Can You 3D Print An Axe?

3D printers hit the scene in a big way in the last decade, and thanks to the constant improvements that we’ve seen since then you can now get a decent one, assembled or as a kit, for a reasonable price. The one major drawback is that almost all of these printers are limited to printing in plastic, which has its obvious limitations. Printing in metal seems like the next logical step, and a group from Michigan Tech has created something that is accessible to most of us. Spoiler: they used plastic and metal printing to print a functioning axe.

Untill now, most metal printers have used a process like laser sintering to achieve the desired effect. This group uses a much more common tool: a MIG welder. MIG welders work by passing a wire through the welding handle, which would normally used as the filler material for the weld. If you use the wire for laying down material rather than for welding specifically, you can build up material on a surface in essentially the same way that a printer that prints plastic would.

From there, all that’s needed is to attach the MIG welder to a CNC machine and get to printing. The team has produced some great results so far, including some metal braces and farm implements, so hopefully their work leads to another revolution in 3D printing for the masses. We think it’s high time.

35 thoughts on “Can You 3D Print An Axe?

  1. For jobs that don’t require precisely machined parts, something like this would have tons of uses for homesteaders and farmers for repairscand modifications to existing equipment.

    1. The main drawback with printing parts on a MIG machine is the need for argon gas. Nitrogen isn’t inert and causes brittle parts.

      Also, they’re not using MIG but MAG welding, which still uses argon, but it’s technically possible to weld with 100% CO2. It just spits and sputters like heck.

      1. I think the original post is meant to confirm the notion that a user cannot simply 3d print a sharpened axe ready to do its functional purpose directly out of the 3d print bed. What we would like to see with the future of 3d printed sharp things would perhaps be a demonstration of a printer literally printing a sharpened blade.

        Having the science figured out to determine where the sharpest point of the axe would be and then printing it to that exact, itsy bitsy tiny position over and over again until a full axe is formed would be the solution to the original question.

  2. You can, but why would you.

    I understand the drive to prove the usefulness of 3d printers but why tread on realms where it can’t show off it’s strengths?
    Folding flat stock around a high carbon insert is more efficient & probably gives a better product. It’s not dissimilar to what was done in the American frontier days when high carbon steel was expensive. 3D printing is useful for complex shapes that can’t be readily made through traditional means. 3D printing brackets and geometric primitives is not a good used of the tech.
    Hasn’t this been done with many industrial bots designed for welding car frames?

      1. I’m not trying to argue against innovation.
        >> If a part can be manufactured without the various machines it takes to machine a metal part – why wouldn’t you want that?

        Because you’re ignoring the vast apply chain this relies on. You still need a welder, source of mig wire, shielding gas or flux core. If you want to show off a ‘new tech’ (which I argue this isn’t) pick a better example than a wedge. You can make an axe out of scrap metal in a bonfire with a hammer. If you’re a skilled smith it might even be brag worthy.

        This would be great for making odd gears that require time to hand file or bulky, expensive, hobbing / lathe tooling but brackets & axes are trivial tools that don’t require any special skill to make. 3d printing can’t compete with traditional methods on speed or cost, so don’t try.
        Even as a proof of concept there are better things to use.

    1. The first generation almost always take a path like this.Read the “Innovators Dilemma”… lots of mature industries have been blindsided by upstarts like this. What interesting is virtually no leader of the existing generation remains so when the new technology takes over. No major vacuum tube manufacturer become a leading producer of transistor, nor did transistor manufacturers become leaders in integrated circuits.Some companies have remained relevant only by purchasing relevant startups (Microsoft bought Internet Explorer).

      1. This isn’t making a better vacuum tube though, or shifting the paradigm with semiconductors. This is making the same vacuum tube but slower and more expensive.
        The only way it can compete is if it enters in the market where vacuum tubes are already slow to produce and expensive, or where it does the same job better.
        I’m not saying it won’t change things only that it currently seems to be chasing a race that’s already finished. Show me the things this does better than traditional manufacturing not the things it does slower.

        1. Quite frankly, it may not ever be an improvement. But given new technology often appears “inferior” to established methods, there is no way to know what the end result will look like. The classic example was found in hard drives, each new generation of drive was smaller but also with less capacity than existing drives. Take the case of 3.5″ drives. Desktop makers were initially not interested, but laptop manufacturers were. But as they improved, they eventually displaced 5″ HDs (except for niche applications). Now, newer technologies are displacing traditional HDs (SS drives, or placing everything inn the “cloud”). Each time this occurs new dominate players emerge. If that occurs here, expect to see the same (unless of course, they get acquired).

          1. I think that’s retconning it rather heavily.

            Hard drives were getting smaller AND bigger at the same time. Physically smaller drives were faster, used less power, were more reliable, cheaper to make… etc. etc.

    2. Because this is the starting point, not the end.

      First you prove it can work, then you start looking at how it can work better.

      Can they reduce feature size?

      Can they reduce porosity?

      How about slump? Would reducing slump help reduce feature size?

      How about inter layer adhesion?

      What happens to all of these parameters and more when you:

      Increase traverse speed

      Decrease traverse speed

      Adjust wire size?

      Adjust amperage?

      Do it all under an argon blanket (kinky!)

      Do it in a vacuum? (How many flies does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only 2 but don’t ask how they get in.)

      The beautiful thing about progress is, we don’t have to stand on the shoulders of giants. We can stand on any shoulders and see further.


      1. I tried to download your paper, but it required a login. My question is whether the resulting parts are machinable? Being able to replace a rough casting like a sand casting with a 3D printed part and cleaning it up on machine tools seems like a great opportunity!

        1. This, and I’d also like to know what the material’s heat treatment properties are. If you could print gears or other machine parts, clean up the fine features, then harden them for wear resistance, then this will be a real game changer for smaller shops.

  3. Until 10ns lasers come down in price by another order of magnitude, I think the best people are going to get at home is metal powder held together by gel that has to be to be sintered to get a metal part. You can inject it into a mold, print it or use a powder bed but post-process sintering is going to be how you make it. Low-cost high-speed lasers will bring SLM to the world but that may be 10 or more years away.

      1. With an improvement in battery tech, we can all have star wars weapons!
        TODO: find cheap renewable and very fast way of flying through space ect. in star wars type vehicles

  4. Most of us learned to crawl, before we could walk, run, swim, or fly… I always appreciate those who take an idea, and make it happen. Doesn’t have to be a prize winner, or something that changes anything, doesn’t even have to work well, or better than anything found on Ebay. I suppose there are plenty of folks, who troll these sorts of forums, looking for ideas, in the crawling stage, which they can rush through development, ship their designs off to China, for a quick production, and fast profits.

    Know telling if this idea will go anywhere, as is, but room for further refinements. Might serve a use in some areas, or even take a different direction. The point to all this, is that many people have a welder, which in itself a very useful tool, and adding the ability to print metal parts at home, rather than run off and buy off the shelf from Walmart or Home Depot, order online. Sure the quality of the parts probably won’t be as good, but probably good enough to get by for a while, long enough to get a proper replacement, or long enough to test out another idea.

    Not everything has to compete or replace an existing technology, just being useful is good enough.

  5. I’m actually kind of dismayed at how many HaDers don’t get it. First, you play with something new. If you are playing, you can try anything and, if it doesn’t work, you just shrug your shoulders, note the new information you have gained, and try something else; you can’t fail if you are just playing. Once you have played enough to really understand it, then you can try using what you’ve learned to do something serious, something that has consequences if you fail. How do y’all not understand that?

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