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Building with Dragon Hall Tech Hub

It was a Monday in the London Hackspace, during a 3D Printer Meetup, that I first heard of Dragon Hall from James Dellow. He’d come along for a look to see what is was all about and to see how it would work with the young people at Dragon Hall. Now James had got himself a One-Up 3D printer and asked if I would build it for him. I’ve built more that a few and was glad to see someone else’s design.
The long and short of that was it ended up, with the use of a Printrbot Simple wood kit, as a much more robust, longer Z axis, Simple, but I diverse.
The guys from Dragon Hall ordered 3 Printrbot Simple kits from the US and the plan was that I would work with them to build them and then, going forwards, we would introduce some simple CAD and follow the full 3D print process from CAD through to holding the idea in your hand.. In my mind, one of the things that makes 3D printing so incredible.

2014-03-25 19.48.47 And then then kits turned up. Three of them, in a box, six team members, we’re looking at two to a printer (to  start with!). So we get to phase one, un-boxing. What the guys weren’t prepared for was the separating the  wood pieces and sanding off any rough edges. That kept them occupied for a while, amid complaints about the  quality of the cheap knives I’d picked up at the last minute. Finally we were ready for the first part of the  construction. As always, when you have groups of people doing the same thing together, competition sets in.

For the first stage, I wanted to get the base complete and, even though they were looking at the same sets of  instructions, you wouldn’t have believed it.  It was a good thing that I had a load of extra zip ties.  Nothing  major, but some things have to be the right way round.  So wire cutters and zip ties saw a lot of action during  the first (and second) sessions.

By now the team competition was in full flow and, as chance would have it, the team that had raced on had to redo the most, so by the end of session one the slowest and steadiest team came in first.

2014-04-08 19.08.27

For session two, it’s Y axis time… lots of cable ties, lots of bearings and, as we’ve almost come to expect, lots of room for error.  We were down a couple of people this week, but the guys rallied on and, after twice as many cable ties as come in the kit, by the end of the session we had something that looked like a Printrbot Simple.  These were the 2013 model, without the aluminium extruder and the wooden sliced version does take a bit of putting together.  For some reason, people think that 1/4″ is the same as 6mm.  Heads up, it’s not… it’s 6.35mm so when you build the extruder, by three slices in, your filament path is 1mm out.  Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s enough.   Bits of sandpaper to the rescue and everything was together ready for wiring.

We missed a week for Easter and then we were back for the final session.  Due to scheduling conflicts we were down to 2 of my regular team plus another couple of stand-ins who wanted to learn 3D printing.  We were rocking…

Wiring was run, checked (re-run!).  Endstops were triggered, connected properly and tested again, motors were run and, my slow and steady team (only one team member left at this point) was up and printing…The Winner!

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Team two, ably assisted with our extra people were next and finally, the printer I was working on – only because the short notice scheduling change – was running as well.

But just building isn’t all you need.  We had to get Repetier downloaded and then configured.  I have some Slic3r settings I use, some I put together for a slow and steady print and some by Naomi from RoboSavvy, faster and more adventurous.  Then it was welcome to the world of Thingiverse.  What do we print?  How big is it?  How long will it take?  What colour filament do I use?  All essential questions in the tech age of 3D printing!

Considering there were differing levels of mechanical skill, the builds went surprising well.  Those guys worked really hard and, I know there was some skepticism about 3D printing, but I think now, when the build has been completed, all those doubts have been put aside.

This technology is, and I’m sure a lot of people agree, the way forwards.  When I was at school (and I’ve told this story a million times), the choice was woodwork or metalwork.  Now, with Arduino’s, Raspberry Pi’s, 3D printing and all of the other technology of the last few years,  the young people of today are the inventors and techno geeks of tomorrow and we should do what we can to encourage this.

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Playing with NinjaFlex

I first heard about Ninjaflex from an article on one of the many 3D printer news sites so I thought I’d grab a spool and see how it goes.  Well it took a while to turn up as it was new and only available in the USA but, since then, they’ve got more places in their distribution pipeline, so you can pick it up in the UK.  Now the printer I was going to try it in has been undergoing some upgrades – as is the want in RepRap printers, there’s always a new part to try.

