So, a few weeks ago I got my own 3D printer! I did some extensive internet research before making the purchase, trying to find first hand reviews where I could. The 3D printing landscape changes almost daily as new printers and new technology are released. A couple resources I found helpful in this search were:
Ultimately, I decided to purchase a RepRap style 3D printer. Open source technology has served me well so far (e.g. Shapeoko & Arduino), so I decided that this would give me as much functionality as I currently need in a 3D printer at the lowest cost. It also allows you to make repairs and modification should the need arise, which also means that you will end up spending hours and hours tinkering with your machine to get it working correctly. The model I chose was the 8″ Makerfarm Prusa i3, with the 0.35mm J-head hot end, which ran me a little under $700 after adding a couple spools of PLA filament and shipping costs.
In my research, Makerfarm had received good reviews in terms of kit quality, as well as support during the build. And I must say that the build experience definitely lived up to expectations. The kit is beautifully constructed, parts go together smoothly. The instructions are a mix between PDF explanations and Youtube tutorials and make for a relatively easy going build process. Customer service is quick, Colin Farrer, the owner of Makerfarm, answered my questions within hours of me sending an email. I would highly recommend the Makerfarm Prusa i3 to anyone in the market for a cheap, open-source 3D printer.
As with any open source project, however, there are still a few things that could be improved and I experienced a few snags along the way. I took some pictures during my build, which took a total of about 8 hours to complete, and documented some of the issues I experienced below.
The parts came quickly, and the kit was complete. The majority of the structure is made from lasercut plywood, which is how the printer can be offered so cheaply, and bolts together using machine screws. While the plywood is strong and cheap, its lasercut edges leave a smokey, brown residue on your fingers for a couple of days… unpleasant yes, but really not that big a deal for being able to build a 3D printer in your living room.
The first issue I encountered with the kit is mentioned in the instruction pdf and involves clearance of the screw heads on the Y-carriage bearing clamps with the frame. Fortunately, the plywood frame is easily modifiable, and clearance notches for the screw heads can be made quickly with a Dremel (another tool every maker should have).
Assembly of the extruder components went smoothly. Some of the instructions for the J-head hot end assembly were a bit out of date compared to the current components, but it was easy enough to figure out how to assemble everything.
One other minor issue occurred when going to attach the hot end to the X-carriage. During assembly, I noticed that the wooden plate used to mount the Hot End did not sit quite flush to the X-carriage, and found that the corners of the nuts on the bolts in the x-direction were protruding into the plate just enough to make it slightly tilted. Using an exacto-knife, I carved a way a bit of the material above these fasteners and was able to achieve a flush mounting.
The next step was to attach the RAMPS controller to the side of the printer. Unfortunately, I realized the I had assemble the vertical brace pieces on the wrong sides, so the controller would not be able to mount using the pre-cut holes. This is a simple fix, as you just need to drill 3 holes in the frame to accommodate the controller.
In the final home stretch, all ow the wires needed to be attached and connections to the stop switches needed soldering.
Once I accomplished this, I realized that the Z-stop screw was slightly off alignment with the Z-stop button it needed to press. I had some 1/16″ walnut laying around which I thought would be the perfect thickness to offset the switch. So I cut out a piece with an exacto knife and drilled out holes for the zip tie. The resulting modification brought the screw closer into alignment, while still clearing the Z-carriage.
Once assembly was complete, I was able to attach the power source and get each of the axis moving using the manual control in Pronterface.
Overall… the Makerfarm Prusa i3 is a great product. The issues I experienced were very minor and easily fixed. I had a great time building it, and now it can build stuff for me! In my next posts, I’ll cover calibration, as well as some simple steps to improve operation.