A Fully Mechanical 3D Printer is Mind Blowing

mechanical 3d printer

It’s been a while since we’ve been seriously impressed with a project like this one. [Daniël de Bruin], a student at the Art Academy in Utrecht has just put the final touches on his mechanical 3D printer.

That’s right. Mechanical.

No computers, no motors, just the power of gravity. It could have been built 100 years ago.

The machine uses a 15kg weight to power the mechanism — it does need to be reset during the print, but that’s a small price to pay for this kind of mechanical automation.

He uses a type of clay in a paste extruder that slowly deposits the material on the build platform. To program the machine, there is a small guiding mechanism that follows the contour of a bent aluminum wire. This allows you to make any number of symmetrical and circular objects.

[Daniël] says he was inspired to build this machine because he loves 3D printing — but at the same time, he feels like it’s kind of like cheating. Beyond pressing the print button, there’s no real human interaction.

I love technology but how can I reclaim ownership of my work? Perhaps by building the machine that produces the work. Perhaps by physically powering the machine, which I built, that produces the work. in hopes of rediscovering the sense of having created something, I create.

Amazing work [Daniël]!


  1. garym53 says:

    aaaah mechanical heaven!

  2. Addidis says:

    sounds funny. :D Nice work.

  3. Z00111111 says:

    I usually shudder at the sight of an art project on this site, but I do like this one. It just feels more hacky and “because I can” than artistic statement.

  4. Hans PUFAL says:

    Clearly this should be named the “Babbage priner”

  5. Koen Blank says:

    WOW knowing how everything has to be just right with 3d printers it is amazing to see this work. My fully computer controlled constantly adjusted reprap manages to fail on a regular basis. Making this work is heroic. And it is “programmable” by bending just one wire. This made my day!

  6. dutado says:

    Such a beutiful machine. Love the disc integrator!

    • Markus says:

      (Mod: I hit “report” instead of “reply” by accident, disregard that.)

      I agree, the combination of the simple guide and the constant track velocity mechanism / integrator is a beautiful solution, makes the contraption worthwhile and viable.


  7. aztraph says:

    you could probably use the same concept as a cnc machine too. in lathe form of course.

  8. RoboMonkey says:

    Consider my mind BLOWN. I’m sure there’s a motorized version of this in industry at some time in the past. Would be interesting to find it. But I think this guy earned an A!

  9. richardkutina says:

    This guy deserves a moon of cookies, realy…
    Pretty awesome work, I love it!

  10. gcat122 says:

    WOW! The continuously variable transmission that maintains a constant linear speed under the extruder nozzle is is a delightful touch of genius.

  11. Tom the Brat says:

    Man, there’s a LOT of engineering to get that to work. I’m impressed!

  12. HV says:

    Excellent work and a great project to see on here. Clockwork stuff can be pretty amazing and fun to watch.

  13. Fik of Borg says:

    Brilliant. One can imagine it made of wood, leather and catgut, and Leonardo (the italian, not the turtle) standing satisfied beside it.

  14. Dr Gebackene Bohnen says:

    For some one who has 100% electronic and 0% mechanical bias, i find this sublime!

  15. joe bonasses says:

    Someone needs to change their major from art to mechanical engineering, lol

  16. regiscruzbr says:

    Great project, I loved the way he program the G code.

  17. Matt says:

    I don’t comment much, but this impressed me so thoroughly, I had to say: “Well Done!”.

  18. Daniel says:

    Wow! 25 comments so far and none of them negative. Must be some kind of record for HAD comment section…

    This is a really cool project. Looks just like something Leonardo (the Italian) could have come up with.

  19. w says:

    This isn’t a hack. It is a bona fide invention. And a spectacularly fine one at that.

    Beautifully engineered and implemented. Splendid work.

  20. MRE says:

    omg absolute love.
    I really like looking at clock tower clocks, 19th century steam engines, and any machine turn of the century really.
    Loved the air resistance fan for speed control, which reminds me of those clock towers.
    Excellent work.

