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.

Printing In Metal with a MIG Welder

Whenever the question of metal 3D printers comes up, someone always chimes in that a MIG welder connected to a normal 3D printer would work great. A bit of research would tell this person that’s already been done, but some confirmation and replication is nice. A few students at TU Delft University strapped a welder to a normal, off-the-shelf 3D printer and made a few simple shapes.

This project builds on the work of [Joshua Pearce] et al. at Michigan Tech where an MIG welder and delta bot was used to lay down rather complex shapes on a metal plate substrate. The team at TU Delft used a cartesian bot – a Prusa i3 – for their replication because of the sheer mass of moving a metal build plate, firebricks, and welder around.

In the first few prints on their machine, the team was able to lay down enough metal to build a vertical wall. It’s not much, and to turn this into a finished part would require some machining, but these are only the beginning steps of what could become a legitimate way of creating metal parts. Video below.

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Multi-purpose welding cart

[Todd Harrison] put together a welding cart that has all kinds of tricks built-in. The carcass is a cheap rolling cart that has been reinforced with steel plate and beefier wheels. The top tray can be loaded up with fire brick for oxygen-acetylene welding or with a grate for cutting. That grate lets the slag fall through and into the red-rimmed fire-box below. Finally, there’s a steel plate to the right of the cart that rotates and slides over the top of the unit to prepare it for MIG welding. Todd walks us through his versatile invention in the video after the break. This will nicely augment your other welding hacks.

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Flux-cored to MIG welder conversion

[Rob] sent us some information on how he converted his flux-cored welder to a metal inert gas welder. He used a piece of DOM tubing as a collet with a side inlet tube that he uses to inject carbon dioxide. The gas is sourced from a 12 ounce paint ball CO2 tank and it looks like there’s a valve right at the junction with the collet. We wonder how long it would take to tear through one of those tanks, but if you’re not doing a lot of MIG welding this saves on the upfront cost of buying a separate setup.