What I Learned From Building a 3D Printer at 15


What the printer looks like presently.

Back in the beginning of 2014 during my grade 10 year, my brother Liam and I assembled a 3D printer. In January, one of our teachers Mr. Sarte bought a 3D printer that he was allowing the school to use. He didn’t have the time to build it himself, so he decided to let students assemble it as an Independent Directed Study (IDS). Fortunately for Liam and I, he asked us if we would like to do it.

At first we hesitated—we thought that it was out of our league, but we couldn’t resist. In the spring of 2014 we started watching the assembly videos on YouTube. The problem was, the videos weren’t very good at explaining what to do. It didn’t really help that there wasn’t any audio to them (they’ve since been improved immensely and audio has been added). Luckily though, we found a forum for this printer where people posted questions and problems and could offer solutions when they could.

After we finished watching the videos (and we knew every detail), we were ready to start. We began by opening up all the boxes, checking all the parts, and taking pictures of them. I would like to add that this is very difficult to do when you’re super excited. After taking pictures of all the parts like the paparazzi, we actually started building the printer. All in all it took us about 6-7 months to build it, and fortunately Mr. Sarte was nice enough to let us take it home over the summer to work on. By the end of that summer we had spend over 200 hours on the machine and barely had it working.

The most memorable part of that experience wasn’t opening the boxes or actually putting it together, it was the first time we turned it on. We had it all set up on a table and plugged into a power bar so that we could cut the power if something went wrong. Our teacher was there and it was just an amazing moment—all of those many hours we had been working on it had let up to that point. Finally the moment of truth came when Liam hit the red switch and we finally heard it go “click”. Suddenly, the switch started sparking. 


This picture is of the LCD after we got the printer working.

Surprised by this unexpected event, I cut the power to the machine.

We examined all the parts of the machine to make sure that nothing was damaged and figured out that one of the wires wasn’t properly soldered to the switch. After fixing that, we tried turning it on again, and it finally worked! There were still many bugs that we had to sort out, but it worked! It was so exciting. This was the moment to celebrate—we didn’t break any of the electrical parts and nobody got hurt, so it was great.

Upon reflection of that moment, I’ve learned counter to what I thought before, success isn’t linear, it’s something that you have to work at. I would describe it more like a squiggly line. One moment you’re on top of the world—all the pieces fit together perfectly, and you’re having a blast. The next thing you know you’re on your knees looking for a thermistor (a piece which looks like a really small LED used to detect the temperature) because it got bumped off the table and you’re just hoping someone didn’t accidentally step on it. Thinking back now, its blatantly obvious. I was so naive to think that success was such a simple thing to accomplish.

This is what success looks like.

This is what success looks like.

I’ve applied this lesson to many places in my life. Anywhere from my schoolwork and other projects, to my fitness goals. Its helped me with my fitness goals because I understand that I might fall off the wagon a few times, but that’s okay because in the end, I will get there.

 This experience of assembling a 3D printer didn’t just teach me technical things like how a 3D printer works, the things you can do with it, or even how to troubleshoot not just 3D printers. It taught what to how to act and what to expect when things go wrong in life, because success isn’t a straight line. Sometimes things go wrong and you have to find a way to deal with it. Whether it be on a project or in your social life.

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