I love learning new hobbies, each time it is an enlightening experience. When you walk into a new world there are a wealth of lessons beyond the simple skills required to participate.

I like to think of knowledge as a huge web of interconnecting ideas and skills. As I reach a new node, by learning a new hobby, I stumble upon paths to connected ideas. My latest hobby, 3D printing, is no different. Whilst learning the process of 3D printing, I discovered some bigger ideas that are worth sharing. I want you to show you why 3D printing is such a rewarding hobby to pick up.

You might be looking for a new hobby to enrich your life and I want to give you some inspiration to give 3D printing a shot. Here are my Top 5 Lessons about or from 3D printing. Along the way I am going to

I would love to hear any questions you have about 3D printing and whether you are considering giving it a go, get in touch by tweeting me @DenofAlacrity.

Precision is mesmerising

Watching an algorithm in action is fascinating. Like a child enchanted watching tumbling clothes through the window of the washing machine. That is exactly how I feel when I watch my printer. The process doesn’t change that much layer to layer; first printing the outer edge and then the inner support structure. Over and over.

The precision a 3D printer can achieve is astounding, if all the components are properly looked after it is capable of creating tiny shapes with incredible accuracy. I often find myself impressed because I simply could not do that without the help of tools. Its no over-exaggeration to say that tools are the single biggest reason humans have been able to thrive and improve our lives. My printer reminds me to be grateful for tools and all they do for us.

I can watch my printer for hours, although I often tear myself away. If you watch the whole thing in real time you miss out on the other wonderful benefit of precision. Once the thing is off and running it doesn’t need a constant eye on it. You can get other things done in the meantime.

The whole is complex but the parts are simple

If I was to ask you to name the parts inside a 3D printer, what would you say? If you are anything like me before I started your answer is probably something like "uhhhh motors and and magic?". Turns out that is half true, and trust me I wish there was magic involved. Truth is that a 3D printer is made up of extremely simple parts, put together in a clever way.

The hardware boils down to a few steppers motors, some timing belts, a hot bed, a power supply, a display and a small motherboard to co-ordinate the whole thing.

Stepper motors can be told to move a set amount, whereas other motors are simply forward, backwards or off. This is what allows the movement in the x, y and z directions on your printer to be precise. An amount of movement for the motors is translated to a distance for the print head or bed to move. In stereolithography SLA printers that use light to harden the plastic, some are now using LED screens with UV LEDS to project the image, with the help of mirrors, onto the top layer of resin.

As far as software is concerned this is relatively simple as well, don’t get me wrong there is a lot for printer software to do but each of the things is relatively simple. Set the extruder or bed temperature or move the print head so much in the x direction and the bed back in the y. Each of these steps are just clear instructions sent to individual components.

The user interface shows simple set of sensor readings for the hot end and the bed, a way to select prints and move the printer parts. There is even a progress bar so you can see how far along your print is and how long the print has been running

Makers are great at sharing

We teach our kids about the importance of sharing, but It appears that as adults some selfish nature has won over the years of training. Makers, however, are breaking that mould and it is such a wonderful thing. In my last article when I introduced 3D printing, I mentioned a tool called Thingiverse, but we need to talk about the ethos behind it. This is a community of thousands of makers, who create awesome models and then put them up on the site for us to enjoy. The total amount of hours of work that must have gone into the models can only be described in comparison to the life of the universe.

They not only share models with each other, the open source movement has had a huge impact on 3D printing. The open source ethos started in software design and had bled across into a lot of other fields. Including manufacturing. In a nutshell open source means a design that you can share and modify as the files are open to the public. People work together on projects that benefit everyone else. One such project was RepRap, one of the first fused deposition modelling printers to hit the market. It was designed and shared by the open source community. The mission was to create a printer that could replicate as much of itself as possible.

I have got 99 problems that my printer can solve.

I knew I would find uses for a 3D printer once I had one readily available. But I was honestly shocked at just how many problems you can solve with a printed part. As a lover of tinkering with electronics it has opened a whole host of new doors as far as holding and encasing my projects. I can print custom cases to hold a Raspberry Pi and all of the components for each project. Although I knew my printer could help me solve these problems going into it.

The thing I didn’t realise was how many other uses there are for printed parts around the house. From clothes pegs to bag clips I am always finding small ways to use my printer to make our lives just a little bit better. Pairing this with the previous lesson - often when I open up Thingiverse I find that another maker has already made a solution to the problem which I can immediately download and print, or modify if needs be. I have a list of useful prints to get through and I will write more about them when I do.

The lesson here is really that there are so many ways you can put the 3D printer to use, at first I was worried I would not use it enough but that is not an issue at all. Really the issue is finding a way to get to all the prints I have on my list.

I’m the Jon Snow of 3D printing, I know nothing

I have been working away on my printer for nearly 6 months now and I am still barely scraping the surface of what there is to know. Every new project and print I do brings with it new lessons and problems to solve. Whether it is trying out new materials or more complex prints, the next goal is always there to meet me and I know I will learn lots along the way.

If you are considering getting yourself a printer I want you to be prepared for the time and effort it takes. Trust me you will have a great time doing it, but even the fanciest kits require a lot of tinkering and learning to get used to. I have done a couple of my own designs now but that is certainly one area I am keen to learn more about. 3D modelling is a whole separate discipline that has its own overheads in learning new tools and practices to create designs efficiently and effectively. So there is a journey in there for you all to go on with this new tool. I promise the communities and people you interact with along the way will add enormous benefit to your life.

There is more where that came from...