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The 10 Essential Tools for 3D Printing

While most modern 3D Printers include a complete set of basic tools, there is a number of additional items that can greatly improve your workflow. For those that are proactive, making sure you have the necessary tools should the need arise can save both time and money. Far too many times I have bought inferior products at higher costs due to an immediate need. You can however find much better options online, often at a fraction of the price and be prepared when the time comes.

Heat Gun

Available at Amazon

Much like the Butane Torch listed below, the Heat Gun can also be used for clearing clogged nozzles in the same fashion. The difference however is that the heat is gradual, similar to a blazing hair dryer rather than a direct blast of fire. As such, the Heat Gun has considerably more applications in 3D Printing.

  • String Removal: Finding the perfect retraction settings can take some work, especially when using a different filament. A quick blast from the Heat Gun will cause these to shrivel into balls of plastic, which can then be rubbed off of the part to improve the surface finish. Depending on the severity of stringing, a Heat Gun usually provides a better result than plucking the strings from the print.
  • Heating Bed: Depending on the 3D Printer and size of the build platform, the heated bed can take as much as 10-15 minutes to warm-up to the desired temperature. During cold months, this problem is exacerbated and can take quite a bit longer. Using the Heat Gun, you can help the bed reach the desired temperature by blowing hot air directly on the surface or inside of an enclosure.
  • Print Deformation: FDM printers are not perfect and are notorious for leaving various artifacts. While direct heat will cause the prints to melt, quick passes over the problem areas will help to smooth the plastic and remove blemishes. When testing low heat on several PLA prints, it actually melted the surface in a way that gave a glass like appearance, similar to that of acetone vapor bath for ABS.

 

Renewable Dehumidifier

Available at Amazon

Proper filament storage is very important, where it will otherwise absorb humidity in the air that can ruin the plastic. Filament with moisture will be much more susceptible to creating clogs in the nozzle and the print quality often appears considerably worse.

To keep the rolls fresh, I store opened filament within a sealable storage bin and throw each silica packet (1 is included with each filament package) inside the container. The problem is that these silica packets deplete quickly and are no longer capable of absorbing moisture. While Amazon does sell Rechargeable Silica Packets that can be restored in the oven, I found the Renewable Dehumidifier a much more effective choice.

This is filled with orange beads that indicate they are capable of absorbing moisture. Over time the beads become exhausted, taking on a dark green shade to show that a recharge is needed. To do so, the unit is plugged into a wall outlet for 4-6 hours, where an internal heater will warm the beads and and remove the captured moisture. Used in everything from gun storage lockers to preserving photography equipment, these are an exceptional product for the preservation of unused filament rolls.

 

Butane Torch

Available at Amazon

One of the most frustrating problems in 3D Printing is the occurrence of clogged nozzles. Manufacturers often include some type of thin needle like tools to clear clogs, yet these are fragile and can break off inside the hotend, making the initial problem even worse. While the Cold Pull Technique is usually the recommended choice, I found myself baking the nozzle and thermal barrier tube in the oven at 400C, allowing the plastic to drain out one end.

Even though baking the hotend works well, it is a very time consuming process and requires multiple sessions for a complete cleaning. After my girlfriend bought a cheap Butane Torch for making Creme Brulee, I decided to try it out on my next clog. Holding the hotend parts with pliers, I blasted them with the torch and the plastic drained out in seconds. This is an incredibly cheap, yet effective method for clearing clogs in your hotend and serves plenty of other purposes outside of 3D Printing as well.

It is also an excellent tool for blasting the exterior of nozzles and other metal parts. As these tend to accumulate burned plastic and lose their sheen over time, the Butane Torch can restore these surfaces to their former glory and make them look good as new.

 

Needle Nose Pliers

Available at Amazon

While there is a good chance you already have Needle Nose Pliers laying around, you will be best served with a set kept near your 3D Printer. These are a true multi purpose tool, often used more than any other items in the 3D Printing Toolbox. In my case, I use them before every. single. print. pulling filament ooze off the nozzle to ensure it is clean for the first layer. If I notice excess plastic has fallen after the print started, these can help to remove it as well to keep the surface area clear.

This is also the absolute best option for removing tough support material from 3D Prints. Depending on how it adheres, supports can sometimes be difficult to remove by hand. Using the Needle Nose Pliers, the slip resistant grip and fine precision ends will provide a firm hold on the supports to avoid damaging the parts.

