Modular Just Got More Modular

People can actually 3D print keys, so I can’t show mine here. Sorry.

I’ve had this giant modular desk and cabinet set in my room ever since I was 12 or so. The walls and dividers are lined with rows of holes so you can choose what goes where.

I realized there’s a lot of vertical space along these walls, and then it hit me: I can 3D print fixtures and stick them in the spare mounting holes! The first thing I did was to make a key hook so I would know where my keys are.

Measurement and Design

I measured the holes to be about 0.195″ (~5.0 mm) in diameter and 1.266″ (~32) mm apart, then drafted up some test anchors at these dimensions to see how close the 3D printer could get. Unfortunately my cheap caliper is in inches while my 3D prints are in mm.

Great, now how do I get this out?

I printed single pegs to test the fit and found the required diameter to be 0.190″ (~4.8 mm) in order to fit snugly. I then printed a 2-peg wide piece to get the spacing and found my original measurement of 1.266″ was correct.

This works.

I designed the anchor and hook separately so that I could avoid having to print suspended material. Printing them as one piece would definitely create large overhangs that probably wouldn’t be possible for my printer to overcome. I designed them so that there would be a way to lay them flat so that there’d be no material suspended in thin air.

The ancient Egyptians built the Pyramids with the widest parts at the bottom. Imagine if they tried building them upside down! That’s why I wanted to avoid overhangs.


They're hi-fiving each other.

They’re hi-fiving each other.

I found that when printing a lone peg, the dimensions were generally intact. However, when printing more than one, the printer left strands of excess plastic as it completed a layer of one and moved to the next. These strands eventually formed into branches that adversely affect the dimensional accuracy.

On the anchor, the external feature dimensions such as the peg length, diameter, and the base width were accurate to 0.1 mm or less, but the inside hole measured 0.5 mm too narrow on all sides. This was the largest error I had seen so far and was quite surprising given that everything else was pretty good. Even that cube puzzle I printed earlier had interlocking pieces in several directions and they still all fit together.

I decided to address this by reducing the thickness of the hook that would attach to it. I needed to conduct more tests on internal cutouts and see what the errors are caused by, so for the time being I made the hook a little thinner to compensate. That’s the beauty of 3D printing: I can just change a number and print it again!


So modular, I've already moved it!

So modular, I’ve already moved it compared to the opening picture!

The pieces locked together easily and they’re pretty rigid for 3D printed parts. The assembly slid into the mounting holes with ease and now I have a cool new key hook that takes advantage of space I couldn’t use before! Next I’m planning to make a shelf, which will be challenging because the spacing across the columns of mounting holes is wider than my print volume (6″ max).

Here’s the link to my model files if you want to check them out. Stay tuned for more random things straight from my 3D printer!


THREE Dimensions! Ha! Ha! Ha!


So I got a 3D printer in late September, and I’m super excited! Now I can make keychains and random trinkets anytime I want.

Count with me everyone! 1 dimension! 2 dimensions! 3 DIMENSIONS! HA! HA! HA!


Diagram of FFF. Taken from

This model of 3D printer creates parts using the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) method. This is a very widespread process where basically thin strands of molten material are extruded to make layers which then build your part from the bottom up. Originally called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and invented by the co-founder of Stratasys Inc., S. Scott Crump, the FDM name is trademarked by Stratasys and actually must be called something else (like FFF) to avoid legal issues.

For a hobbyist, it’s a great way to make your ideas come to life at a reasonable cost, especially if you’re making custom-designed components for say electronics. It also works for printing puzzles and other neat things off the internet from websites like Thingiverse where you can download object files and making them yourself at home!

But… Guns???

3D printed gun Liberator. Taken from Forbes.

3D printed gun Liberator. Taken from Forbes.

This question gets asked a lot: can someone use a 3D printer to make weapons, firearms in particular, at home? The short answer: yes.

The long answer: Yes, but it’s not the safest nor most legal thing you could do. It has been done several times, including 2 high-profile designs: the Liberator and the Imura Revolver. The thing is however, when you fire a bullet you’ve got a sudden, intense explosion that is contained normally by steel and other metal components. Now you’re trying to do that with 3D printed plastic, which seems to break at much lower strains than typical injection molded parts. And that’s not all, the US Department of State is cracking down on the legality of these guns as well.

