It’s been a while since the last post, but we’ve still been busy with a few projects (which will get updates here soon!).

One of the fun things keeping us busy are fidgets. These are little hand spinners that keep tactile thinkers busy. Out of all the things we’ve made, these are far and away the most popular so far!

Little hand spinners

Dog Treat Cookie Cutter

Thanks to this cool design from FabThis on Thingiverse we were able to make a few dog treat cookie templates for our friends at Naked Dog Bakery (also here). 

We tried making some different sized templates but really the design challenge was to create a stamp that can be used to make many at a time. 

Two 3D printed dog bone shaped cookie cutters and a $1.00 loonie coin for size comparison
Different sized 3D printed dog bone treat cookie cutters

Tinkercad has its limits, but it was a good enough program to multiply and merge 8 of these templates together. 

3D printing an 8-up template for bone-shaped dog treats
One great template times 8!

The first print suffered from low quality so we made some revisions to the infill, wall thickness, temperature, and speed and managed to produce a decent 8-up template. 

Two 8-up 3D printed dog bone cookie cutter templates
8-up cookie cutter templates for yummy bone shaped dog treats
 But, all-in-all a successful cookie template! Now we just have to see whether they work in the kitchen…

3D Printing: Top 9 Lessons From Year 1

How quickly a year passes. Last Christmas an Ultimaker2 finally arrived and since it’s shown up it’s printed about 350 hours of fun. Here are the top 9 lessons that have resulted from the first year of using this particular printer.

  1. Don’t Print a Piece of Wood

This seems like it should be self-evident, but it’s not. When a printer first shows up, the tendency is to print everything. But there is just no point in printing something that you can easily get from elsewhere. If you have a piece of wood—or a cup, or an old yoghurt container, or whatnot—there is no sense wasting time or effort on 3D printing it. Instead, try printing something you might not otherwise be able to make, such as a jointed toy or something fun.

  1. Slow Down, Heat Up

It takes time to figure out tolerances and what works well, but the biggest thing I found for printing PLA is to slow the printer speed down and make the nozzle hot. I have found that 220 degrees is hot enough to prevent clogging but not so hot that it melts too much, although that has happened once or twice with some specialty filament. Slowing the Ultimaker2 down is different than using a finer print setting, so don’t get confused between print resolution and print speed. It’s still possible to print with a higher resolution and do it fast. I’ve noticed two main problems with this particular printer that may or may not be the same as others: travel speed and retraction.

The Ultimaker2 (at least the one I have) has a tendency to travel fast from point to point. This occasionally results in the nozzle hitting the filament that has already been laid down, lifting it off the bed. This often means I have to abort the print, which can be very frustrating. It is possible to adjust the travel speed in the advanced settings, but it takes a bit of getting used to in order to look for and adjust the travel speed.

  1. Settings: Bed, Glue, Filament, Tension

Unfortunately, you’ll need to spend time with your printer finding the best settings—and sometimes even then you’ll have to adjust as you go.

The paper test for bed leveling seems to be popular and easy. You adjust your bed/nozzle settings to close the distance between the two, and then stick a piece of paper between them to check when it gets snagged by the tension; back it off a bit and that’s the distance one should be from the other for good printing. This method is pretty reliable because you can get a clear feeling for just how close to the bed the nozzle is. You will be able to feel the tension between nozzle and bed better than you will be able to measure the distance by sight.

Sticky beds are necessary if you want your print to be successful. There are a few options, including blue masking tape, hair-spray, or glue sticks. I use the blue tape for 3D pens, but since this printer has a heated bed it’s not necessary. I’ve never used hair-spray because I’m concerned that as an aerosol some errant particles might find their way into stepper motors or worm gears; not a risk I fancy taking. Using a stick of glue and spreading it with a foam brush works. I wet the brush with a water spray bottle (never pointing it at the printer) to spread the glue around on the bed. I still occasionally have prints pull off the bed, but that’s usually when I haven’t put down enough glue. A little will do, but it does need to be enough. Brims, rafts and supports are also really useful for anytime you need that extra bit of support.

I’ve used PLA filament for all my prints so far and am generally happy with it. Although there are a few spools of ABS around, I haven’t printed with it yet because I don’t have the best ventilation going on right now. The first project will definitely be an eNABLE gauntlet, for which I also have two hardware kits.

I have also found that it’s a good idea to have a bunch of different filament options around. It’s much nicer to be able to print in white, black, or red—or any of the other dozens of colours that are available.

