I Finally Got a 3D Printer!

I recently used the pandemic quarantine as an excuse to get on the 3D printer bandwagon.

I frequently need to make something, often something specific, but sometimes just anything at all. Being on the computer all the time gets me down, but my facilities for making physical things with my hands are limited (I live in a small apartment) and with the pandemic, I can’t get out to shared makerspaces and the like.

I’ve know about 3D printing for a while, especially from my time at TechShop. Of all the amazing things to do there, 3D printing was one area that I kinda avoided, for various reasons. It was intimidating all around, especially the modeling / design part of the process, and it was very slow. Given that time slots there were limited, I just didn’t feel like waiting hours for a part to print, especially since I’d probably need to tweak something and print it again. And I assumed everything was expensive.

Over Christmas, with plenty of spare time on my hands, I looked into 3D printers again. Found out there are some decent ones for fairly cheap – I could buy four of mine for the $1000 I thought I’d have to pay – and the materials are really cheap. (I printing almost every waking hour for the first 3-4 weeks I had the printer, and in all that time went through just one $22 spool of filament.)

I also dinked around some more with 3D design software, and discovered that, while far from ideal, I could use the free online tool Tinkercad to make printable 3D models. (And, also cool, there are a zillion designs out there that you can just download and print, or tweak and print, on sites like Thingiverse and many others.)

So, when I got back home after Christmas break I went ahead and ordered a printer – a Creality Ender 3 V2 – and a roll of filament (green, for frogs, why not?)

My first print was a strategically chosen owl for my wife. She likes owls, and I thought maybe if my first print was an owl for her she might like me (and my new toy). I chose wisely.

After that many of my early prints were actually parts for the printer, which as a friend pointed out I wouldn’t have had to print if I didn’t have the printer, but whatever. It was fun to make it work better, do new things (like the webcam), and make it look cool with some green bling!

Everything that is green in this photo is something that I printed on the printer, for the printer, to make it better or do something extra (like the camera on the right side to monitor printing).

Getting the 3D printer did a lot of good things for me. For a fairly small investment it provided a vehicle for learning about 3D modeling, material science and fabrication considerations, and design more broadly, both from functionality and aesthetic standpoints. I had to learn about Raspberry Pi and Octoprint to run it, which will pay dividends for another photography project I’ve been trying to work on. And I can make things, albeit fairly small things. Still need a ShopBot and a laser cutter and a water jet… ;-)

So far I’ve used the printer to make:

  • VESA mounts for two computer monitors to mount them on my desk
  • Clips to organize wires going to computer, monitors, other peripherals
  • Key fob for my truck
  • Various Valentine’s Day gift doodads
  • Walkie-talkie mount for truck
  • Remote control housing for old-fashioned camera
  • Pegboard hooks and holders
  • Webcam covers for computers
  • Mounts for thermometers in my truck (it’s old enough it doesn’t have a built-in thermometer)
  • Case for marbles and dice
  • Tons of calibration cats
  • Slim wallets for Kari
  • Replacement knob for a broken one in my truck
  • A toe splint for when I broke my toe(nail?)
  • Various parts for the printer:
    • Guide for filament to the extruder
    • Covers for the rail slots
    • Case for Raspberry Pi
    • Drag chains for all the various cables
    • Camera mount for Raspberry Pi Camera for print monitoring and timelapses
    • LED light strips for lighting the print for monitoring and timelapses
    • Handle for bed to ease leveling
Pegboard hooks and mounts!