Old Dog, New Tricks, and 3D Printing

It seems I’ve been dragged to the Dark Side…3D printing. I’m approaching this new endeavor with all the grace and maturity that I’m known for. In other words, kicking, screaming, snot running from my nose, and my ear wax melting combined with a side-order of bitching VERY LOUDLY at any of my long-suffering friends who’ll sit still long enough (defined…by me, of course…as five seconds). So those of you who think 3D printing is the best thing since chimneys and indoor plumbing are probably wondering why I’m being so mature about it. Glad you asked. (Even though you probably haven’t…you’ve come here so you’re just being subjected to the unasked answer.)

I know that being 71 doesn’t strike those of you who are over that age as being all that old. That’s not how it feels from behind blue eyes (mine…when they’re not purple, which is the combination of blue and red). I feel old. Also, none of my immediate family, Father, Mother, or Sister made it this far. Father…three days short of his 50th birthday. Mother…60. Sister…54. My genetic inheritance isn’t especially long lived (with the occasional exception of the odd one out on both sides who just won’t die much before 90…I’m hoping to fall into that category but that’s not something one can count on). So I (like every one of you reading this as well as those who have no idea “this” exists at all) have no idea when They’re going to take our timecard out of the rack. I certainly know that each day we wake up is one day closer to our final blink. So given my genetic inheritance, I have less than no idea when The Day arrives when I turn in my timecard. All that said…

Okay, so I spent a few hours realizing that filament printers produce too coarse a product for me. Resin printers, however, seem to be the ticket. Well, hell…that was the easy part. The difficult part is waiting until I’ve paid off the chimney repair (caught it before it collapsed, which it was about to), the plumbing (I could write a post on those lovely events…and please note the plurality of that statement), impending maintenance costs of the car I drive as infrequently as possible, and of course the increasing costs of anything with a price tag. At the rate that’s going, I could afford one sometime around late spring or early summer (I’m looking at Elegoo’s Mars 2). Like I said…that’s the easy part. Here comes the difficult part and part of my reason for resisting 3D printing as long as I have.

All the software necessary to produce a file that can be printed that I have to learn. At present, and who knows what else is going to be needed that I don’t know about, I have three different programs that the file has to go through to be usable:

                Blender: This is where the object is designed

                Meshmixer: This is where the Blender file gets tweaked so it’s possible to print

                Chitubox: Where the file is tweaked and produced in printable form

Any of you who use, have used, or tried to use Blender know it’s a profoundly complex program that can do amazing things. You also know WHAT A STONE BITCH IT IS TO LEARN. Whereas I’m not a Luddite, I can see them from where I sit…and it’s close.

So why, after all this carping and bitching, am I even considering spending (but hopefully no wasting…I used my 20s for that) the time with it. What I’m working on now has shown me that to get what I want, let me emphasize that, to get what I want, it seems to be necessary.

I read a post from Joe, the person who runs Tiger Model Designs, about a modeler claiming his 3D printed model was scratch-built. I concur with his point in that no…it’s not. The computer and the printer did the work, the modeler did the design. Okay, yeah, sure. I can hear y’all saying, “Hey! Welcome to the 21st Century!” (Or maybe y’all aren’t saying that, it’s always possible it’s the voices in my head.) (And I’m certainly glad I’ve elevated ignoring advice to an Olympic-grade artform…and so are the people I haven’t…well, never mind that part.)

I have to learn to use (to a functional extent, anyway) all three programs just to print out a part that’s this tiny:


And while I’m in the kicking-and-screaming mode, let’s do the math to make this whole endeavor even more palatable…

If I could buy that part it might cost me $5. The model itself cost me about $40. Thankfully the software(s) required to print it were all free, but the printer costs about $450 before shipping.

For a $5 part.

Yeah, yeah…you’re right. Once I have the Infernal Device, I’m sure I’ll find other uses for it and there are models in the cache I intend on building that might also benefit from adding another skill to my set of them. But I don’t know that. (What I am doing is finding reasons NOT to go to the Dark Side…and I seem to be failing with that.)

For years I’ve been playing around with SketchUp in its various versions. For something like 15+ years. I already taught myself how to use that software! This is the design (for my present build, the transmission for the 1/24 Bugatti Type 35B) I did with SketchUp:

2021-11-30 01

2021-11-30 02

From start to finish, it took me about nine hours. I was able to use a version of SketchUp that claimed to be able to produce the .stl file of that that the printer requires. I even believed it. (Naïve at my age…go figure.) Then I loaded it into Meshmixer. After more time diddling with it than the design took to produce I discovered that no…the “.stl” file SketchUp produced is NOT printable. That’s why I’m going down the Blender hole.

Blender. NOT INTUITIVE FOR BEGINNERS. I have already spent more time watching the tutorial YouTube video on how to use the fornicating program than I wanted to (and taking copious notes in Word so that “ctrl-f” will enable me to find what I’m looking for in these copious notes). I’m about 20 minutes into a video that’s almost an hour-and-a-half long. It’s the first video. There’s a second one for more advanced stuff that’s even longer. And while I’m watching and taking notes, how much actual building is going on?

Zero. None. Nothing.

Time, that commodity I’m running out of, passes. I really hope I can learn all these new tricks before I do, too.

Major Edit

No relation to Captain Obvious. That said…

I’m shelving the entire notion of 3D printing of any sort. I took that little lump of cured epoxy putty that was vaguely similar to the transmission I want for the 1927 Bugatti Type 35B I’m doing and made the sodding transmission. (You’ll see how it turned out in my next post in a couple of weeks.) Jeez…for all the fluff ‘n’ cluck I went through about 3D printing, wringing my hands over 3D printing, trying to learn the first (of three) suites of software to 3D print, I decided to get both my Big Boy Panties ™ and my training bra out of the laundry. I put the BBP on and nestled my man boobs into the training bra (less to nestle after losing 20 pounds…so far, I ain’t done yet) and just did what a modeler is supposed to do. Buy what they want and make what they can’t buy to get the results they want.

Bloody, buggering, hell…

6 responses

  1. I find blender in and of itself to be addictive. It’s a wonderfuly powerful tool and when you realize all the amazing things you can do with it it’s going to suck you in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! Until now I had no idea that Blender had anything in common with red heads! Appreciate the news!


  2. Old, retired engineer here. I too look at the promise of 3D printing and all the wonderful ways it can contribute to life, and then cringe at the inevitably steep personal learning curve and expense. When you reach the age where it’s easier to forget things than remember them (when was that? About 30?) you have to question how sensible it is to go back to college.
    Perhaps carving things out of wood isn’t such a silly idea after all. Besides, one of the potentials for 3D printing is that if you get it to work you will have a new obsession taking up all your time.


    1. Good points. I’m thinking that I need a new obsession like I need a third testicle. It’s my obsession…er…enthusiasm…er…preference for accuracy that has me about to fire up YouTube and continuing to slog through the tutorial video.

      (Yeah…about 30.)


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