Digital Studies 201: Tinkering, Hacking, & Making

DGST 201: 3D Printing Project

This semester, I am taking a course entitled “Tinkering, Hacking, and Making” as part of my Digital Studies minor. Throughout the semester, we will be undertaking a variety digital studies projects that we will document on our blogs.

3D Printing Project Guidelines

These past few weeks, I have had my first experiences with 3D printing. Our class assignment was to find (or create) a model to be 3D printed, add a modification to the model, and finally, print the model.

Selecting a Model to Print – My Two-Part, Self-Watering Flowerpot from Thingiverse

While there are sites that would have allowed me to create my own 3D printing model from scratch, I figured that my knowledge of design and geometry was not quite up for the task. Instead, I opted to do what most of my classmates did, and select a file from a website to modify.

The website that many of my classmates and I used is called Thingiverse.

While perusing models to print, I knew that I wanted something that would serve a function and have some element of creativity. I was instantly captivated by this model – a two-part, self-watering flowerpot. The flowerpot is composed of a pot and a reservoir.

Modifying the Model – Tinkercad

To render the model, I used an application called Tinkercad, which is part of the Autodesk Suite. Tinkercad, while limited, is relatively intuitive.

I will admit that I first tried to construct a flowerpot from scratch on Tinkercad. This was endlessly frustrating however, so I quickly abandoned this idea.

When modifying the self-watering flowerpot, I decided, through some discussion with my Professor and classmates, that the easiest coure of action would be to add a quote to the outer portion of the flowerpot. My flowerpot proudly says, “I Plant Beleaf You’ve Done This,” which is an obvious plant pun derived from this Vine. (Warning, NSFW language.)

Initially, I faced challenges adding text to the pot. On Thingiverse, the easiest-to-find options for text are two-dimensional, meaning that if 3D-printed on a curved model, they would fall off. While it would have been technically possible to copy and paste a large amount of the same block of text on top of the flowerpot in order to create a “levelled” effect, it was arduous and horrible to attempt to do so, so I was lucky to find another way.

A table-mate pointed out to me that under a different category of Thingiverse was a curved text option, which was a total lifesaver. From here, all I had to do was curve each portion of text to match the flowerpot, and adjust the height so that the text would be properly lined up. While this didn’t quite work out, as I discuss later, it was certainly easier than the first option I found. In the future, I would add far less text.

Printing the Model – Attempt One

For my first attempt printing the model failed. All that the machine managed to print were the base of each object, which resembled coasters. The reason that this attempt likely failed was because the print job took far too long – the time estimate was over 20 hours. It took 20 hours because I was trying to print both pieces side-by-side. For reference, the second longest print job in the class only took 11 hours.

My first attempt did not go very well - barely anything of either the pot or reservoir printed.
This is all that printed from my first, failed attempt. The filled in piece will make a great coaster.

Printing the Model – Attempt Two

For my second attempt, I made two modifications. First, per Dr. Meadow’s recommendations, I split the print into two jobs in order to cut down time. This was easy, because the model already came in two separate parts. Next, I made sure to scale the model down to a smaller size in order to further bring the print time down.

The screen of the 3D printer, with five hours remaining on the print of my pot
Second Attempt: Printing part one of two, the pot.

After applying these modifications, each part only took roughly five hours. Both parts printed successfully, with two minor problems. While minor, I still was not satisfied with this print.

Detailing the Two Pieces

Because I printed my two pieces separately, there was a gap in time between removing them from the printer and putting them together. This meant that I cleaned up each piece to the best of my ability. I used an e-file (which is really a drill) meant to make and shape acrylic nails to carve out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. I also used sandpaper to remove remnants of the supports.

My pot, with supports not yet removed.
I used the e-file to carve out the holes seen in the top. I used sandpaper to remove remnants of the supports.

I also tested both pieces in my sink to determine that they are indeed watertight! I read on Thingiverse that I possibly would’ve had to add wood glue to create a seal, but this wasn’t necessary.

