– Ben Martens


Top 3D Prints

It took a while to convince myself to dive into the world of 3D printing. I wasn’t sure it would be worth it so I kept a list of every time I thought it would be nice to print something. Once I had a big enough list, I went for it. I quickly burned through that list and haven’t stopped! I surprise myself at how often it comes in handy, and how often I use it just to print something fun. Here are some of my favorite prints.

LUCKY 13 Printable Jointed Figure
This model prints in about 100 pieces and then has assembly instructions. The parts fit amazingly well and it’s a fun, poesable figure to have on my desk. There is a community of people that have made funny accessories for the figure too.
Articulated Axolotl
I didn’t know about axolotls when I was growing up, but they’re neat animals. Elijah loves to carry this one around the house and even takes it to school sometimes.
Pull Copter Finger Ring
I figured this would break pretty quickly, but they work amazingly well!
Drilling Tool and Dust Collector
I usually tape a paper lunch bag to the wall before I drill, but this is a lot easier to throw in my tool bag as I’m going around the house to do various jobs. I don’t waste time looking for paper bags and tape.
Motorola Two Way Radio Knob
This was one of my first custom designs to replace a cap that we lost. It looks great and sticks on so well that I took off the knob on the good radio and replaced that one too!
Camp Cot Foot Pads
I used to try and put cardboard under the cots in our tent to keep them from damaging the floor of the tent but these custom pads that I designed work a lot better!
Bandsaw Dust Adapter
One of my favorite 3D printer uses is making custom connections for my dust hoses. So many tools have slightly different sizes of dust ports and they’re hard to connect to my shop vac. Now I can get a perfect fit on every tool.
Grenade MK2 WW2
This one turned out so much better than I expected! I filled it with sand to give it a good amount of weight, added a cotter pin, and included a spring so that when you pull the pin out, the top flies off. It’s a great desk toy.

I’m not a 3D printing expert and there are a ton of options out there, but I’ve been very happy with my Prusa Mini. It’s a good entry level price and I just print and walk away. I think of all the prints I’ve done, I’ve maybe had one or two that didn’t come out correctly. It’s a quality product from a company with good customer support.


If you saw my OneNote page for project ideas, you’d find a multi-year section with ideas for some kind of custom LED installation. My goal was to have every LED be individually addressable so I could make color patterns.

A couple of months ago, I was watching the weekly “Maker Update” video which shows interest projects going on in the maker community and was turned on to this LED wall project by Tech Random. Price has always been a major breaking point for me in the past when I’ve researched this along with confusion about exactly what kind of power supply I need. This project looked good enough to follow so I gave it a shot. All the materials and instructions are in that link so if you’re interested in doing it yourself, I recommend you use that as your shopping list.

If you read the link to the project above, you’ll see all the steps that I followed, but basically it consisted of the following:

  • I 3D printed a bunch of grids where each cell was perfectly sized to the spacing of the specific LED strips that I bought. I had to adjust the provided STL files to fit into my smaller printer. I ended up making 4×4 grids because that fit easily on my printer and tiled nicely into my 36×16 panel size.
  • The four LED strips that I purchased got cut down into strips of 36 lights and laid across a piece of cardboard. In retrospect, I wish I would have glued down some aluminum foil and then put the lights on top. That would have increased reflectivity and provided a little fire protection.
  • Each strip has positive, negative, and data wires and I had to solder connections between each wire in a snake pattern across all 16 strips. That was almost 100 solder joints but thankfully they all worked.
  • I bought ESP8266 boards to be the drive the display. I had never worked with these before, but they were amazingly powerful for only a few bucks each. Their main feature is that they have a WiFi chip built in. One of those boards got hooked up to the start of the panel and I was able to make a light move through all the lights in the strip.
  • Those boards couldn’t provide enough power for the whole strip though, so I used a 5v power supply to inject power at three points along the panel. This resulted in even power distribution across the panel so the colors looked the same in each LED.
  • The grids got hot glued on top of the LED strips and then a layer of diffuser cloth was upholstered on as well.

