With any luck my 3D printer should arrive sometime within the next four weeks. Given that I placed the order in July (don't take that as a negative for the company, I pre-ordered well before they had begun production and knowing I was in for a long wait up front) I've had plenty of time to collect interesting items from Thingiverse that I want to print out. Now that I'm getting closer to actually being able to do this I thought it would be good idea to go through them all and try and prioritise it a bit.

This post is a subset of those items - specifically a list of useful tools for a hobbyists workbench. For each of them I'll provide a preview image from Thingiverse and the direct link to the appropriate page to get the files you need. If you have (or have access to) a 3D printer I highly recommend you check them out.

The Tools

Cross Tweezers

A helping hand (or hands) is always useful no matter what project you are working on. These self closing tweezers comes in two variations with different spring strengths so they can be used with both small and large objects.

This looks like it should be a fairly simple print so it might be a good project to start with. It would be also a good test of the resolution of your printer when you see how well the different parts line up with each other.

Hobby Clamps

Two small clamps each capable of providing 5 pounds (about 2.5Kg) of clamping force. Includes both a spreader clamp (to pull things apart) with a maximum range of 110mm and a standard G clamp (to push things together) with a maximum range of 85mm.

These would be great for construction projects - especially for holding things in place while glue sets or holding pieces together before final assembly so you can get a good idea of what the final product is going to look like.

Resistor Lead Forming Tool

Leads bent by hand can be difficult to insert, especially in breadboards. It also helps your projects look neater as well, not a detriment to functionality but certainly adds to presentation (which is a bonus when you want to show your projects off to others).

Of course this tool is not limited to resistors - any straight in line component can be used, including wires. I'd like to make a variation on this to bend hookup wire for breadboards. Luckily the designer has provided the OpenSCAD source files used to generate the final object so making the necessary modifications should be relatively easy.

Parametric Container

Containers are always useful, there's no need to explain why. When an object on Thingiverse is described as parametric that generally means it provides a program or script (usually in OpenSCAD format but not always) that will generate the printable file for you. To change aspects of the objects all you need to do is change the values of some global constants in the script and run it again to generate the object of your desire.

This object is no different - it provides OpenSCAD script that lets you specify the width, depth, height and texture (hole density and shape). One of my queued projects is to pick three standard container sizes and build a largish wall mounted frame that will accept them. Then, as my storage needs increase, I can simply print off the containers on demand and slot them into place.

AA and AAA Battery Holder

This is another simple project that would be good to start with. It's a battery holder (for up to 15 batteries) that fits AA alkaline or rechargable batteries. If you scale the model by 72.5% of it's original size it will fit AAA batteries.

Given that I tend to have a bunch of rechargable batteries rolling around on my bench this tool that would be immediately useful to me.

Solder Spool Holder

A good tool for anyone doing electronics projects. This little device will hold your solder spool and allow you to easily pull out the amount you need. It looks, and should act, similar to a sticky tape dispenser.

Judging from the comments this will need some weight added to the bottom to keep it in place on your desk as your solder spool runs down.

Fully Printable PCB Vise

This one is a bit more complex and will require a fair bit of time and effort to put together (it's well worth checking the comments on this items Thingiverse page for tips and tricks for various printers and software).

It looks like a very useful tool to have if you do any soldering. I'm also expecting this to provide a very useful learning experience as I get used to the capabilities (and limitations) of my printer.

Parametric, Printable Lathe

This is the most complex (and possibly the most interesting) item in the list. It's a small lathe (resizable as it's parametric) that is made from 3D printable parts and driven by a hand drill.

I certainly wouldn't attempt this as a first project but it is something that I would like to aspire to. I'd love to make some modifications to this (a computer controlled lathe immediately springs to mind) but that lays some way in the future.

At any rate this is a tool I would never consider buying but having it available to print and build myself makes it something that is not only interesting as a project in it's own right but opens up a range of new options for future projects when it's completed.

Summary

I'm really looking forward to the arrival of my printer - many of these tools are going to be high on my list of things to print (if not at the top of the list).

Although variations of a lot of these tools are available for purchase already (cheaply injection moulded for mass production) they may not be widely available (specialist hobby shops or online retailers may be your only source). One of the main advantages of building your own from freely available models though is that you have access to the original design (in digital format) so you can customise it to your needs if required.

Another big advantage with having the digital source is that you can save it away and thus always be able to create a replacement - no more concerns about the part being out of stock or discontinued.

Given that the price of printers is steadily dropping (along with the price of raw materials - in Australia at least you can get ABS plastic spool for around $AU 0.04/Kg or less) it makes more and more sense to make specialist components at home rather than ordering them from custom suppliers or doing without altogether.

The future of 3D printing should be interesting to say the least.