From Minecraft to real craft

A 3D model created in the video game Minecraft by a Juneau high schooler became a real craft on Saturday.

Freshman Caleb Brown is in a digital arts class at Thunder Mountain High School. He was at Western Auto Marine on Saturday morning with a few teachers and classmates watching a new 3D printer build his paperweight-sized sword in a stone out of melted plastic, layer by layer.

“Oh, I think it’s really cool. I just learned a lot about 3D printers over the summer just at my house. And I thought they were cool, and now I have the opportunity to see one and use one with my design, which is pretty cool,” Brown said.

Heather Ridgway is Brown’s digital arts teacher.

“A 3D printer is a great way to kind of pop it off the screen and put it in your hand. And go, oh, OK, this is where I’m going, you know? … You know, it just kind of takes it to another dimension,” she said with a laugh.

A 3D printer could let her incorporate jewelry and product design into her class, she said.

Western Auto is the only brick and mortar retailer in Juneau selling any kind of 3D printer. About three weeks ago, general manager John Weedman added two Afinia H-Series models to his inventory.

“One to show, one to go,” he said.

On Saturday, he was showing.

The $1,600 printer he’s selling weighs about 11 pounds and has a sturdy, industrial look with lots of right angles. Like a regular printer, the print head is suspended vertically over a printing surface. The print head only moves side to side and melts plastic filament fed from a spool.

The printing surface is a small platform that moves forward and back, like a sheet of paper fed through a typical printer. The platform also moves vertically to accommodate layering of the plastic material.

The printer can create small objects up to 5 cubic inches designed on home computers from a variety of software. It took several hours on Saturday morning for it to build student-submitted designs.

Weedman wants to sow consumer and educational interest in the technology, which, in recent years, has become much less expensive and much more accessible to hobbyists. After the holidays, he’s giving away his floor model to Thunder Mountain High School.

“It’s like donating fishing rods to Family Fishing Day at Twin Lakes. We want future fishermen,” he said.

With no previous experience, Weedman said had the printer doing its initial run in about four hours. Since then, he’s made luggage tags, a small skull, carabiner-like clips with flexible hinges, and some parts that attach to a mouse trap to make a toy car.

The designs came from the growing online community of do-it-your-selfers who share 3D print models.

Thunder Mountain robotics coach Carol May sees a lot of potential for her club. The rules in robotics competitions limit the off-the-shelf materials that can be used to build robots – but building things from raw materials is OK.

“So a 3D  printer will allow the kids to design a gear or a part or a sprocket or something that they don’t have the right size in the kit and actually print it on the printer and use it,” May said.

Other robotics teams in Southeast are already doing this, May said.

Weedman said he’ll arrange more 3D printer demonstrations as interest warrants.

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