Open Source – Adjustable Face Jack-O-Lantern (The Dial-O-Lantern)

Believe or not, my favorite 3D printing project is not my Library of Congress Ornament that won the White House 3D Printed Ornament Challenge.

My favorite project (so far— it tends to change each time I receive a new model) is my first moving parts project! One of the great things about 3D printing if you can have separate parts print in their respective spots. My first “moving parts” project was a little Jack-O-Lantern for my kids. With three sliding parts that print completely assembled, my boys can chose between three sets of eyes, three sets of noses, and three sets of mouths to configure what face they want. I’m totally in love with it… maybe even more so than my kids. : )

Because pictures don’t do it justice– a quick video demo! : )

I recently published an article on Instructables going over my design decisions and my modeling process in Blender.

And of course, if you don’t have a printer of your own and you covet a “Dial-O-Lantern” of your own– you can order a print from Shapeways.

January 21, 2015 at 2:10 pm 2 comments

December Excitement – 3D Printing, CBS, and the White House!

I had some extra excitement this holiday season. My 3D Printed Library of Congress Ornament was one of the winners of the first ever White House 3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge.

My ornament was one of five from the contest selected to be displayed in the East Wing of the White House and it’ll be part of a Smithsonian collection as well. I was thrilled to see a photo of my ornament on! And then as thrilled to see it on the front page of the Smithsonian 3D site.

Ornament on White House Web Site
My Ornament on WhiteHouse.Gov!!!

Ornament on Smithsonian 3D Site
My Ornament on the Smithsonian 3D Site!!!

I thought that would be the extent of the excitement, but I had no idea. The next week (December 8th) a crew from CBSNews came by our house to do an interview. The boys stayed home from daycare and after the interview the camera man even let Sagan see the camera. I also answered some questions for the Library of Congress for their blog and print magazine.

CBSNews - Sagan Holds Camera
Sagan Meets TV Camera

Excitement over, now, right? Nope! Then I received an exciting email from the White House. The Office of Science and Technology Policy to be more exact. They invited me and one guest to come and tour the White House and see all the decorations. After we passed all our background checks, I got to take that striking husband of mine on an epic date! I love impressing that man (he’s the whole reason I made a Library of Congress Ornament in the first place) and what better way than taking him to the White House? :) And better yet– they displayed the Library of Congress Ornament… oh, in the White House Library.

White House North Lawn
White House!!!

Vicky and White House Library
Getting Photographed with my Ornament in the White House Library

Vicky Pretending to Give a Press Conference
I Was So Busy Pretending to Give a Press Conference… I Almost Missed the First Dog in the Background!

Vicky and White House Library
My Special Guest in the White House Library

I made some modifications to the model so it would be printable in Shapeways Steel. The price point is high (over 70 USD!), so I thought it would be something only I would get, but almost immediately some anonymous stranger on the Internet ordered some. I do have to admit, the Nickel Polished Steel and Gold Plated Steel does look awfully nice. (The plastics look great too).

Library of Congress Ornament - Gold Plated Steel
Library of Congress Ornament Printed in Shapeways Gold Polished Steel

I ended up on Michelle Obama’s Instagram. My ornament made a cameo on The Today Show. Someone actually used my name as a hashtag. Get this– I went to an informational meeting for the Mini NOVA Maker Faire and the organizers there knew who *I* was! Crazy!

Library of Congress Ornament and Vicky on Michelle Obama's Instagram
Me on Michelle Obama’s Instagram

As the holidays neared, though, I hadn’t heard anything about that CBS segment, so I just assumed it got cut for other news. Then as we were sitting down to dinner on Christmas Eve, my brother got a call from my Dad’s old boss.

“I just saw your sister on TV.”

I had Facebook friends all over Virginia post that they had seen it and the CEO of the biggest customer I work for saw it in Morgantown, West Virginia. The CEO! He’s no Ryan Somma, but I like impressing him as well. :)

My family was able to catch a later showing of the segment on WUSA9, so I got to see my relatives see me on TV. I haven’t been able to find an online video, but I did find a writeup on the WUSA9 website.

Christmas Eve - Chris, Carolyn, and Clint Look at Library of Congress Ornament on TV
My Family Watching My Ornament on TV on Christmas Eve

So yeah. Exciting way to end 2014. Now we’ll see what 2015 brings! : )

January 5, 2015 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

A #vickysomma First

Well this is a first for me. Someone hash-tagged my name. : )

December 17, 2014 at 9:44 am 1 comment

Open Source – Library of Congress 3D Printed Ornament

My latest 3D printing project is a Christmas Ornament inspired by the Library of Congress. It is currently one of the 20 Finalists in the White House 3D Printed Ornament Design challenge. Since the challenge was hosted by Instructables, all my step by step instructions of how to model the ornament in Blender (and the downloadable .STL file) can be found up at Instructables.

