How I Changed My Mind About 3D Printing


There are few things in this life that give more more personal satisfaction than admitting I was wrong.  On one hand, being able to admit I was wrong implies my brain still has a certain amount of mental flexibility and open-mindedness.  Frankly, that’s pretty darn rare these days.

How often do you hear people doing a complete about-face when it comes to strongly held personal beliefs?  (Almost never?)

And even more importantly, there’s no better way to keep an ego in check than to put your mistakes out there for the world to see.  It’s pretty darn humbling, and good for me.

So, it’s with great pleasure I’d like to admit, I was wrong about 3d printing.

 

Rewind To 3 Years Ago…

Nearly three years ago I wrote a post “Should I Invest In A 3d Printer?”  I was looking for a tool to re-create some of our kitchen drawer brackets.  The plastic parts had broken due to years of wear (and full drawers).

Unfortunately I couldn’t find replacement brackets anywhere.

This is a very common problem in modern households.  You buy a product, and eventually it breaks.  Usually it’s just a small piece of plastic that breaks, and the rest of the product is still (mostly) functional.

Can it be fixed?  Often times it’s no longer possible to buy a replacement part — because the manufacturer has moved on to newer models, or simply gone out of business.

Even if a replacement part is available, they’ll often charge *excessive prices* for even the tiniest plastic part.  It doesn’t make good economic sense to repair it, so most people throw out the broken product and buy a new one.

Plastic parts always break over time.  Often, there’s no hope of finding a replacement.

When I wrote the post 3 years ago, I concluded that 3d-printing just had too many hidden costs (and a few extreme risks — like burning your house down) that made it a poor solution to my drawer-bracket problem.

Specifically, I’m talking about a kind of 3d-printing called FDM printing, or Fused Deposition Modeling.  Basically the kind of 3d printer that squirts out layer after lay of hot plastic to build the model you’ve designed in the computer.

Super hot plastic and cheap Chinese electronics seemed like a recipe for house fires.  Failed prints were also pretty common in those days, due to the finicky nature of 3d printing.

I eventually gave up on 3d printing as a solution to my problem, but never lost an interest in the technology.  To solve my kitchen bracket problem, I re-created the brackets using wood.  It wasn’t easy to make those small parts out of wood, but I managed it.

replica part
I made the replacements out of wood.  It worked, but it wasn’t easy, and the result was pretty ugly.

 

A Surprise Gift

Now, fast forward to Christmas 2020 when Mrs. Tako decided to gift me a 3d-printer for Christmas.  I guess she noticed I was interested in the technology, but loath to spend the money myself.

Now I had a shiny new Creality CR-10 V3 to experiment with, so there were no more excuses!

Here’s the setup of our new 3d printer in the office:

Fortunately 3d printers have improved quite a bit over the last 3 years.  Some of the issues I wrote about in my initial post are far less likely to occur today.

Fires, while still a possibility, are far less likely to occur.  Firmware features like thermal runaway protection are now enabled by default on most good quality 3d printers… which should keep them from burning your house down.

Electronics can still fail in unexpected ways, but the safety of the machines have certainly improved since those earlier models.

To mitigate these risks, I still keep a working smoke detector right over the top of our printer, and a fire extinguisher in the same room.  And, I never start a print if I’m not going to be home.

fire extinguisher
I keep a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher in the same room as the 3d printer.  Fires are less likely, but I’m not taking any chances.

Other issues, like failed prints have been somewhat mitigated by new features like “auto bed leveling”.  This feature makes getting a good print so much easier than it used to be.

Even a complete doofus like me can now get good prints most of the time!

 

A Multitude Of Uses

So what can you do with a 3d-printer?  If you look on the internet, most people seem to use them as a way to make “desktop toys”… aka dust collectors.  Plastic figurines that just sit on a shelf and do nothing.  That’s great if printing D&D miniatures is your hobby, but I like to use our 3d printer to create functional parts whenever possible.

To give you an example, my very first print was a plastic handle for a broken garage broom.  Rather than buying a totally new broom, I simply 3d-printed a replacement handle.  It only cost a few pennies worth of plastic.

broom handle

Home repair projects like this are extremely cheap and easy to do.  It was my first repair project with the 3d printer, and I was pretty proud of the result.

