3D Printing Gunsmithing Tools
3D printing gunsmithing tools is possible by even a new printer owner. Being able to make parts at home can both save money and allow access to a new tool the same day that it is needed, rather than days later due to shipping. That said, consumer-level 3D printing does have its limits and there are a few things to know before jumping in which can save a lot of frustration.
It is not surprising that 3D printing requires a 3D printer and there are hundreds of models to choose from. The best bang for the buck out there for most users is the Creality Ender 3 which comes in at around two hundred dollars. It punches well above its weight class and has a strong following of online users. The next step up in ability would be something along the lines of the Pulse XE which comes in at about a grand. Both printers have excellent print quality. The big difference is in materials printed as the Ender 3 works best with PLA and the Pulse XE is capable of printing carbon fiber reinforced nylon, which has more impressive mechanical properties. But, since a thousand dollar printer is not within many people’s price range, we are going to see what can be done with the consumer-focused Ender 3.
Here is a quick rundown of the process to get up and running. The Ender 3 does require some assembly out of the box, but it is manageable. Just take your time, follow the directions, and watch a few tutorials, if needed. My youngest son and I put one together in about half an hour. Then, you have to “level the bed”. This is the big trick to getting your printer working correctly. The corners of the print bed are adjustable with four large thumb wheels. This surface has to be tightened down so that it is just under the tip of the print head, but also even at all four corners. There should be enough space to slide a Post-It note under the tip with some resistance. This takes a few minutes of tweaking. Once dialed in, load up the printer with plastic filament for it to melt down into objects. We have had near perfect luck with HATCHBOX 1.75mm PLA which is cost-effective and works really well. When running, the printer will melt the plastic into thin layers that are stacked on top of each other to build the requested object. This is also sometimes referred to as “additive manufacturing”. To save time and material, the interior of the object can be partially hollow and filled with a grid pattern to remain strong.
With experience, it is possible to 3D print items of your own design. However, when first starting out, most folks download other people’s designs for printing. Sites such as Thingiverse have tons of existing designs that can be used for free. These are almost like an architect’s idea sketches. They can be opened with free software like Ultimaker Cura which turns the ideas into a file with specific directions for the printer to follow. This file is usually copied onto a MicroSD card and loaded into the printer. Here are some examples of the kinds of things that can be printed, which is over a hundred dollars worth of tools:
Glock Channel Liner Install Tool – https://www.thingiverse.com/make:813260
Glock Pistol Stand – https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4216618
Glock Armorer Inspection Slide Cover- https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2987704
Sight Pusher – https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1214485
Holosun Cover – https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4380879
Magazine Disassembly Helper Tool – https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2761930
Some 3D printed gunsmithing tools require additional work, such as the sight pusher. While most of the parts are 3D printed, there are metal inserts that need to be added. This is easy to do with ClearWeld epoxy. If you want to go further, the next step is designing your own parts with CAD software then exporting the work as a .stl file that Cura can turn into commands for your 3D printer. This is an excellent way to test and prototype that good idea for an upgrade which has always been in the back of your head.