Jefferson Reading Room and Silver Ornament
Inspiration and Rendered Ornament
Image on the left is by Carol M. Highsmith and in the Public Domain.

The ornament can also be printed at Shapeways.

November 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm 1 comment

Open Source: Making a School Bus Wine Stopper with Blender, Shapeways, and Niles Bottle Stoppers

My mother drove a school bus for 24 years. During the school year she called Friday and Saturday nights “Wine Nights” because she could drink a glass a wine and not have to worry about getting up obscenely early the next morning. Well, after 24 years, she retired, meaning every night could be a wine night!

To help celebrate, I wanted to get her a school bus wine stopper. Oddly enough, there seem to be an absence of products that combine “school bus driving” and “alcohol.” : ) Luckily, that’s exactly the niche 3D printing and Shapeways is for! I designed and 3D printed her a customized School Bus Wine Stopper.

Day of Making - Bus
From Model to Reality

I’m still new at 3D Modeling and Blender and by no means an expert.  But for what it is worth, here’s how I made my School Bus Wine Stopper a reality with Blender, Shapeways, and SS Niles Bottle Stoppers. Maybe something out there will be helpful to your projects!

Recommended Best Practice – Don’t Recreate the Wheel If You Don’t Need To
With 3D printing, you often pay by the volume for the material. With that in mind, was it worth it to me to pay more to print the stopper portion? Bottle stoppers on the internet were just a couple of dollars. It would cost me more to custom-print that portion. Purchasing a pre-made stopper also took some risk out of my process as that was one less piece I had to worry about sizing right and fitting with O-rings and all that. An added bonus is the only material (as of this post writing) at Shapeways that is “food-safe” is the ceramics and I knew I wanted my stopper to be in steel.

I purchased Bottle Stoppers from SS Niles Bottle Stoppers. It was already a proven product and manufactured in FDA-grade food-safe stainless steel. They have many different types of stoppers to choose from for different applications.  I used the 302 product which included a 3/8” stud.

Wine Stopper from Niles Bottle Stoppers
#302 from Niles Bottle Stoppers

Recommended Best Practice – Plan Ahead
It really really really helps to know what material you plan on printing in and what it’s limitations are, so you know your measurements from the get go. Shapeways has detailed design recommendations for each of its materials. For my mother’s wine stopper, I knew I wanted steel. I knew from the breastfeeding pendants that it feels solid and sturdy. I also knew the gold plated steel (which happens to be school-bus appropriate yellow) is gorgeous. A rigorous review of the steel materials properties page had me mentally poised that all my walls, all my engravings, etc would have to be 1 mm deep and wide. Knowing that from the very beginning was immensely helpful for the design.

I took measurements of existing wine stoppers and the stopper I ordered from Niles Bottle Stoppers so I knew my dimension of my bus right away. Although it is easy to scale things in Blender, I still recommend knowing your base object size right away. Here’s why– if you do all your engravings and additions and then you size your object up or down– you’re also mucking with the sizes of all your details. So if you had a compliant 1mm engravings and you size it down to 75%, suddenly, you have engravings that are now too short and you’ll have to fix them all.

Recommended Best Practice – Naming Your Objects
My day job is programming and I definitely know the benefits of naming your form elements. I found the same thing to be beneficial in modeling in Blender. I ended up with dozens of objects for my windows and doors and headlights. Keeping the default names of “Cube.001”, “Cube.002”, “Cube.003” would have been tedious to keep up with, so I made sure to give them more meaningful names.

Naming Objects
Naming My Objects!

Process – The Bus Base
I started with two “cubes” that I scaled to make the body of my bus. I selected them both and went to Object->Join to fuse them into a single object.

Joining Objects
Joining Objects

I wanted to round the corners, but I didn’t want to bevel every single edge, so I got to learn about setting the Bevel Weight for specific edges in order to control how each edge was going to be beveled.

Setting Bevel Weight
Setting Bevel Weight

And then I went under Modifiers and added a Bevel Modifier.

Bevel Operator
Bevel Operator

Process – Engraving Versus Embossing
With my details for the bus, I had a couple of choices, I could engrave my windows and doors into my bus base so they were set into the bus body, or I could raise them out of the bus base. At the time I chose engraving. Why? I’m a cheapskate. With the steel pricing at the time, the amount of material was the biggest factor in cost. Everything you engrave out of your design, that is less material and saves you money!

Process – Hollowing the Object
And speaking of saving on material cost, my bus is hollow underneath. There are different techniques to hollowing objects out. With this project, I simply made some smaller cubes and used the Boolean Modifier (more on that below) to subtract them from the bigger bus.

