• Kat Ermant

Why I almost threw away my old 3D printer, and why I kept it.

Interacting with a 3D print, as personally as I would a human

I bought a Lulzbot TAZ 5 in 2016 when I was working towards my Bachelors degree in Sculpture. I knew that year that I was going to 3D print for a long time, and I was absolutely right. I used the last of my savings to properly invest in this machine that was, at the time, the best volume for its price. I had no regrets as it taught me all about the ups and downs of the additive world. It produced my full sized rocking chair pieces, which sat in the spotlight of my graduating thesis sculpture exhibition. I couldn't be more proud.

Upon graduation, I had moved in with my then boyfriend's family in Long Island, New York. I'm from Queens, so it wasn't so far from my family but it was at least an hour's drive. They were very generous to let me move in with my 3D printer, so I thrifted a perfect little work table, and set up in my family "in-law's" dining room corner. I even had a fabric drop cloth to cover the unsightly mechanical device during Easter and Christmas dinners. I was entirely insecure about my very large, and invasive hobby. It left scraps in the carpet that I was very aware of. It made bleeps and bloops during their TV programs. It even felt wrong when I wanted to tinker with it that my back was to the room, and it felt like I was being watched. The family was very, very kind, and assured me there was no problem despite my anxiety.

After my rocking chair did a short tour around, exhibiting in front of my local community of colleagues, I had brought it home to that Long Island house. It was pretty fragile because I had to sacrifice infill density for build time, to finish in time for my exhibiting thesis. Since it was so fragile, stood 48" tall, and completely useless in all but my own nostalgic reasons, I had to destroy it.

The rocking chair was made of 43 pieces, welded together with joinery and hot glue. It was printed in PLA, so I felt peace in knowing the biodegradability was far beyond consumer plastics. We took a baseball bat to it in the backyard and had a great time beating it to scrap. I understood the sensitivity of intellectual property and took it upon myself to claim this worthy of confidential destruction. Despite my prideful sacrifice, I realized I created a whole new problem - there was plastic all over the backyard lawn and we all feared the dog or other wildlife would consume it. We cleaned it all up, and I was very embarrassed.

Moving the printer out again

Fast forward to moving back home to my family's home, when this relationship stopped working out. My first instinct was to set ol' TAZ up in my bedroom where my space was my own, and it would bother nobody. I quickly learned a few lessons there. First, earplugs are not uncomfortable to sleep with, but not great. Second, even with PLA being non-toxic, I did not enjoy spending that much time inhaling the scent of maple syrup-y plastic. And lastly, the song of the steppers travels through walls, especially in a home with hardwood flooring and DIY'd renovations. My dad insisted I move my printer down to the basement, where it was humid, far away from me, dark, and right below all of the bedrooms. If it was to truly be considered out of the way, it had to be in the laundry room, which smelled of mildew and bleach. Once again, the little TAZ that could and I were forced to retreat and hide, rather be on display.

Fast, fast forward to present day - My father just sold that house. He closed at a very generous sale price because well, housing market. With that money he went and found himself a lovely co-op on the water where he feels good to retire. I on the other hand, am just starting to really live as a full adult. Since the last time my 3D printer was relocated, I stopped using it entirely because I got a wonderful job surrounded by state of the art equipment and can print any time I like. My TAZ 5 sat in my dad's basement until the day we cleared it out completely. At this point, I wasn't even sure I wanted it. Everywhere I went it only felt like a burden. For myself, and others. It takes up a lot of space, makes a lot of noise, and I lost my luster for it.

I never forgot how great the Lulzbot TAZ 5 was as a machine, despite having used Makerbots, TAZ 6, TAZ Mini, PrintrBot, Monoprice, Ultimaker, Fortus, and BigRep. Each machine with it's unique and lovable features, but here's a secret - the TAZ5 was my phone unlock password for a long, long time. It's like the one that got away, except in nerdy tech talk. I always had a place in my heart that wanted to set my guy back up and get it whirring. Despite all of the burden that my anxiety placed on it, I want to tinker again.

My favorite thing about the TAZ 5 in particular, is that it's got very few bells and whistles. Not quite like the early days of laser cut assembling kits, but the precursor to automated leveling and mass produced parts. If I could compare it to fixing a car, this machine was always on a jacks in my garage. Not because it was broken, but because it was so much fun. I love the tinkering as much as the printing. I love when things go wrong as much as when they went perfectly. Ultimately, I really, really love my TAZ 5 in particular.

My current workspace, with TAZ printing out a new spool mount because I threw away the original

So why did I decide to get rid of it? Because it was a burden on others. Why did I decide to keep it? Because it freed me of the anxieties that caused me to worry about burdens at all. It's a visceral loop of imposter syndrome and over apologizing. I am so grateful for the privilege to even have a 3D printer available to me, let alone space to use it. I just got it up and running in my Brooklyn apartment, and I can tell that in my fit of anxiety and rage, I dismantled some components incorrectly. Lucky for me, this means I get to jack it up and get working on it again. In the time I wrote this blog post, I used some zip ties and a chopstick as a spool holder and printed the spool holder from the Lulzbot printed part directory, as if I needed another reason to love it. :)

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