The software for this was a challenge. The project page includes some programs for the ESP8266 boards as well as a custom version of LMCSHD. The original design is that LMCSHD does the calculations for displaying whatever you want onto a grid of any size. Then it sends individual pixel instructions over a COM port (USB) to an ESP8266 which sends it over WiFi to another ESP8266 which is connected to the panel. I got that to work ok, but as I was debugging some issues with frame rate, I realized that I could simplify things if I just made the LMCSHD program talk over WiFi directly to the ESP8266 on the panel. I forked my own copy and got it working.

So at this point, I have a panel sitting behind my desk that plugs in for power but communicates wirelessly with an app that I run on my desktop to feed data to it. The frame rate is good for my purpose, but it still feels a little clunky to get set up and occasionally, the panel stops updating. I think I’m going to work on a simplified console app that sends some pre-programmed patterns to the panel and that’s probably what I’ll use most often.

“Use most often.” What does that mean? I don’t know. I can see it being a fun gimmick on some video calls or maybe I’ll get around to making a second panel and putting both in my front window for Christmas decorations. But even if it doesn’t get used a ton, I’m glad I built it because it has been a fun learning experience and it’s one of those things that I can continue to tinker with.

Ninjago Sword Prop

As we approached Halloween, we went through a lot of ideas for Elijah’s costume. Since we haven’t done trick-or-treating for the last couple of years, we decided to let him get an actual costume. He chose to be the green ninja from Lego Ninjago. I couldn’t resist making part of his costume so I set out to make a dragon sword to go with it.

I wouldn’t have gotten far if I hadn’t found an existing model, but luckily Thingiverse came through for me. I pulled that model into Fusion 360 and spent hours trying to figure out how to cut it nicely on the CNC machine without taking forever. I was able to apply a lot of learnings from my Luther Rose project.

The final product was carved out of a scrap 2×4 and I did it in two separate halves. If I had it to do over again, I think I would learn how to program in a cut that I can flip over halfway through because the seam between the two pieces was visible even in the finished product.

Once the pieces were glued together, I applied a few coats of a filler primer with sanding in between. The sanding took a long time with all the nooks and crannies. Thankfully, Elijah got interested in the project at this point and helped with the sanding.

We finished it off with a couple coats of high-quality gold paint. The final product looked amazing! It makes me want to do another one at the biggest scale that my CNC could handle…

Gridfinity Organization System

I have a pile of random screws, nuts, bolts, and washers in my shop. I buy little bags or boxes of random sizes of things, use a third of them, and then the bags sit around forever because they are such a mess that I can never find them when I need them. The whole thing seemed so random that I never really put much time into looking for an organization system, but now that I have 3D printer, I have the ability to custom make exactly what I need!

A couple of months ago, Zack Freedman released his “Gridfinity” system. The system is based on a grid of baseplates and then each bin/holder can be easily stacked in various combinations. I was downloaded exactly the bins I wanted, customized his model to make some new bins, and made a series of prints that resulted in a lot more organization. This is a project that I’ll keep adding to, but for now it feels good to have brought some order to the chaos. Not bad for ~$10 in filament!

3D Printer Enclosure

Some people build elaborate 3D printer enclosures to do things like control temperature during prints. I haven’t done anything that complicated yet, but I do like keeping dust and cat hair off the printer. So when it’s not in use, I have been setting a cardboard box over the top of it. It works, but it looks ugly.

The other problem I needed to solve is that filament is hydroscopic. If it sucks up too much moisture from the air, it can cause print problems. I’ve been storing the filament rolls in Ziploc bags with desiccant packs in them. Again, this works fine, but it looks messy and when I want to print, I have to pull the roll out of the bag and get it set into the rollers so it will feed into the printer, etc.

I set out to make an enclosure and dry box that would solve these problems. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m at least at a stopping point for now.

For the enclosure, I decided to go with a minimalistic design. I just wanted to have sticks making a cube and then fill in the panels with either plywood or plexiglass. I modeled up corner brackets in Fusion360 and 3D printed them.

Acrylic seemed a bit expensive, and I thought I could save myself some money by purchasing cheap poster frames. That choice ended up making this a very frustrating project. The plastic frames technically did work but they were extremely thin and difficult to work with. They got scratched up and cracked during the project.

