Printed It: Toolbag Essentials

While complex devices assembled from 3D printed components are certainly impressive, it’s the simple prints that have always held the most appeal to me personally. Being able to pick an object up off the bed of your printer and immediately put it to use with little to no additional work is about as close as we can get to Star Trek style replicators. It’s a great demonstration to show off the utility of your 3D printer, but more importantly, having immediate access to some of these tools and gadgets might get you out of a jam one day.

With that in mind, I thought we’d do things a little differently for this installment of Printed It. Rather than focusing on a single 3D model, we’ll be taking a look at a handful of prints which you can put to practical work immediately. I started by selecting models based on the idea that they should be useful to the average electronic hobbyist in some way or another, and relatively quick to print. Each one was then printed and evaluated to determine its real-world utility. Not all made the grade.

Each model presented here is well designed, easy to print, and most critically, legitimately useful. I can confidently say that each one has entered into my standard “bag of tricks” in some capacity, and I’m willing to bet a few will find their way into yours as well.

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Printed It: Custom Enclosure Generator

You’ve written your firmware code, etched your own PCB, and now it’s time to put that awesome new project of yours into an enclosure. Unfortunately, all you have is a generic Radio Shack project box that you picked up when they were clearing out their inventory. If you put your project in that, it’ll have all the style and grace of a kid wearing hand-me-down clothes. Your project deserves a tailor-made enclosure, but the prices and lead time on custom plastic enclosures are prohibitive for one-off projects.

In Ye Olde Olden Days, the next step might have been to start bending some sheet metal. But it’s the 21st century, and we’ve got mechanization on our side. The “Ultimate Box Maker” by [Heartman] is a fully parametric OpenSCAD design which allows you to generate professional looking enclosures by simply providing your desired dimensions and selecting from a few optional features. In a couple of hours, you’ll have a custom one-of-a-kind enclosure for your project for a few cents worth of filament.

That’s the idea, at least. For this edition of “Printed It”, I’ll be taking a look at the “Ultimate Box Maker” by generating and printing a basic enclosure. As somebody whose Radio Shack was out of enclosures by the time I got there and who doesn’t want to slice his hand open folding sheet metal, I’m very interested in seeing how well this design works.

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Printed It: Do More with Lockable Ball And Socket Helping Hands

In one hand you hold the soldering iron, in the other the solder, and in two more hands the parts you’re trying to solder together. Clearly this is a case where helping hands could be useful.

Magnifying glass with helping hands
Magnifying glass with helping hands

Luckily helping hands are easy to make, coolant hoses will do the job at under $10. Attach alligator clips to one end, mount them on some sort of base, and you’re done. Alternatively, you can steal the legs from an “octopus” tripod normally used for cell phones. So why would you 3D print them?

One reason is to take advantage of standardized, open source creativity. Anyone can share a model of their design for all to use as is, or to modify for their needs. A case in point is the ball and socket model which I downloaded for a helping hand. I then drew up and printed a magnifying glass holder with a matching socket, made a variation of the ball and socket joint, and came up with a magnetic holder with matching ball. Let’s takea  look at what worked well and what didn’t.

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Printed It: Rubber Band PCB Vise

If you’ve ever worked on a small PCB, you know how much of a hassle it can be to hold on to the thing. It’s almost as if they weren’t designed to be held in the grubby mitts of a human. As designs have become miniaturized over time, PCBs are often so fragile and festooned with components that tossing them into the alligator clips of the classic soldering “third hand” can damage them. The proper tool for this job is a dedicated PCB vise, which is like a normal bench vise except it doesn’t crank down very hard and usually has plastic pads on the jaws to protect the board.

Only problem with a PCB vise is, like many cool tools and gadgets out there, not everybody owns one. Unless you’re doing regular PCB fabrication, you might not take the plunge and buy one either. So what’s a hacker on a budget to do when they’ve got fiddly little PCBs that need attention?

Luckily for us, we live in a world where you can press a button and have a magical robot on your desktop build things for you. Online model repositories like Thingiverse and YouMagine are full of designs for printable PCB vises, all you have to do is pick one. After looking through a number of them I eventually decided on a model designed by [Delph27] on Thingiverse, which I think has a couple of compelling features and more than deserves the few meters of filament it will take to add to your bench.

Of course the best part of all of this is that you can customize and improve the designs you download, which is what I’m about to do with this PCB vise!

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