Imagine this...

    You draw an image. In that image, you draw it to scale, and show exact specifications in all three dimensions. If it helps, think of an architect's plans, or a technical drawing. Then you send that drawing to a near-magical device that turns your theoretical ideas into real world objects.

    Yes, that's why I decided to get a 3D printer.

    I discussed this with some people I know, and shortly thereafter, I was asked two innocuous questions:

    1. "What can you do with a 3D printer?" and...
    2. "Why would you want one?".

    If you're wondering, let me ask you some questions that may help you to find the answer(s) that best apply to you:

    • "Do you do any sort of prototyping, product testing, or marketing where a small scale model may help in your endeavours?"
    • "Do you like designing things yourself, or tweaking things to suit your needs and/or tastes?"
    • "Do you have any interest in technical drawing, 3D graphics, Computer Aided Design (CAD) work?"
    • "Have you had a relatively simple plastic part fail on your <insert device/doodad/thingy here> and wanted a replacement part?"
    • "Do you think the price for some small plastic parts are prohibitively expensive, or are the parts nearly impossible to get?"
    • "Are you familiar with how to use vernier calipers?"
    • "Are you willing to tinker with print settings, perhaps the design of your part in order successfully print your part?"
    • "Do you have any relatively new computer powerful enough to run the various CAD/CAM/slicer software?"
    • "Do you have somewhere that a printer can run continuously, overnight, or even for multiple days continuously without being disturbed by partners, children, pets, but still be observed should anything go wrong?"
    • "Do you have anywhere you can run a printer for hours, perhaps even days on end, that's not going to bother the aforementioned family members and/or friends/neighbours?

    ... Then you're probably interested in using a 3D printer... if you aren't already considering getting one.

    However, it's not as simple as using a traditional printer where you simply stick your ink and paper in and hit "print". There's a bit of a learning curve. So let me give you the broad strokes. Let's start with <drum roll please>

    Choosing a 3D printer:

    There are a lot of printers out there. From cheap kits with negligible instruction and cost-saving (or just cheap and nasty) parts, ordered through eBay or AliExpress, to "off the shelf" pre-built models like the DaVinci models in your local store. Going beyond that, there are the higher end consumer brands like "Lulzbot", "Ultimaker", and of course the much-praised Prusa range (which many cheap models are based on), all the way to the industrial brands like Stratasys (that I've used at previous workplaces)... but start at roughly $50,000.00 Australian when you first get set up. You have got to be serious about prototyping in order to justify that kind of expense.

    Choosing a printer comes down to the usual considerations:

    1. Budget.
    2. Build space/volume (the maximum object size the printer can make).
    3. Expected workload of the printer? Three cheap ones for a basic print farm and quantity of production? Or one expensive one for quality?
    4. Intended use of printed parts... if your printer can't work with the materials you need, then obviously it's not a good choice.
    5. Space. Where are you going to put this? How about all the consumables (filament, spare parts, glue stick, tape, etc)
    6. Availability of consumables, replacement parts.
    7. Technical skills (do you want to build a kit from scratch, upgrade a cheap printer with "improved" 3D printed parts and/or better electronics? Or skip the "hard stuff" and just plug it in and go?)
    8. Are you willing to learn, tweak and make many, many mistakes but take full control of your print... or work with pre-made processes for the ease of use.. and still make many mistakes, but avoid some problems using the recommended settings and processes?

    In the end I did a lot of research, I looked at things like price, and availability in Australia, however it really came down to four things for me.

