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  • Charlie Kocur

Top 10 Practical Uses of My 3D Printer

Introduction

When you first open the box of your brand new 3D printer, you can't help but think of the possibilities. "This is going to be life-changing!", is what was going on in my head as I began to set up my first printer, a simple Wanhao Duplicator i3. I envisioned myself solving tons of home problems, creating fun toys, and in general just being able to have the world at my fingertips now that I could print nearly anything. But as anyone with a 3D printer knows, it's not that simple.

For me, as with many people, this dream of being a creator of great things quickly shatters and I found myself with a desk full of small figures of varying quality. Sure, they look fun and were a lot of effort so there is some pride in them, but sometimes you just can't help thinking how useless your prints might actually be at the end of the day. But all is not lost! Even for home desktop 3D printers there are many useful, functional prints. After I had my printer for a while, and I was running out of room for yet another Pokemon statue, I decided to make a change and focus on working to print items that could actually prove useful. I found many designs online that I could make use of, and I learned some basic 3D design skills myself to create custom components for use around the house. Over time, I've gotten a small collection of useful prints, and thought I'd share my favorites.

Original designs that I've made are noted as "(Original Design)". I've provided links to download model files where available both from myself and models designed and posted by others (and have given them credit of course!). Also, I provided info on the filament I used to print everything, assuming I could remember what it was.


 

The Designs


1. Dishwasher Wheel Mount (Original!)

Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3335957



This took me a little time for how simple it is, but I'm proud of it since it's something that gets used daily. We purchased a home and all the original appliances came with it. They were fairly out of date but worked fine. One of the brackets that holds a wheel in our dishwasher broke however, making the drawer difficult to move.

To hold us over until we could afford new appliances, I could have done the simple thing and purchased a replacement online (maybe, it's an older model that may be hard to find parts for); BUT... I have a 3D printer, so you bet I'm going to spend way too much time creating my own solution! I was able to design a more robust piece than originally came with the dishwasher, so hopefully it will last a while. Plus, I can now re-print this and use it if any of the other wheel brackets break!

The purple one here was printed in 3D Solutech Printer PLA filament.


 

2. Phone Mount for Car

Design Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1994598


This is a mount that I found online, designed by Goldeneaglecustoms. This was a great temporary solution for me while I work on designing a custom one myself for my vehicle. The design seems fairly universal because it simply slots in to the CD player slot on most vehicles (and who uses those anymore?). I have this mounted in a 2014 Ford F150.

This specific design is for a Galaxy S7, but there are plenty of options when it comes to phone mounts if you search sites like Thingiverse or MyMiniFactory. Just type in your phone model + "mount" and you'll find lots of options.

I printed this one in Proto-pasta "High Five" Blue PLA. One of my personal favorite filaments. Check out Proto-pasta's site for more cool filaments!



 

3. Replacement Cotton Ball Holder (Semi-Original Design)

Lid & base available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3336106

Elephant available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1735782

The lid and base of this cotton ball holder/organizer were designed in Fusion360 and printed in Hatchbox Wood PLA filament. The center, clear part was salvaged from the original item that we had purchased at a store, and I used some double-sided tape to attach the base to the plastic core.

The original base and lid were made of metal that had started to rust. I took apart the original holder and found that the plastic core was still in perfect condition, so I decided to design my own replacement parts for the ones that had rusted. This one actually ended up matching the style of our bathroom better than the original.

For the handle, I could have designed a simple round knob, but instead I found a small low-poly elephant, my wife's favorite animal, to put on the lid as a handle ( attached with a little glue). The elephant model came from spryde and was found on Thingiverse.

This project is a favorite of mine because it was the first completely custom project I made for practical use. It was simple, and I liked the fact that I was able to use some of the original product in the replacement.


 


4. Organization Trays

Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:796504

"Organization Trays" is kind of a general category that I wanted to include because I've printed several different designs to organize various small parts around the house. One that I've really enjoyed lately is the one photographed above, designed by walter on Thingiverse.

There are plenty of different sized compartments, the lid fits nicely, and if you need something in a different size, it's easy enough to scale this up in your slicer program of choice to fit larger items. I printed a few of these and stack them in a drawer to keep things neat when I'm not working on a project.

I printed this one in Stronghero3D rainbow filament. (This just happened to be an orange colored section of the filament, but larger models will change color as you print them with this PLA!).


 

5. Enable Hand

Information and models available at: http://enablingthefuture.org/


Often times regular prosthetic limbs can cost thousands of dollars. It's unfortunate for children because the child will likely outgrow it in a few months. This often leaves kids with ill-fitting devices that they'll 'grow-into' or no device at all because of the expense. Enable the Future pulls together folks all around the world to donate time and money to design, print, and assemble basic prosthetic devices using 3D printers. For a little time and about $20 in parts, a basic but completely functional hand can be created!

Here's one of the devices I've created (my first!) and am nearly done with. I've spent so much time flexing the hand and watching the fingers move. It's the first really mechanical print I've made, so it's amazing to watch.