When my plastic Ikea dust pan broke a few months later, I simply printed a new handle.  Sure, a replacement Ikea dust pan only costs $2, but I’d easily spend that much money driving to an Ikea store (the nearest Ikea is 30 miles away).

dust pan

Then there was the time our rain gutter broke.  Absolutely NO hardware store in the area carried the kind of part I needed for the repair.  Most hardware stores simply recommended I buy a new section of gutter drain pipe (roughly 6 feet long), which would have cost a whole lot more than simply printing an adapter piece:

gutter part

Of course 3d printing isn’t just about repairing broken parts.  Sometimes your wife wants a new phone case for her Pixel 3A, and it’s your duty to provide.  Been there done that! (And she absolutely loves the phone case)

phone caseOr sometimes your son’s hand-me-down board game is missing a lid.  Time to fire up that 3d printer and make a new lid for him!  Fixing stuff like this is easy with 3d printers!

sushi go lid

Kids toys in particular are often cheaply made, out of plastic.  They have an annoying tendency to break.  One of my son’s toy boxes needed a new hinge, and this was easily fixed with our 3d printer.

toy box hinge

3D printers are also great at fixing those household annoyances that absolutely nobody else in the universe has.  For example, we have a curtain rod that uses friction to stay in place.  It constantly falls down when the kids pull on the curtain.  Super annoying, and nobody else in the universe is going to have this same problem.

3D printing to the rescue!  My solution was a simple printed bracket, and it hasn’t fallen down since!

curtain holder

And this is just a small sampling of the many many things I’ve fixed, repaired, or improved around our house.  Now that we have a 3d printer we use it constantly.

Honestly, I’m surprised by how often we use it!  3d printers are not just toys for technology fanatics anymore.  They are now a useful household tool AND they can actually save you money!

Don’t take my word for it however, there’s literally a whole subreddit devoted to showcasing functional 3d-prints.

Sure, there are probably multiple ways to fix many of the house problems I’ve shown here, but I highly doubt they’d be as affordable as my 3d printed solutions.  A whole kilogram of 3d printing filament is now a mere $19 on Amazon.

It’s amazingly cheap!

 

Everyone Needs A 3D Printer!

Now, I won’t claim I’m some kind of expert on 3D printing (far from it), but I know when to admit I’m wrong.  I was wrong about 3d printing.  The number of uses I’ve found for our 3d printer over the last 8 months has been just staggering.  This really is the future, and it’s available today!

The technology just needed a little time to mature (and I needed to take the time to learn how to use it).

Like other tools you might purchase, the initial cost is probably the biggest hurdle for most households.  They’re rather expensive, especially good printers like the various Prusa models.

A decent 3D printer starts at $279 USD right now (the Ender 3 V2), and just goes up from there as you add features and quality.

I’m not going to pretend 3d printers are cheap, but I now consider a 3d-printer to be a household tool that everyone needs to have (like a hammer, screw driver set, electric drill, etc.)

I’m not kidding!  They’re really that useful to have around!

 

Final Thoughts

Like most new tools and technology, there’s always a learning curve involved.  Especially if you’ve never used a 3d printer before.  You’ll need to learn the basics of 3d modeling, and how to slice 3d models into the gcode your printer understands.

It’s not hard, but it does take a little learning.

Thankfully, there’s tons of free resources around.  Many libraries now offer free courses on 3d printing, and there’s plenty of simple (and FREE) 3d design tools (like TinkerCAD) that are easy to pick-up for novices.

Likewise, tutorials on 3d printing can be found all over the internet.  YouTube videos in particular were invaluable for helping me learn the basics of 3d printing.

So don’t let that learning curve of a new technology turn you away!  It’s really not that bad, and you’ll be amazed at how useful a 3d printer can be!

 

[Image Credit: Flickr]

24 thoughts on “How I Changed My Mind About 3D Printing

  • August 22, 2021 at 10:30 AM
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    I love cool tech and 3D printers have intrigued me from the start. I’m with you on wanting to use it for functional creations versus “dust-collectors.” Those are some awesome things you’ve printed – I love it!

    Have you been following at all about the 3D housing? It’s still extremely early but it’s completely amazing to me.
    Jim @ Route to Retire recently posted…Tigo Just Made International Travel Easier

    Reply
  • August 22, 2021 at 10:56 AM
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    I heated that some drones and toys include a 3D print file for replacement parts.
    That makes sense, I would imagine a drone crashing and breaking some parts, the ability to print, or find someone to print for you a replacement part is incredible, and great forethought by companies to their Customers.

    Reply
    • August 23, 2021 at 1:00 PM
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      It would be nice to buy almost any product and have the CAD files available online! Heck, just being able to get replacement parts for a lot of things would be fantastic! 😉

      Reply
      • August 25, 2021 at 10:13 AM
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        Hi Mr Tako
        Ok, I am now really interested in this technology as well. Amazing what it can all be used for. I guess a 3D printer could be very useful for us. Really something I will consider.
        Things for sharing your experiences with that technology.
        Cheers
        MyFinancialShape recently posted…Some thoughts on the Microsoft stock

        Reply
  • August 22, 2021 at 12:37 PM
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    Dude, way way cool! You are indeed industrious, I love this. I can see you making some sort of invention that everyone will want/need and maybe turning this in to a business. Bring manufacturing back to America – haha!
    Dave @ Accidental FIRE recently posted…My Near Spiral Into The Deadbeat Club

    Reply
    • August 23, 2021 at 1:02 PM
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      Haha! We have a family friend that sells 3d printed stuff on Etsy. I don’t know if she makes a lot of money, but its neat that she has her own little micro-factory.