Attempt One, Minor Problem One: The Size of the Models

Ideally, the pot should have inserted flush into the reservoir. However, for some reason, both pieces had the same circumference, and did not nest. This did not entirely defeat the purpose of the pieces as the water-draining apparatus did fit slightly into the reservoir, but it did not look as intended.

This turned out to be enough of a bother to me that I decided to reprint the pot.

My pot and reservoir side-by-side.
The two pieces look cute side-by-side, but do not fit together flush.

Attempt Two, Minor Problem Two: The Text

Secondly, the text that I added to the side of the pot partially failed. Only part of the “I Plant Beleaf You’ve Done This” text remained on the side of the pot. Because I was not the individual who extracted the reservoir from the pot, I cannot say for sure why this happened, but I speculate that when adding the curved text in Tinkercad, the text was not perfectly placed on top of the pot, so it may have fell off during printing.

The second possibility is that part of the text came off when removing the supports, which as it turned out when I rechecked the model on Thingiverse, were not actually necessary. Oh well!

My second attempt at a pot and reservoir. The pot is too big for the reservoir, and only half of the text on the reservoir printed.
My attempt at a pun reads “I pl be yo done this,” rather than “I Plant Beleaf You’ve Done This.” Oh well, at least I’ll know what it meant.

Printing the Model – Attempt Three

I tried printing part of my model one more time in hopes of getting a flower pot exactly like the model on Thingiverse. This time, I reprinted just the pot – the top portion that was too big. I scaled the pot to 85%, (for “good measure” instead of 105%, like both models were at. I also checked the measurements to check that they were certainly smaller than that of the reservoir. This was a short print, only 4.5 hours, also in Bamboo.

Finishing the Model

Once my properly-sized pot was printed, I had two things left – to “fix up” the look of my two pieces by adding a veneer and a coat of paint, and to find a small plant to nest in them. One of these tasks required a trip to Walmart, and the other did not.

Before adding the veneer, I used the Dremmel tool to “sand” (buff? wildly scratch?) the model. I made the decision to remove the half-finished text in favor of a smooth surface. Even though this meant that my 3D print no longer had a modification, I could at least say that I tried to add a modification.

After “buffing” both pieces, I added a few coats of black acrylic paint and protective coating. Maybe acrylic wasn’t the best choice for bamboo, but it was all I had, and I think that it looked just fine!

My freshly painted pot and reservoir, painted black
My pot and reservoir, painted black

After painting both pieces, I submerged them both in water to ensure that the reservoir was water-tight and that the holes in the bottom of the pot were open. I was able to further “drill” them open by using a special bit at the end of the Dremmel tool.

Finally, I was able to add a plant. I chose a small, fuzzy succulent from the $3 section of Walmart, and gave the plant a sunny spot on my balcony. I am happy with the end result!

My freshly potted succulent, outside on my balcony railing
My potted succulent on my balcony.

Overall Thoughts

While frustrating, I learned a lot in my 3D printing journey. 3D Printing reminds me of when I did Tech Theatre in High School and worked in the Costume and Makeup shop.

Loading the filament into the extruder reminded me of the steps of loading thread into a sewing machine – a lot of back and forth and making minor adjustments. I also of course learned how to upload the .drem file to an SD card and print directly from the printer. I also learned just how sensitive the bamboo filament is, and that it doesn’t take kindly to being sanded with any degree of strength.

While there was a lot of trial and error involved in this project, I liked the idea of getting a tangible, usable creation from a class, and am happy with the finished product and plant that I chose. In the future, I would scale myself back and try to print something in one piece, or a little more straightforward, but I think I learned from the challenge.

My freshly potted succulent, indoors, next to my aloe and fake IKEA fern
My plant, inside with two other plants – a real aloe and a fake fern
My planted succulent, on the balcony.
On the balcony

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