Sum of Parts

April 29, 2024 | 719 words | 3 minute read.

Printing things in 3D, like making art using word prompts, is really fiddly. Two Xmases ago Tim gave me a 3D printer. He also gave me a box of “silk” filaments.

For anyone who doesn’t know, plastic string, called filament, often has a sheen to it, and those are called “silk”. I’m sure a 3D print purist would have something to say about that definition, but it really comes down to silk filaments are shiny and other filaments are not.

Anyway, the filament comes on a big roll and that role unravels like a spool of thread on a sewing machine, as the printer pulls the plastic “thread” through the super hot print head and melts it into a pattern from base to the top in layers.

The 3D printer we started with was slow and painful. Like I said, it was fiddly. Oh the many things we were going to print, vs the many fewer things we actually did print. For every success there were multiple failures. Some of them required relatively simple fixes, while others were über-complex.

In the somewhere around 9 months that I used that printer, I managed to print several useful things. We have a lot of little boxes I designed from scratch for specific uses, and my piece de resistance - a wall mount with perfect dimensions that allowed us to snap a Stream Deck right next to the 65 inch display in the living room so we could control the apps running on the screen with a set of buttons. Somehow I got that one exactly right.

Then out of nowhere, a new 3D printer showed up (thanks Tim!). It was bigger, faster, easier to use, and had loads of features the other one lacked. Finally I could design things and transfer them over the air to the printer. We could plug in a camera and watch the printer go from anywhere in the house. It has a screen that actually shows what it’s printing in a little fuzzy picture. So many improvements.

And yet, it’s still fiddly.

One print job failed so spectacularly that we had to replace the entire print head because it was gummed up with plastic. It’s always fun when you come back into the office and instead of Michelangelo’s David, you’re presented with what can only be called a rat’s nest.

Still, the new printer fails less than the old printer. We’ve learned some tricks that keep it going.

So far I’ve used it to print tubes to replace all of the glass domes on the exterior lighting for the house. The glass domes collected bugs over time, so I thought if I make tubes, then the bugs won’t collect. I am brilliant that way. And since it was late September/early October, i decided to make them all glow-in-the-dark with spooky halloween images that showed through when the lights were on. That was a fun project.

In March, I decided I was tired of seeing Halloween decorations on our lights outside, and the winds from the Columbia River Gorge had knocked a few of them down. So I printed the black cocktail dress versions. Half as long, and black, to match the decor on the house. Those worked pretty well too.

Along with the practical things, we’ve also printed a fruit bowl, pencil holders (one with Bigfoot on the side, the other is a big foot - a big dinosaur foot), drawer dividers, a Scottish Highland Coo, a handful of T-Rex place holders, and some other odds and ends.

Some 3D Prints: Wall Mount for Stream Deck, Dinosaur Foot Pencil Holder, under-desk hard drive mount, Witchy Light Tube in Red, printing of a Ghost Light Tube

Anyone thinking about 3D printing will find it fun and frustrating. I highly recommend the website Thingiverse, they have tons of free models for printing. And the folks who designed the models are friendly and will direct you to lots of other sites.

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