    1. Price: I didn't want to spend too much on my first printer... but I didn't want rubbish that would cause me a great deal of frustration... or worse. When reading about the cheap printers I came across a trend that I should at least warn you about. A disturbing number of cheaper models (particularly the Anet A8) have numerous reports of catching on fire. (Google "Anet A8 fire" if you don't believe me). However, any printer poorly maintained can set fire to your house... so please keep that in mind.
    2. Community, and customer support: I can't emphasize the importance of this. Sticking to popular brands is a good choice, as there's a lot of support and guidance. I found that buying through an Australian reseller was actually cheaper than buying my printer directly from the manufacturer overseas when the reseller company took care of the import duties, and had a faster delivery window than the manufacturer. When my kit arrived, it was missing a part... (although included gummy bears) so the reseller had a part printed and sent to me within a few business days. I was up and running the following weekend.
    3. General reviews, and capability: I wanted something that was well regarded, and demonstrated a reliable track record. Reviews helped me to understand the things people liked and didn't like with particular models, features that made life easier, and ways to overcome the shortfalls.
    4. My objectives: I'm a technical guy, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about 3D printers. So I wanted a relatively "open source" system that would enable me to tweak things and replace things as I needed to. However, I was also considering going for the most "build volume for buck" ratio... which isn't always perfectly aligned with the open source objective.

    In the end I considered this, and for me, it came down to two models... Creality 10 series, or the Prusa MK3s kit... both have substantial pros and cons, and I was honestly torn for a while. Please note that there are many brands out there, and I'm not saying that my preferences are necessarily anything like your own.

      Pros Cons
    Creality 10 Series
    • Depending on the age of the model, you can get a 10 series printer for 8-55% less cost than the Prusa MK3S.
    • Huge build volume. 300 x 300 x 400 mm. A significant boost over the Prusa's 250 x 210 x 200mm. 36 million cubic millimetres versus the Prusa's 10.5 million. (so this has 3.42x the volume).
    • Solid community.
    • Lots of opportunity to upgrade the printer.
    • Demonstrated a long history of producing "very good" print quality.
    • Quite a few for sale on the second hand market.
    • Almost completely assembled. Can be up and running within a couple of hours. Less opportunity for me to stuff up the build.
    • Nice touch screen on newer/more expensive models is easy to use.
    • Very detailed and well-written assembly instructions. Simple construction as it is 95% built already.
    • Cost for modern models can be much closer to the MK3s kit, (at roughly $1500) and while the build volume is substantial, the overall quality of the printer is a little lower. (According to an industrial designer former colleague of mine who owns one, and uses the Prusa MK3S at work).
    • Print quality is good out of the box, but there are numerous "upgrades" needed to improve the quality of prints to something closer to the Prusa.
    • The overall design of the printer takes up a lot of space.
    • Not quite as open source as the Prusa.
    • Not as many sellers with stock in Australia when I was looking.
    • Pre-built design means I don't learn as much as I would with a kit. There really is a greater understanding when you've assembled it yourself.
    • Trying to justify a big printer to better half is more difficult. Especially if you have to build an enclosure for it as well... and have limited space.
    Prusa MK3S Kit
    • Insanely well regarded printer. Excellent print quality. It actually rivals, and in some ways, exceeds the quality of prints I've seen on industrial FDM printers... that cost anywhere between 7-30 times the price. It's also the inspiration for most "knock offs" at the cheaper end of the spectrum, like the Anycubic i3, amongst many others.
    • Respectable build volume: 250 x 210 x 200mm is still very usable, and reduces some height-related issues.
    • Huge support community.
    • Every part is decent quality (Noctua fans, Einsy control board, decent power supply). Each part is tested before it leaves the factory.
    • Shops carry this printer in Australia, and it might be cheaper to order it from the resellers (while gaining customer support).
    • The kit is extremely well designed, assembly instructions aren't perfect, but very close. Well worth the time to read the online manual, especially the comments made by other users on each build step to avoid problems.
    • If you don't want to build the printer, you can get the shop to do that for an additional fee (usually $250-300).
    • Almost any part can be re-printed from freely available files on the Prusa site. Great integration with external systems such as Octaprint.
    • Included software works very well, and is intuitive to use.
    • Automatic bed leveling (eliminates a major cause of print failures).
    • Magnetically attached, flexible spring steel build sheets make model removal way easier than previous "scraper" methods on glass heat beds.
    • Kit build means every screw, nut, belt and part have been put there by you. The resulting familiarity with the printer is incredibly useful for long term maintenance and upgrades later. As are the detailed assembly instructions.
    • It's a surprisingly quiet 3D printer, and can be made more quiet by placing it in an enclosure, and/or running in "stealth" mode.
    • Significant drop in build volume compared to the CR 10 series. (The MK3S has roughly 29% of the CR-10 build volume)
    • Not a cheap kit to buy (at circa $1600 Australian) it's going to exclude people on lower budgets. Add extras like a second build sheet for $50-$90, another $300 or so for assembly, and another $800 for the Multi-Material Upgrade (MMU) and you're pushing the price closer to $3000, rather than the $650-$1480 Australian for the CR-10 series. However, the newest model of CR 10 is close to $1500, and the current base model of Prusa is $1600 is closest "like for like" comparison.
    • The assembly took me roughly 19 hours. (Including 2 hours looking for a missing part that wasn't there). You can do it in far less, but I really took my time, and got it as precisely done as possible. (I spent 4 hours just ensuring the frame had less than 5 microns of warp and rock... using a dial gauge and my machined table. I recommend a table saw top for extreme flatness.
    • The precision for X/Y axis is surprisingly good for belt-driven actuators (Z uses 2 ball screws), however I suspect greater reliability/long term accuracy can be had if upgraded to all ball screw driven actuators.
    • There are still potential upgrades to be had, however, I'm still running as stock for now.
    • The extruder is very good, but if you're using lots of flexible filament like TPU, there are extruders out there like E3D's "Hemera" that will substantially increase printing speed when using these materials. However, the Hemera offers little or no benefit over the stock extruder when using other materials, and is more painful to clean out.

