So you want to try 3d printing or you saw my post on FB and think 3d printing guns sounds like a great way to flip the preverbal bird at the government. What follows is a very basic overview of what you will need to get started.
First off 3d printing is a hobby all its own. It can be extremely useful as well as maddening beyond belief. This is not an appliance technology yet. If that is what you are looking for I am sorry to inform you that you will be waiting a few years to a few decades. However it is my firm belief that within the next twenty years 3d printers will become as common as inkjet and laser printers. They allow you to repair broken parts, solve small issues, and customize things in a way that traditional manufacturing does not allow.
As a apocalypse prep item they are not there yet. They are too inefficient to run off a generator or solar and prints fail too often to stake your life on. But as a tool in the tool box every day prep they have saved many items in my home from having to be replaced due to lack of available parts. These ranged from my refrigerator to my truck and include magazines for pistols and rifles. I am even currently doing commissioned prints for a variety of customers ranging from industrial prototypes to art pieces and toys.
The reason I started printing was the Liberator Pistol, see the link below. Gun control is officially impossible. The common man with no manufacturing skills can now make a lethal pistol. Since then we have come a long way enter the FGC9 a semiautomatic made of all off the shelf available components from a hardware store and 3d printed parts. See video 2.
Item 1: Your 3d Printer
Even a cursory internet search will show you a wide variety of available printers from $100-$10,000 choosing the right printer is a deeply personal choice as much as choosing your favorite knife. But most of us end up with a swiss army knife or 6 anyway. Enter the Ender 3 the swiss army knife of entry level kit printers.
Why the Ender 3? It can typically be had for sub $180, it has a respectable 220x220x250mm (8.6x8.6x9.8in) build space. Before you even start assembly there are a few inexpensive upgrades that I recommend everyone does immediately. The bellow links will bring you to the upgraded bed springs, all metal extruder assembly, and high precision Bowden tube.
The upgraded bed springs will hold your bed level better than the very soft stock springs. The all metal extruder assembly will by far outlast the stock plastic one and give you more consistent performance. The plastic extruder arm will either wear through were the filament rubs on it or crack at the pivot point. That said you can print a new one before it breaks or wears out. I know several people who rely on these exclusively. These printed extruder arms typically need replacement every 200hrs or so material dependent. Inconsistent extrusion is a major impediment to good prints as the layers will either not bond correctly or will be the wrong size/shape. The Capricorn Bowden tube above is made of a higher temperature polymer that will allow you to print more materials as well as flexible filaments due to its tighter tolerances.
So you have all of your parts, your printer has arrived. Your first task will be to assemble it from the number of parts and sub assembly components provided. Do not rely on the supplied instructions they are quite possibly the worst instructions I have ever tried to use. Granted I got my Ender 3 about 4 years ago so this may have improved. Instead I recommend you use the below tutorial
This gentlemen focuses on game components but his tutorials are some of the better ones for beginners. You will need a set of metric Allen Keys, and a set of thin metric open ended wrenches. The ones supplied are ok but they will wear out quickly. Watch all the way though the build video at least once and stage your parts in a way you find sensible. I have heard of parts being missing from the kits. This will help you determine if you are missing parts before you start your build so you can reach out to the manufacturer. Thus far everything I have heard has been overwhelmingly positive about Creality's customer service. It will likely take you an hour or so to assemble. Take your time get everything nice a square, ensure all the moving parts move in the correct way. Time well spent in assembly will save headaches in the long run.
Once you are all assembled complete an extrusion calibration test simply search youtube for a how to all of the videos are the same. This will ensure that you are pushing out the correct amount of plastic required.
Item 2: Filament
This is what your parts will be made of. Your choices here will be fairly simple at first. Just buy PLA 1.75mm Dia filament from any major brand. They are all fairly comparable for starter parts and learning. Every brand and color will need slightly different printer settings so for starters buy 2 spools of 1 color and brand. PLA is very paint friendly so don't stress the color too much. I like Hatchbox, E3d, Amazon basic, Mater Hackers and will typically just buy what ever is on sale. PLA is typically from $14-23 per Kg or about 2.2 pounds on a spool.
When you get a new brand or new color proceed in the following order of tests and tweaks. Print a Temperature Tower to find the ideal print temperature. Print a Retraction test, altering the retraction settings will help control oozing during travel and blobby artifacts on your print. Lastly print an overhand test or 2 to test a variety of fan speeds to give you the best layer adhesion and maximum overhang. There are a number of videos on these tests on youtube and rumble that go into greater detail.
Once you have a handle on PLA you can consider branching out into other materials PETG, PET, Nylon, ABS, HIPS, and others all have their benefits and detriments. Research them before trying to make the jump. Some give off harmful particulates and may require an enclosure to keep the air temp and currents stable. You can absolutely print firearms with PLA, my ar15 lower is just fine after 1500rnds.
All filament you will probably use is Hydrophilic it will absorb water from the air over time and print worse because of it. Place all filament into a air tight container such as a 5 gallon bucket with a gamma screw top lid when not in use. If it does get wet stick it into your oven at 120deg for 4 hours, or in your dehydrator for the same time. At that temp it will not release any volatile organic compounds or harmful gasses. This will return the filament to like new condition.
Item 3: Computer/Software
If you have a pc or laptop any pc or laptop it will probably be fine. You will need a MicroSD slot or an adapter to save your files to the Micro SD card and transfer them to your printer. I recommend at least something with 4gb of ram.
The only software you will 100% need is a slicer. There are many slicers but your going to use Ultimaker's Cura it is not the best but it is good, free, and easy to use. there are thousands of tutorials on how to use this software online and it has all the posts you will want for a huge swath of new and old printers.
Item 4: Isopropyl Alcohol 70-90%
This is for cleaning your print bed. If your print bed is not clean the print will not stick. Clean you bed before every print.
Item 5: STL Files
An STL file is a 3d model of a part. You can make these yourself with various software. If you get to that point pick a software you like or has good community support and go to town. For now what you are going to do is use files other people have made. The below links are a great place to start.
Some Makers (makers are what you are now dudes that make stuff) will make detailed build information including what parts you need, how to print them, what materials to use, and how to assemble and use them. Others just toss up the parts and run away. The Gatalog is a fantastic repository from Deterrence Dispensed they are the group behind the first 3d printed firearm, 3d printed magazines, and much of the panic our senators and congressmen are experiencing. Pick a part and give you print a send.
You are going to have failed prints. I have been doing this for 5 years and have prints fail for what appears to be no reason every once and a while. When in doubt clean and level your bed, dry your filament and check that you didn't change any settings in your slicer.
If you made it this far and have questions hit me up, if I can help you I absolutely will. Remember the only control the government has is the control you give them.