Posts in Category: Gizmos

Some Assembly Required – 3D Printed Gizmos

The future is now. Replicators are a reality, kind of. Okay, not Star Trek replicators, but rather MakerBot Replicators, as well as a host of dozens of other 3D printing solutions. 

This thing is so future. It kind of looks like an empty PC case.

This thing is so future. It kind of looks like an empty PC case.

They’re so cool, and I have no idea how they work. I think plastic is involved. And layers. Simply put, 3D printers make plastic onions. They can also make other plastic vegetables, and even some plastic fruit! In fact, if it’s plastic, it can probably make it, or at least parts of it. Some 3D printers make things that aren’t even made of plastic! Check out this 3D chocolate printer:

At the request of a friend of mine, here’s ten less-than-Earth-shattering ideas for things that you could design with a (plastic) 3D printer, possibly! With some assembly required, of course.

    1. Can-holder you attach to edge of your desk, makes knocking cans and cups over impossible. Or at least, very difficult. I’ve had several near-disasters involving my computer case and a mug of water sat on the wrong side of the table.
    2. Plastic cage for putting all your un-rinsed washing up in so you can rinse it all at once. My water heater is a very strange and stingy heater. If you leave it running for an hour, you get maybe six or seven minutes of hot water. As such, I have to use my water sparingly. I can’t afford to rinse my cutlery one item at a time, and it takes forever. Just jam it all in a plastic cage and rinse it all at once!
    3. Folding, portable, multiple coffee cup holding device. Like those scary cardboard things you can get from Costa, but adjustable for cup size. It’s basically a handle attached to some cup holders that makes it so you don’t have to actually touch the cups. Brilliant for when you need to carry four double-shot venti Americanos back to work to help you get through that five hour meeting.
    4. Small rolling pin device that you can attach to toothpaste tubes to squeeze them to the max. I have a feeling someone already did this, but you know what? I don’t care. All I care about is getting the most out of my toothpaste. It is the one thing I live for.
    5. Writing desk (folding, of course) that you can attach to the back of bus seats by the handle thing. All buses in London have a handle.. Thing. I can’t describe it, so here’s a photo:
      Photo Credit: markhillary via Compfight cc

      [Cropped from source] Photo Credit: markhillary via Compfight cc

      If there’s something crying out to have a desk attached to it, it has gotta be this thing. It would make writing down these ideas in the morning so much easier.
    6. Sunglasses with lens that you can slide into position. Like those Deus Ex glasses, but more manual. You think it’s a bad idea? I never asked for this [inability to come up with good ideas]. This is also assuming you can print clear plastic lens. I don’t know guys, I’m not a maker person.
    7. Hand-held playing card thrower for people who can’t throw cards. It’s all in the wrist, you see. I bet you could make a pulley-based gun  thing.. Basically, a horizontal hand-held trebuchet for launching playing cards. Just don’t aim it at people, okay? I nearly blinded a friend when he let me throw cards at him. I was so totally Gambit, but I didn’t want to accidentally make him Nick Fury, you know?
    8. Pint-pourer: Two pivoting brackets for holding cups and bottles, one higher than the other. Allows you to pour from a can at an easily adjustable speed into a perfectly 45 degree glass. Bliss. Again, awful description, so here’s a special blueprint just for you people!

      Pint Pourer

      It pours pints and it took all of thirty seconds to knock up in Inkscape. What do you want from me?!

    9. Claw device for eating finger foods. Okay, fine, for eating chicken wings. This also might exist, you can already imagine people who just flat-out refuse to touch food for fear of making it dirty, but still want to eat delicious ribs. I guess a more elegant solution would be disposable gloves.. But hey, we’re dreaming big here!
    10. Beard stencils. Little bits of beard-shaped plastic you stick to your face and shave around to get the perfect beard. I wish I could grow a beard, but alas. I’m doomed to live the life of someone who can only grow a soul patch and a pathetic excuse for a moustache.

There’s an awful lot of cup holder-related stuff on this list because I have no imagination and I love the fact that liquids can be stored in such convenient vessels. If we didn’t have cups, we’d have to hold our coffee with our hands, and that would be awful. So why not make them even more amazing with a bit of cheap plastic and some ingenuity?

First Steps

In a stunning display of benevolence, I have deemed you all worthy of receiving the same wisdom I just received from Google twenty seconds ago. How do you even get into 3D printing? I guess the first step is the most obvious: You have to acquire a 3D printer. There’s an awful lot of them out there though.. How do you pick which one to splash out on? And after you get one, you actually have to design your wonderful new gizmo. Let’s look at these really briefly (for reference, these ‘First Steps’ are meant to be just that: What’s the very first thing you might think of doing to move forward with a particular idea? Sometimes, they’ll also be about what I learn while figuring out the first step, or maybe even some info about the first step itself!):

Which Printer?

This is not an easy question to answer. It’s so hard, and I’m so unqualified, I’m not going to answer it. Instead, here’s some things you should keep in mind when picking your printer:

  1. Price! These things get expensive, my friends. You’re looking at up to £2,000 for a high end piece of kit, maybe as little as £200 or so if you’re okay with putting it together yourself. Some are even cheaper, but that old adage still holds true: You get what you pay for.
  2. Size! The size of the printer itself limits the size of the objects it makes. They are not TARDIS (which is the plural of TARDIS, FYI), so if you want to make some seriously big things (or big parts), you’ll need a larger printer. I believe the technical term for the maximum build size is the build envelope.
  3. Quality! Some printers are naff and make naff quality objects. Some aren’t so naff, and make great gizmos! This ties in with getting what you pay for, really.

Here’s a big ol’ list of printers and prices courtesy of the people at! Knock yourself out.

How do I design my wonderful creation?

You thought picking (and maybe building) a printer was hard? Well, now comes the fun part. Look forward to spending a ton of time learning a piece of 3D design software and making sure the final blueprint is 3D printer compatible. I’ve heard something about ‘non-manifold surfaces’ being a no-no.. So yeah, that’s the sort of terminology you’ll be hearing regularly. Hope you brushed up on maths before you started!

I’m a little more ‘qualified’ to talk about 3D design software, because I did a tutorial in Blender once and it turned out so well I stopped using Blender. For real though, Blender is cool! I’m just not cool enough myself to use it. Here’s a few bits of software (free and commercial) you might use to do your designing:

  • Blender – Free and open source, Blender is so amazing you can make whole films in it.
  • AutoDesk software – These guys make 3ds Max, AutoCAD.. Real hardcore solutions. There’s also the hobbyist, super-cut down product AutoDesk 123D, which is free and I understand, pretty okay!
  • SketchUp – In a similar vein to AutoDesk, SketchUp is a company that makes 3D design software. And similarly, they offer a free version of their product called SketchUp Make.

Once again team, I can’t vouch for any of these. If this is your first time reading about 3D printing, you now know exactly as much as I do about the whole process. But maybe you’re interested enough to actually give it a go? If so, you’re a braver (and probably richer) person than I. Good luck, and remember me when you’re selling toothpaste tube-emptiers by the truck load.