Tools To Start 3D Printing

3D printing involves a number of different steps, as the technology is relatively immature in its consumer-level alternatives. Anyone interested in getting involved with RepRaps, MakerBots and other consumer/hobbyist level fused-deposition-modeling (FDM) 3D printer should pick up a few inexpensive items to aid their efforts at creating models from polylactide (PLA) or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic filament.

ABS Plastic Filament - natural colorationA pair of needle-nosed pliers is always a good start anytime you may need to adjust equipment or tug small bits of plastic out of your designs. Working with thermoplastics, you will also find a standard craft knife necessary to trim away drips and trailing fibers of melted plastic.

Craft Snap Knife

Another assistive item comes from the crafting hobby section – a very narrow-bladed metal spatula to help lift extruded plastic objects away from the bed. The best one I was able to find locally is found at almost any Hobby Lobby or other craft store, the Cricut spatula. This inexpensive spatula is thin enough to insert under the object and rigid enough to pry the plastic away from the heated bad without damage to the object.

Cricut Hobby Spatula

Because the 3D printer must be regularly re-aligned to very close tolerances, a basic feeler gauge is very helpful in measuring very narrow gaps between the extruder nozzle and the build platform.

Feeler Gauge

Leveling the platform opposite the extruder nozzle requires some finesse, but can be assisted by the use of a standard digital or dial indicator, which measures the distance from a reference – many of these can be used to ensure that all corners of the build platform are within 1/1,000th of an inch below the extruder carriage.

Digital Distance Indicator

All together, these items should cost $10-15 USD except for the digital indicator, which will cost another $15 USD or so from stores like Harbor Freight. With the maximum resolution of most FDM printers being individual extruded layers of 0.2-0.27mm, it is not necessary to spend a lot more money for the highest-precision equipment possible.

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