Sandpaper Alternatives For 3D Prints

A finished 3D print, especially plastic deposition types, often have imperfections in them from the process of laying down each layer of material and from the printer itself. For small batches or one-off parts, we might reach for a few pieces of sandpaper to smooth out these rough edges. While that might work for a small number of parts, it’s not always the best or lowest-effort option for refining these prints. There are a few alternative methods to try out if your fingers are getting sore, though.

Rather than removing material as sandpaper does, most of these methods involve adding material to the print in order to fill in the rough edges of the print. There is a 3D-print-specific product listed called 3D Gloop! which is generally used as a glue to hold plastic parts together, but can also act as a fill in a pinch. Two other similar methods, one using spray paint and polyurethane and the other using epoxy, are more general-purpose ways of finishing the prints with a more natural texture than the printer will produce on its own. They’re not all additive, though; the final (and perhaps, most toxic) method here to achieve a smooth surface on a print uses solvent to remove some of the material instead.

While sandpaper does have its time and place, certain prints may lend themselves more to being finished by one of these other methods especially if they are overly complex, fragile, or an unusual size. Take note of the safety gear you’ll want to have on hand for most of these methods, though, as gloves and a respirator are highly encouraged and possibly helpful even if using only sandpaper. These aren’t the only ways of finishing 3D prints, either. Some of our other favorites are using glazing putty or silver for the finish.

Retrotechtacular: The Story Of Turpentine

If someone in 2023 has ever had much call to use turpentine, chances are good it was something to do with paint or other wood finishes, like varnish. Natural turpentine is the traditional solvent of choice for oil paints, which have decreased in popularity with the rise of easy-to-clean polymer-based paints and coating. Oh sure, there are still those who prefer oil paint, especially for trim work — it lays up so nice — but by and large, turpentine seems like a relic from days gone by, like goose grease and castor oil.

It wasn’t always so, though. Turpentine used to be a very big deal indeed, as shown by this circa 1940 documentary on the turpentine harvesting and processing industry. Even then it was only a shadow of its former glory, when it was a vital part of a globe-spanning naval empire and a material of the utmost strategic importance. “Suwanee Pine” shows the methods used in the southern United States, where fast-growing pines offer up a resinous organic gloop in response to wounds in their bark. The process shown looks a lot like the harvesting process for natural latex, with slanting gashes or “catfaces” carved into the trunks of young trees, forming channels to guide the exudate down into a clay collecting cup.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Story Of Turpentine”

Better Solvents Could Lead To Cleaner, Greener Perovskite Solar Cells

Regardless of appearances, almost all scientific progress comes at a price. That which is hailed as a breakthrough technology that will save the planet or improve the lots of those living upon it almost always comes at a cost, which sometimes greatly outweighs the purported benefits of the advancement.

Luckily, though, solving these kinds of problems is what scientists and engineers live for, and in the case of the potentially breakthrough technology behind perovskite solar cells (PSCs), that diligence has resulted in a cleaner and safer way to manufacture them. We’ve covered the technology of perovskites in the past, but briefly, as related to photovoltaic cells, they’re synthetic crystals of organometallic cations bonded to a halide anion, so something like methylammonium lead tribromide. These materials have a large direct bandgap, which means a thin layer of the stuff can absorb as much solar energy as a much thicker layer of monocrystalline silicon — hence the intense interest in perovskites for cheap, easily manufactured solar cells.

The problem with scaling up PSC manufacturing has been the need for volatile and dangerous solvents to dissolve the perovskites. One such solvent, dimethylformamide (DMF), commonly used in pharmaceutical manufacturing and often a component of paint strippers, is easily absorbed through the skin and toxic to the liver in relatively low concentrations. Another common solvent, γ-butyrolactone (GBL), is a precursor to γ-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), a common recreational club-drug known as “liquid ecstasy”.

In a recent paper, [Carys Wrosley] and colleagues at Swansea University showed that γ-valerolactone (GVL), a far less toxic and volatile solvent, could be effectively substituted for DMF and GBL in perovskite manufacturing processes. One of the most promising features of perovskites for solar cells is that the solution can be easily applied to transparent conductive substrates; the use of GVL as a solvent resulted in solar cells that were comparably efficient to cells made with the more dangerous solvents.

