Matthew Griffin Helps You Finish Your 3D Prints With PLA Welding

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So you’ve 3D printed out all the parts you need for your masterpiece and it’s time to begin assembly and finishing.

Your work, my friend, has only just begun, and you’re going to need some useful advice on how you take a rough, incomplete object and turn it into a finely-detailed finished product.

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin

Enter Matthew Griffin.

Griffin is the author of “Design and Modeling for 3D Printing: Novel Approaches to Designing Objects for the 3D Printing Revolution” published by Maker Media, Inc., and he knows a thing or two about the subject.

Griffin says he transitioned from film producing and editing to desktop 3D printing as a result of his work on a short documentary for MakerBot which featured an inspiring pair of high school makers. A decade of experience supporting and collaborating with filmmakers like Godfrey Reggio, Steven Soderbergh and Michael Moore, and his work with artists like Kara Walker, Monica Weiss, and Takeshi Murata, led him to the emerging MakerBot Community, and from there, into the classroom and hackerspaces throughout the country. He’s currently the Director of Community Support and Evangelism at Adafruit Industries.

Griffin says artists like Cosmo Wenman, who create pieces which feature finishes reminiscent of distressed metals and stone, are the guiding lights of getting the look you’re after.

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Photo courtesy Matthew Griffin, Makezine.com

“The desktop 3D printing community has a lot to learn from the sculptors, model railroad builders, and tabletop gamers now joining their ranks,” Griffin says. “And as my professors pointed out, these extra steps aren’t just cosmetic. Your capacity to transform your models into ‘magical’ replicas is a crucial means of communicating your inventions.”

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Photo courtesy Matthew Griffin, Makezine.com

The technique that Griffin uses to “weld” PLA parts together is particularly interesting.

Using a high-speed rotary tool with 1/8″ and 3/32″ collets, in this case a Dremel tool, Griffin has demonstrated just one of the many ways you can use leftover ABS or PLA filament to connect parts for final finishing.

He says that if you lack access to acetone cloud chambers, multi-axis enamel jet robots, agitating chemical baths, or industrial tumblers and polishers, you can still come up with methods that help you create a professional looking result.

His “friction welding” uses the high-speed rotating tool to heat, soften, and melt plastic pieces together. The friction welding technique connects objects together by spinning or vibrating one piece of material against another, and the “melt zone” where the pieces meet is where the magic happens. The spinning printer filament essentially becomes the welding “rod,” and the relatively low melting point of the filament and the part allow them to melt together.

You can also read the full text of his great piece which includes a wide range of finishing techniques here at the Skillbuilder post on Makezine.com. It’s a great read.

Finishing 3D printed parts, depending on the method used to create them, can be as simple as treating them with a little acetone or as complicated as the kind of stuff done by Matthew Griffin of Adafruit Industries. What techniques do you use to finish your 3D prints to the level of detail you need? Let us know in the PLA Welding forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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