Custom Hexagon Shelves Using 3D Printing

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About: I teach high school engineering, have an amazing family, and love making things!

We recently redid our basement as a maker space, and we wanted to add more storage while also encouraging the maker vibe we wanted. I’ve also been 3D printing for about four years, and while printing toys and figures is fun, I am always looking for ways to make practical use of my 3D printer. After a little inspiration from the Internet, I decided to make these fun custom hexagon shelves from some 1” x 8” pine and 3D printed parts. My favorite part about this design is that you can create any hexagonal pattern you want to fit your needs and your space.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Planning Your Shelves

The first step is to plan out the pattern you want to build so you can determine exactly what your material needs will be. You can create whatever pattern you want with whatever board length you want - the flexibility of this design is fantastic! In my case, I started with the space the shelf needed to fit in, which was about 28" tall, and making a hand-drawn picture of my design.

To determine the length of each board I needed, I had to do a little math. I looked at the tallest portion of my design, the two hexes on the sides. Starting from 28", I subtracted 2.25" for the three horizontal layers of wood, that left me with 25.75" for the hexagons. I had two hexagons stacked , so each one was 12.875" tall. If you know the distance from the center of the hexagon to the edge, this handy calculator will tell you the side length you want. Under "Choose a Regular Polygon", select Hexagon, then under "Choose a Calculation" select "Find a, R, A, P | Given inradius r". The inradius is the height of the hexagon divided by 2, then look for the value of "a" in the results. I rounded to my inradius to 6.5" for my design to get a side length of 7.5". You can see my results at this link.

As you plan your design, remember you need a connector for the front and back of each intersection, so count the number of two-board intersections and the number of three-board intersections, then double those numbers to determine how many of each connector you need. For my design, I needed:

  • 24 boards
  • 24 double connectors
  • 16 triple connectors

Later on, I decided to model the entire thing in Autodesk Inventor to make sure everything would go together the way I expected it to. This step is entirely optional, but was pretty fun to do!

Step 2: Collecting Materials

The materials I used to make the shelves are as follows:

I decided to use the 1” x 8” select pine because I didn’t want to finish the wood right away, and the select pine comes with a pretty smooth surface. You can use any 1”-thick wood you like, but you may need to do a lot of sanding to clean everything up. For my build, 24 boards for the sides at 7.5" each meant I needed 180" of board, plus a few inches of waste from the kerf of the blade. Make sure you plan for the kerf - you'll be making a lot of cuts, and for my build, it added up to about 3" of lost wood.

Tools:

  • Miter saw - Any saw would work as long as the cuts are square and straight
  • Sandpaper
  • Orbital sander - This is optional, but saves a lot of time.
  • 3D printer
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • 1/16” drill bit for pilot holes - This self-centering drill bit worked perfectly!

If you don't have a 3D printer, you could use a print and ship website like 3dHubs or printathing.com. When I uploaded the parts, 3DHubs quoted $4.75 for each double connector and $6.00 for each triple connector. I have never used either website myself, so I cannot vouch for their work.

Step 3: Cutting and Prepping the Wood

The next step is to cut all of the boards you need. Consistency is absolutely essential here, and depending on your design, you may have a lot of cuts to make. If your boards vary in length more than 1/8" or so, your final assembly may not come together correctly. I took the time to make some practice cuts on scrap lumber to make sure I was happy with my setup, and the extra time really paid off in the final product!

The best way to quickly get consistent cuts is to use a stop block with your miter saw. My saw came with a small arm that I used to clamp a scrap piece of 2"x4" in place, but you could also use double-stick tape on a piece of scrap wood or a piece of masking tape stuck to the fence of your saw. To set your stop block, bring the blade of the saw down - with the saw unplugged - and measure the distance from the saw teeth to your target length, then use that measurement to set your stop block in place.

The stop block was also essential because my miter saw only has a 10" blade, which isn't enough to cut through the 1"x8" board I was using in one go. I had to make one cut, flip the board, and finish the cut from the other side. The stop made this process quick and painless. I did have a few boards where the cuts weren't aligned well and left an edge, but I was able to sand them down and hide the edges behind the connector pieces.

After cutting all of the pieces, I sanded all of the pieces to knock down all of the edges and surfaces using 220 grit sandpaper. I did some of it by hand, then switched to an orbital sander to finish the job. In hindsight, I could have done some of the sanding before I cut the boards, which would have saved me time at this step. Also, if you wanted to stain or paint the boards for your shelf, this would be the time to do it.