      Reply
  • August 22, 2021 at 7:57 PM
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    Our oldest son saved up for one and it’s been a huge hit in our household. It’s like opening a whole new world of possibilities for DIY’s. He took it with him to college so I think I will buy one for hubby’s Christmas gift this year. Would love to know if you would recommend the model you got. This is not an area I have any knowledge about

    Reply
    • August 23, 2021 at 1:09 PM
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      My CR-10 V3 is just an “OK” model. It didn’t come with automatic bed leveling, so I had to add that feature later. The quality of Creality printers is adequate, but only barely.

      Everyone I know with a Prusa absolutely loves them. But of course they’re much more expensive.

      Size is also a major tradeoff. I like the large bed on my printer, which allows me to make some very big prints. Maximum size of 300mmx300mmx400mm.

      The size of the things you want to print could be a determining factor on which model you purchase.

      Reply
  • August 23, 2021 at 5:21 AM
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    Admitting that you are wrong about something is a superpower, and it means that you were – and are – just looking at facts & data and open to revising conclusions based on new data. If only the rest of our species were so strong…

    3D printing does sound awesome, and I can think of many uses around our house too. Since I lag you on all technology about 10 years, I’ll wait until they are $20 or so and will get to work 🙂 But I am excited!

    Reply
    • August 23, 2021 at 1:12 PM
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      $20 might be a bit too cheap! I’m not sure I’d want to own one that low of a cost.

      Think of it like buying a power tool like a drill. The super cheap no-brand import drill is going to be garbage, and the Made In Japan Makita drill is going to come at a premium.

      The good tools are never cheap. 😉

      Reply
  • August 23, 2021 at 6:56 AM
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    wo – this is really cool – I’m surprised I haven’t seen any shop on my street offering to build parts this way. What a cool hobby. I bet there are blogs/vlogs teaching it – need to explore.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2021 at 7:01 AM
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    Thanks for the great article.

    I was thinking about buying a 3D printer the other day.

    One thing you can do is buy a shredder and machine that melts old plastic into new filament.

    Costs are upfront but you can reduce the cost of printing.

    Your kids are luck with your initiative to introducing them to 3D printing.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2021 at 8:28 AM
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    My friend is a teacher and he’s been using 3D printers in class for years. I think it’s really cool. But we don’t have any space for it. Maybe when we move into a bigger home. Nice job with the gutter part.
    Joe recently posted…Too Much Time After Retirement?

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    • August 23, 2021 at 1:16 PM
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      Thanks Joe! It really doesn’t take up a lot of space. A small printer like the Prusa Mini can fit on the corner of a desk!

      Reply
  • August 23, 2021 at 8:29 PM
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    Wow this is super interesting! I admit I don’t know much about this field in general, though I know Cathie Wood/ARK are heavily invested in 3d printing technology. I don’t have the imagination for half of this stuff but scrolling that Subreddit is a great time waster.
    Impersonal Finances recently posted…A Love Letter To Low-Cost Vanguard Fees

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  • August 24, 2021 at 9:48 AM
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    3d printing has been a topic in my house for a while now. We still don’t have one, and I have left it up to my son to do the research. He hasn’t shown much interest in the last year, but he is now in a STEM class at his Jr High that has a 3d printer. I’m hoping that pushes him a little.

    Do you know if most printers have software that is compatible with Apple Mac products?

    Reply
    • August 24, 2021 at 9:18 PM
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      Yes, there’s Mac software that can be used with most printers. The printers might not ship with it, but it can always be downloaded.

      Reply
  • August 29, 2021 at 4:07 PM
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    While I understand your enthusiasm for each home to have one…I have a friend with one. It can become like neighbors who share tools. She has much use for it for her side business, I wanted a few pieces to decorate a photo frame for a gift. Worked out well.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2021 at 12:14 PM
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    Hi Mr Tako,

    I’m following your blog since a few years now and you are doing two great jobs! (Blogging and FI ;))
    What software do you use to design your replacement parts and how long does it take to design them e.g. for the pieces you showed on your pictures?

    Reply
    • September 27, 2021 at 12:50 AM
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      I usually use Fusion360 or FreeCAD. They’re both free and full-featured.

      How long does it take to design them? Totally depends upon the complexity of the part, but usually an hour or two.

      Reply
  • September 26, 2021 at 1:39 PM
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    Pre-pandemic when I used to go into work, we used to be able to get access to 3D printers for free, where we can print anything we want and bring it home.

    I never really saw the use for it but seeing all the examples of you being able to replace broken parts at home seems extremely handy. And not only that, it just seems extremely useful whenever you need some physical part that would just make things more convenient.

    Need a coaster? Print it.
    Need a replacement part? Print it.
    Need to buy a laptop stand so you can work while you watch TV? Print. It.

    Reply

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