My first 3D printer was the gateway machine into the world of design and fabrication. Many years ago, thought 3D printing was way out of my reach. Now, printers are pretty common and the technology is stable yet still growing rapidly.
I found an online deal on an ANET A8 DIY printer for $150 and cut my teeth on that machine. It was modded like crazy using parts printed from the machine itself, and in due time, everything on it broke and was replaced one way or another. The bed, nozzle, controller, power supply, it was a rough but wonderful learning experience.
This Creality CR-10 was my second FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer. Almost 3x the price, but 10x more reliable, simple, and sturdy. If you want to learn things the hard way (like me) then get a DIY kit and build it yourself. If you don’t find joy in things breaking and waiting for replacement parts, then get this.
No machine is perfect (or maybe that’s my excuse to mod things). Here are some tips that will make this machine amazing.
The bed is the flat heated area that the material is layed out onto. This printer comes with a thick square glass sheet usually made of borosilcate glass which is particularly able to handle fluctuating temperatures.
The piece of original glass that came with my printer was warped. I’m not sure if was always warped, or became warped with the tens of thousands of hours of use. The first layer of print was getting really difficult because some areas were too squished, other areas the plastic would not stick. Always check your glass with a metal straight edge to ensure flatness. There are some people that “fix” warped glass by padding areas with tape. I tried that, didn’t work, decided to spend $22 and now my printing area is perfect.
Now that your printing bed is perfectly flat, it’s time to get the material to properly stick to it. I’ve tried everything, Aquanet hairspray, blue painters tape, masking tape, even slurry. The solution people seem to like the most is Kapton tape or PEI. Currently, I am using a special adhesion surface that seems to be working very well.
These square plastic sheets seem to work very well. The caveat is that they definitely need to be cleaned with isopropyl between prints. Even though your parts may seem to come off perfectly, there is definitely a chemical residue that it leaves behind which makes prints eventually not stick to the surface.
Blue painters tape works very well. However, the blue color will stain and stick to your material and it is quite difficult to remove the piece from the glass bed. If you are having a hard time getting a piece to adhere, I would fall back on blue painters tape.
Remember that the object you’re printing also affects adhesion. If you’re printing a large object, plastic shrinks when it cools down, so the piece is likely to curl and pull away from the bed. In those instances, you need to think about printing with a “raft”.
The extra wasted material on the edge of the object helps give it more surface area to stick to the bed.
I receive (and send) lots of packages from my front door. I love creating scaled versions of things, particularly undersized. I decided to recreate a small version of the classic USPS mailbox for my front door as a place for packages to be held.
Additionally, my idea is to add LEDs, a camera, and make it WiFi enabled so I can monitor at all times, assuming the delivery carriers understand what it’s for. Hopefully I can make it intuitive enough but still retain the classic unmistakable design.
I envisioned this to be about 2 feet tall. The parametric design would let me adjust the dimensions. The hardest part of the design (and newest challenge for me) is the curved top. So far, everything I’ve created is pretty square. For this, I’ll have to use some tricks to make the curved top.
Cutting this took forever! It’s basically an alternating pattern of cuts. In Fusion360, I measured the inner curve length, and built a new piece based on that. The outer curve length is irrelevant for this because the cuts would provide the longer length that I need.
It came out super bendy! So excited. After test fitting the top curve, in the future, I’m going to make the piece slightly shorter than the inner curve surface. Even the the top is doing most of the stretching, the bottom also stretches as well so leaving some room would do just fine. I didn’t leave any tolerance to i had to really tape down the piece well during the gluing process.
Always remember to use the correct height when setting your laser/bed distance. The laser beam is hourglass shaped, and the middle of it should be the middle of your material. I didn’t quite adjust it right so the edges were slightly angled and required a little sanding.
Emma wanted to be the first one to deliver a message in the new mailbox. She is the best!
I had a difficult time deciding on the right amount of storage. I think the majority of packages will fit in here. it’s roughly 13x13x17.
Glued all the pieces together. I used tape to hold down the top curved wood while using wood glue. Everything came together as expected!
After painting, I added the logos and also lined the inside with colorful rainbow card stock. I also added a little disclaimer label in case somebody actually believes it’s a real mailbox.
Here is the mailbox with all the logos and actually being used outside!
MDF legs on concrete are not great. I’m going to design flexible TPU feet for it to protect it from bumps and scrapes, but also leave it off the ground to prevent moisture.
