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3D Printing Tips and Tricks - Essential Tools of the Trade for your hobby

By: Charles Gantt | 3D Printers in Maker & DIY | Posted: Feb 14, 2014 3:02 am

Part Creation / Finishing Tools


3D printers quickly become boring if the only things you print are models downloaded from the internet, so at some point you will find yourself wanting or needing to create a part from scratch. I won't go into the 3D modeling aspects of this, as it is an entire article within itself, but I will list out a few tools that will help with creating accurate and precise parts you can print.


Additionally, there will be times when you may need to finish your prints to make holes rounder, remove plastic bobs, or even glue things together.


Digital Calipers




The ability to measure objects precisely is of paramount importance when it comes to modeling parts in 3D, and this is where a good pair of digital calipers comes into play. For about $20, you can have a very nice set of 8-inch calipers from Harbor Freight, or even cheaper for a 6-inch pair from Amazon.


I have owned $300 calipers as well as $12 calipers, and for the hobbyist, a $12-$20 pair will be more than accurate enough for the resolution that most desktop 3D printers can print at. These also come in handy for measuring exact filament diameter when setting up Slic3r, or when tweaking your printer for dimensional accuracy.


Machinist Scale




The Machinist Scale is something I feel that every maker needs to keep on himself at all times. Personally, I have about 15 or so in both metric and SAE formats. Since I design and print based on the metric system, I keep a metric machinist scale at my printer at all times. The reason I chose a machinist scale over a standard ruler is that they are many times more accurate than your typical school style ruler. They can be picked up for a few bucks, and if taken care of, they will last a life time.


Drill Bit Set




When printing a part that has holes for bolts, rods, or something to pass through, there will be blobs, or shifted layers of plastic that will cause that hole to be inaccurate in size. A good set of drill bits comes in handy here, and will aid in cleaning out these holes.


I do not advocate drilling new holes into printed plastic though, unless the infill is 100-percent, as this can cause layer splitting. If you need a hole somewhere, design it into the part before printing.


X-acto Knife




The Xacto Knife is another tool that every maker should have in their tool box, as well as in their shirt pocket. The simple hobby knife is one of the most useful tools that one can ever possess, and can be used to clean up stray plastic blobs, or first layer edges that are usually larger than the rest of the external perimeter of the print.


While these can be had for about a buck, I suggest getting a high-quality Xacto brand hobby knife, and a few good packs of high-quality blades. A very complete and high-quality set can be had for as little as $10-$15 total.


Dremel Tool




When the time comes that you need to remove printing ridges from your model, or need to carve out elements of the model, a Dremel tool makes life suck much less. These are also handy in cleaning up blobs or corners where stray filament may have been dragged out of the model. Dremel tools also make removing support material quick and easy. Just like the Xacto knife, stick with the Dremel brand here, as it will save you both time and money in the long run.






Having a good complement of sandpaper in various grits on hand is always a good idea for anyone, but for the 3D printer, it makes smoothing out the printed model quick and easy. I tend to only purchase 3M brand sandpaper, as I find that it holds its cutting edge better, and lasts longer in general. I like to keep 120-grit up to 800-grit on hand to smooth prints before using a paint brush to make things glossy with acetone.






When trying to join two printed parts together, or when repairing prints that broke or had layers separate, glue is the easiest way to bond parts back together. For ABS, only Acetone is needed to solvent weld the parts together, but PLA is trickier.


For PLA I use to different types of glue depending on what I need done. For breaks and structural bonds, I like to use high-quality CA glue in gel form. For other non critical bonding, I like to use Testors Model Glue in the red tube. Both take a few minutes to cure, but provide a solid, strong bond with PLA.



Closing Thoughts


That wraps up this installment of 3D Printing Tips and Tricks. I hope this guide has helped some of you get an idea of what may and may not be needed to keep your 3D printer up and running. While I did not cover every tool that I might have on hand, I feel that this list is enough to keep anyone's printer running like a champ.


If you feel I left off something important, please feel free to let me know in the comments. In my next installment, we are going to cover the importance of fine tuning the retraction settings in Slic3r, so stay tuned to for that. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all in the next installment.

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