Should you 3D print a gun? I don’t recommend it. Would I 3D print a gun? No. 

My Printer

20 mm x 20 mm x 3 mm square: a Hello World for 3D printers.

I chose the Printrbot Simple Metal because it was reviewed as one of the best budget printers with good accuracy for under $1000. It has a 6″ x 6″ x 6″ print volume, which is a little small, and it prints PLA (polylactic acid). It can also later be upgraded with a heated bed to use ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) which is stronger but more difficult to print. It comes with an auto-levelling probe that measures the average distance from the extruder end to the print bed, making Z-axis calibration a breeze. Like most 3D printers you still need to put some sort of coating material on your print bed to protect it and to help the first layers of plastic stick to it. I use 8″ wide 3M 2090 blue painter’s tape, which I’ve read helps the plastic stick really well, sometimes almost too well.

It was pretty easy to get started printing with, although the Z-axis threaded rod is kind of bent near the top and the coupling came loose during shipping so I had to tighten it up. Other than that, I printed some flat squares and cubes and measured that it was accurate to 1/10th of a millimetre or less in X, Y, and Z (when printing things taller than say 3 mm high). It’s accurate enough for me. 

Okay, that was a low blow.

Due to its great accuracy and potential but small size, I’m going to name mine the Fullmetal Alchemist. The only thing it can’t do is bring its dead mom back to life.


One of the puzzle pieces, and my general printing settings in Cura.

One of the puzzle pieces, and my general printing settings in Cura.

So let’s say you’ve got a wonderful design in CAD. Now how do you get the printer to spit it out? There are programs that will “slice” your model or break it down into flat discrete layers that can be printed by the 3D printer. Luckily for me, Printrbot’s machines can work with Cura, a program developed by Ultimaker who also make their own printers. I haven’t tried other software yet, but Cura can slice and change all sorts of model settings on the fly, from fill volume (you normally print somewhat hollow to save material) to various ways of adding support material around or underneath the part for easier separation. It can even show you what the part will look like layer-by-layer, and also the toolpath that your extruder head will travel.

Precision Prints

Designed by Stewart Coffin.

Designed by Stewart Coffin, as seen on Instructables.

I wanted something fun to play with To test the capabilities and accuracy of the printer, I found an wooden interlocking cube puzzle on Instructables (the second one), drew up some parts in CAD, and printed them. I added some chamfers because I thought they looked cool for ease of assembly, and I was so excited I improperly dimensioned the first piece: I made the height 1.5 mm shorter than the X and Y dimensions.

“That doesn’t look square,” I thought. It wasn’t.

I only lost an hour on that first one, but I still keep the failed print as a reminder: if you’re going to arbitrarily pick a number for a dimension you’re going to reuse, remember it for more than 8 seconds before forgetting.  I probably got distracted by KanColle. It’s just that an event is coming up, and I was LSCing, and there’s a mini-event where you catch fish and stuff, and I need to level my cranes for their Kai Ni…

Here’s a video of it printing the ill-fated part above. There is some rapid zig-zagging motion when printing the top chamfers of these cubes, which I probably shouldn’t be making the printer do. The rapid motion has to do with the layer and print settings I used in Cura. Still working on figuring out why exactly it happens and how to avoid it, but for now enjoy!

But lo and behold, after the last print finished, I was able to solve the puzzle and fit the pieces together in minutes! Not that I spent hours trying to solve it before the last print was finished without success or anything. The cube measures about 52.5 mm in each direction. Thanks to the tolerances of the plastic prints, they stick together a lot better than the wood they were intended to be made of. Actually, they hold together a lot better than they should. Is this cheating? Tehe~ ♥

See the lightbox below for the photos:

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Ooarai Adventure: From Ships to Tanks

Translator’s note: Panzer vor means panzer vor.

Later in the month on August 22 we took a trip to the seaside town of Ooarai (大洗, “OH-a-rye”), a little over an hour northeast from Ueno Station in Tokyo. This town has become famous as the backdrop for the 2012 smash hit anime, Girls und Panzer, and it really showed! There were character cutouts, banners, and merchandise everywhere you went.

I’m super excited that 3 and a half years after watching the 1st finale, I’d be visiting the town where it all started! Panzer vor!

So What Is Girls und Panzer?

Team Ooarai on the right.