My original designs were built for 6.4mm MDF. I adjusted the material thickness to 8mm, then generated this STL for flexible TPU. The reason is that I’ve found that TPU needs quite a bit of tolerance. Even if there is extra room, I can fill it with glue.
20% flexible TPU infill + 2mm tolerance fit perfectly! The flexible material really helps to protect the piece and also prevent it from sliding.
Using double sided padded tape, I mounted a camera to the top and now get motion alerts. Going to finally put this project to rest for awhile. Thanks for reading!
To put it in simple terms, this is a machine that uses mirrors to direct a laser (from a long glass laser tube) down into material. Adjusting the power will scar the surface (engrave) or cut right through the material. The material can be pretty much anything except PVC (dangerous fumes) or metal (60 watts not powerful enough). You can engrave Macbooks, cut hotdogs, or engrave logos on top of your cappuccino.
Before deciding on this machine, I did my research. There are quite a few other alternatives out there. GlowForge, Muse, Dremel… All of them are either smaller (12×20 working area) or much more expensive ($5k+). Being a tinkerer, I decided to take a gamble with this no name “Chinese” laser machine and use the extra money saved to mod/upgrade.
This machine is 500 x 700mm and has passthrough for bigger pieces. You can find it on eBay but be wary of the “free shipping” because I ended up paying $150 for a lift gate service which is a required fee for residential delivery. You’ll need another person to help unbox and move this thing around.
Out of the box, the laser works fine. I was able to do test cuts and some small projects. Being a tinkerer though, I had to mod it to get the best out of it. Here is some information on the mods that can improve your machine if you choose to get it or one similar.
You’re using a laser to burn material so you need good air flow to move the smoke outside. These are the original air ducts that were thick, heavy, and smelled weird. The shape also deformed when exposed to the sun. I decided to replace it with the one below.
This hose is way lighter, can expand and compress well, retain shape better, and was much more pliable but still cheap.
The long laser tube has water running through it constantly to cool it down, that means there are 3/8 inch tubes carrying the water. The original tubes that came with the machine were weak, cracked, and smelled pretty bad. After running my machine a few times, I noticed water was leaking from somewhere, no matter how tight the connectors were. I replaced the tubes AND the connectors with brass fittings.
I replaced the tubing with food-grade vinyl tubing. It was a little more sturdy and no more water leaks. The brass fittings were also a huge help, so much so that it didn’t even need the hose clamps anymore.
The machine comes with an aquarium-type water pump that pushes water through the laser tube to keep it cool. This will improve the life of the tube and also provide optimal firing. Since laser tubes are expensive, I decided to upgrade to an actual water chiller.
I made the mistake of getting the CW-3000 which does NOT have a compressor and refrigerant. This CW-5200 was expensive, almost $400, but since it’s protecting and extending the life of the most important part of the laser machine (the laser) I decided to add it. The compressor keeps the water at a specific temperature you set, and more importantly keeps the laser firing under consistent temperatures for even cuts and engraving.
At the end of the day, the laser tube is pulling just under 20 milliamps of power. When you cut things, you specify the % power like 20% or 80%. Initially 80% might mean 18mA, but as the tube is getting weak and dying, 80% might mean 13mA. Adding this analog meter will let you keep tabs on the strength of the laser tube.
Installing this was a bit of a feat. The metal that the machine is made of is not the thickest, but heavy duty enough to make cutting and drilling through it impossible if you don’t have the right tools. There are plenty of videos online on how to wire this thing. Basically there are 2 terminals, and the current passes through the laser tube circuit.
This is pretty optional, but wasn’t that much to upgrade. I really like it, it’s quiet and looks reliable and worked fine with the upgraded air ducts I got.
The RDworks software looked horrendous. After a bit of research, everybody seemed to have good things to say about Lightburn which is a 1 time 2 or 3 computer license for $80. If you want updates after the first year, you need to pay a renewal license, but it seems like as it is, the software is great. Most of the time I design things in Fusion 360, export the drawings as DXF, then import DXF into lightburn. They are basically vector files like Illustrator.
The software works perfectly with my machine’s Ruida controller. It recognized the controller, bed size, zero issues, highly recommended.
The camera really isn’t necessary, but if you’re using Lightburn, there are some cool features you can do. Glowforge laser machines have cameras. Muse and Dremel also have similar features. This basically allows your Lightburn software see what’s there. You can also take pictures of something and let Lightburn convert it into shapes to cut out. Or simply use it to spot check that you have enough material to cover your cut. Or, if you’re engraving something like a laptop, you can ensure it’s going to be in the right place.