     

    The deciding vote.... Prusa... for space limitations and domestically available support reasons... and the fact that my last workplace ordered a bunch of them and I was very impressed with the build quality. I also like the fact that you can use the existing printer to print off a bunch of spare parts should anything break, or you just want to build another printer!

     

    Building the Prusa.... A journey of several hundred steps begins with a packet of... Gummy bears?

    Ok so while I've used multiple 3D printers before for work purposes. My understanding of them has been rather superficial. I know how to load files, and print them using a high-end industrial printer. However, things are quite a bit different for the home user when the device is substantially stripped down... (at least from the perspective of a $50K printer). There's often a great deal of educational merit to using cheap-end equipment in any field. You not only learn about the problems that aren't automatically solved for you,  you also learn techniques to work around the limitations of your hardware. This increased skill set can only improve things further when you get to use better equipment.

    Who should build the kit themselves?

    To save you some time reading through my tale, I thought I'd summarize it here:

    The Prusa MK3S was my first 3D printer that I've owned, and while it is not the most difficult build I've ever done, it's certainly quite involved. I honestly wouldn't recommend the Prusa to beginners and non-technical people if you're buying it in kit form. If you're spending the extra cash to have it made for you, then that's an entirely different matter. Tech heads, electronics people, and people used to carefully reading instructions, and following them precisely will have no problems assembling this kit. If assembling Ikea furniture is difficult for you, get it pre-made, get help from a friend, (a beer is not enough compensation for a build that might well take days the first time).. alternatively, you could simply buy a different printer. 

    Back to my construction tale....

    Reading the instructions, I noticed that they include a bag of gummy bears as a reward system for going through the hours of construction. I particularly liked the reward system... however, I can imagine that the bears are often consumed before anyone reads the instructions on how to ration them on a section by section basis. Upon opening the box, you are indeed greeted by a bag of gummy bears on top.

    <I need to insert a picture of the gummy bears here>

    Gummy bears aside, the kit is packaged in resealable plastic bags, each clearly labelled for each section of the assembly. Whether it's the initial frame, the Y-axis, the heat bed, the Z-axis, the X-axis, the extruder, the power supply, the control circuitry, and the wiring. There's usually two bags for each section, with one bag for the screws and various odds and ends, and another bag with the corresponding printed parts. Each bag has a to scale image of all the parts, so you can quickly identify which screws are what. This is particularly handy when you have both 18mm and 20mm M3 screws, and they have to go in the right places.

