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.
Soldering Fingers (LED Mod)
This little gadget is about as simple as they come: a big block of plastic with tapered slots in the top you can force a wire down into to hold it still. With slots on both sides, wires can easily be held in position for doing splices. This model is created by [Tristan Fritz], and is actually a modification of an earlier soldering assistance tool by [Domenic]. By adding a series of holes into one side, components such as resistors and LEDs can be held in place for quick soldering.
Classically one would use a “Third-Hand” soldering aid for these kinds of tasks, but I really like how much smaller and lighter this version is. You can just toss it into your bag and it’s available whenever you need it. A piece of felt on the bottom might not be a bad idea, but otherwise this is ready to go as soon as the printer is done doing its thing. Personally I’ve printed this in PLA and had no issues while soldering, but if you’re a bit heavy handed with the iron and are worried it might get too hot, doing it in PETG wouldn’t hurt.
There are a lot of printable designs out there for tweezers, and selecting just one was pretty tough. Whether you need extra long ones or super strong ones, somebody’s got a model floating around out there for you. But in the end I picked “Cross Tweezer” by [Johannes]. Rather than printing in a single piece, these tweezers are three separate components that you then assemble (a drop of glue helps, but is not strictly required). The clever design of theses tweezers combined with the natural flexibility of the plastic causes them to continually pull themselves closed with enough force to easily lift up small components.
I’m really very impressed with these tweezers. Their grip force is perfect for the kind of work you’d be using this sort of thing for, and the fact that it automatically locks onto whatever you pick up prevents hand fatigue. As an added bonus, it’s a bit safer around sensitive electronics than traditional tweezers since it’s plastic. These are fast and easy to print, though the very tips of the tweezers can curl up if you don’t have good bed adhesion.
These cable clips by [Brandus Lucian] are reusable, easy to secure, and best of all fast and cheap to print. They’re available in a range of sizes and work great on everything from thin wires to thick cords. Printed in different colors, they can also be useful in keeping wires separated into easily identifiable bundles.
As with the “Cross Tweezer”, this design relies on the flexibility inherent in thin printed structures. Opening and closing the ties multiple times doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on the materials, though the jury is still out as to how they would hold up extended to humidity for long periods of time.
These are best printed in large batches; fill your whole bed up with them and start mass production. However this is another model which is especially susceptible to issues with bed adhesion, so make sure your first layer is dialed in before running a batch of these off or you might come back to a bed full of plastic spaghetti.
Small Parts Funnel Tray
These little part trays designed by [Sean Charlesworth] are extremely handy to have around, and I’ve already started printing more in different scales and colors to help keep small parts organized while taking things apart. The funnel side is great when you want to pour out the contents into a baggie or your screw organizer.
If you couldn’t tell just by looking at it, this is a stupendously easy print. When scaled up it can take awhile to print though, so at some point it might make more sense to go a different route. But small versions like the red one pictured here only take a few minutes to complete at 0.3 mm layer height.
Wire Stripper v2
Alright, admittedly I did bend my own rules a bit with this one. You’ll obviously need a razor blade to complete this print, as well as an M3 nut and screw to secure it. But given how useful this little wire stripper by [Dragon in Moscow] is, I thought it was worth adding to the list. Granted you should probably own a decent pair of wire strippers already, but this would be perfect for your “B” set of tools, or to go in an electronics “Bugout Bag”.
The indents on the jaw support stripping a fairly wide array of wire sizes, and the simple arrangement for securing the razor blade works quite well. Officially the documentation for this model says you should print it at nearly 100% infill, but I didn’t find that necessary. In terms of functionality, the stripper was able to cut through the insulation of every wire I tried with a quick spin, and was even able to remove the outer insulation on network cable without damaging the internal wires.
A Wide World of Plastic Gadgets
In searching for the models I’d feature for this article, I was struck with just how many neat printable tools and gadgets there are out there. These select few are the ones that made the biggest impression on me during my search, but there’s surely many more useful designs out there that I didn’t see.
Do the good readers of Hackaday have a favorite printable tool? Something you picked up off the bed of your printer and have been using ever since? We’d love to hear what the community thinks is the most useful object they’ve ever printed; perhaps we’ll have to revisit this topic supported by the boundless knowledge of the Hackaday comments section.