Then someone asked Printrbot to help with settings.  Now, you may have realised if your a fan, than the guys at PBHQ have been really busy, what with new Metal Simple and portable Go v2 printers coming to market and shipping, so I said I’d give it a try.

I got a spool from the lovely UK Distribution person, Janan and I gave it a try.  And this is what I found…

It’s a bit like printing with a rubber band.  Don’t take that as a bad thing, it’s really incredible stuff.  I started by printing a calibration cube, the usual 25mm one I always start with.

25mm cube in Ninjaflex
25mm cube in Ninjaflex

I needed to play with the heat a bit, it needs more than PLA, but not as much as ABS.  I was using 210 degrees which worked fine for me.  The other thing which is really important, especially with the 1.75mm is that it is really, really wobbly.

Printrbot Aluminium Extruder
Printrbot Aluminium Extruder

The extruder needs to be supported as much as possible and the raised feed on the Printrbot’s Aluminium Extruder works fine for that.  I’ve got some 3.0mm that I’d picked up myself and, when I have my i3 together, I’ll see how it works with a Wades extruder.  Even so, with the feed, if you try and push the filament too fast, it will tend to kink and mis-feed.

The layers held together fine and the flexibility really speaks for itself, as the pictures show.  But being able to print with filament is only half the puzzle, the main issue for me is ‘what do you print with it’.  Apart from the calibration cube, I printed the ‘Hello World’ of 3D printing (in my world, anyway), Cute Octo from Thingiverse.  Very squishy and bendy, just like it says on the tin.

More practically, I printed a motor couple for a Printrbot Simple rebuild I did for someone.  Nothing hard, a simple hexagon cross section with a hole through the middle, 25mm tall.  Worked a treat.  An original Printrbot from the Kickstarter turned into a Simple with a wood kit, some screws and cable ties.

I’d like to try it with multiple extruders to see how it bonds with the different plastics but, for the time being, if you feel the need for some bendy printing, this stuff is definitely worth a try.  Not the cheapest filament you will buy, but hunt around and see if there are any deals around.

25mm cube
25mm cube squashed


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Putting it Together – Build Day

So on Saturday March 22nd 2014 I started what I hope will become a fairly regular thing – A Printrbot Simple Build Day.  It was held at C4CC near Kings Cross Station (it’s a cool, designy/techy space, tied in with some universities).

the room, initial layout - soon changed
the room, initial layout – soon changed

The day started early, it was my first one and it needed a bit of organising.   Okay, a lot of organising, I laid out the tables and then, as soon as people started turning up, moved them all around.  We settled on an L shape with a printer table on the 3rd side and the screen on the last side of the square.

I received the kits from RoboSavvy along with some Simple Towers and Aluminium extruder kits.

The A team - first to print
The A team – first to print

There was no-one that I would call a complete technical novice, but this is a fair part of mechanical build and some simple plug and connect wiring.  Nothing particularly difficult, but it does need some knowledge of the best way to put things together.  All in all, a good bunch of people with the skills and determination to put the printer together and to print something.

Everything was pretty much a free-for-all, and I was on hand to point out some of the ‘gotchas’ that can catch you out and have you taking

intense concentration
intense concentration

it apart to rebuild it.  Also, supporting Printrbot for EMEA, I had a stock for spare parts for the small broken/missing/DOA parts.

Some people were quicker than others, but all managed to build, configure and print, which was what the aim was.

Did everyone enjoy themselves? Well I know I did and the comments posted on the RoboSavvy site seem to give the impression that the participants did.

There’s another one coming along in a few weeks and, if that’s works as well, maybe we can get more people printing..

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Big Red One…


Okay, there it was… I’d had the ‘A Parcel Has Been Shipped to You’ email and when it comes from guys at Printrbot, you know there’s going to be some fun toys in the box..

So I got home and there was the box, sitting there, patiently, just waiting…

I resisted the urge to just rip the box open and took the time to put my bag down and take off my coat…. okay enough stalling, I ripped the box open.  Alright, not quite ripped open, but the excitement was definitely there.