    I can't stress this enough. Read the instructions for each step entirely before you so much as gather the parts in question. When I mean entirely, look at the pictures closely. The book is good, but the online assembly instructions are better. You can zoom in and read the various comments and experiences that other builders have gone through. Learn from other people's mistakes, they've shared their pain so you don't have to experience it yourself!

    Starting the build:

    I had already read the entire online assembly manual twice while the kit was being shipped to me. I didn't expect to remember much, but I feel that seeing what each stage brought to the printer, what it looked like, and the most concerning comments at each stage came in handy when I had moments like "Hey this might be the bit where over-tightening might cause a problem". or "Some poor guy managed to push out the bearings when installing the rods here"... "This Y-axis drive belt is exactly the right length, don't trim it like the guy who thought this belt was the X-axis one". 

    A note on tools:

    The tools included in this kit involved several allen/hex keys (one with a ball head), a standard #2 sized philips/cross type screwdriver, and a pair of needle nose pliers. I found that a pair of scissors, tweezers, a pair of side cutters, and small socket driver (for certain nuts) made things easier along the way. However, it is entirely possible to do this with just the included tools.

    Getting off to a good start....

    Assembling the frame is simple, yet surprisingly finnicky. The parts are aluminium extrusion, and a precision cut sheet of metal for the upright frame. Despite the fact that this simply involves installing screws and tightening the parts together you should do this slowly and carefully.

    The order that the screws are tightened, as well as the extent of the tightening on each and every screw can have a significant impact on the final accuracy of the printer. If you tighten things too much, that may cause warping in the frame. If you don't line up all your parts very carefully before tightening, you can have a rock in your printer, which will increase vibrations, noise, loosen screws more frequently, and cause all sorts of other problems.

    The system can compensate for a small amount of warp... but go beyond 2mm out on any dimension, and the first calibration will tell you to go back and build it again!

    Ok, so I got a little carried away with this, I was tightening screws by 1/8th turns, on a precision ground flat cast iron worktable, that (depending on the temperature at the time) will be out from complete flatness somewhere between 3-5 microns (1/1000th millimetre). However, if you have a granite benchtop, or table saw, that's going to be more than flat enough. I spent hours doing, and re-doing this until my dial gauge said that there was less than 5 microns when pushed in numerous locations on the frame... but the screws were sufficiently tight. Often I'd tighten one, and the precision would drop substantially.

    Moving beyond the frame:

    In a very real way, once you have the frame done, you generally start from the ground up and add bits as you go. So you start by assembling the Y axis, the heat bed, and add the Z axis, then Extruder and X axis, do the electronics and wiring, then the preflight check. However, due to a Y belt holder part that was actually missing, I did things somewhat out of order while I waited for the part to arrive.

    Some parts like the heat bed and the X and Z axis assembly was pretty darn easy. However, the extruder took me quite some time... somewhere around 5 hours. Mostly because there are around 60 steps in the assembly, and each can be quite particular in how it is done. Since the extruder really is "where the magic happens" I made sure it was done as carefully as possible.

    I'm not going to go through the whole assembly, that is easily seen by visiting the Prusa web site. However, the instructions are very detailed and refined, but it's a long road. I can see why people charge $300 or more dollars for assembly. I'm sure they're faster due to practice, but it's certainly not making them much money if they're starting out.

    However, I believe the assembly for me was the right choice, and I've got a very good understanding of it's structure, and how it works. However, please don't let me deceive you into thinking that I know everything. There's a lot I don't know, and there's a lot of skills needed to actually print well.

    For that, have a look at my next article... Initial prints and beyond...

    Stay safe, and have fun!

    Ham.


     

    Ok, so I have a printer, and it's built. I loaded my filament, calibrated the printer using the in-built wizard, and found a list of pre-prepared prints on the included SD card. I haven't even looked at getting the software to make my own models, or prepare them for the printer. However, as a first run, I chose a miniature Triceratops skull... (because it's way more interesting than the other options).

    I had ordered several types of filament, from ABS, PET-G, even some carbon fibre infused polycarbonate. Each have their pros, cons, and suited applications. I started with ABS as it's the most common, and one of the most forgiving materials you can use.

    The first try....

