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One of the first questions many ask when they join Deterrence Dispensed, or get into 3D printing in general, is what kind of setup they need.

In this post I’ll walk you through the setup that I’ve used for most of 2019 and a few of the upgrades I’m looking to make.

This will serve as a great guide even if you’re not looking to print firearm related parts with your 3D printer. That’s because the parts I’m making must both be very accurate and very strong. The tolerances needed require a precision that is usually reserved for those who make minis. The strength requirements are simply unmatched by any other category of 3D printing.

Let’s get into it.

From humble beginnings: A 3D printing setup without a goal

When I first got my 3D printer, it was a joint gift for both my wife and myself. We figured we’d just have fun with it. In the first few months of ownership we printed things like pots for plants, a soap dish, wall hangers, tooth brush holders, and other small items for around the house.

3d printed glow in the dark soap dish
One of the first things I printed was a glow in the dark soap dish. Flanked here by a white 3D printed toothbrush holder.

In those early days, I was literally just running a Stock Ender 3 that I got off Amazon during a sale. No mods, but I’d still get good prints. For most people looking to get into 3D printing, you’ll never need more than this setup.

But, as I got into it more I saw a few things I could improve. So after the first couple months of ownership I started modding.

First mods: free and 3D printed

My first mods came before I started getting involved with 3D printed gun parts and guns. They included a few fixes specific to the Ender 3’s flaws as well as a few changes to try to optimize print appearance. I was printing minis as gifts for people at the time and wanted to make them look higher quality.

Fan Cover

The first mod I printed was a Mobo fan cover. This is specific to the Ender 3, and simply protects the electronics underneath from getting plastic bits in them. Mine is styled like a Jeep as I own an old wrangler I’m quite fond of. My son was a fan and recognized it immediately as Jeep too! 🙂

3D printing setup
3D printed fan cover for Ender 3

You can find these on Thingiverse.

Tool Tray

The next one isn’t at all related to the quality of prints, but rather my quality of life. My desk gets pretty messy. Between the various gun parts, my VR and gaming peripherals, and just the toys that inevitably find their way on here, It can get pretty cluttered.

To help cut down on that clutter I printed a tray that slots into a gap between the the two aluminum extrusions at the base of the printer.

Parts tray for Ender 3
Parts tray where spare pieces for the printer are held, as well as a few tools.

Looking back, while the tray certainly helps, this design was a huge PITA to install, requiring me to loosen the belt for the Y carriage, which threw off a couple prints before I got it readjusted. 3D Printed organizers can be great, and I’m going to probably print some more, but I’ll be looking for other designs.

New Cooling Duct

This mod is a bit of a debated subject amongst the owners of Ender 3’s. Some say it improves print quality, others say it does nothing for it.

3D printer mods
3D printed Petsfang cooling duct. On the print bed is one of my prototype Remington Model 11 Forends. This actually shows one of the other mods in my setup that’s a recent addition: a glass bed.

This was one of the mods I installed to help with the quality of overhangs on some fairly detailed minis I was printing. Personally, I feel like it helped, but I didn’t do any back to back comparisons to really say so. It could just be accompanied with more experience using the printer.

Still, looking into upgraded cooling is something you may want to do if you’re struggling with overhangs and bridges.

Modifications specifically for 3D printing guns and gun parts

Somewhere between 4-6 months into 3D printing, I found a Reddit post showing a 3D printed Glock firing and immediately wanted to try my hand at it.

I quickly jumped into printing Glock lowers, one of the first of which was a Glow in the Dark build I’m calling Glow in the Glock. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t realize that glow in the dark filament is abrasive. The print screwed up the brass nozzle the Ender 3 ships with and to replace it, I went with a hardened steel nozzle from Micro-Swiss.

At this time I also decided I’d be experimenting with hotter materials than just PLA. For my safety sake (to prevent off gassing) and the longevity of my printer, I went with a Capricorn high temperature PTFE bowden tube.

This setup lasted me a couple months.

My current setup

Now that I’m more than half a year into 3D printing, and several months into printing gun parts, some of the components on my printer have started to show their wear. Most of the changes between my current setup and those first mods I made for 3D printing gun parts have to do with things which failed and had to be replaced.

First thing to go was the extruder pieces. Creality ships these with a plastic extruder arm and my filament had cut a decent channel in the top of it. Before that failed, I decided to replace it with an aluminum extruder setup.

Ender 3 upgrades
Aluminum extruder for the Creality Ender 3

Then, shortly after that, the bed surface that the printer uses (a build tac like substance) was destroyed when a PETG print adhered too well. Lesson learned, I used the opportunity to purchase a glass plate, which can be seen in the image showing the cooling fan. (Use painters tape when printing PETG on glass!)

Looking to the future: upgrades I’m looking into making

While my current setup is great, and is churning out quality prints, I have a few things I do need to change.

First and foremost, literally as I’m writing this post, one of the bed leveling wheels fell off the carriage. This is apparently a known problem resulting from the weak spring the Ender 3 ships with. So, I’ve ordered a set of upgraded springs that should ensure more bed stability and hold those wheels on better.

On top of that, the hardened steel nozzle has been a champ, but I only got a .4mm nozzle. This would be fine, except some of the parts I want to print involve specialty materials with add ins like carbon fiber or glass. These particles get caught in the .4mm nozzle, but from my research will print reliably with a .6mm nozzle. Add that to the upgrade list.

I think, with that setup, I’ll likely leave the Ender 3 as is (unless something breaks) and save my pennies for a mid tier printer. My only reason for wanting to upgrade printers is specifically for the added build volume, which will be useful for printing forends and stocks.

And, when/if I do upgrade to something with a bigger print volume, my Ender 3 will still be on duty for smaller prints.

Conclusion

So to conclude, here’s my current 3D printing setup:

  • Ender 3
  • Upgrading cooling fan duct
  • Fan cover for mobo
  • Tool tray
  • Capricorn high temp PTFE bowden tube
  • Aluminum extruder upgrade
  • Micro-Swiss hardened steel nozzle (.4mm)
  • Glass bed

And here are the things I want to add/upgrade to:

  • Better bed leveling springs
  • .6mm hardened steel nozzle
  • And a printer with bigger print volume

That wraps up this post, but I’ll be sure to create another post after a few months detailing how the setup has changed overtime.