So there it was, hiding in its box.  My initial reaction was it’s heavier than the 2014 Simple I have but then, after I engaged my brain, of course it would be, it’s more the size of the Junior than the Simple which the large 150 x 150mm build area.

So then it came out into the light.  The Big (shiney) Red One.

Big Red One
Big Red One

First impressions are, not surprisingly, impressive.  Nice solid 12mm Z axis rods guide the aluminium bearing blocks smoothly.

The main body of the printer is just 3 pieces, justifying the name Simple.  There’s the Bed, the Y axis arm and the body.  The running gear is GT2 belts and everything just feels solid.  This is a real tool, with everything in its right place and moving nicely.

I’m not saying that the wooden simple was not a tool, I used mine all the time for making pieces for printers and fixing stuff but, when you compare the two, this is a deadly serious printer.  Like comparing your Ford Focus to your Ferrari.

This also has an induction sensor to run the bed levelling process, but it also doubles as the Z stop.  So no wasted hardware on this beauty.

Induction Sensor
Induction Sensor

I haven’t got to the printing stage yet, but until then, this is not going to be a ‘cluttering up’ thing sitting on the side.  It has it’s own style and, if it performs as good as it looks, will be a must for any office, den, workshop or even living room.

More feedback after we get to printing.   I just can’t wait.



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Getting Started with 3D Printing – getting a printer



image courtesy of Printrbot inc


I know we had seemed to go past this already, but with the announcement from Printrbot about the imminent release of their Metal Printrbot Simples into the wild, I just wanted to touch on the awesomeness of Brook and his 3D printing vision.   He went from Kickstarter to incredibly successful company in a few short years…  Brook, I just want to say, congratulations and keep it up.

Now, as most people will look at the picture and think ‘I want one!’, lets start a little closer to home.  The Printrbot Simple (wood version) is available now and is, in my opinion (and Make magazine), the best value 3D printer you can buy.

I’ve looked at quite a few, some cheaper, a lot more expensive.  The one thing I feel about this new technology, and I love it, no mistake (I will happily talk about this stuff for hours!), once you start you will want to print a lot of stuff.  Most of it may be junk, a lot of the first ones will probably look like it was made by a spider on speed, but you made it, yourself, on such a cool little machine.

So, did you buy it assembled?  did you make it from a kit?  Is it your first go with a printer or just your first own printer.

My though would always to build it yourself.  The reason for this is that it is leading edge technology.  We want it to work every day, without fail, but it doesn’t always go the way we like.  If something happens, we know how we put it together and we know how to take it apart if we need to.

If we just took this out of the box, it will always be ‘the printer’, like your desktop printer.  you don’t know how it works, it’s just the thing that you click print with and see what comes out.  Don’t get me wrong, however you get your printer, you will love it, it’s the process and the output that is awesome but, for the day something goes wrong, being able to fix it gets you printing quicker.

So what printer do you want?  When people tell me they want a 3D printer, my first question is ‘what do you want to print?’  If their answer is, ‘I don’t know yet, I just want one’, my answer is ‘Do you really want one?’.  People look at 3D printers as gadgets, fun tech toys to play with, still awesome, but more likely to be dropped when the next toy comes along.

If someone tells me why they want to print and what they want to print, then we can start the serious conversation.  Size of print area, what sorts of filaments they want to print with.  You can see in their eyes the passion they have for design and how they can turn their ideas into things they can hold in their hands.

And that is what all this is about.  We are taking an idea, a thought, a sketch on a napkin and turning it into something we can touch, in our own homes, using 3D printing.

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So you’ve got your printer, what do you do now….?

Okay, so the first thing people ask me about 3D printers is, “so what do I do with it now?” and my answer is normally “anything you can imagine”.

There are websites, such as that have loads of useful (and a lot more not useful) designs for you to download and print.

Did you get your printer as ‘I must have one of those’ or more of a ‘If I had one of those I could….’?  If it was the former, maybe you have more money than sense, or maybe you have a designer hidden deep inside that was controlling your inner self.

