Essential tools for building a MakerGear Mendel Prusa kit

This is a list of tools I found invaluable (hey, I’ve no idea what your workshop situation is like – I hope this is not your first experience with nut and volts…)

  • Cheap digital multimeter – for resistance and voltage measurements.
  • Stainless steel digital vernier caliper – for frame setup, for measuring printed parts for calibration, and because vernier anythings are cool.
  • Soldering iron (suitable for electronics, not for plumbing) and rosin-core solder.
  • Two small thin adjustable wrenches that open to at least 13mm – for tightening and locking the frame nuts, and the temporary locknuts on the extruder nozzle. You can also use them on the bed-levelling nuts if you aren’t lucky enough to have matching meccano spanners like I did. I guess you could use non-adjustable C-spanners if you have them in the right sizes. My C-spanners live in the garage, while my adjustable spanners live in my art space/laboratory.
  • Moveable alligator-clip device (“Third hand” or “helping hand” type) – for holding wires in place while you solder or crimp them.
  • Small needle-nose pliers – for crimping evil crimp connectors that I don’t have an expensive specialised tool for.
  • Diagonal cutting pliers – small ones for clipping stripped and tinned wires to length.
  • Small round file – for clearing out stringy holes in printed parts.
  • Drill and drill bits – for drilling mounting holes for the print bed. One of the bits needs to be at least 8mm and better 9mm or 10mm for finishing crucial holes in the X-ends. I guess you could do it with a medium sized round file if you had to.
  • 2″ wide Blue Painter’s Tape – for covering the printbed pcb, whether you heat the bed or not. It doesn’t have to be the 2″ wide version, the 1″ wide version is just more fiddly to apply, and isn’t any cheaper.
  • Bubble level – for levelling the frame to ensure your X-carriage rods and Z-rods are exactly at right-angles to each other. A small one used to come with the kit, but not any more. It needs to be less than 230mm long, or it won’t fit on the top bars of the frame. I compared three different bubble levels I had lying around, and trusted the two with the closest readings. ( I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from a sailing dinghy compass with built in sailing-attitude bubble level…)
  • Metal straight-edge ruler – for measuring dimensions and convincing myself that things were flat enough.
  • Chocolate (or your mood-lifting activity of choice) – things will get confusing or annoying, and you will, at times, have to gently put down the thing-that-isn’t-cooperating and go off and relax. Come back later when the red mist has lifted and your hands have stopped shaking. Or maybe that’s just me...
  • Confidenceyou can do this. It is possible.
  • Patience – It won’t happen overnight¹, but it will happen.

It’s a great kit of high quality components, and the sense of expanding possibilities as you get it running is awesome. Just remember that each time you disassemble something (to fix something you didn’t understand the first time) you have learnt something. You are smarter than you were. You understand your machine so much better than someone who bought pre-assembled. You’ll recognise problems so much faster in the future, and the solutions will become obvious.

And you can improve it – make it better. More perfectly suited to how you think, and what you want to make. Add blinky lights, increase the build volume, add another extruder, add an ink-resist pen to make your own circuit boards.

Building your own 3D printer like this – with all its mechanical, electronic and software elements – is a huge demonstration of your personal competence. And that sense of confidence and possibility will flow over into other parts of your life. Well, unless you already build life-sized working aircraft carriers as a hobby, or something, because then building a 3D printer from scratch would be something you’d do while preparing dinner.

—–

¹ Unless you live in the arctic circle, or on an antarctic scientific base. A six month long night should be plenty of time for anyone.

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11 Responses to Essential tools for building a MakerGear Mendel Prusa kit

  1. Gary says:

    Got it all covered, except blue tape and chocolate.
    Attitude? “If I can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.” (Red Green)

    • BrazenArtifice says:

      Ha, I >loved< what little of Red Green we got over here. "Men like to wear clothes that their wives didn't buy" and retrofitting gull-wing doors to a car with an angle-grinder and duct tape are two highlights that come to mind. If you like Red Green, I wonder if the UK show "The Mighty Boosh" translates culturally for Americans. Most Australians don't seem to get it, but I loved it.

      I originally wrote "mood lifting drug of choice" but most mood-lifting drugs make fiddly technology activities more difficult…

      • Gary says:

        I’ll see if I can find “The Mighty Boosh” & let you know how well it translates to one American.
        Did you write an episode “mood lifting drug of choice”?

        A visit to Redgreen.com is sure to bring some laughs. From there I somehow found a site that has several dozen quotes. Two that I like are:
        “Men Anonymous” Pledge:
        I’m a man ….. But I can Change ……….If I have to …………….I guess
        Also: “The Red Green show is kind of like the flu; not everybody gets it.”