I further complicated the box by making it the wrong size the first time. I forgot how much the bed of the printer slides back and forth so I had to take it apart, cut some of my extra plastic, and try again.

The door was the last piece of the puzzle and by that point, I was tired of the project so I made a frame to hold a plastic sheet and then used rare earth magnets so that it would stick to the face of the enclosure but be easily removable.

Next up was the dry box for the filament. That part went much smoother because Becky Stern has an excellent Instructable article. I 3D printed my own nuts and bolts (with a hole down the middle for filament to feed through) and also printed hangers for the PVC pipe that the filament rolls sit on.

After what seemed like forever, I attached a battery powered LED light to the roof of the enclosure and called it good for now. Maybe this will last me for years, but I could also see getting frustrated with it and wanted to redo it. The basic design is ok but I do want to change the plastic panels, the way the door works, and give it a better paint job. I do really like that I can just leave the filament in the machine instead of unloading it and storing it away every time though.

Printable Posable Figure

Getting a 3D printer while working from home has been a great combination as I can easily have prints going throughout the day. I’ve done a lot of “for fun” prints and a couple useful prints, but the one that impresses me most is LUCKY 13.

Before I could ge started with the print, I had to buy some PETG filament. Printed PETG is tougher than the PLA I had been using so far, but it can be a bit more finnicky to print well. My first, and so far only, roll of PLA filament came from Prusa and it has worked marvelously, but since they’re located in Europe, shipping a roll or two of filament is cost prohibitive. I waded into the endless options for filament and ended up choosing Polymaker PETG. It took a few test prints to get it dialed in, but it worked very well on my Prusa Mini.

The downloaded model files for this print were meticulously laid out and they all printed great the first time. I used the gray PETG for the skeleton and blue PLA for the outer skin and face. There were some accessories too which I did in black PLA.

Having done little to no calibration on my printer out of the box, I didn’t know what to expect, but everything snapped together with almost perfect tolerances! The only sanding I had to do was to remove some little fuzzies that were leftover after printing. This figure now sits on my desk and gets repositioned every once in a while using the plethora of different hand shapes and accessories. I got some red PLA and I think I might need to print him a sparring partner!

3D Printed Volume Knob

We still have a set of Motorola FRS radios that I got about 15 years ago. Elijah and his friends like to play with them, but the volume knob comes off easily. Sure enough, one of the knobs got lost last summer. When it happened, I thought, “If I had a 3D printer, I could make a new one.” Well now I have a 3D printer so I decided to give it a shot. There was an existing model on Thingiverse, but it was the wrong shape for my radio.

I’m a Fusion 360 newbie but I’ve been through I Like To Make Stuff’s excellent Fusion 360 For Makers class twice. It was time to try a design from scratch with no tutorial. It took me about 45 minutes and I’m sure that I did a lot of things the “wrong” way, but in the end, I had a model that looked pretty close to the original. I set everything up with parameters using measurements from my calipers so that if it didn’t fit quite right, I could just adjust the parameters and quickly change the model. The image below is an upside down view since that’s the part that actual matters the most. The only thing that I didn’t match from the original was the curved slope as it rises from the base to the top. I tried to do that a few different ways but gave up for now as it doesn’t make any functional difference.

It took about 25 minutes to print and I figured I’d have to go through a few iterations to get it to fit correctly, but to my shock, it fit perfectly the first time! It is very snug so it won’t be coming off by accident. In fact, it was so good that I printed a second one to replace the knob on the other radio too.

That image shows the original knob on the left and the printed knob on the right. It felt so good to go from idea to physical object in an hour or two! I even uploaded the model to Thingiverse: I’ve found so many fun things to use there, I feel good contributing a bit too.

Prusa Mini+

I enjoy making things with traditional tools, but it’s fun to mix in digital fabrication too. At work I have access to laser cutters and at home I have a Cricut and a CNC. All of those open up some interesting opportunities, but I’ve also had my eye on a 3D printer. We do have those in the maker space at work and we can use all the filament we want for free. I even got trained on how to use them, but have I ever printed anything? Nope. But I figured that if I got one to use at home, I would be more inclined to learn it.

