We’ve seen a few advances in the finishing processes of 3D prints over the last few months that result in some very attractive parts that look like they were injection molded. Smoothing ABS prints is now a necessary skill for anyone looking to produce professional parts, but those of us using PLA for our RepRaps have been left in the cold. After some experimentation, the guys over at protoparadigm have come up with a way to smooth out those PLA prints, using the same technique and a chemical that’s just as safe as acetone.
Instead of acetone, the guys at protoparadigm are using tetrahydrofuran, or THF, as a solvent for PLA. Other PLA solvents aren’t friendly to living organisms or are somewhat hard to obtain. THF has neither of these qualities; you still need to use it in a well ventilated area with nitrile gloves, but the same precautions when using acetone or MEK still apply. It’s also easy to obtain, as well: you can grab some on Amazon, even.
The process for smoothing PLA prints with THF is the same as smoothing ABS prints with acetone. Just suspend the print in a glass container, pour in a tiny amount of the solvent, and (gently) heat it. The evaporated solvent will smooth all the ridges out of the print, leaving a shiny and smooth surface. You can, of course, hand polish it by dedicating a lint-free cloth and a pair of gloves to the task.