 

Hex Wrench Set

Available at Amazon

With every self assembled product in the last several decades including hex wrenches, chances are that you have more than plenty of these already available. A well made set however can make a massive difference, as those included for assembly aren’t intended for prolonged usage. I initially purchased a Foldable Hex Set to cover the most common sizes, but later found the bulky shape to frequently cause problems in tight spaces.

After growing frustrated with the stress of using it, I picked up a 30 piece set of individual hex wrenches with a organizer. Made from heat treated steel, these have held up much better than those included with 3D Printers, are just as easy to use in small areas and the plastic case keeps them organized for easy access.

 

Flush Wire Cutters

Available at Amazon

If your 3D Printer didn’t come with a set of Flush Wire Cutters (a.k.a Nippers), you absolutely need to pickup a set. If it did come with them, you may want to pickup a second pair. My first 3D Printer did not have them included so I didn’t initially know what I was missing. When my second, third and fourth printers had them packaged, I find they are a better substitute for many of the tools I used previously. After months of using scissors to cut filament, trim strings and strip wires, proper flush cutters made a world of difference.

Unfortunately those shipped with budget 3D Printers are cheap Chinese parts and I have now broken 2 of the 3. Concerned the third set may soon meet its end, I ordered a cheap but well made set from Amazon, for fear I may otherwise revert back to prehistoric options. There are very few tools you will use as much as the Flush Wire Cutters, making it one of the most essential items for your 3D Printing toolbox.

 

3D Printing Pen

Available at Amazon

Despite what they advertise, you probably won’t be able to create any magnificent works of art. As a companion tool for your 3D Printer however, the 3D Printing Pen can be invaluable for a variety of purposes. The most common of which is the need to weld multiple printed parts, especially if you are making something larger than the printer’s total build volume.

Since filament bonds extremely well to itself, PLA to PLA for example will be almost inseparable. During a recent print job, a tall, thin design broke off at a weak point due to low infill settings. Instead of redoing a 12 hour print job, I instead used the 3D Printing pen to heat both ends to 195C and pressed them together. As the plastic hardened within several seconds, I tested the strength by hand and found it was extremely durable and no longer a cause for concern.

 

Electric Guitar Strings

Available at Amazon

While this may seem like a strange recommendation, it is one of the absolute best ways to clear simple nozzle clogs. As mentioned above, the thin needle often included with 3D Printers is extremely fragile and can break off inside of your hotend. A better alternative is to use the smallest guitar string (High E) instead. These are often made of nickle plated steel which is extremely durable and fits well inside of a 0.4mm nozzle.

In comparison to other alternatives such as acupuncture needles and dental picks, the guitar strings are very cheap, lengthy and strong. You can cut a single guitar string into dozens of nozzle cleaners for just a few dollars. Unless you are clogging your nozzle more than once a week, these will probably last longer than the 3D Printer itself.

Although you can buy a standard pack of guitar strings, most local music shops and online retailers will sell 6 packs of one string for the same price. As such, I would advise picking up a pack of High E strings instead and cut them into 6-12″ pieces to use for nozzle cleaning.

 

Digital Calipers

Available at Amazon

Calipers are just one of those tools that you don’t need until you do. Given that precision is an important aspect of 3D Printing, the ability to take accurate measurements can make a world of difference. After I struggled for months using a tape measure with minimal success, I forked out the 10$ for proper digital calipers and haven’t looked back.

No 3D Printing toolbox is complete without these, you will find the need to measure more often than one may expect. This can be anything from calibrating your extrusion to checking the width of a printed part for dimensional accuracy. When you start creating functional prints, you will most certainly need precise measurements to ensure accurate size and fitment.

Dremel

2 thoughts on “The 10 Essential Tools for 3D Printing

  1. My son has been really interested in 3D printing, and has been wondering what kind of tools he would need in order to do some of his own. That is a good idea to have some needle nose pliers around. They would be really useful for removing the tough support material from the 3D prints. I remember how hard of a time he had with his first 3D print from school.

    1. That is great to hear that your son is interested in 3D Printing! Needle nose pliers are definitely something I would recommend to anyone getting started. I’ve had quite a few cuts from trying to do it by hand, where the the pliers help quite a bit to avoid unnecessary injuries.

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