Step 4: Computer Modeling

I modeled the connectors I wanted using Autodesk Inventor, which I use for my job. Since the design was based on hexagons, that made all of the angles involved easy. Each branch of the connectors also has a countersink hole sized to fit a #6 wood screw.

From Inventor, I was able to export the files as .stl files to use with my 3D printer. You can download the files here or at Thingiverse.

Step 5: Printing the Connector Pieces

With the .stl files ready to go, it was time to print the parts I needed. My printer is a Printrbot Simple Metal with a 0.4 mm nozzle, and each part was printed with 3 walls with 20% infill to make the vertical walls solid and as strong as possible without printing the parts completely solid. If you don't have a 3D printer, you can use a service like 3Dhubs.com or printathing.com to print and ship the parts. I've never used either service myself, so I can't address the service or the quality of the prints.

I was able to print two triple connectors or four double connectors at a time. My design called for 16 of the triple connectors and 24 of the double connectors, which used a total of about 1 kg of filament and about 45 hours of print time. My roll of yellow filament was already partially used when I started this project, and when it ran out, I switched to grey.

After printing the parts and cutting the wood, all of the materials are ready to go!

Step 6: Assembling the Shelves

As I finished printing the connector pieces, I started rough fitting everything together. The connectors slid into place with a solid friction fit, so I basically just had to slide everything together. As you assemble everything:

  • Add one hexagon at a time by putting all of the connectors in place on one side of the boards, then lay the assembly down on that face to put the connectors on the back side.
  • Get the connectors snugged up against the wood so there are no gaps between the plastic and the wood.
  • Be careful not to force the 3D printed parts too hard to avoid cracking them. If the connector won't go on, sand that corner of the board a bit more then try again.
  • Put any connectors with print defects on the back side of the shelf where they will be less noticeable.

Once I had everything assembled, I put in the wood screws. For each hole, I drilled a pilot hole using a 5/64" self-centering drill bit to avoid splitting the wood, then drove the screws into place by hand. Be careful not to over-tighten the screws as this may cause the layers of the 3D printed parts to split - I had this happen to me on one connector. The split wasn't bad, so I took the part off, then super-glued it together using Loctite Super Glue - Ultra Gel Control. Not every super glue works on PLA plastic, but this one works with the Hatchbox filament I print with. I let the glue dry, then carefully put the connector back on and gently screwed it into place.

And that's it! The shelves look great and are extremely solid. I actually probably could have skipped the screws and just used the friction fit for the parts as I won't be putting any significant weight on the shelves, but I liked how the screws looked.

I hope you found this Instructable useful! Thank you for reading, and good luck building your own set of custom hexagon shelves!

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42 Discussions

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Great Lakes Makes

8 days ago

Great project! I love the multi-material look. It would be fun to intersperse some clear panels with the wood.

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MagazineD

5 months ago

great tuturial or an really usefull and nice shelf. Will try to replace the 3D connectors (dont have an 3D printer) hope it will make something beautifull too. Thanks for the share :)

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TonyH0612MagazineD

Reply 3 months ago

Thanks! Let us know what you end doing for the connectors - getting them printed online is an option, but it would likely be expensive. Please share some pictures of your build!

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ȘipoșR

4 months ago

Nice project. Is possible to resize it? Do you have this project in SolidWorks or Catia? Because I'm from Europe and I work in mm/cm/m. Thanks and great job!

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TonyH0612ȘipoșR

Reply 3 months ago

Thanks! It should be pretty easy to resize the part. You should be able to dial in the size for the connectors using the scale tool in your slicer, though that would require printing a bunch of test parts.

I modeled the part in Autodesk Inventor, so I can post the .ipt file if that would help. Unfortunately, I don’t have SolidWorks or Catia, but if you’d like to tell me what internal dimension you’re looking for, I’d be happy to create a modified version of the file and post it for you. Thanks again, and good luck!

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Don Barthel

6 months ago

I was so excited about making one of these that I didn't consider where I'd put it, I just fired up my 3D printer and started printing. After making half the parts required in brown I noticed that I wouldn't have enough filament to make them all. So I bought some 'wood' filament with wood powder embedded in the plastic, and those match pine very closely. The front uses the wood colored connectors and the back uses the brown connectors.

After making all the connectors I have a difficult time figuring out what I'd actually do with the shelves once finished. I ended up deciding that I would put my t-shirts on it since I have too many to fit in my drawers. You see you get a new t-shirt at every tech event, every running race, every promotional event. Many end up as rags but I still have quite a few that I actually want to wear. I figured that to comfortably fit folded t-shirts, the shelf needs to be 11" wide and 16" deep. That's a problem when using pine boards that are a maximum 11.5" wide (1x12s) - using a board with the edge facing out means the depth of the shelves can't be more that 11.5". But I didn't want to use plywood.

