In the world of 3D printing, this question dose have some merit. However, more frequently, if filament stops coming out of the extruder, it is likely to be the dreaded “j” word and therefore not fixable by normal means. That’s right, a jam. I shudder at the thought, and Ada had both extruders jammed and incapable of printing a single thing. We had been merrily printing along with sparkly dark blue filament, when Ada ground to a halt, clogged either by the sparkles or printing at too high a temperature—filament is fickle like that.
Right after the filament jams, there are a few things to try. The first being to feed more filament in and hope the whole glob pops out of the extruder nozzle in an oozing mass. Unfortunately more filament went in, but nothing came out of the poor clogged nozzle. Not a good sign. Time to move on to suggestion number two: stick something up through the nozzle and try to dislodge the now much larger jam. Ideally, according to enthusiasts on the internet (and they are always right, obviously), you should have a butane torch ready to heat the bit of metal wire you are shoving into the nozzle and a nice jar of pure acetone decanting nearby in which to soak the nozzle. Unfortunately, both open-flame torches and large quantities of acetone are frowned upon in public libraries. And trying to force the wire into the extruder backwards was about as effective as you might imagine. As in, not very.
So what to do? Take the darn thing apart and pick out the jam from the inside. Time to get our hands dirty, folks.
While never a particularly techy child, I always enjoyed building things, taking them apart, and generally making a mess. Very little has changed, except that I am now in possession of 3D printers instead of small piles of scrap material. Time to get cracking!
Taken together, the extruders appear impenetrable and so tightly wired in that it must be impossible to remove them. But with the help of my trusty Allen wrench and a really excellent video tutorial from 3D Universe, Ada’s surgery began.
Inside the extruder, all of the delightful sparkly dark blue filament we had industriously fed into it in the attempt to push out the jam had bunched up around the small and easily congested stepper motor—the small gear that grabs the filament and pulls it through the extruder to be melted and printed.
This minor congestion completely blocked the nozzle, wrapped the hot-but-not-totally-melted filament all around the motor, and promptly congealed when we let the extruders cool, leaving a hardened lump in the way of any future filament. Using a scalpel and a steady hand, I slowly carved and picked away at the lump until we could see the motor again. All told, there was an impressive amount of filament squirreled away in that small space.
Once picked clean, reassembled, and popped back into place, it was time for the extruders’ moment of truth. Did the filament jam totally ruin the stepper motors? Had my steady hand not been delicate enough? Fortunately, the answers were a resounding no-not-ruined and yes-delicate-enough. We had the satisfaction of feeding in a length of new filament to both extruders and watching with baited breath as it stuttered out of the nozzles, slowly gained momentum, and finally extruded at a normal pace.
Ada was healed!
While we spend a lot of time creating with our 3D printers here at the library, we also get to spend time troubleshooting, taking things apart, and generally mucking about with technology. And in the spirit of our 3D printers—to bring this developing technology to our patrons—we wanted to share this particular exercise with you. 3D printing: always rewarding for those armed with an Allen wrench and YouTube tutorials.
Gutenberg enjoys humming, getting crafty, and causing mischief around the library. Ada enjoys reading up on the latest 3D printing technology and researching tips and tricks to make life easier. Gute and Ada’s people enjoy tinkering, making, and discovering ingenious solutions to everyday problems. If you have questions or suggestions for future Practical Magic posts, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.