Monday, February 29, 2016

Digital Fabrication- 3D Printed Lightsaber

I've done lots of 3D printing and laser-cutting since we acquired these tools in Kylie's Creativity Labs and in the MILL makerspace in the School of Ed. I've learned a ton in the process. Having both made my own designs, and downloaded them off the internet, I definitely think that the process of creating your own design is more powerful for learning. But I learned how to design 3D models in a Fine Arts class, using the program Rhino, which is expensive and thus inaccessible to me most of the time (it's only available on a single computer lab on the whole campus). I've also tried using the free program TinkerCAD to design things from scratch, but I was frustrated by its limited functionality when compared to Rhino.

So I haven't done much designing since my Art class. I definitely see Blikstein and Worsley's point in their Makeology chapter about "keychain syndrome" vs. "deep projects." But is it ever possible for a premade file downloaded from the internet to become a "deep project" rather than the equivalent of a "keychain"? I think so, in the sense that it can still be instructive for learning new things. To illustrate, let me tell you about the largest 3D print I've ever done: a 3D printed lightsaber!

In case it isn't clear yet from my previous entries, I'm a "planner" type of maker. If I don't have an idea or a theme, then I'm not going to feel motivated to make anything. That's why all my 3D printing and laser-cutting projects have been related to cosplay, or at least to fandom of some sort, from my first laser-cut project of a paper lantern from the movie Tangled, to a laser-cut flame illuminated by EL wire for a costume of a character with fire powers.

This lightsaber project was no exception. As I've written about on this blog before, I cosplayed the character Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars movie at an anime convention with a group of friends. However, I borrowed his lightsaber from one of my friends while there. If I ever wanted to cosplay him again without that friend and her lightsaber being present, then I needed to acquire my own. And well, when you have access to a makerspace, why not make your own?

I started by browsing Instructables and Thingiverse to find an easy DIY lightsaber project. It had to be relatively easy, because I was starting this on a Tuesday and I wanted it to be complete in time for another anime convention that Friday, Feb. 19. I didn't cosplay Kylo Ren at that convention, but I had a friend with me who also likes the character and wanted to carry his lightsaber around.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a super-detailed set of around 20 3D models to make any lightsaber you want, in any combination. This included Kylo Ren's crossguard lightsaber. However, I immediately ran into the weaknesses of working with premade models. The group who made these models did so based solely on the trailer released almost a year before the movie itself. So the crossguard lightsaber they made does not match all the details of Kylo Ren's lightsaber design. It was by far the highest quality lightsaber model for 3D printing that I had found, though, so I decided to use it anyway. After reading through the instructions on both the Thingiverse page and the Instructables page (which didn't actually provide any new information), I chose the pieces I needed to print to the best of my knowledge. I set up a 3D printer with red plastic to print the laser blades, and another one with silver to print the handle pieces. However, the latter had so many pieces that they would not fit in one print. So I set up the crossguard piece to print on a third printer. Here are pictures of the blades and the handle in the process of printing:

The red lasers!

The handle pieces!
 Unfortunately, we ran into a material constraint: the printer that was supposed to print the crossguard piece got clogged and failed to print. Justin had just restarted it on a different printer when my friend and I arrived on the Friday of the con. We still had all the pieces to make a regular single-bladed saber, though! I didn't check back on the instructions to assemble it; I could remember well enough, and it was pretty intuitive. The laser went inside the tubes, and it was easy to tell which pieces went on top, which ones connected tubes together, and which was the cap for the bottom. Everything that connected did so by screwing into place. The group had designed these materials well so that they could give feedback to suggest their proper assembly. Here's my friend modeling the single-bladed saber from inside the MILL before we went to the con:

The Force is strong with this one!
We did discover that the instructions were not exactly 100% clear (which in some ways is actually better for learning, though in our case it led to a waste of PLA too!). I had assumed from the pictures that we would need three silver tubes to make the handle long enough. The tubes were quite large, though; we only needed two, so we had an extra one. There was one "ring" piece that I couldn't figure out what to do with at all. I thought it was supposed to connect two tube pieces together, but it didn't appear able to do so. Finally, the handle-topper you see here was originally meant to go on the bottom, because that would make the saber look more like Kylo Ren's. But there was no way to attach it to the bottom along with the cap. In looking back at the available pieces, it seems you have only one choice for a cap.

We were still super satisfied, though! We had to do some grinding down of the laser parts to get them to smoothly telescope in and out of the handle. Also we discovered that some of the parts were pretty loose, and if we wanted this to be permanent, some sort of glue would probably be necessary.

The next day, we returned to pick up the crossguard piece and to finish assembling the lightsaber as intended. And it worked! The round tip pieces where the short lasers come out from the handle, though, are super loose and more in need of glue than are any of the other pieces.

Behold: the ultimate tantrum device! And its instability is movie-accurate too!
I learned one more thing about the failings of 3D printers from this process. My friend wanted to make her own yellow lightsaber out of the extra pieces. So we set up one 3D printer to print her some silver handle accessories and a cap, and another to print the yellow blade. Well, the yellow blade started out okay while we were there, but...this is how it ended up:

Oh no! D:
Later I found out from Justin (our Makerspace assistant) that this probably happened due to the print platform not being completely level. I didn't even know that was a problem that could occur! In the end, my friend just took home her lightsaber handle, which she said would still be good for cosplay, because you could hang it at your belt without the threat of the telescoping blade falling out. There is no way to prevent the blades from falling open when you tilt these sabers in a certain direction. I think I'll need to add some string or something if I ever take mine to a con.

So, during the course of this project, I learned a lot about the weaknesses of 3D printers, which I guess are more likely to appear when you're doing a huge print, and I learned how you often need to refine a print after it's completed, especially if it has moving parts or multiple parts that need to be assembled. I've also become fairly competent at replacing the color of the PLA. This was definitely way more challenging than a keychain.

I leave you with a picture of some of the fun things you can do once you have a cosplay prop. Here's "Kylo Ren" writing in his diary while hugging a stuffed pink owl, because that's so in-character!

"Dear Diary,
Hux made fun of my pink owl today, so I threw a tantrum."
(all credit for this caption goes to my friend Sarah!)
Special shout-outs to Justin for making this possible on such short notice, and my friend Sarah for her companionship at the con and for being such a good lightsaber model in my photos!

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