Blender Full of Gizmos

A New Tool

Hello again. I’ve had a chance to experiment with a new tool on a beginner project. The tool is a 3D printer, which is not mine, but belongs to my brother and nephews. It appeared over Christmas 2021.

I have been impressed with what they have been able to print in just a month, making real many cool items they find on thingiverse.

Here’s the printer, plus some questions I asked my brother about it.

Why did you pick this voxelab printer?

I wanted an Ender 3 and the Voxelab Aquila is a highly rated clone.

What are the approximate costs?

The cost was $169 from Amazon.

Are you finding it useful? Why or why not?

Useful? idk. I haven’t printed anything besides “fun” stuff.

Would you recommend this 3D printer? Why or why not?

Yes, perfect starter printer. low cost and nice introduction into 3d printing.

What are some of your plans with it?

Nothing specific.

The Idea

Now that I have a new tool to work with, an idea needs to be reified. For inspiration, I am reminded of another bit of hacking I have been doing at work recently, related to database “sharding” or partitioning.

In a nutshell, the idea is to break down a large dataset into logical pieces, or shards. Each shard can be optimized in its own way, making data retrieval very fast, if the shards are organized and optimized. In addition to speed increase, the shards essentially act as one whole, making queries on the data easy. The sharded data can be deep (think millions or even billions of rows) and fast (millisecond retrieval times).

A “sharded sword” came to mind as an interesting representation of the idea. A sword seems like it would be fairly easy to use as a first 3D print project. Here are some first sketches, using the, free, online vector based design tool, Figma.

If you are familiar with Illustrator or Inkscape, try Figma. It is a capable tool for 2d vector drawing all on the web. Whenever I need to draw something, or make a quick visual, Figma works for me. Plus, I never lose an idea that I put in there.

At the very least, I want to get get some ideas sketched out, so as better be able to communicate what I want, which is…

A six inch 3D printed sword, that will break apart into “shards”, and will be able to “become whole” as one.

Luckily, I can export from Figma to the trusty SVG format (Scalable Vector Graphics), an open format that has been around for decades. Under the hood, svg is just XML text, in which every line and curve and shard is described in code.

The “path” node is where the “duck” is drawn, basically with a series of lines and coordinates specific to the SVG context. SVG will be around for 100 years, I bet.

Anyway, once I have the sword in SVG format, I was able to import it into Blender, the next new tool, which I hear is very popular for creating 3D models. Here we go.

Blender is a very capable open source tool, surely living up to its name. It does a lot of things. I mean A LOT. It can 3D model, video edit, its a code editor, plus probably about a hundred other things. The interface is a bit intimidating and I would have to say that it is a bit of a BEAST for the beginner. If you think in a CAD/woodworking/”measure and cut” way, it feels a bit counter intuitive.

So, I went through some tutorials in Blender, spending a couple of hours, and I kind of got the hang of the basics. Plus, I was successful at importing the SVG sword into it. I was optimistic. This 3D printing thing might be pretty simple, I thought.

But, I got stuck here with a bit too much to learn and not enough time.

Additionally, I got sidetracked on this Blender add-on: Construction Lines, which makes Blender work more like Sketchup, a simple, free, web-based 3D modeling tool that I am familiar with from a woodworking project last year.

Constructions Lines appears to be worth the $9, but I think its maybe not best idea to work against the grain of the Blender way of modeling. I think it is probably better to commit to a good chunk of time to learn Blender’s native sculpture style. There are many resources for this.

Luckily, Sketchup can export an STL file, which can be imported straight into the 3D printer input program, Ultimaker Cura. I decide to put Blender back on the shelf for now and take the Sketchup shortcut.

Here is what I came up with in Sketchup. Not as good as the original sword, but we need to make progress.

At this point, I sent version one of the STL file to my brother for printing.

Of course there were a few issues. First, the floating shards was not the best idea. The pieces need to be down on the y-axis. Second, they should be rotated 90 degrees instead of vertical. I went back to the drawing board with Sketchup, but realized that a few of the shards were twisted somehow, making them not truly rectangular. I decided to start over. Ugh.

In the second version, the sword became more refined with an edge on the sides. Also, I added prongs to get the pieces to fit together. Think Lego.

The final results, not the best.

So, we are onto the next iteration.

Here we made the whole sword a bit bigger, rotated all the shards, widened them and made refinements on the prongs that will hopefully hold the sword together.

Part 2 is coming soon…

Inspiration

As mentioned above, the inspiration for the sword 3D print is the idea of partitioning or “sharding”. In the next post, I will illustrate how to shard a geospatial big data set, using a PostgreSQL relational database.

Here is some information about what’s ahead.

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