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Header Pin Snapper

Things have been busy lately. I’ve been building a lot of electronic devices and since there’s soldering and assembly involved I’ve been looking seriously at my tools. In some cases I’ve bought new (and better) tools, and in some cases I’ve looked at making my own tools. Here’s a “Header Pin Snapper” that makes it easy to get a 14 pin header from a longer strip.

I used to use a diagonal cutter to snip the pins to length, and that works fine if you do a few, but if you need to do a bunch a tool is a quick way to do it. I’m not the first to make one of these, you can also check out the Header Snapper – WHSN, the BlueBreaker, this Pin Header Snapping Tool, and a parametric pin header snap fixture, among many others… including the OctoSnap!

So I spent a few minutes making this simple device that can snap pin headers to a length of 14 pins. Exactly what I need, and it works fast. Working fast is often better than working slow. I didn’t need an adjustable one, or a customizable one, so this one fulfills my needs, but might not be useful for others.

It’s just three pieces of 3mm thick acrylic, and four 3mm x 12mm bolts along with four 3mm hex nuts. I’ve got plenty of small scraps of acrylic lying around so made two just in case I misplace one.

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Prusa MINI+ 3D Printer

This is not really a review of the Prusa MINI+ 3D Printer. There are plenty of full reviews out there. What this is though is a post about my own experience with the Prusa MINI+, at least the first week with it.

First, some background. I am not new to 3D printing. My first post about 3D printing was in 2011. (See them all!) I got my first RepRap working in 2012, and helped start the Milwaukee 3D Printing Meetup the same year. I was using printers at Milwaukee Makerspace, UWM, and other places around town (including at work) and in 2017 I replaced my ageing RepRap with a Monoprice Maker Select Plus. So I went about five years between printers, which is fitting, because it’s five years later and I just got another printer. (I’m not counting the Creality machine I gave to my daughter or the Maker Select v2 I just gave away to someone I know.) So yeah, I get 3D printing. ;)

So while the Maker Select Plus served me well (after a few upgrades) I wanted something a bit better in the quality department. Years ago I spec’d a Prusa i3 at work to replace an ageing (and often broken) MakerBot and I loved that machine. I basically told everyone I knew to get a Prusa if they could. (They got a whole bunch of them at Milwaukee Makerspace.) The experience was top notch for someone coming from the old RepRap/Pronterface world. Alas, I left that job and left the Prusa behind.

Print quality from the Maker Select Plus was pretty good, but I’m hoping for much better quality from the MINI. One important thing to note is that while the MINI has a smaller bed, it can probably print more reliably across the entire bed. I’ve found that cheap printer with large beds don’t always excel at using the entire bed. Part of this is probably leveling. While I’ve been a gruff old veteran who says “Argh! All ya need is a sheet of paper and some patience to level things!” the probing and leveling system of the Prusa is great. (Yes, I know I could add it to the MSP, and upgrade the firmware to support it and… at this point I really just need to print.

In 2021 I started having to print more quality items that were for sale, and sometimes it was difficult to keep up and get good quality prints. I started eyeing the Prusa MINI again. I finally decided to grab one (after selling some other equipment I didn’t need) and it arrived in less than four weeks, which sounds like a long time but I was expecting 6+ weeks. So that’s a win.

As for the actual experience, here we go. Assembling it was a bit of a pain. I’ve put together two Ender 3 printers and it was very simple. The MINI assembly (while not many steps) kind of sucks. Maybe because I expect a certain level of Prusa experience. Luckily you should only have to do it once. (To be clear, I got the assembled model, so it was just bolting the two halves together, plugging in and routing all the wires, and that was it. Still a painful experience.) Remember how I said “you should only have to do it once”? Well…

After assembly the setup and calibration was great. Excellent experience! The machine walks you through the process very smoothly. I then did a test print found on the included USB drive and it looked good. (I used some Hatchbox filament, not the included Prusament.) So yeah, cool! From opening the box to getting a first print was a little over an hour in my freezing cold basement. I called it a night.

