Threading 3D Printed Parts: How To Use Heat-Set Inserts

We can make our 3D-printed parts even more capable when we start mixing them with some essential “mechanical vitamins.” By combining prints with screws, nuts, fasteners, and pins, we get a rich ecosystem for mechanism-making with capabilities beyond what we could simply print alone.

Today I’d like to share some tips on one of my favorite functional 3D-printing techniques: adding heat-set inserts. As someone who’s been installing them into plastic parts for years manually, I think many guides overlook some process details crucial to getting consistent results.

Make no mistake; there are a handful of insert guides already out there [1, 2]. (In fact, I encourage you to look there first for a good jump-start.) Over the years though, I’ve added my own finishing move (nothing exotic or difficult) which I call the Plate-Press Technique that gives me a major boost in consistency.

Join me below as I fill in the knowledge gaps (and some literal ones too) to send you back to the lab equipped with a technique that will give you perfectly-seated inserts every time.

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Heat-Set Insert Jig Grants Threads To 3D Prints

FDM 3D prints might be coming home this holiday as seasonal ornaments, but with a few tweaks, they may even stand up to the tests of the real world as functional prototypes. Heat-Set inserts are one such tweak that we can drop into a print, and [Kurt] spares no expense at laying down a guide to get us comfortable with these parts. Here, he’s created a drill press adapter and modified his soldering iron to form an insert jig to start melting these parts into his next project.

Heat-set inserts grant us proper screw threads in any thermoplastic. Simply heat them up, stake them into your part, let cool, and: voila–a screw thread that’s firmly embedded into our part. We can load these inserts with clumsy hand tools, but why fumble and bumble with a hot soldering iron when we can adapt our drill press to do most of the tricky fixturing for us? That’s exactly what [Kurt] did here. With a 3D-printed adaptor, he’s letting his drill press (turned off!) hold the soldering iron so that he can use the lever to slowly stake the part into the 3D print. Finally, for no additional charge, [Kurt] turned down his soldering tip to mate cleanly into the insert for a cleaner removal.

We’ve seen adapters like this one before, but it’s never too often to get a reminder of the structural bonus that these parts can add to our 3D prints.