I confess that tension is something I continue to have trouble with. My printer uses a Bowden tube set-up, which means that the motor driving the extrusion is 60 cm or so away from the hot end of the nozzle. If the nozzle gets the least bit clogged, the driver motor quite easily starts to chew the filament up, and then everything gets right borked from there. Apparently achieving the correct tension is quite dependent on the consistency of the filament diameter, but it still feels like a hit-and-miss for me. This is definitely one of the most frustrating fails, though, mostly because it happens when it’s unexpected. Which leads to…

  1. Try, Try, and Try Again

No surprise – it’s unlikely you’ll be as successful as you want. It’s also important to get a sense of what’s possible, and where you either need to make adjustments or give up and move on. And sometimes you’ll come to see the answer to a problem several projects later. Voronoi hearts, for instance. Next time I try a Voronoi heart I will use a brim (a _really good idea for prints where you have a small surface touching the bed), slow down, and print at around 220 degrees.

But it’s important to keep trying because a) you’ll end up with a bunch of fun stuff you’ve printed successfully, and b) you’ll learn and get better. Double-plus good.

  1. Experiment With Abandon

Experimentation is also really important. It’s worth it to take a chance and try something new because, hey, you have a frick’n 3D printer. Thingiverse is a constantly good source for free files and there are many other sites out there, like YouMagine, or Autodesk123D.

It’s also important to experiment in your tools. I got some super-thin spatulas to help lift well-stuck prints from the bed. Couldn’t think of doing it without them, now that I have them. They really make it heaps easier when you have to gently lift an obstinate print from the bed and it just isn’t cooperating. I also have a bunch of small files. These make it easy to touch up the prints quickly, and they don’t break like my blasted thumb-nail does when I try to pry unwanted bits off.

  1. Not Everyone Is As Excited As Me

I totally confess: I thought everyone would be as jazzed about this as I am. But, what I’ve found is that most people aren’t as interested as me at all. The few people who are interested, however, tend to be enthusiasts, who punch above their weight interest-wise.

This is not really that unexpected. The current state of 3D printing is still pretty nascent and it’s hard to print anything big or realistic without an awful lot of money, time, patience, or happy mix of all three. It’s quite likely that in the coming years the state of 3D printing will improve and printing multi-colour, finely detailed, fast prints that are bigger than your forearm will be commonplace. Until then, this is definitely still the domain of the nerds. Which is fine with me.

  1. Take; Give

I have benefited greatly—if not almost exclusively—from the many dedicated, clever, creative, talented, and generous people at the vanguard of this movement. I am deeply grateful for the magnanimity of the community. There are so many models and designs that are already available freely that it is kind-of mind-boggling. And the free tools like Blender, MeshMixer, SketchUp, TinkerCAD, or so many others make it extremely easy to model objects in 3D. Not that I’m all that good at that part yet.

The other side of having access to so many quality resources for free, though, is that there is an incumbent responsibility to give back. So far I haven’t been able to post to communities with my dazzling fresh, new designs—mostly because I have none. But what I have been able to do is to print and give away the prints that I’ve made. I find people mostly like them, and there are dozens if not hundreds of different simple things that can be easily printed and given away. And as a makerspace we’re supporting other local companies, like Matter and Form, Structur3d, Tiko, Mosaic, and ReDeTec by buying their gear. Some has arrived, some not yet; but the anticipation is palpable around here.

  1. Learn From The Community

Speaking of the community, it’s also a great place to learn. Second confession: I don’t really do this enough.

One of the best things about getting into 3D printing now is the relative maturity of the technology available to communities of users or tinkers. Blogging and search engines make finding self-help near-indescribably easier than in the days of fanzines, message boards, and loud modems. Searching for community hubs and help forums has, I think, given me back years of my life stolen while trying to figure out why a print is not working. Thanks, community. You rock.

  1. 3D Pens Are Frustrating, and Fun

We also acquired some 3D pens, which are instant attention magnets. They do work a bit differently than conventional printers, but really only because the extruding nozzle is controlled by meCode and not gCode.

Some people use 3D pens like 2D pens and draw blobs of goo. Others, however, are brilliant and create unique, beautiful sketches in the air. It’s rare, but nice when you are surprised by someone else’s inspiration.

Unfortunately, though, 3D pens are finicky and a bit frustrating. They are fairly straightforward, but fixing clogs, etc., really requires taking the whole blasted contraption apart. Ok if you’re into tinkering, but a right pain if you’re not.

And that’s it. That’s all we’ve learned from a year of 3D printing. Well, not really. But that’s the top 9.

Printing a scanned model bust