So here's what I did. I turned the boards 90 degrees so that the end grain was facing out, using the 11.5 width as the width of my shelves. Depth is now however you cut the boards. So that the shelves weren't too high, I used 1x8s (7.5" wide) as my vertical members. The hexagons look squat but they fit the space better this way. I have enough room to extend the shelves one more hexagon high.

Kinda weird huh?

20190116_123828.jpg
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TonyH0612Don Barthel

Reply 6 months ago

Your shelves look fantastic! I really like the stretched out design - it looks great and definitely gives you a lot more useable space. Thank you so much for sharing!

I’ve used the wood filament too and really like it. I’m using Hatchbox from Amazon, -mwhat brand are you using? The only issue I’ve had is that the filament expands a lot in the printer as it heats up. It has only been a minor annoyance for the most part, but one time when I was pulling the filament, it got itself stuck in the middle of my extruder and the end broke off in the extruder as I tried to pull it free. For a bit I thought I’d ruined my extruder, but I managed it break it free and push it out the hot end.

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Don BarthelTonyH0612

Reply 6 months ago

The filament that I used was "3D Hero Wood PLA" thru Amazon Canada. I didn't have any expansion issues. In fact it printed great using my usual PLA settings. But I print at a relatively slow speed as a rule so that might help.

I haven't screwed mine together yet. I plan to plane the ends of the boards to finish them off better then rub them with tung oil as a finish. I'm interested to see how well the wood PLA takes the tung oil, if at all. Then I'll screw everything together with these little brass screws I bought for the job.

I used the cheapest pine boards from the home improvement store, not the more expensive furniture quality boards. On the wider 1x12s there's a little bit of a bow in the middle but that didn't seem to negatively affect the fit of the connectors.

Thank you for the great idea for these connectors!

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Tracylwoods

Question 6 months ago on Step 3

What was the brand and model of your 3D printer? I'm trying to decide what type, etc, to purchase and any input would be awesome!!

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Don BarthelTracylwoods

Answer 6 months ago

I'm using an Anet A8 3d printer which is a very inexpensive kit printer to print these brackets. I have very good results by clipping an add-on 'borosilicate' glass plate to my print bed which makes it easy to remove my prints once they cool down.

3dprinter.jpg
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TonyH0612Don Barthel

Reply 6 months ago

Thanks for sharing! Please share a picture when you finish!

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TonyH0612Tracylwoods

Answer 6 months ago

My 3D printer is a Printrbot Simple Metal with a heated bed. I love it, and would definitely recommend it, if it wasn’t for the fact that Printrbot went out of business last year. I get great prints, but I’m worried something will wear out that I can’t fix or replace.

My main recommendation would be to buy a kit printer that you build yourself if you have the time and skills. In my experience, you will have to disassemble it at some point to fix an issue, and understanding your printer inside and out is key. If I was going to buy a new printer now, I’d look at the Prusa i3 MK3. It has great reviews and is relatively affordable, so you might check that out. Good luck!

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iamchrismoran

6 months ago

One thing I really like about this design/method is the potential for using scrap dimensional lumber that might otherwise be relegated to the fire pit.

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TonyH0612iamchrismoran

Reply 6 months ago

Definitely, especially since you could continue to build on and expand the shelves as you had more scrap lumber. Just keep a few brackets on hand, and cut a few more boards whenever you have some new scrap!

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zzjackson

6 months ago

Definitely might be “cheaper” and stronger if you casted a mold and casted from that mold resin brackets. I’ll give it a try and let you know!

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TonyH0612zzjackson

Reply 6 months ago

I’d love to hear out that works! Casting or molding the brackets would definitely remove the weakness inherent in the layers of the 3D prints and strengthen the overall build. I’ve never tried anything like that, so I would be interested to learn more about how you do it!

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RadekJ

6 months ago

This is absolutely awesome! Another reason for me to buy a 3D printer :)

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TonyH0612RadekJ

Reply 6 months ago

Thank you so much! Think of all the money you save using the printer to make things like this - it practically pays for itself! At least, that’s the justification I used to get mine. ;)

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RadekJTonyH0612

Reply 6 months ago

Yeah... for some reason my wife doesn't follow my logic :D

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TonyH0612RadekJ

Reply 6 months ago

To be honest, that argument never worked with my wife either, and it still isn’t working when I try to convince her to let me buy a laser cutter!