Second day of Milwaukee Makerfaire complete

It was another long day. Spoke with many people and again the biggest topic had to be the use of natural PLA and the translucent nature of the material. Many people assumed it is a difficult material to come by but you can buy it quite easily from Ultimachine ( or Makergear ( among others. The price appears to be higher than the last time I purchased it. That shows how often I have to buy materials.

I took many notes on things I would do to enhance the experience so I am hopeful that they will have another Makerfaire next year in Milwaukee so that I can bring something new to display and share with others.

In the coming weeks I plan to fully document my flame project and post the STL files on github for anyone that is interested. My immediate plan though is to get some much needed rest.

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First day of Milwaukee Makerfaire is complete

I managed to wake up fairly early this morning even though I got little sleep last night. I generally am not a morning person so going to bed early and waking early never really works for me. Ben came along and was a great help setting up my small display of the current status of my reproduction/replica of the light on the Wisconsin Gas Building. I will soon post a more detailed run-down of the steps I went through to create the flame. Here is a shot of the table setup for Makerfaire.

Table setup for the Milwaukee Makerfaire

Table setup for the Milwaukee Makerfaire

There were a lot of people visiting with lots of questions. The most common one related to the material I was using to print. Even people who were familiar with PLA where not familiar with it in its natural form which is somewhat translucent when printed. This really surprised me because I find natural PLA a great, and inexpensive, material. I swear I could have sold spools at a %100 markup just because it was so novel for some people. Many people wanted me to sell them items. I did not come prepared to sell anything and I did not register as a vendor so it would not be proper to sell items anyway. Ben had the idea to make something simple that I could print quickly as give away items so he designed this ring and I printed several of them. I plan to continue printing some tomorrow although I might mix in a few other items if I come up with any decent models.

Rings that we were giving away at Makerfaire

Rings that we were giving away at Makerfaire

I am sure tomorrow will be another long day to I am going to make a another attempt at an early night so I am hopefully less tired tomorrow.

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ESD safe 3D printed parts tray

Recently I printed a component tray for my friend Parker (Longhorn Engineer) which he documented on his website ( and which received a write-up on Hack-a-day ( The purpose of the tray is to hold special sized components for a pick-and-place machine. The tray turned out pretty well and fit the machine as desired.

After receiving the tray Parker used an ESD spray to make the tray safe to use with actual components.

The one question that remained in the back of our minds is if it would work to use conductive filament instead of the PLA I used for the original tray.

I purchased a spool of conductive filament from (

Conductive filament

After some trial and error I managed to get a print. It uses ABS plastic as the base with what appears to be a fair amount of graphite material added. I had some issues with bed adhesion but eventually the print got going.

Parts tray in process

In the end it turned out pretty well.

Part tray ESD

Conductivity testing showed that the material is well within the range required for ESD safety. I unfortunately do not have the specific results available. I delivered the tray to Parker without capturing the information myself.

At first it seemed like it did not have the right properties because we tested the conductivity of the bottom of the tray. I realized that the reason the bottom did not test well is because I used some “ABS Juice” on the build platform and that affected the bottom layer of the print. The top of the print itself was fine. In the future if I print something that needs to use the bottom as a conductive surface I will have to make a special batch of ABS juice that is made from the conductive filament or find another way to insure bed adhesion.

The material itself feels somewhat dry after extruding. I assume this is caused by the material mixed in to give it conductive properties. It does not have the normal smoothness of ABS and it was more challenging to get to stick on the first layer. It also has a unique smell which also must come from the conductive filler. The smell is hard to describe but to me it seemed like it is probably graphite.

Another issue I had was when it came time to unload the filament. It took a significant amount of time to get the black material to extrude out when I replaced the filament with a new color. The filler that gives it the conductive properties, which I suspect is graphite, is very difficult to purge from the nozzle. In the future I plan to remove the nozzle from the printer and manually clean out the conductive filament when I am done.

It is an interesting material to work with and it seems to work well for producing ESD safe objects. I did not have any significant issues printing with the material and just had to take time with getting the layer adhesion down. The quality of the print is affected by the foreign material in there but not in a way that made the print unusable.

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This last weekend I did some experimentation with finishing techniques on a 3D printed object. I started with the “Guardian Squirrel” object from Thingiverse. I printed this with natural PLA on my M2 printer.


Guardian Squirrel printed in natural PLA. Layer height .1 with 10% infill.

Next I sprayed on a special nickel coating that I have. It is designed to be used as a way to spray onto surfaces to give them EMF shielding. It is sold by Less EMF. I originally purchased it because it can also be used to take any surface and make it conductive. I was using it to design custom pressure switches along with other experiments with conductive materials. After a few coatings it looked like this.


Guardian Squirrel printed in Natural PLA coated a nickel spray.

I then made an initial attempt at polishing the nickel. I do not have a lot of tools available to do polishing and the coating was not very thick so if I applied too much pressure I could easily rub it off and also the plastic underneath. I tried using a soft polishing wheel on my Dremel but had similar results. In the end what worked out the best for me was a stiff nylon rush, rubbing with a piece of wood and also rubbing with a smooth steel rod. After some work it looked like this.


Guardian Squirrel printed in natural PLA with nickel coating. First attempt at polishing.

I was not completely happy with the results of the polishing. I believe I could have done better but I lacked the tools and a good technique for getting a really shiny polish on the nickel. I intend to try again after I find a better way to polish the nickel coating. In the mean time I decided to use some silver patina that I had available to give it a nice shine. The patina turned out to be really strong though and mostly covers any evidence of the underlying nickel. I need to find something that is not quite as strong as the silver. This is the final result.


Guardian Squirrel printed in natural PLA with silver patina rub over the nickel spray coating.

Lately working on different techniques for finishing the 3D prints is one of my favorite activities. I am also pleased to see PLA taking paint and other materials so well. In the past I printed with ABS because I felt it was better suited for post painting but so far I have had so many positive experiences with painting PLA that I no longer assume that I need to use ABS if I plan on doing some painting and other post processing.

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New 3D printer

I’ve built several printers but this time I decided to try something different and purchased a semi assembled printer from the folks at Makergear. It turned out really nice.


Looking forward to seeing what this guy can do.

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Site move and testing

The old site was on a host that I planned to move away from for a while but that choice was thrust upon me fairly quickly when they went out of business and shutdown all their hosts without warning.

So please bear with me as I slowly rebuild the site at the new domain. Hopefully interesting stuff is on the way.


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