My maker project was the owl lamp seen above. Like many maker projects, this was a fun and frustrating assignment. The process is always different than you imagine, you run into obstacles not anticipated, and the finished product doesn’t turn out quite as expected. I am not new to projects like this, and I understand the frustration. I definitely had “mouth up” moments as described in Invent to Learn, “Mouth up frustration occurs when you get stuck while solving a problem or learning something you care about.” My mouth up moments came when I used a 3D printer for the first time and made an owl lamp.
I’d only recently acquired the printer. Since I’d only had it for a short time, I didn’t have any experience working with it. It was pretty much plug and play, just as described. The only thing I had to do was follow the prompts to level the printing bed. The instructions were on a flash drive, so that was easy to access.
I had to get acclimated to the machine. Even though the machine itself is easy to set up and turn on, you still need to know how to send files to the printer. I never thought about how 3D printers work. I was always under the assumption that a 3D printer worked the same as a regular computer printer.
To make something, you have to create a file to send to the printer. First, I had to find out how to get a file. I searched for 3D printing software and was surprised to find that there were many free programs available for personal use.
I needed a beginner program, so I read some reviews that recommended Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a website where you can make an STL (STereoLithography) file that the 3D printer can read.
I decided that I wanted to print out an owl. I tried to make one from scratch on the software, but that didn’t work. I just assumed that putting a few shapes together and editing it would give me an owl. But instead, the shapes thrown together looked nothing like an owl.
I know that with a lot of practice, I’ll be able to make an owl from scratch. But not for this assignment. While browsing the internet, I found the website Thingiverse. Since Thingiverse was also mentioned in our reading, I’d thought I’d give it a try.
Thingiverse is an online community where people share files of the things they’ve made. The files are free to download and modify. The only caveat is if you post a picture of a file someone else made, you give credit to the original designer.
At first, I felt like I was cheating by not making an original file, but after reading in Invent to Learn, “In learning to program, design 3D objects, or make breadboards, copying is not cheating. A great way to learn is to take existing programs or projects and modify it slightly. Each iterative change makes the program or design more your own. In the real world, an engineer’s most important skill is being able to find appropriate things to borrow.” (Martinez, 2013) I felt relief that it was acceptable to modify an existing file. It’s nice to know that professionals do that, too. I “made it my own” by adding a couple of holes in the owl to make sure the light from the lamp would go through.
Once the file was edited and ready go, I had to send it to the printer slicing software on the computer. This is separate from the design software Tinkercad. This separate software is called slicing because it “slices” up the file so it knows exactly how to print it from the inside out.
I set up the printer with filament. The printer only has one “extruder” or a tube that the melted plastic goes through and prints. I can only print one color at a time. Some expensive machines have more than one extruder. Mine is a budget version.
On my first attempt, I had a tough time sending the finished file to the printer. First, the printer was not synced to the computer. Then, I kept getting random error messages. After many attempts, I printed out the 3D file.
My first print job didn’t turn out so well. The owl’s head started curling around the edges. I used the help menu on my printer’s software. It suggested using supports and rafts. Supports are the tree-like “branches” holding up the print job where there is overhang. This is supposed to prevent a print job from falling over. The raft supports the bottom. It keeps the print job from slipping around by giving it a firm base.
After I sorted out the supports, I tried printing my owl again. Success! Once I got used to it, I printed owls in different colors. Then, I printed out a couple of “logs” from Tinkercad so the owls would have a base.
After printing everything out, I had to glue it all together. I didn’t put much thought into which glue to use. My first choice was super glue, but that didn’t work. I settled on a hot glue gun. After I glued everything together, I printed out some apples and ivy to cover the dried glue. After a couple of attempts, I was able to print out the ivy. The apples were a bust.
My last step was to figure out a light source. I decided on a battery-powered string of LED lights. I wrapped the string of lights in between the owls. Once I finished my project, I had a moment of “mouth up frustration”. I was very proud of myself for getting through it.
3D printing is not a fast process. In total, the owl lamp took about 10 hours. That includes the whole process, including errors. That was unexpected. I know that 3D printers are a must in many maker spaces, but I didn’t realize how long it takes to actually print something out. A maker space in a library setting would work as long as the staff set realistic expectations about the constraints. 3D print jobs might be limited to a certain size because of time constraints, but as long as the spirit of the maker movement is there, the limitations of the space shouldn’t matter, “These spaces share the ideals of making, tinkering, collaborative learning, and invention.” (Martinez, 2013)
During this process, I felt happy, inspired, frustrated and ultimately satisfied with my project. I was a beginner who figured it out on my own. I had my “mouth up” moment. As Maria Montessori said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” A child working on a project should be given the respect to have their own “mouth up” moment, too.
Martinez, Sylvia Libow, and Gary Stager. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge, 2013. Kindle.