Until recently, everything I 3D printed was designed by someone else. There are many places to find free 3D printer files for almost anything you could possibly want. My favorite site for finding these gems is Thingiverse. It is free to use and has an amazing choice of projects to print. I look here first when I want something particular but I also browse the site to discover things I didn't even know I wanted!
Thingiverse isn't the only site offering free files though. Other good ones that I use are GrabCAD, Pinshape and 3D Warehouse. For and even more complete list, go to the All3DP article 33 Best Sites for Free STL Files to 3D Print.
These sites have provided me with plenty of projects to keep my printers running but, I wanted to do more than copy what others have done.
To design my own 3D printing projects, I needed to learn to use at least one computer aided design tool. The one I chose to learn first was Tinkercad from Autodesk. Tinkercad is easy to learn and easy to use. It can output .stl or .obj files that are ready to input into a slicer program for 3D printing.
"Tinkercad is a super easy-to-use, browser based 3D design tool. With Tinkercad you can create 3D printable items: toys to play with, decoration to light up your home or jewelry to express yourself. You dream it, you can make it!"
My first real Tinkercad project was to make a clamp-on base for an LED lamp I had printed from files I got on Thingiverse.The project, as listed, was meant to mount on a wall with screws. I wanted it to clamp to a table or desk instead.
One important feature of Tinkercad is that you can import .stl files and then modify them. I used that capability to my advantage by importing the attachment bolt from the lamp (https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2505394) and a c-clamp from another Thingiverse thing (https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1673030).
Once they were imported, I cut the head and some length off the bolt and lined up the two parts. Then I just moved the bolt until it touched the clamp. aligned then vertically and merged the pieces.
All that was left was to export the .stl file and print it.
This was a very easy first project but it shows what you can do to modify the things you print.
For my next Tinkercad project I wanted to make something new - not just modify an existing object.
I had been printing a few mini parts cabinets from Thingiverse thing https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1889761.
I decided to make something that would attach to the cabinets using the same interlocking system. A mini tool rack seemed like a good addition to a mini parts cabinet.
I imported one of the single drawers housings into Tinkercad then cut off everything except the edge with the round interlocks.That is the pink section in the image below.
Next I used the block tool to make two rectangles at 90 degree angles. I used cylinders and rectangles to make holes through one of them.
Finally, I moved the pieces into position and merged them into a solid part.
After export and printing, here is what the finished tool rack looks like when attached to the mini cabinets. I posted this one on Thingiverse at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2596619
Tinkercad is a great tool and will be an important addition to my toolbox. It is an excellent choice for making modifications to existing .stl files and for designing simple projects. It does have it's limitations though. I don't think it is the best tool for designing multi-part projects that require assembly. I am currently looking at a couple full featured CAD programs that I might want to use going forward.
Fusion 360 is another Autodesk program that looks promising. It has a much longer learning curve than Tinkercad but I am working through some of the training for it now. I believe it will be a worth the effort.
Another free CAD program is FreeCAD. Despite being totally free, FreeCAD if a full featured, professional quality CAD tool. Once I get up and running on Fusion 360, this will be my next learning challenge.
3D printing is a wonderful hobby. Adding the ability to design my own 3D parts will only enhance the experience.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new window. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.