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Thread: 3D printers recommendations for the hobbyist?

  1. #1
    TANSTAAFL awp_101's Avatar
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    3D printers recommendations for the hobbyist?

    I did a search but didnít see anything within the past couple of years.

    What is a good 3D printer for the hobbyist looking to make small parts like sights, maybe a mag carrier, doodads for grandkids, etc? Not looking for anything like a commercial set up unless itís reasonably close in price to what Iíve already described.

    Which brings me to:

    Whatís the going rate for a good home use 3D printer setup? Is a CAD/CAM type of program and knowledge of said program needed? My nephew has talked about getting a kit that gives you the bare bones and then you print the rest of it yourself but that sounds pretty sketchy to me. And I might have misunderstood the way he described it so thereís that...

    Thanks!
    Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

    The G19 might be a better combat arm but nothing screams pistol whip like a full rail 1911

  2. #2
    "What is a good 3D printer for the hobbyist looking to make small parts like sights, maybe a mag carrier, doodads for grandkids, etc? Not looking for anything like a commercial set up unless itís reasonably close in price to what Iíve already described."

    Mine is a Prusa that was about $1K, assembled, as in pull it out of the box, plug it it, and print. There are cheaper ones that people seem happy enough with, down into the $300 range. It's no different than, say, that you can get 1911's that work from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. More money can buy higher print temps (to print e.g. nylon), better print beds (a subject in itself), features like heated beds, etc.


    "Is a CAD/CAM type of program and knowledge of said program needed?"

    So, let's say you want to print something. The full path is:
    1)Use a CAD program to define the shape. What you get is a file that describes the physical shape. The most common format is an stl file, e.g. 'MagCarrier.stl'.
    2)You put that in a program that (for 3D printing) is called a 'slicer'. It looks at the shape and converts it to detailed instructions for your printer to print out the shape. This is where you control how thick the layers are, what temperatures to heat the plastic to, etc. The output of this is a gcode file, e.g. 'MagCarrier.gcode'.
    3)You put that file into your printer and (hopefully!) out comes a printed object.

    So, at one end of the spectrum, my printer came with some canned gcode files. I plugged it in and had it print a cute little frog. That is limited, of course, to objects that have been 'sliced' for your particular printer/filament type/nozzle diameter/etc, so it's not much use outside of a demo.

    At one level up, you can go to thingiverse.com (or many other places) and get the .stl files pre done for a zillion objects, and drop them through your slicer and print them. This can require some tinkering ... do you need a brim? Supports? Do the default print settings work for this object, etc, etc. And, of course, you are limited to shapes other people have designed.

    The next level up is to define your own shapes, or CAD. There are a zillion of these. There are powerful commercial products ... that are cost prohibitive.

    I use a free one called OpenSCAD. It is a lot like a programming language, or markup language, as opposed to WYSIWYG. Maybe like HTML vs Word. Some people dislike that. I'm a computer nerd, so I much prefer it.

    In the WYSIWYG world, Fusion360 is fairly popular . The vendor gives free licenses to hobbyists.

    There are others. All of these have a learning curve.

    "My nephew has talked about getting a kit that gives you the bare bones and then you print the rest of it yourself but that sounds pretty sketchy to me. And I might have misunderstood the way he described it so thereís that..."

    That's pretty common, and perfectly reasonable if you are an electrical hobbyist type. It can save money - I think Prusa sells a kit for $700 or so, for example. There are people who strongly advocate for that, reasoning that by the time you get it to work you will understand how to fix it yourself. In the same vein, I suppose you can argue you are better off buying AR parts and building a rifle from components. FWIW, I'm happy to build ARs from parts, including building the parts from scratch, but I didn't want to mess around and just bought a turnkey printer. Maybe next time I'll build the printer, who knows. My first AR was a 6920, so there is precedent :-). I think the bottom line is to decide whether you want to be using the printer to make whatever, or having building the printer to be the project in itself.

  3. #3
    TANSTAAFL awp_101's Avatar
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    Thanks, that gives me some starting points if/when I start getting serious about digging deeper.
    Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

    The G19 might be a better combat arm but nothing screams pistol whip like a full rail 1911

  4. #4
    Site Supporter vaspence's Avatar
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    We bought my 11yo a Flashforge Adventure 3 a few months ago for less than $400. He had a learning curve in the beginning with item collapses and wonky filament but he overcame those quickly.

    Heís printed a variety of items and the printer hasnít had any issues that Iím aware of. Iíve also been impressed with the abundance of files that exist for random things (pulleys, tarp ticks, ear savers, etc.) and heís been able to scale those to different sizes with ease.

    FWIW Iím very out of my lane so what is impressive to me is probably not to others. But hey, he printed his brother a butterfly knife last night and whatís not to like about that!

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  5. #5
    TANSTAAFL awp_101's Avatar
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    OK, now that's cool!
    Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

    The G19 might be a better combat arm but nothing screams pistol whip like a full rail 1911

  6. #6
    Site Supporter Balisong's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vaspence View Post
    We bought my 11yo a Flashforge Adventure 3 a few months ago for less than $400. He had a learning curve in the beginning with item collapses and wonky filament but he overcame those quickly.