    The first attempt didn't work very well at all... it came unstuck from the base mid-print, and was effectively ruined. So I tried something a bit simpler, and a simple plastic "Prusa" logo still came unstuck. So I found out that uneven heating/cooling caused the plastic to curl and lift from the heat bed. So I went online and they said... ambient temperature is too low. Heat it up. So I turned the heater on, and things got better. However, a Prusa logo isn't the most exciting thing ever...  successful or otherwise.

    The second try at the Triceratops...

    This one worked, but had loads of support material that was attached. So using the Prusa-supplied needle-nosed pliers and a few minutes later, it was clean! The first successful (and interesting) print!

    Moving beyond the pre-installed models...

    There's only so many Bench testing models (also known as "Benchy's") and pre-supplied models that you would ever want. I think they're fundamentally designed for testing print quality and little else. However, you don't need to be a CAD wizard to print far more useful things. In fact there are whole web sites dedicated to supplying pre-made STL files for free or often-low-cost. But let's first look at the software any 3D printer owner will have access to. The slicer.

    Slicer software explained:

    If you're downloading fun models to print from the Internet, you'll find that many 3D printed object files come in computer-friendly formats like "STL" files (although there are many other types out there that differ... depending on which application was used to create the file). These files, if opened up on a computer, just look like any 3D computer generated graphics. However, your 3D printer can't interpret a 3D object file, instead it needs to be told exactly where and how to move the extruder, and where and in what amounts should plastic be put. These sets of instructions are outlined in a very old language called "G-Code" which has been around since the 1960s, when computers were mere abacuses compared to most peoples modern smart watch. G-code has been used for computer controlled manufacturing for decades... and as such it is both well developed and archaic. Which means two things:

    • It's not intuitive to read. (G code is actually a short version of "G and M Code", based on the fact that most lines/commands start with a G or an M... but if you read other sources, going back even further, G stands for Geometry.. which seems somewhat likely given that that's much of what G-code deals with). Although it should be noted that this still isn't the official name. If you care, it's called ISO 6983 (also RS-274)... but that's not meaningful to most people.
    • Since it's designed to run on very slow, old computers, it's incredibly efficient. Even the cheapest modern 3D printer/CNC control boards can easily handle most 3D printing tasks. However, there are advantages to buying better control boards like more accurate/faster prints, as well as quieter operations, better power efficiency, and additional safety features.

    The good news is, that you don't have to know G-Code because the slicer takes care of that for you.

    So a slicer software app basically takes the 3D model, and slices it into numerous horizontal layers, that the printer can build one layer at a time. Much like a brick layer would a brick wall. You start by creating the shape of the house with a layer of bricks on a foundation, and then build the wall up vertically, layer by layer. (Or in this case, slice by horizontal slice). Each slice is then broken down further into a very long list of precise operations, each listed sequentially in the form of G-code.

    Model to G-code
    Slicer software takes 3D models like this Apollo Lunar Landing Module (in Prusa Slicer) on the left, and converts them to a series of printer-friendly G-Code instructions much like the ones found on the right. Please note that there are hundreds if not thousands of lines more of code to do something as intricate as this. The number of instructions goes up significantly, as the objects size, height, and the number of details included increases. However, it may be significantly shorter if the layers become thicker, and the details omitted.

     

    There are numerous slicer programs out there. Some are free, some are quite expensive. I've only been printing for a couple of weeks at home, so I am just using the "Prusa Slicer" because it has 90% of the features of more advanced models, it's free, and it is specifically designed for my printer, so that substantially reduces the amount of tweaking I have to do in order to get a great result.

    Some of the popular slicing software options include:

    • Manufacturer based options like "Prusa Slicer", "Creality Slicer", and others. (This is the way I have gone at home)
    • Cura, this is a very popular choice.
    • Simplify3D
    • More advanced users might use Fusion360 (Which is actually CAD/Slicer software all in one, and free for hobbyists. I haven't gone this way because I haven't configured the software to use my printer yet.. and I'm in no rush at this point).

