The coolest ever tool and toy

Recalling an amazing kinetic sculpture he saw at the 2016 Olympics, Carlsten was inspired to create something smaller with his 3D printer, “to take our minds away from COVID,” as he put it.

He designed it himself on a free CAD program for 3D printing called Fusion 360. He put the design on a small SD flash memory card and inserted the card in the printer, and it printed out the design.

“Each individual part is designed to fit together and you assemble it,” he said of the process. It takes him about a month to make one sculpture. He made his own metal stand, post and holder with a lathe and mill.

“It’s just a blast,” he said. “I’ve shown it at an arts and crafts fair and a lot of people came up and said, ‘Oh my God. That’s so cool.’”

But he has made many other things. For one friend, he printed a replacement part for a screwdriver that had a cracked end cap, sparing the whole tool from the trash. For another, he printed a replacement piece for a hummingbird feeder.

“I’ve made other things like gifts for people,” he said. “I made my wife for Valentine’s Day a red heart with our names on it. It’s almost like, instead of giving a card, you can give a little emblem. For my grandson, I’m going to make a dragon. There are a lot of designs people have done for castles and dragons. I’ve made little flower pots for a single rose.”

Carlsten spent about $300 for his first Delta 3D printer in 2019, an investment he said is worth it for the beginner. He eventually upgraded to a PRUSA, a popular and reliable brand made in the Czech Republic. Make-it-yourself kits are $799 or fully assembled for about $1,000 (prusa3D.com).

“It’s reputed to be the best printer for small hobby size,” he said. “They have technical people you can talk to. And if you have to repair it, there are all sorts of videos telling you how you can do it and how you can keep it in top shape.”

One printer leads to another

Dan Bush Crispo, a 29-year-old Santa Rosa firefighter who lives in Windsor, also took the 3D printer dive during the pandemic.

“I had always been interested in 3D technology, but it was still in its fancy and you would be spending a lot of money for not that much functionality. But in lockdown, I had a lot of time to spend on the internet looking at stuff. And I had found the sophistication had come way up and the cost way down,” he said.

He started out with a $270 Ender 3D Pro printer by Creality with the capacity to print an object up to 4 by 4 inches. Several months ago he upgraded to a CR10 Pro V2 by the same company, with a capacity to build larger objects.

“I’m thrilled with it,” he said. He made a personal pocket organizer to hold his tweezers, earplugs, flashlight and other small objects that used to rattle around at the bottom of his pockets.

“I printed mostly functional tools, tool holders, little specialty parts like handles and knobs. I have printed a few ornamental things. I made a Christmas ornament.” He printed out a giraffe for a friend.

Printers also can be great for family projects that parents can do with kids. Tinkercad.com has tons of free designs simple enough for kids to make.

There is really no limit to the objects you can print, from predesigned gadgets to things you can design and make to solve a problem.

Crispo replaced a worn-out knob for an outdoor gas fire ring, made a glow-in-the-dark scale model of the moon for his little cousin and fixed a broken part on a kayak that would have cost $300 to buy online. He printed it out for 30 cents in plastic.

Ron McCully, another 3D printer enthusiast and retired computer systems programmer and analyst from Santa Rosa, finds his printer to be the ultimate useful tool and toy.

He made a container box for his son’s truck, a baby Yoda toy and miniatures of Greek statues. He even printed a miniature Parthenon. Frustrated that spices kept falling from the open sides of a wall spice rack, he designed and printed side pieces to keep everything in place. His greatest triumph is an 18-inch-tall nutcracker.

“I usually make something once a week. Sometimes I’ll spend the whole week printing something every day when I find something I really like,” he said.

Depending on the object, it can take less than an hour to all night to print. It’s like having a small factory on your desktop.

And for those who don’t have the money yet to invest in their own machine, the Sonoma County Library has 3D printers at all its major branches. People only need to bring in their design and library staff will print out small projects at no charge.

“You’re taking something from the digital world and getting to make something from it you can actually pick up,” Crispo said. “To see, over the course of however long the print takes, an object forming right in front of your eyes is really cool.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

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