    Heís printed a variety of items and the printer hasnít had any issues that Iím aware of. Iíve also been impressed with the abundance of files that exist for random things (pulleys, tarp ticks, ear savers, etc.) and heís been able to scale those to different sizes with ease.

    FWIW Iím very out of my lane so what is impressive to me is probably not to others. But hey, he printed his brother a butterfly knife last night and whatís not to like about that!

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    That looks a hell of a lot like something that someone with my username would like!

  7. #7
    Temporally Challenged EricM's Avatar
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    Great info from whomever, saved me a lot of typing. I second the Fusion360 recommendation for parametric 3D CAD software, here is a link for the personal use license. Might check out Blender if character modeling is more your thing. Even if you're tech savvy there can be quite a learning curve to this stuff, but there are lots of good video tutorials and such out there.

    For printers, Prusa is the first name that came to mind in the sub-$1000 range. Creality seems to be really popular lately on the lower end. Here is a list of some options at various price points. Some things to consider as you look through specs and reviews: build volume (how big of an object you can make), type of build platform (more on that below), how the bed is leveled (manual vs. automatic, and single-point vs. mesh on the latter), and wifi/ethernet connectivity (send jobs directly to your printer from your computer rather than shuffling them on a USB flash drive or SD card).

    If there's one thing I would emphasize to someone new to 3D printing, it is that getting the first layer to adhere well to the build plate is critically important. It is one of the most common causes of frustration and failed prints; the part must stick securely to the build plate during the print but you also need to be able to get it off afterwards. Nothing else matters if those two requirements are not met. This is surprisingly complex with many variables: machine setup (bed flatness and leveling, height calibration), software configuration (extrusion temperature and speed, aids like rafts or brims), the surface you're printing on, and the material you are printing. People have tried printing on every surface imaginable, and different materials stick best to different build surfaces (beware, some stick so well they are impossible to separate!). Some materials are particularly prone to warping as the melted plastic cools after extrusion, which can be very hard to work with. I say all this because when you're getting started, I highly recommend hitting the easy button, which in my experience is printing PLA on a heated magnetic build plate of PEI powder-coated spring steel. The magnetic build plate is easy to swap out, PLA sticks great to PEI, and when the print is done you just remove the plate and print together, then gently flex the plate to pop off the print. Many printers can be retrofit with this kind of setup if they didn't come with it. I use the BuildTak FlexPlate magnetic base with a LayerLock build plate.

    Two inexpensive filaments I have had good success with are eSUN's PLA PRO (PLA+) for general-purpose printing (I get it from INTSERVO on Amazon) and SainSmart's TPU when I need something flexible (SainSmart Official on Amazon). I use original blue 3M painters tape on an unheated build plate for the TPU, as it sticks TOO well to PEI. Be aware that filament comes in two diameters, 1.75mm and 2.85mm (commonly called 3mm), so be sure to buy the correct one for your printer. Filament prints best when dry, some types are more sensitive than others but it's a good idea to store it in a sealed bag with dessicant packets or a sealed box with a larger bag of silica gel.

    A few good places to shop include MatterHackers, 3D Universe, and PrintedSolid.

  8. #8
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    I have a Prusa i3 Mk2 and I really like it. Some friends have $200-300 printers and seem to have pretty good results.

  9. #9
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    Prusa is well regarded for plug-and-play, but the wait times for delivery can be months. The website shows 3-4 weeks, but Iím not sure thatís reliable, since theyíve been affected by COVID-19, and have been making PPE as well.

    The Creality Ender 3 (and 3 Pro) are the go-to for lower end machines. Much less expensive, but may need some tinkering to dial in. Thereís an extensive user community for both brands, and no shortage of support from real world users on identifying and fixing problems or quirks.

    I have an Ender 5 Pro, which is a little bigger and has some quality of life upgrades, like being quieter. It produced fantastic prints right out of the box.

    Motherís Day gift:
    http://i.imgur.com/N4FLxHm.mp4

    As for sights and mag carriers, you should ďmoderate your expectationsĒ . The standard plastic is PLA, which is easy to work with, but at the low end for strength. It tends towards brittle, and fatigues easily so parts that need to flex will probably not last long. And being made from discrete horizontal layers, thereís an inherent weakness along those planes. I wouldnít rely on a belt clip or loop for serious purposes.

    Printing stronger materials become more complicated. ABS requires putting the printer in an enclosure to retain the heat and prevent the part from warping from cooling too rapidly. Printing temperatures tend to be higher, too, so some parts of the machine may need to be upgraded to handle the higher end materials.
    Last edited by boing; 05-22-2020 at 12:46 PM.

  10. #10
    TANSTAAFL awp_101's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boing View Post
    As for sights and mag carriers, you should ďmoderate your expectationsĒ .
    Yeah, that was more of a "what would I actually do with this thing?" train of thought. The most reasonable thing I can think of would be something like a Ruger MK series or Single Six that uses a screw on front sight base or the centerfire revolvers that use a pinned in blade. Print the sight with different heights to dial in POA/POI then have the real thing machined.
    Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

    The G19 might be a better combat arm but nothing screams pistol whip like a full rail 1911

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