One dads experience with 3D printing

We are living in an amazing time where all of that great stuff from our childhoods is vintage and cool again. All but perhaps the haircut st...

We are living in an amazing time where all of that great stuff from our childhoods is vintage and cool again. All but perhaps the haircut styles...but give it time ... I am sure. Thanks to this nostalgic mentality it is easier than ever to relate to our children, be it through gaming, the Marvel cinematic universe or the fact that nearly every movie and show we grew up on has either seen a reboot or has on coming in the near future. With this in mind I set out to find a way to connect with my son.

I grew up with a Mr Fixit father and I credit my creative spirit to the time we spent in the garage making and fixing things & Legos, gotta thank Lego too!

My dad taught me wood working skills, how to weld, basic mechanics and most importantly how to make do with what you have around you. I have been referred to as a MacGyver more than a few times by my friends and coworkers. No, not because I defused a nuclear warhead with nothing but a stick of chewing gum, a 16 month old Rottweiler puppy and a 20oz bottle of Diet Mt. Dew ( Yea, I took the analogy a little far but we have all seen that show.The original. Not the boy-scout remake,  I mean come on!). But, rather because I have always been able to come up with a creative solution for most problems by making it work with what I had around me. But even with the skills to rival the Mullet-Clad Miracle worker himself, there were still so many projects that seemed out of reach for me.

 Enter the 3D Printer! This baby would be the answer to all my prayers! I mean, like the T-Rex that discovered Grabby Arms; I would be unstoppable, Right!? Well, as it turns out there is a bit of a learning curve. First you need a 3D model of whatever you want to print. There are a few ways to go about scoring that model. If you are lucky, someone has already gone through the trouble of creating the model and has been nice enough to post their hard work on a free resource site such as If not, then you can always create your own 3D model to suit your individual needs.

When it comes to creating 3D models,  my two favorite programs are Fusion 360 & 123D Design (Both from Autodesk). Why these two you ask? Two reasons, they are easy to use and they are completely free!  The main differences between the two are that 123D Design is for more rudimentary designs using basic shapes and Fusion 360 is used for more complex designs. I mean some of the things I have seen modeled in this program are mind blowing!

To begin my journey of discovering what wonders these new tools beheld I consulted the wise and powerful oracle known as YouTube. Since one of my first projects to 3D model and print was a Cog for a steampunk rifle I was working on I watched a video entitled 123D Design: Bevel Gear In this video I learned how to create extruded(3D) shapes from primitive(2D) shapes which is the basis for 3D modeling. Once I felt comfortable with 123D Design I moved on to the more intimidating of the two, Fusion 360. I started with a video entitled Design an Arduino Uno enclosure with Fusion 360. In this video you will learn the basics of creating a sketch of your model and then how to create a 3D model from that sketch. This is all easier than it sounds.

So, now you have your model and you are ready to bring this thing to life! Not so fast, there are still a lot of things to consider. For instance, what material are you going to use to print your model? The two main types of 3D printing filament are PLA and ABS, like all things both have their pros and cons. PLA (Polylactic acid): Which is commercially bio-degradable is stronger than ABS but has a lower melting point than ABS which makes it less suited for high heat applications (such as a 3D printed figure displayed on the dash of your car). Another plus is that PLA is less susceptible to warping or shrinkage during the build process than ABS. ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene): Can hold up better to heat than PLA after the build process. However it is very susceptible to warping or curling up off the build plate due to shrinkage during the cooling period. In the picture to your left you will see noticeable gaps in the print layers and curled edges on the bottom of this ABS model. This was caused by poor adhesion due to improper temperatures during the build process. Now bear in mind that I am only scratching the surface when it comes to 3D printing filament. If you are interested in learning about some exotic filaments on the market I suggest you check out The 3D Printing Nerd on YouTube to see all the demos and reviews that Joel covers. And also check out a channel called Makers Muse on YouTube where he also demos filaments and does some interesting projects with 3D printing.

Next up, Selecting a 3D printer: I know you are wondering why we talked about types of filaments before we decided what 3D printer to buy. But trust me, there is a method to my madness. Once you have decided what types of things you intend to make with your 3D printer you will be better suited to select the printer that is right for you. What I mean by that is if you don ot plan to print anything that will be exposed to high heat then a 3D printer with a heated bed and full enclosure may not be necessary because you really do not need to print in ABS. Instead you may choose a 3D printer with a more open design allowing the PLA to cool avoiding warpage. If you are still unsure or just want the versatility to print ABS or PLA as you see fit you can always get a 3D printer that will do both. After an enlightening conversation with a friend that was shopping for a replacement for his Starter printer in which explained what he disliked about his current printer and what he wanted in his new printer. I felt more equip to make an informed decision . Some of the things he mentioned were a larger build plate with a heated bed allowing him to print ABS and dual extruders so he could load both ABS and PLA in the printer at the same time removing the need to change rolls every time he wanted to switch filament type. Taking all these things into consideration along with the thought of dropping over $400 on a starter printer only to have to shell out more cash when I eventually grew out of it and my mind was set.I decided to go with the Flash Forge Creator Pro, now this is not a cheap printer by any means (selling for $899.00 on Amazon) but, I knew it was not something I would quickly grow out of either. With a build area of approx. 6in x 9in x 7in, heated plate, full enclosure and dual extruders I can tackle those projects that before seemed a step to far.

Through learning the art of 3D printing I have begun to connect with my sons in a new and powerful way. My youngest son is 15 and he spends most of his time in his room playing video games or watching YouTube videos like most boys his age. In the past I had tried everything I could think of to get him to open up, at first we would talk about video games and what we liked or did not like about the games. And when Fallout 4 came out we both got it and helped each other along in the game. We would talk about which armor we had and which weapons we liked in the game and then one day I saw an advertisement for a Comicon on Facebook. So, I asked him if he would have any interest in dressing up as a character from the game and he liked the idea. I had just finished a Spaceballs costume for a Con a few months before and I really enjoyed the process of making that costume so I told my son to let me know some props he would like for the costume. He said he wanted a 10mm pistol so I went on Thingiverse and downloaded the file and began printing. I completed the pistol for him and he was so excited because it looked just like it does in the game. Then I showed him the Pipboy arm mounted computer from the game that I am working on for him and right then I knew that we connected. Hopefully one day he will look back on the time we spend together working on projects, just like I do when I think of my father.

 3D printing can be a fun and rewarding hobby but as with all new ventures you will not be an expert right away. There are many precision settings when it comes to 3D printing and each of those setting can vary greatly between types of filament, manufacturer and even moisture or air temperature can play a factor in the quality of a print.

3D printed my first clown wig... unintentional 

 But, do not let a few failed prints get you down. I have had several instances where my prints would just not stick to the bed, warped or just generally looked crummy and I even accidentally printed a clown wig once! The key is to have fun with this awesome technology and share it with your kids.

Thanks for listening, until next time


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