  21. Greenaum says:

    It’s very good. But… the automata of the 18th (17th?) Centuries show that he could do yet more… Dunno if an X/Y machine would be the way, I think a Delta would be more suited. With a Delta you’d just need 3 “program” wires to control the arms. An X-Y might use a series of cams, with the reader slipping from one cam to the next…

    I bet it could be done mechanically. It would be a real challenge to do, but maybe some very clever software would be the other half of it. Either converting objects, or maybe G-code, into cam patterns or wire bending.

    I wonder if the guy who did this very impressive thing, would consider expanding it to 3 delta arms?

    Also, last thought for this machine, I bet some sort of museum that sells pottery could sell these pots all day long. Have the customer pick their own pattern and insert the requisite wire. Maybe -even- allow some to bend a wire of their own if they really want to, and for a few more quid. Stick the pot in the oven while the customer wanders round to see the sights, and present it to them at the end. Or possibly just post it to their home.

  22. NoJustNo says:

    The clay is impressive. I’ve never seen a clay that could be extruded, stick to itself that well, and have that much mechanical strength.

    • Greenaum says:

      Some method of pinching, maybe pinch wheels running a bit behind the extruder, might help it all stay together. Though once you kiln it, the whole thing melts together anyway.

  23. DainBramage1991 says:

    Possible sales pitch: “No electrons were harmed in the making of this pot.”

    A truly excellent piece, very impressive indeed.

  24. Eirinn says:

    “I love technology but how can I reclaim ownership of my work?” – we should, at some point, evolve past the point where ownership is necessary (open source).

    • Greenaum says:

      It’s more sort-of “authorship”, “craftsmanship”, a sort of moral or mental ownership, a sense of having made something with one’s own hands. Pressing a button doesn’t give that. Even designing an object on computer doesn’t have the physical satisfaction to it. Although I suppose making your 3D printer yourself would help a lot with that.

      Not the literal, boring, capitalist type of “ownership”.

  25. dsblackout says:

    Could likely make it not need a reset while still being entirely mechanical by appropriating the mainspring from a decently sized clock, or making one himself, and end up with a clockpunk 3D printer in the process as a happy bonus.

    • Rollyn01 says:

      Honestly, I’m thinking that a crank would definitely be the best next step. Human-powered 3D printing without electronics. Excuse me while I stop salivating from excitement.

  26. Hirudinea says:

    OK, screw everyone else, send this guy into space! (But bring him back he’s amazing!)

  27. larry_the_potter says:

    I’m a potter by trade and a hacker by inclination and education. I join with the folks who feel reminded of turn of a couple centuries back, and my “Steam Punk” artistic roots. Is it art? Is it a hack? I’ve got to say yes most enthusiastically yes, it is both.

    Thanks for sharing this great project with us.

  28. zuul says:

    lol that massive flywheel

  29. Daniël de Bruin … I would like to buy you a beer … Brilliant work man … Hats off ..

  30. twdarkflame says:

    File this design under “stuff to mess up the timeline with” once time travel is invented ;)

    Awesome work.

  31. glutnix_neo says:

    We that kind of 3D printer in the Philippines 100 yrs ago… and it prints faster too… L.O.L.

    • Eric says:

      That’s not printing, that’s molding.

    • hisoF says:

      Wow, what is a person with this kind of mind doing in HaD? And the pompous way he say’s it makes me feel disgusted instead of just sad for him.

      I imagine him like a Homo habilis watched a YouTube video of how a rocket works, and thought ” that’s stupid, I can do that if I fart hard enough!”

      But that would be insulting to the Homo habilis.

  32. ANC says:

    What an elegant and clever machine!

  33. Alan says:

    If the wire shape was replaced by a model, that also rotated, you would have the basics of a rifle stock copying machine.

  34. echodelta says:

    Nice to see player piano transmission chain in use. I noticed some jerky motion in the rotation, could be the horizontal chain drive catching on the sprockets. These chains are normally vertical and with a slack wheel or just the right tension.

  35. RoboMonkey says:

    Should the title be changed to “Steampunk 3D printer”?

  36. jorpy says:

    Wouldn’t really cal it 3D. Yes, the object that it makes is in 3D, but it is only customizable in 2D

  37. DaveO says:

    I like it! It’s an “additive lathe”.

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