Visual 3D Print Finishing Guide

With 3D printers now dropping to record low prices, more and more people are getting on the additive manufacturing bandwagon. As a long time believer in consumer-level desktop 3D printing, this is a very exciting time for me; the creativity coming out of places like Thingiverse or the 3D printing communities on Reddit is absolutely incredible. But the realist in me knows that despite what slick promotional material from the manufacturers may lead you to believe, these aren’t Star Trek-level replicators. What comes out of these machines is often riddled with imperfections (from small to soul crushing), and can require considerable cleanup work before they start to look like finished pieces.

If all you hope to get out of your 3D printer are some decent toy boats and some low-poly Pokemon, then have no fear. Even the most finicky of cheap printers can pump those out all day. But if you’re looking to build display pieces, cosplay props, or even prototypes that are worth showing to investors, you’ve got some work cut out for you.

With time, patience, and a few commercial products, you can accomplish the ultimate goal: turning a 3D printed object into something that doesn’t look like it was 3D printed. For the purposes of this demonstration I’ll be creating a replica of the mobile emitter used by the “Emergency Medical Hologram” in Star Trek: Voyager. I can neither confirm nor deny I selected this example due to the fact that I’m currently re-watching Voyager on Netflix. Let’s make it look good.

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The Illuminated Waterways of the United States

A recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter, redditor [i-made-a-thing] was in want of a project and — stumbling on some waterways maps on Etsy — launched into fabricating an illuminated map of all the waterways in the United States.

The map itself was laser-cut out of 1/4 inch plywood at his local makerspace. Thing is, smaller rivers and tributaries were too narrow at the scale [i-made-a-thing] wanted, so he ended up spending several hours in Photoshop preparing the image so larger rivers would be laser-cut — and not break off– while the rest would be etched onto the surface. After testing the process by making a few coasters, he was ready to get started on the real deal.

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Bodging on More Flash Memory

[Curmudegeoclast] found himself running out of flash memory on a Trinket M0 board, so he decided to epoxy and fly-wire a whopping 2 MB of extra flash on top of the original CPU.

We’ll just get our “kids these days” rant out of the way up front: the stock SAMD21 ARM chip has 256 kB (!) of flash to begin with, and is on a breakout board with only five GPIO pins, for a 51 kB / pin ratio! And now he’s adding 2 MB more? That’s madness. The stated reason for [Curmudegeoclast]’s exercise is MicroPython, which takes up a big chunk of flash just for the base language. We suspect that there’s also a fair amount of “wouldn’t it be neat?” in the mix as well. Whatever.

The hack is a classic. It starts off with sketchy wires soldered to pins and breadboarded up with a SOIC expander board. Following that proof of concept, some degree of structural integrity is brought to the proceedings by gluing the flash chip, dead-bug, on top of the microcontroller. We love the (0805?) SPI pullup resistor that was also point-to-point soldered into place. We would not be able to resist the temptation to entomb the whole thing in hot glue for “long-term” stability, but there are better options out there, too.

This hack takes a minimalist board, and super-sizes it, and for that, kudos. What would you stuff into 2 MB of free flash on a tiny little microcontroller? Any of you out there using MicroPython or CircuitPython care to comment on the flash memory demands? 256 kB should be enough for anyone.

A Great Way to Make Quick and Easy Knobs

Here’s a great way to quickly and easily make attractive and functional knobs with no tools required. All you need is some casting resin (epoxy would do in a pinch), a silicone mold intended for candy, and some socket head bolts. With the right preparation and a bit of careful placement and attention, smooth and functional knob ends are only minutes away. Embedded below is a short video demonstrating the process.

These may not replace purpose-made knobs for final products, but for prototypes or to use around the shop on jigs, clamps, or furniture they certainly fit the bill. With a layer of adhesive fabric or rubber, they might even make serviceable adjustable feet for low-stress loads.

This technique could be extended to reproducing broken or missing dakaware or bakelite knobs. This, of course, would require an original, unbroken knob and a small silicone mold, but it’s still a project that’s well within the capabilities of the garage-bound hacker.

While we’re on the subject of knobs, don’t forget we’ve seen an excellent method of repairing knobs as well.

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Fridge Compressor to 2-Stroke Engine: JB Weld for the Win

We like this one because it has a real Junkyard Wars feel to it: turning a cast-off fridge compressor into a two-stroke internal combustion engine. [Makerj101] is doing this with tooling no more complicated than a hacksaw and a hand drill. And JB Weld — lots and lots of JB Weld.

