Happiness is a clean head

I’ve not posted much about 3D printing for a while, largely because I haven’t ben able to get my printer to make a decent print without a lot of fiddling. Prints were rough, structurally weak, and generally unsatisfactory. I Tried all sorts of kludgy fixes, but nothing seemed to work reliably. I was beginning to think that the filament I was using was beginning to degrade (some of it is a year or more old). Then I had a conversation with a colleague about the 3D printers (Ultimaker II’s) at work. They were suffering similar problems, and were returned to good operation by replacing the print heads. It turns out that with sufficient usage, the tiny hole in the hot squirty nozzle (that’s a technical term) becomes both worn and partially blocked with overcooked filament residue. It’s a bit like the virtually indestructible stuff which accumulates on the the tins in which you roast vegetables. You do roast vegetables, don’t you? This (blocked nozzles, not ineffectually-cleaned roasting tins) results in a number of problems:

  1. Low extrusion rates
  2. Filament feed skipping, because it can’t push the filament hard enough
  3. Erratic extrusion

At work, we’ve started to think of the print head (or at least the extrusion nozzle) as a consumable item, to be replaced routinely after an as-yet undetermined quantity of filament has been extruded.

Why, I thought, couldn’t I try this at home? No reason at all. Apart from anything else, hotend technology has improved since I bought mine. It seems the generally-accepted best DIY print head is the e3dv6. It’s cleverly designed to separate the hot part from the rest by as small a thermal bridge as possible, and also has a built-in fan to keep the cool part cool. And unlike my old hotend, it’s got a separately-replaceable nozzle. So if (when) it does clog or wear out, it will be cheap to replace.


I bought one. Naturally, it needed a new part printing to fit it on to Richmond, but that was easy. And guess what? It works brilliantly. In a stroke, I’m back to creating smooth, accurate prints. Indeed, I’m tempted to say that the quality is better than the J-Head generated when it was new. I’m really quite chuffed.

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