        • BrazenArtifice says:

          Oops, on re-reading my comment I can see how you thought I might be referring to an episode title. I’m no writer. Really I just meant that in my original post where it says “Chocolate (or your mood-lifting activity of choice)” I originally wrote “drug” then changed it to “activity”.

          I thought about uplifting drugs and realised most of them make people impatient, or overconfident, or make their hands shake.

          Getting back to male humour, there is an Australian male choir based in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, called “The Spooky Men’s Chorale”. They do wonderful quirky songs about being male. Their theme song starts out
          “We are the Spooky Men
          We dream of mastodons
          Practice mysterious handshakes
          And we can grow beards, if we want to…”

          And they do a song very relevant to us makers, “Don’t stand between a man and his tool”

  2. Lucas says:

    Hi,
    How difficult is making the MG Prusa for a complete beginner with zero experience with wiring, soldering,etc?

    • BrazenArtifice says:

      I guess that depends on what other life skills you have 🙂 Short answer, get a MG Mosaic instead.

      I have hobbyist level electronics skills (soldering, troubleshooting, design) learnt back in the 1970s, professional programming skills (coding, debugging, understanding software manuals and processes) learnt back in the 1980s and practiced through the 1990s, and teenage years spent playing with lego and occasionally meccano/erector (fiddly fine assembly skills).

      I did lots of DIY 3D printer research on the web, looking for people who were having problems, and the sort of answers other people suggested as solutions. I thought long and hard about what I wanted from the experience, and what I could afford, and afford to waste if I never got it working. I have plenty of time, not much money, and I wanted to learn the intimate details of the technology, so that I would be able to fix anything that broke. That made the MG Prusa kit a good choice for me.

      If you don’t have, and don’t want to develop, any of the electronics or mechanical assembly skills, or if you lack the free time or research skills to compare and contrast conflicting build instructions, I’d recommend not getting a Prusa. Not even from MakerGear, no matter how much I love mine. I’d suggest getting a MakerGear Mosaic, which has been designed specifically for ease of assembly. And MakerGear is known for the quality of their components and customer service. Not that I’ve ever seen a Mosaic in the flesh, but I trust MG to have done a good job of the design.

      Rick has put disclaimers all over the Prusa pages on the MakerGear website, warning that the Prusa kit is for “experienced makers”. It’s true. He’s not just doing that to cover himself from people complaining, he’s the customer support guy too, and if people get in over their head, it makes his life that much harder.

      Or I guess you could buy a pre-assembled printer, though do your research because there are some companies out there that sell “pre-assembled” printers that will never run properly. I can’t name names, but read the forums… The downside is that when something goes wrong, you’ll have much less idea how to fix it.

      • Lucas says:

        Thanks for the answer. A pre-assembled printer will not be for me because I really want to put one together myself and learn a bit on 3d printers. I have been looking at the Mosaic too but the only thing that really bothers me is that the build size is relatively small and I know ill want a bigger build platform once I start printing from the Mosaic 🙂

        • BrazenArtifice says:

          Yep, bigger build platform is good!

          As long as you want to learn, and don’t expect to be printing in a weekend, go for the Prusa kit. It really is brilliant, and the makergear kit is the way to go, so far as I can tell from the state of developments of the internet.

          The wiring side of things is fairly simple if you are methodical, take your time and think about what you are doing. A bit of soldering practice is a good idea if you haven’t done it before, just so your joints will be a bit better quality.

          Best of luck!

  3. David says:

    Hello Sir,

    Thanks for putting your experiences up on this blog. It helped me several times. I just finished building my MakerGear Mendel Prusa kit and wanted to add a useful, albeit optional, tool.

    I happened to have a set of hex drivers that I use on my RC cars, that came in very handy. I’m not endorsing this vendor, but the following URL shows what I am talking about (http://bit.ly/L1fgpZ)

    I think I used the 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0mm many times each. I think they saved me some time and I feel a lot more confident with them than L shaped hex wrenches or hex sockets.

    • BrazenArtifice says:

      Are you the same David who commented less than a fortnight ago that your printer kit was due the following day? And you’ve got it running already? Good work! I’m glad some of my posts and links have been helpful.

      Now for the tinkering and fettling and experimenting. Its all great fun.

      The hex drivers you link to are very cool. The colours remind me of those anodized aluminium milk-shake containers that 1950’s milk bars used to serve their milkshakes in. Crossed with some sort of Terminator-inspired machine-made texture. Though sometimes there’s no substitute for the shortness and right-angle drive of a real hex-key.

      • David says:

        Yes, I am the same David. I haven’t printed yet, but I have done the tests and I will start calibration after I get done with work this evening.

        I like your description of the drivers. I think the texture is probably more for form than function. I agree about the hex keys — I did get them out several times for the tight spots.

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