    Now each of them have their pros and cons. I have only used six differing programs in my work places, and at home. I can't really speculate on the majority of them. If you're interested in trying them, feel free! Just don't think you're "stuck" with only one option. Many are free, so you lose very little by installing them. Just remember to read the instructions, and look at how other people have used that software with similar models of printer.

    In short, you install a slicing app, run the app. Download an STL file from your favourite 3D objects site (I like Thingiverse.com) drag/open the file in your slicer. Tweak the settings to suit the material, perhaps adding supports and/or a brim where needed, and slice it into G-Code. Export that G-code to your SD card (or send it to the printer directly if your computer is attached using the appropriate app. It might be Pronterface if you use a Prusa, or something else entirely if you have a different printer). Once the printer starts working on it...

    Wait a few.. hours... or however long it takes. Assuming nothing goes wrong, you should have a finished print at the end.

    Note: This will print someone else's 3D model verbatim without any real possibility of meaningful change. If it's just what you need, then great! However, it's like sticking to a particular recipe, you can make that meal again and again, but you'll never learn to really cook if you don't take control of the ingredients, try differing approaches, and see if you can't find something that works a little better for your tastes/needs.

    But what if I want to design or tweak things myself?

    Slicer software is effectively a translation program that ends up with machining instructions. As such they're sometimes called "Computer Aided Machining" (CAM) apps. Dedicated slicers do not do design work. For that you need some form of Computer Aided Design (CAD) program. Some applications, like Fusion 360 are a CAD app with in-built CAM capability, so they can be used to print 3D objects directly without the help of an additional slicer program.

    CAD apps vary from entirely free, to frighteningly expensive. For the average hobbyist, they're likely to be using apps at the cheaper end of the spectrum. However, everyone is different, so here are some of the popular choices:

    • Fusion 360 (Free for hobbyists, lots of YouTube instructional videos!)
    • Sketchup (Free for web interface use)
    • FreeCAD
    • TinkerCAD
    • BlocksCAD (used for teaching 3D modelling in schools, lots of tutorial videos on YouTube)
    • Creo (not cheap but works very well)
    • Solid Works
    • Blender (free 3D animation/imaging app, but is very good at CAD.... but has steep learning curve)
    • Sculptris (If you're coming from an arty background, this probably works well for you)

    There are many, many others... so find what you like. I use Fusion, and although the interface isn't as intuitive as others, there are some amazing features in there that simplify complex operations. If you're going to give it a try, make sure you watch a couple of introductory videos on YouTube (there's many of them). However, features that I find particularly useful include:

    • S keyboard short cut (search for functions, and potentially add them to your short list, raised by the S key).
    • Offset plane (essential for putting things off your existing object, so you can connect them later)
    • Loft. Want a weird shaped tool dust port to connect to a circular vacuum hose? Let the software join the weird and taper/warp into a circle of specific dimension.
    • Shell. Draw an object, but want to make it hollow? Shell can make it a certain thickness all the way around, by either filling inwards, or outwards.
    • R = rectangle (or square)
    • C = Circle
    • E = Extrude/Cut
    • I = Inspect (measures the length between two points, and other useful things).

    Shortcut keys are much faster than using the menus. Watch your speed increase almost exponentially.

    In any case, whatever app you use to do your designing in. Know that the process is Design (resulting in an STL or other file) > Slice (G-Code) > Print.

    So for me, my workflow is:

    1. Measure everything with a vernier caliper, and if needed, take a photo of the things/shapes my models will need to attach to.
    2. Design what I need in Fusion 360 or download the model file from the Internet if it meets my needs.
    3. Save/Export the resulting STL file to Prusa Slicer.
    4. Tweak the slicer to suit the project and material.
    5. Save to SD Card & safely eject it from the computer.
    6. Put SD card in the printer, turn it on, and select "Print from SD card"
    7. Select the file to print, ensure the printer is ok... and off it goes.
    8. I generally keep an eye on my print for the first 10 mins, just to make sure it is properly attached to the heat bed, and that the process looks ok.
    9. When finished, I let the printer cool down for about 5-10 minutes, take the model off, and clean up any brim/support material if needed.
    10. I clean up the heat bed with windex/isopropyl alcohol.
    11. I then unload the filament from my printer, put it in a container with dessicant/silica gel to keep it in good condition for next time.
    12. Shut down the printer.