[Makerj101]’s video series takes us through his entire conversion process. Despite the outward similarity between compressors and engines, there are enough crucial differences to make the conversion challenging. A scheme for controlling intake and exhaust had to be implemented, the crankcase needed to be sealed, and a cylinder head with a spark plug needed to be fabricated. All of these steps would have been trivial in a machine shop with mill and lathe, but [Makerj101] chose the hard way. An old CPU heat sink serves as a cylinder head, copper wire forms a head gasket and spacer to decrease the compression ratio, and the old motor rotor serves as a flywheel. JB Weld is slathered everywhere, and to good effect as the test run in the video below shows.

Think you recognize [Makerj101]? You probably do, since we featured his previous machine shop-less engine build. This guy sure gets his money’s worth out of a tube of JB Weld.

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PCB Solder Pad Repair & Cleanup

What do you do when your motherboard is covered in electrolytic grime, has damaged pads and traces that are falling apart? You call [RetroGameModz] to work their magic with epoxy and solder.

While this video is a bit old, involved repair videos never go out of style. What makes this video really special is that it breaks from the common trend of “watch me solder in silence” (or it’s close cousin, “watch me solder to loud music”). Instead, [RetroGameModz] walks you through what they’re doing, step by step in their repair of a motherboard. And boy do they have their work cut out for them: the motherboard they’re working on has definitely seen better days. Specifically, it was better before corrosion from a leaking electrolytic capacitor and the well-meaning touch of its owner.

After a quick review of the damage, all of the components are removed from the battle zone. Then the cleaning begins, taking special precautions not to rip pads up. After everything’s cleaned up, things get really interesting. [RetroGameModz] starts to make their own pads from raw copper using the old pads as templates to replace the missing ones on the motherboard. After a bit of epoxy, it’s hard to tell that the pads were handmade, they fit in so well.

This epoxy trick is also used to deal with some heavily damaged traces, cool! During this repair, [RetroGameModz] used an epoxy that is heat resistant up to 315°C for 60 seconds. If you ever find any kind of epoxy on the market that is specified to be heat resistant up to more than 315°C, [RetroGameModz] would be quite happy if you could leave some info in the comment section, as they’ve found high-temperature epoxies quite difficult to source.

This goes to show that some repairs really should be done by professionals. [RetroGameModz] surely agrees, stating that “If you are not a repair technician and your motherboard has stopped working, it would be in the best of your own interest not to attempt a repair that you really cannot handle.” Good advice. But, we can never resist trying to fix things ourselves before handing things off to the more experienced. Call it a vice, or a virtue; we’ll call it fun.

What do you think? Are there some repairs you rely on technicians for? Or do you fix everything yourself? Let us know in the comments.

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Casting Cylinder Heads Out Of JB Weld

Like friendship, JB Weld is magic. Rumors persist of shade tree mechanics in the Yukon repairing cracked engine blocks with JB Weld, and last month this theory was proved correct. [Project Farm] over on YouTube took a grinder to the head of a lawnmower engine, filled the gouge with JB Weld, and ran the engine for twenty minutes.

However, as with anything mechanical that doesn’t have a foul-mouthed Canadian in it, arguments ensued. ‘This was not a true test of JB Weld repairing a cracked engine block’, claimed Internet commenters, ‘I won’t even watch the video because the idea alone is click bait.’

Now, [Project Farm] is back at it. Is it possible to use JB Weld to cast an entire cylinder head for a lawnmower? It sure is. With a cast epoxy cylinder head, this engine will run for just long enough for a proof of concept.

This experiment began by casting a single monolithic block of JB Weld that’s a bit larger than the cylinder head for a lawnmower. After curing, this JB Brick was surfaced on both sides with a belt sander. No, there was no vacuum chamber or any other techniques used by people who work with epoxies for a living. With the brick surfaced, the head gasket was used to place the bolt holes, the brick was tapped for a spark plug, and a bit of the inside was Dremeled out for the valves.

After attaching the JB Weld cylinder head to a lawnmower, [Project Farm] ran the lawnmower for about a minute. Is this a proof of concept? Yes. Did it work? Absolutely. Is it the ultimate test of JB Weld and the myth of the cracked engine block? Unfortunately, no. For that, someone will have to build a real engine entirely out of JB Weld. Until then, just check out the video below.

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