Make your own magnetic construction kit, unbound by angle or length, with the help of some 3D printed caps!
Step 1: Experiment
Lots of interesting magnetic construction sets have been popping up, but they all seem content with making dodecahedrons all day long. If you're building a fort in the woods, nature doesn't supply you with pre-cut lumber. I wanted a quick way of exploring organic structure on my desk.
Step 2: The File
Trial and error proved the neodymium spheres had a tendency to slide off the tip of the wire and snap onto the side. I created a 3D model of some tubular wire caps that keep the magnets in place.
Drilling out plastic rod by hand would've been laborious and inaccurate so I had 32 identical caps printed in and sent to me in Shapeways' elasto plastic. Because of material costs, the best thing for inventors to print these days are small things, and these caps are as small as it gets.
You can download the .STL of my original caps here if you want to print them yourself.
STL - 32x Plastic caps for 12 guage wire + 1/4" magnets
Step 3: The Build
Assembly is easy! Just cut each wire to size with nippers, sand down any sharp edges and slide one cap onto each end of all the wire links.
When printed in elasto-plastic my file fit 11-13 gauge wire because of the materials stretch. If printing in plastics like PLA or ABS tolerance will be more important. A digital caliper is a great tool for this and you should be able to find one for under $20 at your hardware store.
I bought my 1/4" sphere magnets here but you can use anything you have laying around.
If you print 32 caps, you should end up with 16 completed links.
Step 4: Now the Fun Part
Snap a magnet to lots of links beforehand: When you want to create a new corner, use those links. When you want to connect two corners, use an empty link. This makes it so you aren't juggling magnets in one hand while you're trying to assemble.
Start with a solid base. You'll soon learn to love triangles. Build slowly up, and keep everything neat.
No more links the right length? You can snap a magnet anywhere along the length of the wire, it will just tend to slide more than the magnets on the end.
Want to take your set with you? No need for disassembly, just smash everything down and toss it in your pocket, the magnets keep it all together. And don't forget, all of these sets are compatible with each other. Challenge your friends to make the best design, but at the end of the day you can throw all your sets together and build something awesome.
Step 5: That's Just the Beginning...
Now it's your turn. If you have some wire laying around the house you can measure its diameter and create your own tubes to fit. Use a program like Tinkercad, Sketchup, or Blender to model and export your own STL file. You can print your file through sites like Shapeways, Sculpteo, or i.Materialize. More advanced designers can figure out ways to improve upon this design, and we can start a community database. Maybe you'll want to sharpen the tube so you can snap together sharper angles, maybe you want to add junctions for other wires to wires snap in, or maybe there's just "a better way". The possibilities are endless, so don't let my ideas cloud your creativity.