Part of the reason I purchased a 3D printer in the first place was to donate some of my time to this amazing cause. I am still working on getting approved to send out some devices for actual use, but I can't wait to get printing more regularly for this great cause!

This is printed in a mix of colored PLA filament by Hatchbox and Wanhao.


 

6. Printer Upgrades (Cooling fan duct)

Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1838328


The concept of a device that can create it's own upgrades is pretty cool. Unfortunately I can't yet print more RAM for my PC, but I can use my 3D printer to print upgrades to make my print quality better.

A really simple but very effective upgrade that I'll share is a fan duct. This allowed me to put a larger, better fan on my printer, which provides more consistent and better cooling for prints. The quality improvement for this alone was great!

In addition to fan upgrades, you can find items like z-braces to stiffen the frame and reduce vibrations, improved knobs for a better grip, organizers to hold your tools, and even complete replacement parts if something breaks. You'll probably have to search for something unique to fit your printer, but there are plenty of options out there on Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory if you search your printer model. The prints are usually quick, and can make a world of difference in your print quality.

This blue fan duct is printed in Proto-pasta "High Five" Blue PLA.


 

7. Battery Storage

AA Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2503188

AAA Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2515300

These are really simple but effective battery holders. Designed by Easy3DPrinting. No more digging through drawers to find the right size, these organize things nicely enough to sit on a desktop and dispense batteries as needed. I'd like to work on a modified version with double the height so it can hold even more.

The AAA model is printed in Hatchbox Grey PLA Filament. The AA model is in Pink PLA filament, also made by Hatchbox.


 

8. Drone Case (Original!)

Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2935265


Here's another original design I did. This is a hard shell for a DJI Spark drone. While the drone came with its own case when I bought it, I made this specifically to fit in a small space in my camera bag. It's compact, fairly impact resistant, and I think looks pretty nice to boot.

As an improvement for this one, I'd like to add some soft felt lining to avoid any scratches while this is jostling around in a bag, but overall I'm very happy with how it came out. It saves just the right amount of room I need to pack it away in my bag.

This one was primarily printed in Hatchbox Grey PLA filament, with some transparent orange PLA for the lid (I don't recall the brand). On a model like this, if you have the ability to print in ABS you will have a very sturdy case on your hands.


 

9. Custom 'Vacation Bank' (Original!)

Unfortunately I lost this file somehwhere so can't share it.


Everyone needs somewhere to toss their change, so why not make it something fun? I took an empty pretzel container and printed a custom-designed set of mouse ears to designate it as our "vacation fund". Sure, once it's full it may only be enough to cover a large popcorn at theme park prices, but it's fun to have around and can help encourage kids to save by having some fun putting their money away and watching their savings towards a Disney trip grow!

This was a pretty quick and simple job, just a few circles in Fusion360 and I was basically there. Now that I am a little better at 3D modeling, I'd like to revisit this and put a little more style in to it (not to mention, the print quality on this one didn't turn out great).

This model is printed in Hatchbox Grey PLA filament.


 

10. Nintendo Switch Game storage:

Available at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2347648


I found this fantastic design by ChunkAhoy that allows me to keep 10 Nintendo Switch game cartridges in one normal-sized game case that would usually only hold one. All you have to do is simply print a tray and some small brackets, and then slide it all in to one of your existing game cases.

It's made traveling with lots of games significantly easier, and has made my living room much more tidy. I just toss a case or two a small drawer in the living room and keep the rest of the game case collection on a shelf on display in my office. The living room stays neat and tidy, and I don't have to run between rooms if I want to switch games.

There are a lot of great storage & organization options out there not just for Switch games, but also SD cards. Organization is key with physical media getting smaller and smaller, and your 3D printer can help you maintain them.

This particular design prints in multiple parts that you can put together, so I decided to do them in different colors for a look that somewhat matched my current Joy-Con colors of blue & neon yellow. The base plate is printed in Hatchbox Green PLA, and the small clips are printed in 3D Solutech Teal Blue PLA.


 

11. *Bonus* (because it's not THAT useful but does serve a function)

Dice Tower (Original!)

File available for purchase at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/596360597/sea-anemone-dice-tower-stl-file-download


This dice tower is one that I spent a long time designing, but I'm extremely happy with the outcome. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons on occasion, and I learned about dice towers. Basically, they're a needless accessory that rolls your dice for you. You drop the dice in the top, and they bounce down through the inside and come out at the bottom. Again, needless but fun!

My only problem with dice towers was that many of the ones available out there are of actual castles. I play D&D to keep in touch with friends, and I'm not that crazy about a fantasy-style castle sitting on my desk; but I do love the ocean so I took some inspiration from a sea anemone to design this!

The bases are all made in Hatchbox Grey PLA, while the tops are in various colors from Hatchbox, 3D Solutech, and Stronghero3D.


 

Now it's your turn!

Hopefully this list of my personal top 10 (+1!) useful prints inspires you to go beyond desktop trinkets and find some designs that can be functional as well!

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