If it was the latter, then this is where you come into your own!  You have Tinkercad or Sketchup or for the more numerically inclined, OpenSCAD.  If you have money, a lot of money, then you will need something like Solidworks.  There are so many design tools that you can call on to bring those idea to life as a piece of plastic.

Over the next few blogs, I will try and give you some ideas for turning ideas into real things to play with.

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So how do we print something?

So we’ve got our printer, we’ve got a load of nice colourful filament, so what are we going to do with it?

The first thing we need to do it to print something.  Anything really, we just want to see for ourselves, what this 3D printing thing is all about.  This may not be your first printer, but indulge me a little.

A successful 3D print really just comes down to a couple of key points.  You want the first layers to stick firmly to the bed and you want the filament to flow smoothly and constantly on demand.

The first is, to be quite honest, a bit tedious but, if you don’t do it, you will probably regret it.  We need to level the bed and set the Z-zero (Z0) height.

So, with our printer connected and powered on, we tell it to send all axis home.  This should be to a position of 0,0,0 (we always give such coordinates in the order of X, Y and Z).  With the bed in this position, we should just be able to fit a piece of paper between the tip of the nozzle and the bed.  If not, adjust the Z Home screw to make sure you can.

Once Home is sorted, then we send the printer to the maximum X extent.  And then, when it’s there, we adjust the bed levelling screw (there should be one in each corner) to make sure that we can still only fit our paper there.  Once that’s done, we go to Y extend and do the same and then send X home (Y is still at maximum) and do the same.  Finally, we go to the centre to make sure that all is still okay.

You may find, half way through the process, that you don’t have enough bed levelling movement to compensate.  In this case, we go back home, adjust Z home down a bit and then correct with the corner screws again.

Once that’s all completed, we need to look to the filament flow.  There are 2 main extruder types (if you have another type, I apologise, but you are probably in the minority).  These are a Wades type extruder, it has a smaller gear on the motor, driving a larger gear with a hobbed bolt (this is a bolt with teeth in the middle).  Or a direct drive extruder.  This has a small hobbed drive gear directly on the motor.

In both cases, there will be an idler bearing that pushes the filament onto the hobbed part on the drive train.  This idler should be adjusted so that the pressure is firm, but not too much.  If you tighten it too much, it will tend to flatten the filament, which will then make it more difficult when it comes to enter the hot end.  On the other hand, if it’s too lose, it won’t provide the pressure needed to make it work as it should

In order to check this, heat the hot end to the working temperature of your filament.  For PLA I normally use about 195 and ABS about 220.  This will vary between manufacturers and even colours, so you will need some trial and error.  Try and extrude 50mm and watch the gears turn.  If they turn but nothing comes out, tighten the idler.  increase it in small increments until the filament comes out smoothly and then I give it an extra 1/2 turn on the screw (this is optional and you may not need it).

Finally, load up something like this 25mm calibration cube, slice and print.

Hopefully it will look as you expect, you will have printed something and you are well on the way to playing with this fantastic new toy.

Next time we’ll look at some open source control software and where to get things to print.

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Getting Started with 3D Printing?


I got my first printer back in October 2012.  I’d been left some money by my dad, which was a pity because he would have loved this technology.  He always loved gadgets and, when I started, he would have been over to see it before I’d put it together.

It was a Printrbot Plus (  Lasercut birch ply, metal bits, wires.  I loved putting it together and the first time it printed… that was it, I was hooked.

That printer is now half way through being converted to a dual extruder model.  Two colours or different materials.  Sounds geeky, those who know would love the tech.

I also have a Printrbot Simple.  It started as a Beta and now is upgraded to the latest Simple production model.  Brook Drumm from Printrbot is very good to his Beta testers and as soon as the beta moves to production, he makes sure that the testers get the production stuff.  The same as happened with the dual extruder, beta to production.

If you wanted to get started now, you can still grab a Printrbot Simple, for £300 in the UK or less if you’re in the US.  The build area isn’t as big as some, but to get started, you can’t beat it.

If you want to see what it’s all about, before spending the money, pop along to the 3D printer meetup, every other Monday at the London Hackspace.  Next meeting is the 3rd Feb and then every two weeks.