Continue reading “Better Solvents Could Lead To Cleaner, Greener Perovskite Solar Cells”

Retrotechtacular: Shake Hands With Danger

OK, you’re going to have to engage your safety squints and sit back to enjoy this one: a classic bit of safety propaganda from US heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar from 1980 entitled “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Actually, you’ll probably need to engage your schlock filters for this 23-minute film too, as both the writing and the theme song are pretty hard to take. The film is one of those “Scared Straight” attempts to show just how horrifically wrong things can go both in the field and in the shop when working on anything made of stuff stronger than human flesh and bone. And in that regard, the film is highly effective — we found ourselves getting a bit queasy at a few points, with the poor dude who got his hand sucked into a bench grinder being both terrifying and relatable. [Three-Finger Joe] indeed.

Now, you might take exception with the acting, but as you watch all these vignettes, keep in mind that these are all old-school stunts — that’s actually a gigantic D9 bulldozer they crashed, and that brake chamber explosion really blew out that truck’s windows. They did a great job making the potential consequences of a moment’s thoughtlessness sickeningly vivid. Especially that arm-in-the-linkages scene. Ugh.

Whatever way you practice the hacking arts, stay safe out there. And don’t “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Shake Hands With Danger”

Cheap Alternative Solvents For PCB Cleaning

If you’re in the habit of using isopropyl alcohol to clean your PCBs after soldering, you probably have a nice big jug of the stuff stashed away. If you don’t, you’re probably out of luck, since the COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much cleared IPA out of the retail market. But don’t fret: depending on where you live, alternative PCB cleaning solutions may be as close as your nearest auto parts store.

[Steven]’s search for a cheaper and perhaps more readily available substitute for his usual dedicated flux cleaner lead him to try automotive brake cleaner on a few test boards. He suspected that they might contain acetone, which is prone to yield unfortunate results with solder resist and silkscreen on PCBs, so some tests were in order. The brand he tried was Normfest Bremsenreiniger MC-1, a German brand that according to its Safety Data Sheet contains only hydrocarbons like alkanes, butane, and propane. It did a fine job cleaning all but the crustiest rosin flux without collateral damage.

In the video below, [Steven] goes through a few more brands with similar results, and we were encouraged enough by his results to check brake cleaners made for the US market. Alas, almost all of the cheap and readily available aerosols have acetone as the principle ingredient, mixed in with methanol, ethanol, and assorted ingredients that together will probably make for a bad day. About the only US-sold brand without acetone that we could find was Keller-Heartt, which lists only naptha and ethanol on its SDS. There may be others, but make sure you test whatever you find.

Aerosol solvents aren’t the only way to clean a PCB, of course. Ultrasonic cleaners do a great job, and as [Steven] discovered, they’re generally safe for most components.

Continue reading “Cheap Alternative Solvents For PCB Cleaning”

Plastics: Acrylic

If anything ends up on the beds of hobbyist-grade laser cutters more often than birch plywood, it’s probably sheets of acrylic. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching a laser beam trace over a sheet of the crystal-clear stuff, vaporizing a hairs-breadth line while it goes, and (hopefully) leaving a flame-polished cut in its wake.

Acrylic, more properly known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is a wonder material that helped win a war before being developed for peacetime use. It has some interesting chemistry and properties that position it well for use in the home shop as everything from simple enclosures to laser-cut parts like gears and sprockets.

Continue reading “Plastics: Acrylic”

Print, Rinse, Wear. Nanowire Circuits For Your Microfibre Clothing.

While our bodies are pretty amazing, their dynamic nature makes integrating circuits into our clothing a frustrating process.  Squaring up against this challenge, a team of researchers from North Carolina State University have hit upon a potential boon for wearable electronics: silver nanowires capable of being printed on flexible, stretchy substrates.

It helps that the properties of silver nanowires lend themselves to the needs of wearable circuits — flexible and springy in their own right — but are not without complications. Silver nanowires tend to clog print nozzles during printing, so the research team enlarged the nozzle and suspended the nanowires in a water-soluble solvent, dramatically cutting the chance of clogging. Normally this would have a negative impact on precision, but the team employed electrostatic force to draw the ink to the desired location and maintain print resolution. Once printed, the solvent is rinsed away and the wearable circuit is ready for use.

By controlling print parameters — such as ink viscosity and concentration — the team are able to print on a wide variety of materials. Successful prototypes thus far include a glove with an integrated heating circuit and an electrocardiograph electrode, but otherwise the size of the printer is the only factor limiting the scale of the print. Until this technique becomes more widely available, interested parties might have to put their stock into more homebrew methods.

[Thanks for the tip, Qes!]