The thing about a 3D printer is that buying one and learning to use it can rarely be justified by just one project. In fact, what makes it most valuable is that it can do dozens of tiny projects that could essentially not be done in any other way. And while you may think that you can imagine what you would use a 3D printer for, you really don’t have any idea until you actually get one and have printing 3D parts in your toolbox.
Along those lines, I thought it would be fun to dig through my CAD directory and explain every single thing I designed and printed. I also printed some things that other people designed, but I won’t include those.
If you’re considering getting into 3D printing, my strongest recommendation is to buy a Prusa. I bought the cheapest “good” 3D printer I could find. It printed pretty well out of the box, but it was extremely loud so I started trying to make it quieter by upgrading parts. That made it print poorly, so I started upgrading components of it, which made it oscillate between printing really well and really poorly.
In the end I was left with a 3D printer that cost me more than the gold standard, a Prusa i3 MKS, and printed much more poorly. This caused me to go for about six months without printing anything because the process was just too annoying.
I finally caved and bought the Prusa (and made the horrific mistake of not buying it pre-assembled, which meant I spent 8 hours building it to save $200), and ever since printing has been a dream. Everything prints perfectly with no effort, even though I now only print in PETG (a better but much more finicky material).
Here are the things I’ve designed and printed:
LED Candle housing
the main reason I bought a 3D printer in the first place was because lockdowns hit, I’d always wanted a 3D printer, and I felt like I had the time to learn how to use one. The main thing I wanted to fabricate were 3D housings for a very realistic LED candle that I designed and programmed. I eventually hit the limitations of my printer and got frustrated and stopped the project, but I have a new printer and will probably get back to it once I have some time.
Automatic Incense Burner
I think this might be the most genius thing I ever came up with. I had a stick of incense and couldn’t find a little burner, so I 3D printed one I downloaded. The little stump of the stick got stuck in the hole, which made me think that there must be some way to design an incense burner to automatically eject the stump when it was done. I came up with an idea that used gravity and made almost 30 iterations. It now works perfectly and I use it regularly.
Someone should steal my idea and produce this commercially because it’s better than other designs and then I could buy one.
I uploaded the files for this on Thingiverse.
I went on a tear of trying to upgrade my 3D printer and in the process I broke a piece of it, which caused it to create really crappy prints. Since it would still print poorly I had the idea of measuring the part, recreating it in 3D, printing it, and putting it back in the machine. I did that and it worked, which enabled me to print a higher quality one and replace the poorly printed one.
I wanted to have a tablet as the interface for my 3D printer so I designed a pretty simple tablet mount to hold the tablet at the correct angle.
Every time I filled my Teforia (RIP) I would spill tea leaves everywhere. I measured the aperture of the brewing chamber and made a little funnel to help guide the tea in. Used it every day until the Teforia died and printed them out for other friends who had Teforias.
Shotoku Glass Holders
I put shallow metal shelves up in my kitchen to hold tea and glasses, but it annoyed me that my glasses weren’t evenly spaced and made noise when rubbing against the metal. I designed a spacing system for the shelves but then realized my printer bed wasn’t big enough to really do it properly and I gave up.
Tea Caddies for Snow Peak Kanpai
At one point I bought just about every stackable cylindrical container set on Amazon to try to find one to fit inside my water thermos to store tea. The one I ended up with was ok but clearly didn’t use all the space.
So I spent a few days and designed my own that uses about 95+% of the available space. It holds nearly twice the tea, fits much more snugly, and my newest version (made recently) has embedded NFC chips to tell me what is in each one.
This was one of my favorite projects since I had to learn how to create screw threads and the result is something I use every day when I travel.
In studying Urasenke tea ceremony I wanted to learn how to do thick tea, or Koicha, ceremony. This requires a chaire, which is a fancy Japanese matcha tea holder. My teacher loaned me one but it didn’t have a lid, so I measured it and designed a lid for it.
Mounts for Everything
I got motivated to start organizing my closet and desk better, so I made some hanging mounts for things like my router, USB dock, power supplies, etc. This is a good example of something that is much better when it’s custom fit to the component, but there’s no other way to get it
Jig for Wood Slat Walls
I wanted to build a decorative wood slat wall that would use 70 or so vertical slats, but didn’t want to have to measure and mark all of them. So I built a little jig that would butt against the previous slat and hold the new one in place to be nailed in. It worked ok, but in retrospect I should have measured every 5 or 10 because I got a slight error on one end by the time I hit the other wall.
My tea room was formerly a bar, and it had a small shelf section with glass shelves held by white metal brackets. I measured the glass and had another piece cut to make a new shelf but for the life of me I couldn’t find any brackets that looked like the shelf brackets. Then I realized that I could just measure them and 3D print white plastic ones that would look exactly the same.
I got a metal mailbox that I really liked, but my wife hated it because sometimes if she or the mailman pulled the door too hard it would come out. She wanted me to return it but instead I came up with a way to make two locking plugs that I could push in and prevent the door from falling out.
Wall Box Cover
I moved a light fixture and wanted to cover the old wall box, but our house is old and all of the covers were the wrong size. Finally I realized I could just 3D print one that would fit perfectly.
Hot Tub Grate
I bought a used hot tub on Craigslist and there was a clear plastic piece that separated the tub from the filter area. It cracked in half and exposed the filter, so I measured it and 3D printed my own.
Roof Angle Jig
My first slatted wall divider came out great so I decided to make another one in a different room. Unfortunately this one butted up against an angled ceiling. After trying to figure out how I was going to cut a precise angle into a long piece of wood I realized I could just print mounting brackets that would screw into the angled ceiling and provide a level cradle for the wood. They came out great but in the end weren’t really needed because the angle was so slight.
Dryer Vent Spacer
One of the most annoying thing about our house is that the dryer didn’t have a vent outside. I bought an indoor vent filter, but it was annoying to clean and added a lot of heat in the summer. Finally one day I braved the dusty attic crawl space and found a path for a duct, drilled a hole in the side of the house, and ran the duct. The only problem? The flange in the laundry room was too tall and pushed against some HVAC equipment. I was stumped at first, but then realized I could make a spacer to pull the flange more into the laundry room. The dimensions and color are the same as the flange so it looks like it’s part of it. In retrospect I could have also just made a much better flange.
Deadbolt Hole Cover
Sort of like the wall box cover, I removed a pointless deadbolt on a closet, which left a hole there. I didn’t like any of the expensive covers on Amazon so I just designed my own. I am slightly worried that my house is becoming more and more made of 3D plastic.
Hopefully this post gives you an idea of the ways that having a 3D printer can solve little everyday problems. I use FreeCAD to design things, which I understand isn’t nearly as good as the options available for Windows, but it does well enough for my little prints.
Photo is a random photo of my 3D printer that I found. I’d love to hear about cool things you’ve designed and printed in 3D, too. Leave them in the comments!