I didn’t want to buy a printer and not have any projects, so last year I wrote down any situations where I would have used the printer. Once the list got long enough, I felt confident that I would put the printer to good use.

Picking a 3D printer could last forever. There are endless variations on multiple designs in all price ranges. So instead of evaluating all of them, I picked an entry level model from one of the top companies: the Original Prusa Mini+ from Prusa Research. It took a few weeks for them to make it and then another week or two to make its way here from Europe, but when it arrived, it only took me a couple hours to finish assembly. I was glad that I paid for the version that was mostly assembled already. It printed wonderfully right away, and the only real calibrating that needed to happen was me understanding what good and bad prints look like.

So far, most of my prints have come from pre-made models shared on sites like prusaprinters and thingiverse, but some of those have been pretty useful. For example, Elijah has been learning how to program using a PyBadge. It became even more fun for him when I printed out a case for the device.

I’ve dipped my toe into the modeling waters using Fusion 360. I’ve gone through the Fusion 360 for Makers class from I Like To Make Stuff twice. I have a lot more to learn but I was able to design a print a small bracket without too much trouble.

Going forward, some of the prints I have in mind are:

  • Pads for the bottom of our cots to avoid scratching holes in the bottom of our tent
  • Workholding clamps for the CNC
  • Various connections for my shop vac hose to fit different tools
  • Wall mount for the Tesla mobile charger

I also want to make a better enclosure for the printer to keep the cats away from it and a dry box for the filament so it doesn’t absorb moisture. Currently I unload it every time and put it back in a ziploc bag with desiccant packs.

The small prints I’ve been doing only take about an hour (that PyBadge case was in that range) and usually consume less than $0.50 worth of filament. It makes the trial and error process pretty painless.

I’m glad I went with the Prusa. It was a little more expensive than some super low end models, but since this is my first time, I wanted to get a good machine and focus on learning how to use it, not how to debug it. It’s also nice to know that if I have any problems, there’s an actual support team there to help me as well.


Elijah has been watching reviews of Lego Star Wars sets and decided he wanted to be “R2-E2” for Halloween. He came up with that all on his own! Instead of buying a costume, I decided to make one with him.

We bought some cardboard boxes from Home Depot. They sell some heavy duty boxes which thought would work well for the body to keep it from falling apart so quickly. We kind of made it up as we went and eventually we ended up with a body that had arm holes and a head hole. I fashioned a box for the front to hold his candy and also gave him a head. We covered the whole thing with a metallic silver spray paint.

Then came the fun part! I bought some inexpensive electroluminescent wire and an Adafruit Audio FX Sound Board. I wired the sound board up to some arcade buttons and placed those on the front of his costume. He ended up with 6 buttons that he could press to make various sounds. For a speaker, we used a battery powered bluetooth speaker that we already had (it also had a line-in) and I powered the circuit board with a USB battery pack.

The end result was a fun looking costume that lit up and made sounds. It was a quite a hit and he loved showing it off. That excitement was tempered a bit by the fact that it was hard to walk up and down steps and a couple times he got overwhelmed by kids mobbing him trying to push the buttons. All in all, I’d call it a win but he said he wanted to have a simpler costume next year.

Standing Desk Monitor

We have nice standing desks at work. They have electric motors with memory settings so it’s quick and easy to switch between standing up or sitting down. I believe that it’s significantly healthier to stand up at least part of the day, but I find myself being lazy and sitting for most of the day. I also know that it’s relatively easy to motivate myself by measuring whatever I’m trying to improve. Time for a project!

To measure whether I’m standing or sitting, I decided to use a distance sensor that either sits on top of the desk and looks at the floor, or sits on the floor and looks up. I’m sure there are cheaper ways to do this, but I ordered a SparkFun BlackBoard, Distance Sensor Breakout, and a Qwiic cable to connect them. There was no soldering required. I plugged it all in and I was good to go. I laser cut a wood box to hold all the components.

I wrote a simple program for the Arduino-compatible BlackBoard that would send a measurement when it received a keystroke and then I wrote a program that runs on the computer to periodically request measurements (via USB) and upload them to a database in the cloud. I put a website on top of the page and voila!

A friend at work heard about the idea and wanted to compete with me so now we are both running these devices. You can track our progress at