Introduction: 10 Everyday 3D Printer Tools

3D printers are great and 3D printed objects are even better. Many people think of 3D printers as a high-end industrial tool not accessible to the general public. This is entirely wrong. There is an abundance of low-cost, high quality hobby or "desktop" 3D printers available on the market. These printers often include off-the-shelf parts to keep the cost low. My first 3D printer, an early model of the Printrbot Simple, used 100lb test fishing line and Dremel sanding drums for it's belt and pulley system!
Since these desktop 3D printers are extremely open-source, there are no special tools or proprietary components (think of those screws that require special screwdrivers to remove). I have been using 3D printers for a couple of years, and over that time have amassed a collection of tools and materials that proved to be handy when working around 3D printers. Many of these are common everyday supplies available locally or already present in your house!

With that, I present to you 10 Everyday 3D Printer Tools...

Step 1: Q-Tips

If the temperature is not just right on a 3D printer, molten plastic will leak from the hot end. The plastic must be cleaned off prior to printing, or it can cause a catastrophic mess that could ruin your print. It is also important to keep the print nozzle clean so that the plastic flows freely and unobstructed.

Four-hundred degrees is a little bit to touch, so it is necessary to wipe the nozzle with something else. I have found that Q-Tips work exceptionally well. The cotton tip swabs the plastic away and helps return a shine to the nozzle. The Q-Tip is softer than the nozzle, so you don't have to worry about scratching the metal.

Step 2: Dental Picks

Sometimes you just need to get in there and poke around. For those hard to reach places on a 3D printer, dental picks seem to do the trick. They come at a variety of angles which are all useful for 3D printers. Whether you need to adjust a wire, reposition a trapped nut, or press the reset button, dental picks are sure to be an essential part of your tool box.

You can pick up a decent pair of dental picks from Amazon for a bit under five dollars. Alternatively, you could pick up a more industrial pair for a similar price. I am fortunate to have both.

Step 3: Guitar String or Thin Wire

Give a hot end long enough, and you will eventually have a clog on your hands. Tiny impurities in filament and even dust present in the room can eventually clog the nozzle of your hot end. Clogs can vary from a slight blockage to a completely inoperable hot end. You can tell if your hot end is partially blocked by extruding some filament. If the filament curls or comes out at an angle, you have a clog.

I have found that a used guitar string works very well. These strings come in extremely small diameters, but still manage to keep their rigidity. To use, push the guitar string or wire into the bottom of the nozzle while the hot end is at temperature. Work the string back and forth to try and break up the impurities. Now try extruding some filament. You should find that this quick hack will clear up the nozzle in an instant.

Step 4: Zip Tie Tightener

A zip tie tightener is a little known but extremely useful tool. Many kit 3D printers rely on zip ties to hold them together. Often, the tighter the zip ties, the more accurate prints will be. A zip tie tightener works as a ratcheting tool. By squeezing the trigger, the tool will continually pull the zip tie. With a sharp twist of the tightener, you can remove the ugly tail of the zip tie.

I purchased my zip tie tightener from the sale rack at Harbor Freight Tools for two dollars. Normal prices are around six dollars. It has held up well through two 3D printer builds and continues to keep my zip ties tight!

Step 5: Cooking Spray

Why burn money purchasing specialty grease when you can find some in your cupboard? I have been using cooking spray to lubricate my 3D printers since I purchased them. Spray is cheap and easy to apply to those hard to reach places. To keep the oil from going everywhere, hold a paper towel behind the area you are spraying.

You can also using cooking spray to lubricate your prints. Just spray a little bit of oil into that stubborn gear bearing that you've been trying to print.

Step 6: Ball End Hex Wrenches

These are lifesavers when building or servicing a 3D printer. At one point or another, you will find that you need to access a screw at an angle. A normal hex wrench just won't cut it. Ball end hex wrenches allow you to access screws at angles of up to 20 degrees. A whole lot easier than disassembling half of your 3D printer to access the stubborn screw!

I looked everywhere for a metric set of ball end hex wrenches locally. I finally found a set at Harbor Freight Tools for just seven dollars. They have held up well for over a year.

Step 7: Blue Painter's Tape

Blue painter's tape (a.k.a- blue masking tape) is proven to provide superior printbed adhesion for PLA plastic over any other material. It is easy and cheap to replace and can be found at your local hardware store. After many hours of printing, you can even create a decent sized blue painter's tape ball!

Step 8: Glue Stick

If you have bad luck getting PLA to stick to blue painter's tape, try using a glue stick. You can apply this classic school supply directly to your print bed. Allow 30 minutes to dry before starting your print. Some people also suggest heating it with a hair dryer while drying to promote adhesion.

Step 9: Old Computer Heatsink

Old computers are abundant in heat sink- that wavy metal component that dissipates heat from electronics. After running your 3D printer for extended periods of time you may find that it tends to get hot. Components like motors, driver chips, and the hot end (duh) can get very warm. To prevent damage, it is often a wise idea to attach a heat sink to these troublesome areas. Use heat sink compound or refer to the next step to attach heat sink.

Step 10: Toothpaste

If you read the previous step, then you know the importance of using heat sink. It can be hard to attach heat sink if you don't have the proper compound or glue. It turns out that toothpaste works as well as anything. Just rub a little bit of it on your heatsink and press it onto the hot component. You will be amazed at this dirt cheap heat dissipation and the minty aroma that hided ABS fumes.

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