First 3D print: LED Tea Light

I noticed that you can now get a Dual Extruder 3D printer sub-£1k now. This is a milestone to me and it rekindled my interest in the whole topic.

Blender render screenshot
A lantern in Blender

So over Christmas I was mucking around with 3D modeling in Blender. I did look at OpenSCAD a while back and I think I saw something that terrified me and I knee-jerked against it, but I can’t remember what it was. I’d also used Blender a little before when I dabbled in 3D so I went with that. Anyway after hours (days?) of playing with Blender, I realised I was doing two things.

One, I was doing the same translations and transformations over and over, just manipulating primitives and making heavy use of the Boolean modifier.

Two, I was getting off-track. Yes, look at the cool stuff blender can do, but this was supposed to be about a first 3D print, keep it simple.

So I did two more things: Limit scope. Changed tools.

G9 LED Cluster
G9 LED Cluster

While It’d be great to model and print little LED lanterns, I haven’t even done one test print yet. Best learn to walk, then try quickening the pace from there.

I have a fair few lanterns now, I think I might be a bit lantern-mad. I also have a bunch of G9 LED clusters that are ideal for them, but the furthest I got with them was poking some wires through the top and letting them dangle. It kind of works, but they’re almost always against one side and that annoys me. More than it should. It gives me that OCD itch. So I decided to make a tea light sized LED holder instead, remembering to keep it small and keep it simple.

I put everything aside and started again in OpenSCAD. A couple of hours later and not only was I done, but I was getting impatient to print my first thing! So I call that a win for OpenSCAD. Once I understood the basics of what I was doing in Blender, OpenSCAD turned out to be a far better tool for my workflow.

LED tea light in OpenSCAD
LED tea light in OpenSCAD

Next step, print. Now just because dual extruder printers have hit the <£1k mark, doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and buy one. Instead, just over the road from the office is a handy-dandy 3D printer shop iMakr.

I said when it opened that it was going to make me poor one day so I’ve tried to give it a wide berth. Richer Sounds on the other hand have a proven track record in making me poor. iMakr offer a 3D printing service, MyMiniFactory, so that’s what I’ll be using to get it printed, since I can collect it on my way home. Win!

So I submitted my print request to MyMiniFactory, and when you do there’s a certain expectation of a fairly robotic experience with everything happening through the website. So I was rather pleasantly surprised to find myself in an email thread with an actual person who not only knows what they’re doing, but has a sense of humour! Michaela was very patient when it came to my ignorance and for that I thank you!

3D printed model
3D printed model

Then came the email I was waiting for. It was here! It exists and is a thing! There’s even a part of me that wants to gnaw on it a bit to confirm that this virtual thing is in fact real. There was one thing I hadn’t counted on. My measurements.

As a programmer I tend to live in a fictional world of exactness, and I totally forgot that this is the real world and I need to make allowances for that. Plastic isn’t perfect and 3D printers aren’t perfect. The result being that the 3-pin female header housing fits into the slot on top in either the X or Y axes, but not both together… turns out 3D printers can’t produce infinitely perfect inside corners. This is an outrage! Oh well, lesson learnt.

Assembled LED tea light
Assembled LED tea light

I was able to achieve some semi-success with a combination of sanding down the corners of the header housing, softening the print slightly with just a little bit of fire (don’t do that, it’s silly), and brute force (also a bit silly).

Overall I’m very happy with the whole experience. I do now have more questions than when I started, and I did catch myself thinking that it’d be a lot easier to answer these questions if I had my own printer. Dangerous thoughts indeed. So I’m going to call it a resounding success! Watch this space for Version 2, which will actually have tolerances on the header slot, a taller wire escape hole and generally more compact to save on the support structure inside it!

Illuminated Lantern
Illuminated Lantern