Bus Hollow Underneath - Save Money
Hollow Bus

Process – Boolean Modifier Crazy!!!
After that, pretty much of the rest of this project was all done through the Boolean Modifier. I did a LOT of subtracting of objects from each other. A lot of it.

The Boolean Modifier is pretty easy. You click on your Base Object and then you click on the Modifiers icon. You select Boolean. Then for Operation, most of what I did was Difference (Subtracting one object from another). Then you select your second object.

Boolean Modifier in Blender
Boolean Modifier!

Remember above when I recommended naming your objects? Here’s a situation where is it’s helpful. You aren’t sifting through dozens of “Cube.001”, “Cube.002”, “Cube.003”. Naming your objects makes it easy to pick the right one to subtract.

All my windows, doors, stop signs, were just outer objects with smaller, inner objects subtracted from them. For example, let’s take the school bus door. That was a big cube with two smaller cubes subtracted from it:

Making the Bus Door with the Boolean Difference Modifier
The School Bus Door is Just Cubes, Scaled and Subtracted From Each Other

So in the above photo, I start with three objects—a large rectangle and then two smaller ones. I use the Boolean modifier to “Subtract” the two smaller rectangles from the larger one and I end up with my school bus door.

With my end result intended to be steel, I made all my engraving lines 1mm thick and 1mm deep.

Does it look hard? Well, as proud as I was of my handiwork, it’s not hard. In fact, after I finished my modeling, I discovered this technique of making your object out of a bunch of little objects is prominent in a 3D printing tutorial for CHILDREN. CHILDREN! So if I can do it and children can do it, you can do it. : )

Quick Tip on Object Sizes
And a quick tip. I initially made this mistake and I’ve seen others on the Shapeways forums make the same miscalculation. When you are making your object sizes, it’s easy to think, “Oh, my minimum wall requirement is 1mm, so I want my outer object to be 1mm larger than my inner object.” That’s not necessarily the case because you are likely making more than one wall. Take, for example, my cylinder to hold on to the Wine Stopper stud. My outer cylinder has to actually be 2mm wider than my inner cylinder– because I’m going to have TWO walls. I want them both to be 1mm thick for steel.

Gotcha!  You Have To Account For TWO Walls
Gotcha! You Have to Account for TWO Walls

Continuing the Boolean Modifier craziness, once I made all my windows and doors and headlights and grill lines, I used the good ole Boolean Modifier again to subtract (aka engrave) those items from my base bus body.

And the same went for the text at the top of the bus.

Engraving Text with the Boolean Modifier
Getting Ready to Engrave My Text

Quick Tip With Engraving Text—I’ve found it to work better if I convert my text to mesh and then extrude it. The normals of the faces work out better for the Boolean Modifier Difference operation.

Process – Fixing Thin Walls
When I was ready to try my model out on Shapeways, I went to File->Export and saved it as an STL file. When I uploaded my .STL to Shapeways, however, their checks indicated that I had some thin walls with the “A” in my engraved text. I fixed that by manually moving vertices around and uploaded a new model.

Fixing Thin Walls in the A
Fixing the A

Math – Making the Stud
I’ve only been 3D modeling six months or so and I’m finding math to be quite valuable. A good example of this is fitting my bus on the stud for the Niles Bottle Stopper I purchased. The stud itself is 3/8” in diameter. I work in millimeters, so I just used Google to figure out the conversion.

Math - Converting Inches to Millimeters (Thanks Google)
Converting Inches to Millimeters, Thanks Google!

So basically what I wanted was a nice little cylinder to fit over that stud. If I was going to error, I would want my hole to be TOO big. I could always fill it with adhesive or Gorilla Glue. I didn’t really want my hole to be too small and put myself in a situation where I would have to drill it (or rather ask my husband to drill it) to make it fit.

Now, looking at the material page on Shapeways, I noted steel does have a margin of error.

Margin of Error for the Shapeways Steel
Steel’s Margin of Error

3/8″ == 9.525 millimeters. To calculate the margin of error, I multiplied that by 0.01 (1%) and added 0.1 to it (per their accuracy statement). Since there would be TWO walls (one of each side of the cylinder) that could affect my fit, I multiplied that by 2.

The meant I would probably want to increase my cylinder opening by 0.3905 mm to account for possible margin of error. I went ahead and rounded up to 0.5mm just to be safe (And again—I would rather my hole to be too big than two small)

MATH!  Calculating my Cylinder Diameter
Behind the Scenes Glimpse of my Notes

I decided my hole would be 10.025. So my inner cylinder had a diameter of 10.025. I wanted my walls to be 1mm thick, so I made my Outer Cylinder 12.025 in diameter (remember there are two walls). Then using, you’ve guessed it, the Boolean Modifier, I subtracted the inner cylinder from the outer one.

