Why Every Household Needs a 3D Printer

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The 2020 lockdown affected us all in some big ways, like loss of jobs, mobility, and freedom of choice, but it has also affected us in small ways. Most notably obtaining supplies. This is where a 3D printer can increase your survival odds in a big way.

 No matter what, your need for a new thermos, perhaps, or any gear related to keeping us prepared was prohibited for a long while. And even if you could, the threat of COVID may have convinced you not to go out at all. Odds are your store of choice wasn’t even open, and sometimes, what you needed was out of stock. We relied on online giants like Amazon, but what happens if they go down, too? 

Thingiverse (Photo by Thingiverse)

3D Printer to the Rescue

What then? You do without, or you improvise a solution. Until the advent of 3D printers, breaking a zipper pull or splintering the end of a trekking pole meant you had to buy a new one or attempt to fix the old one (usually with mixed results). Instead of heading to the store to buy a waterproof container for your matches or a carabiner to clip for your pack, merely fire up the 3D printer, download the appropriate file from numerous sites (for free), and hit print. In a matter of minutes to hours, a replacement is in your hand at a fraction of the cost of a “new” one from the store. 

The Wide World of 3D Printing

Without getting into the subtle nuances of how 3D printers work, how the files are sliced in preparation for printing, and how 3D modeling software can transform any object into a 3D digital file, it is important to note that 3D printing has become a ubiquitous element in modern production techniques, as more and more companies are embracing this into their manufacturing processes. Before widespread home use, 3D printers were used by various manufacturing industries to make prototypes. Artists made sculptures, architects to fabricated scale models, and doctors made prosthetics and casts for broken bones.

This technological advancement has trickled down into home use, making 3D printers more straightforward to use, less expensive than a few years ago, and digital files of 3D objects readily available, primarily for free. 

Simply put, 3D printers produce a three-dimensional object by extruding material through a nozzle in the form of the desired shape. Like building a wall with continuous rows of bricks, the 3D printer forms the object by adding layer over layer until the object is fully formed. 

Now, thanks to sites like Thingiverse (where all of the items in this story were sourced), Cults, MyMiniFactory, and Pinshape, there are 10s of thousands of 3D models that anyone with a 3D printer can download and print. They cover many categories for nearly all aspects of life, including survival, emergency preparation, camping, and other outdoor activities. The examples on these pages are merely a few of the printable gear you can find online; the odds are good if you need it, someone has made a printable file for it. 

While not functional as a defense weapon, this 3D printed knife is very functional for training purposes.
(Photo by Thingiverse)

Materials to Make Survival Stuff

Depending on the technique and the printer, 3D printers can use various materials, including metals (stainless steel, solder, aluminum), plastics and polymers, ceramics, plaster, glass, and even food like cheese and chocolate. The most popular and easiest to work with are the various plastics. 

PLA: One of the most common filaments today is Polylactic Acid (PLA). It can be used in lower-cost printers because it doesn’t require a heated bed or chamber. The filament is inexpensive and very easy to work with. Derived from corn and sugarcane, it is also environmentally friendly. 

ABS: Another popular filament choice is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic, known for its toughness and impact resistance, allowing you to print durable parts that can handle extra wear. Additionally, it is the least expensive option among the available filaments. ABS is great for outdoor products because it is heat resistant. 

Nylon: Also known as Polyamide, nylon is a popular material in the plastics industry, known for its toughness and flexibility.

Even More Materials to Choose From

There are a dozen different filament materials to choose from, depending on what object you are printing, the purpose of the object, and the environment in which the object will exist. When starting in 3D printing, research the various materials and their properties. 

In a survival situation, relying on a store to get what you need might be nearsighted. Depending on the situation, you might not find what you are looking for, and in a worst-case scenario similar to what happened during COVID, the store might not be there anymore. Wouldn’t you want a repository of printable gear at your fingertips when you need it? 

Maybe, in the near future, instead of running to the store for a new whistle, a magazine for your Glock, a mechanism for your water purifier, or a frame for your backpack, you merely download the file and print one out for yourself. Or better yet, scan the old one, parse it out in a slicer program, and print it directly. The options are endless. 

Today, if your phone case is broken, you can print a replacement, but in the future, if you lose your phone, you’ll be able to print out a whole new phone. 

Who doesn't need eating utensils when the world falls apart?
(Photo by Thingiverse)

3D Printed Projects You Can Make Today

1. Small Container: Small storage solutions are always handy to have available to keep safe matches, fire tinder, and loose gear like fish hooks and sinkers. These threaded containers are waterproof and can be printed in various sizes.

2 Traps: Even though you can make a figure-four trigger trap easily in nature, why not carry one that is easy to assemble and takes up very little room?

3. Fishing Poles: These two versions of handheld fishing poles can keep your line spooled and tight as you fish. However, the nature of the material for the larger one won’t support a great deal of weight if you hook “the big one.” The handle is hollow to store all of your emergency fishing gear, however.

4. Fishing Reel: Printing the pieces of the smaller fishing reel, the 3D printer slowly builds up layer after layer of PLA until the shape is complete. It took about four hours for this piece to print. 

Brass knuckles and other EDC items have free files available for immediate download.
(Photo by Thingiverse)

Handheld 3D Printables

5. Caribiners: Although not for climbing Half Dome, these strong carabiners can easily clip gear to a pack or belt. They feature flexible gates that snap shut.

6. Knuckle Duster: This packs a powerful punch. Check your local laws before printing this “brass” knuckles self-defense tool.

7. Ear Splitter: This one item took only a few minutes to print. It’s only about two inches in length, but when tested, it produces an ear-splitting 126 decibels of sound. That’s about the same as a shotgun blast.

8. Spork: Forget a spoon or a small knife. This credit card printout may help make a meal less messy. Note the toothpick. Print this using food-safe filament only.

9. Sundial: Having a sundial to quickly tell the time is admittedly more cool than practical, but time will tell.

10. Trainer: This knife will not cut anything, although the point is incredibly sharp. Its use in a survival situation is nil, but it makes a great training weapon. 

3D printing guns and gun parts is quite controversial as of right now, but that may change as more people come to see the value in it.
(Photo by Skillset Staff)

Ghost Guns The Elephant in the Room

No article on 3D printing would be complete on SKILLSET without the mention of firearms. While this subject raises eyebrows even among the most seasoned firearms enthusiasts, there’s no arguing that 3D printing has cemented its place in the industry.

On an industry level, manufacturers use them to help get prototypes into full production quicker. With newer machines capable of making parts out of metal, you may already own 3D-printed OEM parts and not even be aware of it. All this gets things done quicker and more cost-effectively.

As for your own home, you can print your own SIRT guns for defensive training and parts to repair an existing firearm you may already own. Or yeah, you could practice your Second Amendment rights and have freshly printed freedom from the comfort of your own home.

Ready to take your 3D printer skills to the next level? Check out this article featuring the master of plastic himself: Print Shoot Repeat

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