to think through how the overhangs would be supported during the print. This was prior to my Ultimaker’s extruder upgrade and, thus, printing with support fluff wasn’t possible without the extruder jamming. Thus, I had to change the design a bit to include some cut-off tabs that would provide support during the print.

Took a while, but the end result has been working well enough for more than 6 months now. Steve seems happy enough with it.

Lesson Learned: Designing an object for 3D printing is more than just object design. You have to also consider how the object will be printed. An additive printer, like the Ultimaker, builds objects layer by layer. If the layer currently being printed has an overhang more than a few 1/10ths of a mm over the previous layer, it will sag. Bridges will work if the printer is properly calibrated. Slicing with support material can be another solution, but cleanup can leave a mess behind and wastes material.

Shower Pole End Cap (so glass door could pass)
Custom Washcloth Hooks & Toothpaste Tube Squisher

Upgrading the Bathroom

When we remodeled our bathroom, we overlooked two things. First, the need for a glass door between the shower area and the rest of the room to keep the water contained. Secondly, there were no washcloth hooks nor any place convenient to drape them!

Unfortunately, upon installing the door, it didn’t clear the shower head pole when swung inwards.

Thus, I spent some time with the calipers and designed a new end cap for the pole that had a flat side that the door would clear (as pictured). I also created some slide-on washcloth hooks that nicely fit the slate shelf inset in the shower wall.

Bonus picture; a printed toothpaste tube squisher (Thingiverse Object #12132.

Lesson Learned: When creating anything that friction fits with something else, you generally want to design the piece to be 0.2mm smaller than whatever it is sliding into (or 0.2mm larger, if sliding over). That seems to be a good starting point to create something that will fit tightly, but not too tight. Likely, you’ll need to experiment a bit to ensure the fit is correct and, to this end, learning to print only part of a model is quite useful (in whatever design software you use, you can typically create a big cube that obscures all but the fit-test portion of the print and subtract that from the overall object).

Bottom to a Soap Dispenser (to keep rust off the counter)

Fixing Random Dispensers

The problem with cheap metal soap dispensers is that the bottoms tend to rust out over time in wet environments (like, you know, the average bathroom or kitchen counter).

Fixing it is just a matter of keeping the thing off the counter far enough to keep it out of the water.

This is also another situation where press-fit works extremely well.

Just measure the diameter of the bottom of the object and create a disk in your 3D modeler that is about 3mm to 4mm bigger in diameter than the object. Cut out the middle of the disk (no need to waste the plastic) and extrude it into 3-space by about 3mm or 4mm. Then inset the outside edge and extrude above that ring such that you have a raised ring the same diameter as the bottom of your dispenser. Print and snap on. Done.

Lessons Learned: A 3D printer can be used to easily and greatly extend the livespan of objects used around the house. When printing, though, try to print in the final color you want. That orange ring fit so well, I couldn’t really get it off without potentially destroying it or the fragile (from rust) bottom of the dispenser. Should have printed it in clear or black in the first place. Oops.

Replacement Lock Handle
Dimmer Switch Knob

Repairing Old Stuff Around the House

Our neighborhood is full of houses — of Eichlers — that were all built in the early ’60s. They generally been remodeled at least once, often in the ’80s.

As such, there are lots of old bits in the house and, because they are Eichlers, replacing the old bits is often either difficult or expensive because of lack of availability.

Our neighbor’s sliding glass door had the locking mechanism’s handle break off. That little bit of plastic would have cost $40 to replace. 15 minutes with the calipers and I was able to produce a replacement that has been in use for many months.

Similarly, he had a dimmer switch whose knob crumbled (as old plastic is want to do). Trivial to print.

Not pictured, I’ve also printed a replacement microwave coupler as the old one split and wouldn’t turn the plate anymore. As well, a custom designed coupler between a squirrel cage fan and 4″ tubing for a solar heating solution.

Lessons Learned: I’m good at breaking old plastic things and a caliper + 3D Printer can fix my destruction cheaply!

Maglite Wall Mount

Mag-lite Flashlight Wall Mounts

This is Thingiverse Object #19767.

Printed two of these. One hangs in the garage, one hangs by the side of the bed.

Surprisingly strong.

Lessons Learned: When printing something that will support weight like this, a 40% in-fill with a hexagonal in-fill will produce an incredible strong part. Surprisingly strong.


The Space Shuttle

A little while ago, NASA dropped a treasure trove of 3D models on the Internet for free download.

So, of course, I had to print something. Looking through the models, the Shuttle seemed to be about the most straightforward (the small struts on the various other spacecraft would not print well at all). Thus I printed one.