The next night I went down with a file I sliced with PrusaSlicer (which is a really nice piece of software) and get ready to print it but… ERROR! It showed an error on the screen. You can then look up the error code online or scan the QR code with your mobile. Seems the hotend thermistor was having issues. I checked on it, including opening up the enclosure to check the wiring, thinking maybe I didn’t secure things. Again, the wiring is a pain. Ugh. Painful. But at least I was getting used to it. So here’s the deal… It was cold in my basement, and this printer is so smart (ha!) it thought the thermistor had failed because, well… if the reading is that low, something is wrong. The only thing wrong was that I have a basement in Wisconsin. I ended up pointing a space heater at the printer until the thermistor read warm enough to pass the check. (It was honestly just a few degrees, but still.)

Okay, that was the second night. Not great, but a little annoying. I get why they do it, but hey, it’s winter in Wisconsin. I know how cold my basement is. And yes, the cold may affect the print quality. I know that.

Right so time to print! I put in the included USB drive and… nothing. It doesn’t see the thumb drive. Oh hell, now what!? I go upstairs to my computer, insert the drive, and… it’s corrupted itself. Damn. My old printer used SD cards and they always worked. Is this going to be a normal occurrence? I hope not! I reformat the drive, then copy files to it again, and I print. All good. (Note: The drive had been fine since then, as is the other one I use for printing.)

A bit of a rough start, but overall I am really pleased with the machine itself, the experience of using it (apart from the few hiccups at the beginning) and that printing plate is awesome. I was at first worried about the “bubbles” that appeared on the surface, because the (cheap) plates I’ve used with the MSP wear out, but I’ve been told these will last… and they sort of “self heal” after a bit of time. Sweet.

Now of course the real test is when things go wrong. With the Prusa i3 I used at work, it was amazing, but once we had to tear down the extruder to deal with a nasty clog and that was a nightmare. So time will tell as far as how things go when things go wrong. Right now I can pull apart the extruder to remove a clog on my MSP or an Ender 3 in less than ten minutes. For the MINI, well… I don’t know yet. Maybe it won’t clog. (Ha! Just kidding! It will. It’s a 3D printer after all.)

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3D Printed Print Baren

In the world of printmaking (of which I am far from an expert) there are many ways to print, including a printing press. I no longer have easy access to a press, so I’ve been using alternate methods of getting ink on paper. One method is to use a baren. The baren is a thing you hold in your hand to rub the paper against the printing plate, thus causing the ink to be transferred.

I bought a cheap Speedball baren years ago, and I never liked it, so I started looking at other barens. Now, printmakers tend to appreciate fine things and aesthetics, and there are a lot of different barens out there. Some are made of glass, some are bamboo, some have rope or ball bearings or pads, etc. So I finally asked the wisest of printmakers I know, and Jessica told me she just uses a wooden spoon.

Well, I decided to just make my own baren. So I quickly modeled something really ugly, and I 3D printed it. After I printed it I thought of a better way to model it, and I still haven’t made a new one. This one works, so I’ll just keep using it for now. It’s functional. It’s good enough.

I did sand the bottom of it… quite a bit! Working my way up to high grit sandpaper until the bottom was smooth. Really smooth. It’s smooth. Yeah. Smooooooth. I also sprayed it with Liquid Wrench and rubbed that in real good. It glides across the paper really nice. I’ve done a few prints with it and I’m pretty happy. 3D Printing. It’s handy!

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Little Articulating Arms

little-hands-01

I’ve been prototyping a little helping hands thing using some 3D printed parts and miscellaneous hardware, mostly #8-32 nuts and bolts, and a few springs.

little-arm-model

The 3D part is pretty simple, a cube with two holes. It’s based on my Camera Accessory Mounting System (CAMS).

little-hands-00

First version… still figuring out how to connect everything…

little-hands-02

Springs for tension were added, but I might try using small wingnuts to adjust tension as well…

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Tiny zip ties hold the alligator clips in place. They can still rotate freely and are somewhat tight…

little-hands-04

Hard to see in this one, but I stacked two blocks on top of each other to allow rotation in both directions. I’ll keep working on this to see where it goes.