Outer and Inner Diameters
Outer and Inner Diameters

So get this—either I had beginner’s luck or my math was solid. My steel school bus arrived and the stud attachment was PERFECT. I had to tap it gently with a hammer to place it on the bottle stopper stud and there it has stayed nice and snug. No adhesive necessary! Score!

Note: If you are modeling for Niles Bottle Stopper #302 and you plan to print in the Strong and Flexible plastic, you may want to choose different diameters. I’ve found the plastic to fit looser and require glue.

Prototyping and End Product
Before diving into the more expensive steel, I did print a version of the School Bus in cheap (and fast) White and Strong Plastic. It looked great (other than I shorted my Mom’s service years by 1), so I changed “23” to “24” and ordered a version in Gold Plated Steel. It arrived just in time for my Mom’s last day of school!!!

3D Printing - Prototype Wine Topper School Bus Wine Stopper - Back, Stop Sign Side and Engraving

Prototype and Final Product

And the end product was a hit! I think I got myself one notch closer to being my Mom’s favorite child. : )

School Bus Wine Stopper with Wine
School Bus Wine Stopper

And if you happen to covet a School Bus Wine Stopper of your own, you can order one to be printed from Shapeways (I have the Personalize option turned on too). Also, I’m a big believer in Creative Commons, so feel free to download the model for your own projects. Just don’t forget that Attribution clause! :)

Happy Modeling!

October 14, 2014 at 10:42 am 2 comments

An Application of Autotomy

Here’s an amusing stock photo captioned by the “It’s Like They Know Us” Tumblr Blog.

I’m getting so much work done. Toddlers are easy.

For those of you with computers and without small children, it’s funny because it’s not true. My children, in particular, have a keen sense of when I’m working on something really important on the computer. They will both drop everything and approach my machine, sticky fingers widespread.

Autotomy - Me Spass Me Want to Delete Production Data
Me Spaz. Me Want to Delete Production Data

When I see them tettering my way, know what the first thing I do is? I quickly unplug my USB mouse. While they are distracted moving that around and doing futile clicks, I have just enough time to sign out of the production database server, save important documents, or move the laptop to a higher elevation. By the time they realize the mouse isn’t doing anything, the laptop (and all my production data!) are safe.

Autotomy - Autotomy in Action
Distracted by USB Mouse

I was enacting that one day and I realized I’m wasn’t particularly inventive. I was employing the exact same defense mechanism salamanders and seemingly other “lower” creatures have used for millions of years.


I drop the USB mouse to distract the predator. The salamander drops its tail. : )

Salamander Dropping Tail (Photo by Gary Nafis of California Herps)
Distracted Modern Day Predator

September 19, 2014 at 10:19 am 1 comment

The Fussypants Song

Like all toddlers, my oldest son has his fair share of emotional moments. And like a lot of mothers, I often find myself perusing various “Mommy Blogs” on the Internet. Somewhere along the line, I read an article (whose author completely alludes me at the moment) that talked about how kids need to feel safe to express their emotions–positive AND negative. When Sagan is upset, we often “take a lap.” One of us carries him in the circle through the rooms on our second floor. Inspired by that now nameless article, I started to sing a simple little song to the tune of Frère Jacques:

You’re my Sagan
You’re my Sagan
I love you
I love you
Even when you’re fussypants
Even when you’re fussypants
I love you
I love you

Well Sagan isn’t especially communicative when he’s upset. He would just sort of zone out and sniff, occassionally wiping his nose against my shoulder. Really, I didn’t think he even noticed the song. Then one day, he bumped his knee and I had the nerve to switch it up a bit and sing Elvis instead.

“No! no!” His crying intensified. “The fussypants song! I want the fussypants song.”

Now that’s our thing. When he’s upset, I’ll ask him, “Do you need a lap?”

He’ll nod.

“Do you need a song?”

He’ll nod.

“Which song?”

“Fussypants song.” he’ll croak out.

I’ll carry him a few laps and sing our song.

I have failed miserably at getting it on video, but Sagan has a stuffed monkey he occassionally plays with. He does baby stuff with it– puts on diapers, feeds it, etc. On a few occassions, I have spied Sagan hugging it and singing the Fussypants Song. It’s super adoreable, but super elusive. Everytime I bring the camera out, the moment subsides.

BUT– two weeks ago, I heard Sagan singing the Fussypants Song to Dyson and I did have success convincing Sagan to sing a few bars for the camera. Sagan’s version of the Fussypants song. Enjoy!

September 17, 2014 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

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