Introduction: Makerspace Hot Glue Stations

About: Educator, designer, maker of things

Hot glue is a staple in any makerspace environment when challenging students to think creatively as they design prototype solutions to real-world problems....or just to support crafting things for fun!

In my makerspace, our hot glue stations began to look a bit sloppy and inhibit keeping the space clean and safe. We had been using pieces of cardboard as catch trays to protect our counters, which worked but certainly had much room for improvement. As I am always looking for ways to challenge my student in using our makerspace's resources to solve real-world problems that impact our day to day lives, this was a perfect opportunity for an organizational redesign!

Through this instructable, I will share the design, files, and methods used to create new hot glue stations that keep our spaces clean, keep students safe, and foster creativity and production through our projects.


To make the stations, we used:

  • Onshape and Adobe Illustrator to design 3D models and production files
  • 3D printers, PLA Filament, TPU Filament
  • CO2 Laser Cutter / Engraver
  • Table Saw
  • Oscillating Spindle Sander
  • Drill Press
  • Foam Core
  • Plywood
  • Wood Glue
  • 1/2" Button head Phillips screws
  • Clamps

Step 1: The Design

When considering the flaws in our existing system, we identified three major areas in need of improvement:

  • The hot glue guns struggle to remain standing causing potential damage to the tool, potential hazard for students, and increasing the general mess
  • Glue sticks in a few bins causes poor traffic flow when working and difficulty in determining how much supplies are available / when restock is needed
  • The stations are small and thin which causes them to be ineffective in protecting the countertops and keeping the stations organized and clean

To combat these issues, we considered how we could design tool rests and stick holders that would keep the glue gun standing when not in use, as well as encourage both the glue gun and glue sticks to be returned to the proper location. For the 3D models, we utilized the advanced Onshape CAD program to design components that could be produced using a 3D printer. I love using Onshape for both personal projects as well as to teach in my classroom as it is a powerful program that has many easy to use features as well as tons of flexibility for device use, collaboration, and production methods. If you're interested, I have an extensive collection of student / beginner ready Onshape tutorial videos on my YouTube channel here.

For the base, we wanted to use materials that were both strong and readily available. As we use a lot of birch plywood and foam core in our projects, these made excellent choices for the stations. To keep production simple, we made the stations 24" x 12" as that is the size sheet stock we order and the maximum size for our Universal CO2 laser engraver. To design the bases, we used Adobe Illustrator as it is a powerful vector design program that allowed us to easily import the measurements from our Onshape models to design the bases that would fit with our 3D printed parts. If you're looking for a free and chromebook compatible alternative to Illustrator, I reccomend Gravit Designer which is a great program for beginners and students! I also have a collection of tutorial videos for Gravit on my youtube channel here if you're interested.

After considering how the parts of our station would come together, we also decided to design feet that could be 3D printed using flexible TPU filament so the stations would sit more firmly on the counter without causing any potential damage. All of the files for the stations can be found below.

Step 2: Production

After finishing the designs, it was time to manufacture them on our rapid prototyping equipment. For 3D printing, I utilize Lulzbot 3D printers both at home and in my school's makerspace. I find that Lulzbot's are super durable and can withstand pretty abusive environments, as well as offer unheard of reliability for the price, along with tons of filament options. If you're interested, I overview some tips and tricks in working with Lulzbot and other FDM 3D printers in this instructable here.

For the glue stick tray and tool rest, we used PLA filament and 3D printed the parts at a high speed setting with no support. Even though glue guns are hot and PLA has less heat resistant properties when compared to other filaments, it was still the best choice for us based on availability and the fact that the design parts avoid contact with any hot components.

For the feet, we 3D printed the parts using TPU filament so they would have a rubber texture and act as great pads for the bottom of the stations as contact points to the counters. As mentioned above, Lulzbot printers can print tons of filament types out of the box so no additional modifications were needed prior to printing. I prefer Gizmo Dork's TPU filament over other brands as it prints almost as easy as PLA with a slightly more rigid result. This brand TPU also shrinks at similar rates to PLA so we did not need to adjust our tolerances in the design differently than we normally do which made fitting the feet into the bases post-production a breeze.

For the wood bases, we used 1/4" birch plywood to create two layers. The top layer was cut / engraved using our 40 watt CO2 laser engraver made by Universal Laser Systems. In the design shared in the previous step, larger circles were cut for the feet to slot through and smaller circles were cut for the 3D printed stick tray and tool rest to line up with. We did not cut or engrave the bottom layer, but instead kept it as a blank sheet to make assembly easier as discussed in the next step.

Step 3: Initial Assembly

To start the assembly process, we used wood glue to adhere the two plywood layers together. As mentioned in the previous step, the bottom layer was kept as a blank sheet so that we wouldn't need to line up the holes for the feet perfectly in this stage. All we needed to do was make sure the edges were close to alignment between the two pieces, though we trim and sand the edges in the next step so even this isn't entirely crucial.

The stick holder and tool rest were also screwed on during this step to aid in holding the two plywood layers together as the glue set. The small holes cut in the previous step via the laser act as pilot holes for these components to be attached. Using 1/2" Phillips screws, the two 3D printed parts could be fastened with ease.

Lastly, small clamps were placed on the corners to ensure that proper adhesion of the two layers would occur overnight.

Step 4: Finishing Assembly

In the final assembly step, we removed the clamps so that the stations could be trimmed and cleaned up. Starting with the edges, we used a table saw to trim all four sides of the station so they were perfectly flush and clean of any residue glue.

Next, we used an oscillating spindle sander to remove any sharp corners or rough cuts along the edges to create a smooth perimeter. This helps in avoiding any potential splinters when the stations are moved around!

Using a drill press and 1/4" drill bit, we used the four larger holes previously laser cut into the top layer to act as guides and pilots for drilling through the bottom layer. Once drilled, the 3D printed TPU feet could be pressed through and the chamfered head created in the design locked them in place.

Lastly, we needed to cut the foam core pieces to be inserted into the stations. These pieces act as the disposable catch tray that can be flipped, then replaced overtime as glue builds up. We intentionally cut the openings in the stations to be 20" x 10" as our foam core stock is purchased in 20" x 30" sheets. This way we could create 3 easy trays from one sheet using either an X-Acto or Table Saw. The foam core fit snuggly into the stations, so no additional adhesion methods were actually needed. We decided to still use four 1/2" screws around the corners just to make sure they remained secure during transport and when handling the stations in and out of storage during class setup / cleanup.

Step 5: Conclusion

Overall, I am excited with how the stations turned out and even more excited to see how they will be used in our makerspace. Already, it is clear that they are a huge improvement to organizing the glue guns, sticks, and clearing the clutter and mess that was our old glue gun counter.

As with any design, there's always room for improvement so I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback! I am already think of ways that the tool rest / stick tray could be redesigned to allow for the stations to be stackable or interlocking for easier storage....

Thanks for reading and happy making!

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