Coincidentally, my wife had run into some NASA engineers at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. They were in town doing some work (normally based out East) and I extended an invitation to for lunch at Apple.

They were surprised and delighted to receive a printed Space Shuttle and have apparently put it on display in one of the NASA command centers!

Lesson Learned: You’d think printing the shuttle in landing position would make sense. But it doesn’t because those wings curve gently upward; do not sit flat on the print bed. Printing support material just makes it worse.

Instead, I printed the shuttle in launch position, with support material turned on and the quality came out quite a bit better. What you can’t see from the final model, but is apparent in some of the other pictures in my Flickr photo stream, is that the shuttle’s cargo bay is actually empty (but the cargo doors are more solid than reality).

Ultimately, it also drove home that there is a huge difference between a 3D model used to render something and a 3D model used to print something.

Multiple Ultimaker Upgrades
Razor Blade, Ultimaker Feet, Custom Tool Holder
Custom Fan Duct Spacer (and Fan Duct)

Printer Upgrades & Various Tools

If you purchase a 3D printer, the very first thing you should do is calibrate it. The very next thing is to print all possible replacement parts that can be printed. For the Ultimaker, most of the frame and body is wood. However, for RepRap (Huxley, in this case) and Rostock printers, there are many printed plastic parts that you should ensure that you have extras on hand just in case.

For the Ultimaker, I have printed filament holders (Thingiverse Object #10682), a nut knob (white thing on the extruder cap nut — Thingiverse Object #8903), a drive gear (Thingiverse Object #29260), a wedge to lock the extruder in place (Thingiverse Object #25436), a tool holder that I designed (Thingiverse Object #18098), feet (Thingiverse Object #16687), a razor blade holder (incredibly useful — have printed many — Thingiverse Object #13045), bits to manage the Bowden cable (Thingiverse Object #11864 and Object #24363), two different kinds of belt tensioners (Thingiverse Object #17058 and Object #12513) a fan shroud (Thingiverse Object #20459), I designed a spacer for the fan shroud to make it hot-end v2 compatible (Thingiverse Object #32612), and all the parts to make a new pressure driven extruder driver that is a significant upgrade over the friction gap one I use now (Thingiverse Object #26094).

Lessons Learned: Many. Owning a 3D printer in the hobbyist vein is akin to owning a classic British roadster. You’re guaranteed that there is always something in the electrical or mechanical that either needs to be fixed or could be upgraded. There is a library of parts you should always keep on hand and a set of tools that will always be nearby.

The community for the Ultimaker is fantastic. I’ve met some really neat people through the community and everyone is incredibly helpful. As far as I can tell, the same holds true for the other printers in the sort of Maker vein, too.

Custom Project Case
Raspberry Pi Case

Project Cases

I created an Infrared Blaster using an Arduino derivative platform that allows me to control arbitrary multi-media equipment via my computer’s USB port. Useful. It needed a case. So I designed and printed one.

With optimism that I’d have time to play with it, I also picked up a Raspberry Pi. It needed a case. Downloaded from Thingiverse (#25363) and printed.

Lessons Learned: I will never an excuse again to have a shoddy case for my projects. Better yet, the cases can be custom designed to exactly fit into wherever they are destined to be installed.

Unfortunately, the Pi case also drives home the need for a heated print bed. PLA and ABS — mores ABS — has a tendency to warp when printing large flat areas. A heated print bed addresses this issue. Parts ordered.

Most importantly, I’ve printed a few things for my son, including these drawer dividers for his sorting/collecting efforts, and now he has started designing his own things to print! Amazing to think he will grow up living pretty much his entire life with personal fabrication very much a reality.

5 Comments on "3D Printing: A Tour of Stuff"

  1. Very neat summary of a year with a printer! I especially like the closing thoughts — my oldest is only 3, but loves watching my Printrbot+. I hope he’ll learn to use it effectively at some point; it can take a lot of patience to get a successful print but as you show from many angles, the results can be very rewarding.

    Wondering what material most of those prints are? They looked like ABS to my eye, but I was then surprised if you were able to pull all that off without a heated bed?


    1. Thanks for the response. Your son, like mine, will grow up in a different world than us!

      They are all PLA. I’m building a heated bed now, but don’t plan on switching to ABS any time soon.


  2. Great write up Billl. I like the custom Aerogarden grow pods… great solution with the clear plastic.

    I have been making parts with a Sherline lathe and mill for a couple of years now, but have been chomping at the bit to add a 3D printer to the mix.



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