Turtles, Gear Bearings, Copper Plating and Heating Errors

by Jason King on July 2, 2014

Failed Emmets Gear BearingsAfter my last article in this Beginners Series about elephants, rafts and apologies I thought things in my 3D printing world couldn’t get more diverse.

Well, things have been equally mixed up over the last few days. Just read this title and you’ll see what I mean.

So, time for some clarification and an explanation of what I’ve been up to with my new MakerBot Replicator 2.

As an avid listener to the 3D Printing Today Podcast I’ve been taking a few tips from Andy and Whitney the presenters.

A while ago they talked about a potentially very useful object which can only be made using 3D printing. I’ve been wanting to print this out for a while. The main reason is that showing people apes, elephants and combs which I’ve printed don’t really inspire peoples imagination.

While they’re interesting in their own way, they don’t demonstrate the true qualities of 3D printing, one of them being that we can use it to manufacture useful items that cannot be created any other way.

Emmets Gear Bearing

Let me introduce one of the most popular items on Thingiverse, Emmets Gear Bearing and all of it’s many derivatives.

As the name suggests this is a bearing which in it’s original form contains 6 gears. These interlock and therefore have to be manufactured already in place. You cannot create the parts and then fit them together, you print all the parts in situ.

It can be quite tricky to print because if the gears are too close together they fuse into one. This happened to me on my first attempt. If they’re too far apart they’ll be loose and may even drop out.

This object is customisable in the Thingiverse Customiser so depending on what printer and setup you have you can have a few tries, tweaking the tolerance and number of gears etc each time until you have the perfect smooth running bearing.

As I mentioned, my first attempt fused together so by increasing the tolerance, to 0.3 mm I believe, it started to print perfectly. However…

My extruder now keeps stopping after about an hour of printing. Unfortunately these bearings take longer than that to print, so if anyone wants any “half gear bearings” I have about 5, but not a single full one yet 🙂

I refuse to give up though so watch this space. I promise you my first YouTube Video when I get this bearing printed and running smoothly.

More Thermocoupler Errors

In my last beginner series article I mentioned temperature failures after my prints. Well, I suspect that my recent run of failed prints is due to my ever increasing heating failures. I no longer just see failure #5 after prints, I’ve also seen #1 and #4 too at varying times.

It was time to take action with these failures because my MakerBot is effectively out of action again, except for some prints which take under an hour.

The MakerBot website has lots of helpful videos and guides to help resolve problems, but for heating failures it suggests you raise a support ticket with them. After my last ticket resulted in no response, at least until I prompted them on Twitter I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.

Well, about 2 hours ago I received an elaborate reply from MakerBot Support. I have only skim read the email but it looks really helpful and very detailed. It also arrived within 24 hours so I’m quite happy with that.

Once I’ve published this article I’ll get to work on their email which will no doubt result in me taking my printer apart to see what’s going on. This’ll be fun so expect a report on my findings very soon.

Filament Diameter and Small Prints

3D Printed TurtlesIncidentally, when my extrusion kept stopping I was unsure whether the filament was to blame. I decided to put my vernia calliper to work and measure my filament width.

It should be consistently very close to 1.75 mm diameter. Interestingly I found that the MakerBot natural filament (supplied with the printer) varied between 0.71 mm and 0.8 mm. I’d consider that poor and it was quite oval in places.

However, the RoboSavvy filament, which I thought wouldn’t be as good as it’s not the genuine stuff, only varied by +/-0.01 mm wherever I measured it so it seems it’s made to a much more precise tolerance.

I soon ruled out filament being the issue by trying the natural, purple and green which all behaved the same, so I still suspect that the thermocouple (temperature probe) is my problem. Let’s be honest, the heating failures I had a week ago were never going to improve and fix themselves.

I have still managed to print out a few smaller items though before the extrusion stopped, including a turtle ornament and a turtle keyring. Yes, I do know someone who likes turtles and they didn’t want one of the many combs I’ve printed recently.

Also, a colleague at work was talking to me about 3D printing and I asked if there was anything he wanted making. He said he needed some valve caps for his car. I considered this a little challenge so I went onto Thingiverse and found some. They didn’t fit but I still gave them to him 🙂

I’ll try re-scaling them to around 95% in MakerWare to see if they fit better, but I’ll wait until my MakerBot is back up and running properly.

Creating an Amazing Finish

Copper Plating EquipmentOh yes, I nearly forgot. Last time I mentioned I was working on a technique for making a great finish on my 3D printed objects. Well, I can reveal that it’s “copper plating”.

I purchased a few bits from Maplins, Amazon and eBay to start experimenting.

There are basically two methods to copper plate something, electroplating in liquid (usually copper sulphate) and brush plating.

The latter seems to produce better results but I’ll try both and report back.

I’ve already received most of the items I need:

  • Power supply
  • Copper Wire
  • Crocodile clips
  • Copper sulphate
  • Conductive ink

Just a note about the last item. You may have already started shouting at me saying that you can’t copper plate plastic because it doesn’t conduct electricity. Well, I believe you can buy conductive filament, but I’m starting with a different approach… conductive ink.

Conductive ink is basically electrically conductive paint. I did buy some of this but unfortunately it turned out to be water based which effectively renders it useless for my purposes. Both methods of electroplating involve the item you wish to plate getting wet.

Never mind, the search goes on for water resistant conductive ink which doesn’t cost the earth. Yes,for some reason it can be very expensive stuff.

I’ll continue my experiments using metal items (keys etc) for a start and let you know how I progress. I think it’s worth the effort because the ability to create fully customised objects with a nice shiny copper, nickel, silver or even gold finish will be a great achievement.

Anyway, thanks for reading and I look forward to reporting back how my thermocouple, gear bearing and copper plating adventures go.

As ever, please feel free to Like and Share this article and download my FREE Beginners Guide to 3D Printing at Home eBook.

Thanks again and wish me luck…

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian Symons September 4, 2016 at 10:46 am

If you take a look you will find that brush plating, Swab plating (Swa Plating), or pen plating is done by many hobbyists for jewellery & other purposes.

Swab Plating uses either slip on cotton covers or even some bandage wrapped around the metal electrode. Brush plating uses brushes & pen plating uses a holder normally with replaceable tips like marking pens use. Look on eBay for examples. There are also self contained pen plating units that contain the electroplating chemicals – basically they are marking pens filled with the chemicals.

Electroforming is really what you are trying to do so search using that term.

The conductive coating that you then plate onto can be graphite, copper, silver etc. As I mentioned if you search electroforming then you will plenty of information.


Once you have the copper plated then you can polish it for better finish & then plate with other metals including precious metals. For small areas then you can pen plate with the other metals or even different colour golds if you wish.



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