The correct camera to get for this machine is the 140 degree fisheye lens. It lets the camera capture the whole area. Calibration was a little frustrating, but after about 20-30 minutes and multiple tries, I finally got it to “flatten” the image and accurately map out the working area.
This is my own custom upgrade that is currently in progress. With all these things plugged in and running, it was cumbersome to walk around turning things on and off. So I designed this control panel with AC switches to easily control the peripherals and also have a place to plug in the Lightburn camera.
There’s also a switch for “light” because I’m adding additional LED strips inside the machine. There is only 1 small strip of LEDs and I want lights on the other 3 sides of the working area. I don’t need that on all the time so I added a button for it on this little control panel.
This machine has been a dream. It feels so fast to create and prototype things compared to my 3D printer. As you can see from my builds section, it’s keeping me busy. It also allows me to start building larger things (until my CNC machine comes in). It’s like my Cricut machine on steroids.
If you have any questions about it, let me know. More than happy to help and share experience or knowledge.
Machines that serve a single purpose are fun. But it’s even more fun to combine different materials and machines. I decided to make drink coasters that were laser cut out of foam place mats and print 3d coasters and a holder to test all my filaments for moisture.
cork placemats from IKEA
tons of different filaments (PLA and wood)
This build is pretty simple. I cut out 80mm circles from the cheap cork placements I got from IKEA.
The real reason to make these is to test my filament. All filament spools are subject to moisture which causes print quality to have issues. With PLA, you will hear cracks and pops (which is the water vaporizing at 200C) and the prints will become flakey and uneven.
Several of my PLA spools were damanged from long term exposure to humidity. If you want to test filament without printing, simply bend it and if it snaps easily, then there is moisture in it. Good dry filament should be able to be bent (permanently deformed) but not snap.
In order to fix filament, you can put it in the oven at about 140F-160F for a few hours.
I didn’t want to use the oven and preferred to do a longer slow moisture extraction, so I used my food dehydrator, removed the top, cut a circular hole in a cardboard box, and put the top of the blower in the hole. I also cut out air outlets at the bottom of the box to allow the air to flow out from top to bottom.
After drying out the filament, the prints started looking much better. No flaky surfaces or brittle filament. I then designed a holder for it that fits 6 coasters.
This special wood-infused filament can be stained like normal wood and even smells like charred wood when printing. Overall, happy with the coasters and it was a good exercise in understanding the affects of moisture and how to fix it and save my spools.
It’s not too late but I want to add engraved logos on the coasters to make them a little more interesting. Not sure what the logos should be yet, but it should be easy to throw under the laser and etch in.
The CR-10 is an amazing printer. However, it does take up quite a bit of precious area in my small workshop so I decided to build a thin case under it. The computer is in the rear part of of the case, and the front will have drawers for storage.
Here is the original CR-10. There’s that big ugly box on the side of it. It’s so tall that another couple inches isn’t going to matter.
I took apart my CR-10 to examine all the wires, components, etc so I could get a good idea of where to place everything.
Here are the internals of the printer. Pretty basic stuff actually. The power supply is the biggest thing. The board for controlling stuff, the mosfet for handling high current to the heating bed, a couple fans. I also added a raspberry Pi to run OctoPrint.
Based on previous projects, I am not going to leave any tolerance for the drawer. I put 1-2mm before and there was a huge gap, so going to gamble with a perfect fit here.
I glued the drawer together to prevent any screws sticking out messing with the clearance. The main case however is bolted together with M3 hardware. Getting ready to mount the components in! I decided to add a 1mm clearance to the drawers, I think that’s the right amount for all projects going forward. I did a quick test with 0 and it was just too tight.
I used double sided tape to mount the power supply, Raspberry, and other stuff. Surprisingly all the hole cutouts I measured pretty accurately! Maybe I’m finally getting better at this.
Put everything back together, removed the printer rubber legs and let the printer sit flush on the enclosure. Everything fits perfectly, the drawer works great. I left the top screws off just in case I need to get back into the internals. Gravity does a good enough job of keeping it in place.
Back on line printing again. Steady helping to make masks/equipment for donation for this CoVid-19 thing.
I added a nice coat of matte black paint to match the printer. Normally I like to leave MDF unpainted, but wanted a more unified look for the printer.
I thought I did a pretty good job with the fan grill.
I left the inside of the drawer unpainted to make it easier to see the stuff inside.
