Friday, April 12, 2019

Do you 3D print?

The periodic shack clean-up that often results in sales of various items also serves to remind me how much I hate working with metal. My uBITX and QCX kits are still unhoused although they have both made many QSO's.

Other items around the shack could be accessorized and made more convenient with various gadgets and gizmos.

For example, an Anderson Power Pole adapter for my KX2. Or a tray to hold the two muffin fans that I use (trayless for now) on top of my Anan-10e and Hardrock-50.

Or a tilted base for the KX2 or my soon-to-be-here mcHF transceivers.

So I believe 2019 is the year to get going with a 3D printer.

Some of these items mentioned above can be purchased; some can be downloaded and printed and others, unique to my application, can be designed in TinkerCAD and then printed. Other ideas are here.

3D printing has been around in an affordable way for hobbyists for roughly 8 years now. During that time, the price has decreased and the quality has increased for entry level printers that are capable of producing excellent results.

With YouTube as my Elmer I've narrowed the search for my first printer down to two models: an Ender E3 or a TEVO Tornado (pictured above).

Both seem to be highly regarded by people who've been 3D printing for years.

As a ham, most of the items I'd want to print would probably qualify as beginner projects: a square or rectangular box with the appropriately sized and located holes to house QRP kits, antenna tuner kits, etc. But check out these printed boom-to-element clamps designed to convert a PVC pipe and some wire elements into a VHF Yagi. Or a QFH for satellite reception.

I've already designed a few in TinkerCAD even though I knew nothing about the program a few weeks ago. The easiest way to learn it is by downloading an existing file (from Thingiverse) and then practice modifying its dimensions, hole diameters and placements.

After that, it's a small step to design from scratch - we're just talking about a box here after all (for now). This tutorial describes all the steps needed in 20 minutes.

15 April, UPDATE:

A Tornado arrives in Texas...



  1. I do some printing with my Anet A8 and at the local Makerspace where they have some larger machines. A really cool design/program is at . It will let you print a custom enclosure with front and rear panels, cooling louvers, etc. You specify holes sizes, dimensions, etc.

    1. Hi Tim - for some reason the link you meant to post doesn't appear.

      I've learned that many local libraries around the country off access to 3D printers - seems like that would be a good way to test drive before committing for those who are curious about the process. I ended up ordering a TEVO Tornado - it'll be here tomorrow (4/14).

  2. I bought an A8 kit at the Ft. Wayne, IN hamfest last fall, and spent some time building and fiddling with it. The worst aspect of the A8 is the acrylic frame, which bends slightly when the table is moved back and forth. This makes it impossible to make circular holes, etc.

    Some folks have gone to the trouble of completely rebuilding their A8, by printing corner pieces and replacing the frame with conduit tubing or pipe. Others have printed braces to try to stop the sloppiness inherent in the acrylic frame. I paid less then $300 for the whole kit, and I guess I can chalk it up to a learning experience, but it seems that now, armed with what I know, I might be able to move up to something that can hold its accuracy. In the meantime, I've not found any more time to tinker with it, so I don't know when I'll get back to it.


    -- Dave, N8SBE

    1. Hi Dave, I think there must be a required amount of time to work out the bugs on any of these things. I assembled my Tornado last night and am quite happy with the rigidity of it. Unfortunately, my first test print didn't go so well so I took pics of the result and posted them to the group-of-gurus to ask what parameter I need to look at/reset. It was disappointing but I'll get it right after a few back and forths.

      After buying the Tornado I found that they are knock-offs of a Czech design, Prusa - and two of Prusa's engineers are OK1HRA and OK1IAK. If I ever outgrow the Tornado, I'll get the Real Deal from these guys next.

    2. The A8 is also a knockoff of the Prusa, it seems. Even though the acrylic looks to be pretty sturdy, don't underestimate the power of those servo motors. They put out some really strong torque.

      There have also been reports of fires caused by the under-sized connector/cables to the heated bed, as well as under-sized power transistors on the controller boards, leading to several different 'fixes', involving an external FET driver board, and redoing the heated bed connectors.

      Like you, I don't think I have time for all that. I had a leak around the head, so I took it apart, and I haven't gotten around to re-assembling it. I may just chalk it up to a loss, and an education.

  3. Hi John. Looks like a nice machine. I built a CNC router from scratch 7 or 8 years ago. I have a handful of friends that have built 4-5 3D printers from scratch including one using the Vat Photopolymerization\Direct Light Processing process. Bunch of smart guys who've really dug into this in detail. I have parts to build but haven't done so. While 3D printing can become a hobby into itself it's also a hobby that supports other hobbies. Enjoy your new printer. 73, Tim KA9EAK

    1. Hi Tim,

      Yes, I'm getting the idea that most people who have 3D printers do it because they enjoy the process more than the end result. That accounts for the figurines and other objects they print. I'm the opposite and just want the end product with as little fuss as possible - I may not be a good candidate for this thing after all...that's all I'm saying for now!

      73 and I hope you get home soon - John AE5X

    2. Yes, that's what I found. Unless you're going to make a number of the same item the amount of modeling and testing hasn't been worth it to me. It was interesting to build my machine and they are fun to watch when they are doing their work though. There my be some benefit in terms of a community of shared models for common things but at that point it becomes another hobby and I've got enough of those already. 73, Tim KA9EAK

  4. I just sent it back to Amazon - gotta love their return policy.

    Even though models already exist (a QCX case for example) a series of them must still be printed in order to obtain a good quality product. As I looked at tech support for the Tornado, experienced users were posting their results and all the iterations they went through to obtain it - for basic, simple designs in many cases. Others, who've only been at it for 6 months or so, are still trying to hone and fine-tune their process so as to obtain an acceptable result.

    Add to this that the Tornado's tech support does not involve the company at all and is nothing more than a group of users on (ugh) Farcebook. The manual that came with the Tornado is all of 8 pages long and no other manual is even downloadable.

    No thanks.

    I have patience for certain things but not for tedium. If I enjoyed this, I'd probably make a good factory worker. I don't and I wouldn't.

    To Amazon's credit, the refund has already been issued and I only returned from the UPS Store 20 minutes ago.

  5. I upgraded to a Prusa Mk3 when it came out and have printed thousands of project related parts. There are upgrades for it from the factory but it prints so well stock that I haven't installed them yet. Cleaning, lubrication, the occasional nozzle replaced and lots of filament. A Pi3B+ and Octoprint put it on the network so printing is a click away. OpenSCAD for making designs. Prusa Slicer to prepare them for printing. The constantly improving slicer has made the printer better without any hardware changes. The printer is the factory worker, I just CAD and print. First drafts are often final products, if not it is my design that needs improving or a better idea needs to be tested. Best tool I have ever purchased. 73 de w6akb