     Some of the stuff that I've done...

    I can't say that I'm an expert, but I have basically been slowly building the complexity of my workflow up. Most of the stuff I've done is limited to printing spare parts for my 3D printer, and vacuum adaptors for various wood working tools, so I can connect my workshop vacuum to my thickness planer, my oversized disk sander, and my electric planer to name a few.

    I started with simple things like a 65mm to 35mm vacuum hose adaptor for the thickness planer... mostly because I keep borrowing the adaptor from my table saw and sometimes forget to put it back. As a 3D model, it's a series of simple tapered cylinders, based on a series of nice circles, all concentrically located on one plane.

    This is the Fusion 360 model (left) and the same model imported into Prusa Slicer (right). I found that my first print had some bed adhesion issues, so doubting the efficacy of a brim (sacrificial bed adhesion support) I massively over engineered my own sacrificial flange to ensure it wasn't going anywhere. This was massive overkill. However, about 4 minutes on a disk sander ground the entire flange off and the part works beautifully!

     .... and the result:

    Here is the grey adaptor after being successfully used as intended.... Now I just have to empty the vacuum a bit too frequently for my taste

     The next step.... another adaptor for the disk sander:

    This is just another circular vacuum adaptor. Nothing particularly challenging. However, I did find that my tolerances were a little tight at the sander's end. I should have made the adaptor about 0.1mm wider.

    The model of adaptor for the disk sander.

     

    Fluorescent green ensures that I don't lose this adaptor.

     Moving beyond circles... the DeWalt planer vacuum adaptor.

    I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with DeWalt gear. Sometimes DeWalt just loves to make something a little more difficult than necessary. I bought this electric planer years ago and it works well for a hand held electric planer. However, I never received any sort of attachment, or bag to collect the insane amount of wood chips generated by this tool. Instead, it flings the chips out, completely unfiltered, or even unhindered out to the right of the device. If you're a right handed person, you basically send a torrent of shavings and dust into the face of anyone to your right. If you're a left handed person, it spits it directly at you. Neither option is particularly safe.

    To make matters worse...

    DeWalt designed this thing to have an unusually shaped dust port, with motor housings packed close to it. I have never seen a commercially available adaptor, so off to make my own....

    This shows the dust port and the neighbouring protrusions/housing nearby (top left), my attempts at measuring the taper of the dust port (top right), and two different angles of the 3D model I built (bottom left and right). I actually used the top-left image as a "canvas" in Fusion360. Then I scaled the image using the information gained doing the measurements in the top right image, then simply traced the shape of the dust port (very closely) and modelled it from there to suit a 35mm vacuum hose. I found that going much thicker than 3mm was going to hit the surrounding housings, but 3mm with 25% infill works very well.

     

     I have fitted the adaptor to the planer, and it fits as well as any professionally made adaptor. However, I haven't tested my vacuums ability to keep up with this planer. The whole adaptor is 12cm long, but with the vacuum hose sticking out roughly 50cm with hose attached, I do wonder if it'll make the planer difficult or cumbersome to use.

    I'll keep you posted.

    Where to from here?

    While I'm currently building an enclosure for the 3D printer, and I'll need to print a few parts for that. It's not going to be heavily reliant on the printer for componentry. I'm also going to use a webcam and Octoprint to manage it out in my cold workshop from the comfort of my home. So this is something I'll definitely be writing about in the not-too-distant future.

    Looking beyond that...

    I'm seriously tempted to build a 3D printed CNC router for my wood working. There are a few on Thingiverse, but perhaps the most famous/cheapest one is the "MPCNC" which stands for "Mostly printed CNC". However, I am thinking of mounting mine onto the wood trolley vertically to save floor space. As such, I'd need to design the vertical axis to run on ball screws instead of a belt.

    I'm sure I'll add things to the site when I have more progress to report.

    Until then, stay safe and happy tinkering!

    Ham.


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