I have a 3TB RAID1 ext4 NAS and set up a Raspberry Pi 2 to serve as a streaming media center. I wanted to come up with a cool case. Since the dual drives + Pi is roughly square-ish, I came up with the idea to make a rubik’s cube case. Initially it was just going to be a solid block, but then I decided to make it actually rotate horizontally.
All the panels will be made of 1/4 MDF. If you look closely, you can see the perforations between the color panels that is meant to allow air flow.
This is the most cutting I’ve ever done for a project. I used a full 2×4 and them some.
I noticed that new/dry MDF cuts much better than old or boards with some condensation. Usually I would have to pop the pieces out, but this project, everything fell out perfectly.
I used adhesive spray to add the colored card-stock to the panel pieces. I designed the panels to stick up to give the the colors texture.
The design uses a thin cut ring to allow the 3 levels to spin around. I just used wood glue to stick the thin ring to the 1st and 3rd levels, and the middle level circle is slightly larger. I didn’t leave any tolerance, but it was a tight fit and so far works perfectly.
The inside of a rubiks cube is black, so did a light spray of matte paint. Also works to hide the laser cut edges.
All that’s left is to install the hard drive and Pi. In retrospect, I made the cube a little too big. I could have spent the time to disassemble the SATA base/connectors. I might redo this to make it more compact.
Here is its final resting place, next to my router, serving media. If i didn’t make it able to turn, I could have definitely made the case smaller.
built the inside too large, however, might make the most of it by adding motorized movement
used card stock instead of adhesive vinyl, which would look more like a rubik’s cube
the blue color i’m not a fan of, need a darker blue but we’re in a quarantine because of coronavirus
I got new cardstock and updated the blue color to match the classic cube, so much better!
Replaced the Pi 2 1GB with Pi 4 4GB… runs so much faster
The empty space will have a drawer that slides in and out for main storage of tea bags, supplies, etc.
I designed the drawer with a 2mm tolerance on all sides and found out that was way too much. I should have done 1mm or less. I put the hole handes on both sides to allow for air to escape because I assumed it would be a tight fit.
This is my first project with birch plywood. I did NOT know that the middle layers of the plywood were not 100% filled. Surprisingly, this 5mm birch cut much easier than 6.3mm MDF.
Putting together the pieces was messy. I used steel wool to brush off the ash from the laser cuts, but it still got everywhere.
I tried to sand off the dirty ash, but found out that a damp cloth worked even better to clean up all the dirty ash from the surface.
I engraved a little coffee logo on the front just for fun. In retrospect, the design is much too long, I could have made it a little more compact.
top-front piece was designed with no interlocking joint and relies entirely on glue
the 2mm gap tolerance for the drawer is way too much
tried to sand off ash instead of wiping it down
design too long, need to shorten it
found out i added tolerance to BOTH pieces, doubling up on the gap
need to engrage the logo a bit darker next time
need to round off the fillet on the handles more to match the drawer handle
Redid the design to make it shorter, also fixed the front top piece so that it interlocks properly. I also burned the espresso logo in the front darker and rounded off the fillets.
I decided to make it 5 columns 4 rows of minifigs so 20 per display case. The Fusion360 design is totally parametric (I think) so I can easily adjust these to customize it.
There are 3 types of material used. 1/4 MDF for the frame and shelves, the white support board (like you get from cheap bookshelves), and plexiglass for the front cover.
I used bolts for the 4 corners of the frame. I did not want to use glue. Here you can see the notch that holds the M3 bolts.
I used neodymium magnets, 5x3mm circles, to hold the front glass together. The 1st and 3rd shelves have notches where I used epoxy to glue 4 magnets to the shelf. There are also 3mm holes cut in the plexiglass. It’s kind of weird, but works and I didn’t have to use any hinges.
I used a hot glue gun to mount the minifigs using the engraged indicators for perfect spacing!
After the first one was a success, I made 2 more. Still need another one!
I used 2 sawtooth picture frame mounts per display case to mount everything to the wall. All done!
probably could have designed the frame mounts in the other direction so the frame can sit flush on a flat surface
I created another size for my 4 larger minifigs. It really tested my parametric design, which didn’t do so well so I had to make updates.
I noticed that my MDF was pretty fresh, so it was dry and also not as thick as I spec’d it out for. Also, I put the magnets in the middle, but since there is only 1 shelf, it’s a little wobbly. Going to add stoppers the top and bottom to make sure the glass sits straight.