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The “Potluck” Makerspace

MMS

I recently heard the word “potluck” applied to a makerspace. So what exactly is a potlock and how does it work?

A potluck is a gathering where each guest contributes a different and unique dish of food, often homemade, to be shared.

(Okay, ignore that bit about food.) Many spaces are started by groups of people who come together to form a community around making. Making usually requires tools. They may be traditional tools like saws, and drills, and sewing machines, and may include laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC machines. While you may own a few tools, chances are you don’t own all the tools. Typically there’s two reasons you don’t own all the tools. You probably don’t have space for them all, and you probably can’t afford them all. This is where makerspaces come in.

The “potluck” style makerspace encourages everyone to bring the tools they have, together, in one space, and share that space, and share the tools. No one owns everything there, but everyone owns something. Now, there are spaces where a single person or small group provides all (or a majority of) the tools, or where the space itself (as an organization) owns all the tools. It can certainly work in many different ways.

Milwaukee Makerspace operates to a great deal like a potluck. When we started, everyone brought in whatever tools they had. We tried to avoid duplicates in most cases. If we had a table saw, but someone else said they had a better table saw, we’d evaluate and discuss and see if we wanted to “upgrade” by bringing in the new tool. Now, the question comes up “What if Bob decides to take his chop saw home? Then we have no chop saw!” and yes, this is true, and it does happen. I’m pretty sure within the last year the chop saw disappeared because the owner moved away, or took it home, or some other weird reason. Typically we’re without a tool for a short time until someone else brings one in, or we find another way to replace it.

One of those “other ways” is a group buy. Sometimes a member (or more likely a number of members) want a new tool. They basically “crowdfund” the money needed to purchase the tool and the tool the stays at the space. Occasionally there is a majority stakeholder who might have paid for a large percentage of a tool. If, in this case, the member who is a majority stakeholder wants to remove the tool, they would have to buy out all the other members who pitched in for it. This is a rare occurrence, in fact, I’m not sure it’s happened more than once or twice.

Occasionally a member who owns a tool wants (or needs) to sell it, perhaps due to financial strain or needing money more than they need the tool. Often members have bought tools from other members so that they can remain at the space. And yes, we’ve also seen group buys so that tools could remain at the space. (This was the case with one of our laser cutters.)

The largest example we have is the Tormach. Larry wanted a vertical milling machine, and was looking at a Haas, or another larger used machine. Since we didn’t have luck with the previous used machine we had, many members were in favor of something a bit newer, and easier to use. The Tormach purchase was funded by over 30 members. Some contributing as little as $10, and a few contributing close to or more than $1000. Larry covered $5000, which was close to half the cost. I personally pitched in $50 and I still haven’t even used the machine! I’m okay with that, because I’ve seen other members make awesome things, and I know that if I have the need, it’s there and I can use it.

What about when things break? Well, each area has a budget for purchases and maintenance (I’ll cover that more in another post) but we also follow the “crowdfunding” method in this case. When the laser tube died pretty much everyone who ever used the laser cutter was willing to pitch in some money. Occasionally someone orders a spare lens, or new saw blades, or whatever other consumable there is because we don’t charge for machine time, but if you’ve used a machine a lot, we expect you to be awesome and contribute in some way. (And yes, there are other ways to contribute, again, that’s a future post.)

Anyway, I hope this helped explained the “potluck” method we’ve used over the last seven years or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked fairly well. When we orient new members, we let them know that every tool in the space belongs to someone, and that someone is another members, so respecting and taking care of the tools is just one more way to be excellent to each other.