The premise of the show can be summed up in one sentence: high school girls driving WW2-era tanks for competitive sport. There’s a little more to it, such as how the live ammo used is designed to be 100% completely non-lethal; high schools are built on aircraft carriers; and driving tanks is seen as elegant and ladylike as men aren’t allowed to drive tanks. “Why,” you may ask? It’s really just a cute and fun sports story, but with a really unique sport.

Oh and “Panzer vor” means “Tanks forward” in German. Panzer literally means “armor”, but here means “tanks” in this context much like the English counterpart.

Getting There

By car, it’s a somewhat longer drive than from my hometown to Waterloo.

Ooarai is over 100 km from Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture to the northeast, and the nearest major station you can reach is Mito Station in Mito (水戸). To get to Mito Station, you can choose between two trains on the Joban Line (常磐線) from Ueno Station, either a 1-hour Limited Express (¥3800) or a 2-hour (~¥2200) trip. In our case, we took the Limited Express. For that, you need to reserve your tickets in advance. I’m pretty sure you would also need to reserve tickets for the 2-hour train, but I haven’t confirmed. If in doubt, go to the ticket office (see below)! 

Not a bullet, but still damn fast.

We went to one of the Japan Rail (JR) ticket offices in Ueno Station which are called “Midori no Madoguchi” (みどりの窓口, lit. “Green Window”) and bought our round-trip tickets a week ahead with no difficulty. The agents at the office said they can use a little English, but it’s best to bring a map and timetable anyway. Like most Japanese service counters, they spoke very clearly and slowly enough for a foreigner like me.

If you reserved a seat, your ticket will be for a specific seat in a specific car. If you can’t find your car or just want to make sure, there will be a JR employee somewhere on the platform walking around to assist in boarding or to answer any questions.

Kashima Rinkai Railway KiHa-6000 (Wikipedia)

Once you get to Mito, take the Kashima Rinkai Tetsudou (鹿島臨海鉄道) down to Ooarai Station. On this line you cannot use your Suica, Pasmo, JR Pass, or other electronic fares. You can buy a ticket from a machine at Mito Station by exiting then re-entering and then hand your ticket in at Ooarai Station. I also saw people transferring directly to the local train, then paying their fare when they got there. The train is a departure (haha) from more modern electric trains and is powered by a loud diesel engine. It may be 1 or 2 cars only, and looks kinda like the one on the right.

Like so.

It costs ¥320 one way and is three stops down: past Higashi Mito (東水戸), Tsunezumi (常澄), and then finally Ooarai (大洗). You’ll know you’re there when you see pictures of anime characters and tanks covering train cars and station pillars. 


Welcome to Ooarai!

Once you’re at Ooarai Station, you’ll be greeted by a big poster and the ticket window. If you transferred direct without buying a ticket, you have to line up and pay your fare; otherwise, just give your ticket to the guy standing at a collection box. As you enter the station lobby there is a small shop to the left where you can get some Garupan sweets and souvenirs.

Bus vor!

You can take one of the buses to the Resort Outlet malls where you can go shopping for clothes and goods. When we arrived however, the bus shown on the right said they weren’t actually going to the mall, and the only other bus seemed to be taking awhile. Everything in town is pretty close, so we decided to walk around instead. If you get the chance however, I recommend you take it!

It’s the Panzers’ idol, Naka-chan da yo~!

Just outside of the station, there’s an English map with many major spots. I then immediately noticed the Naka River that runs through the town on the far north side. As I briefly talked about in my post about Yokosuka, this is the same river that the IJN Sendai-class light cruiser Naka, a ship featured in KanColle, was named after! This trip was getting more fun by the second.

Still works!

We bought some snacks and a town guide at a nearby convenience store southwest of the station. At first I thought the guide was a generic magazine, but it turned out to also have maps and detailed information on where the anime’s scenes took place in town. Me being me, I only realized this after we got home and instead I relied on a map I snapped a picture of in the store. Whoops. 

I would be too.

A lot of the excitement is also due to the fact that a new movie is coming out this November! The owner of this bike is totally excited: 

In Town

We made our way to a main street and bought some goods at a clothing shop, including a polo with one of Team Ooarai’s tanks’ logos on it for ¥3500 (about $38 CAD). The lady in the store was very kind and even offered us some cola as a bonus! We were a little too hot and sweaty to politely refuse so we took them gratefully. They had some Garupan comic (manga) books, but apparently they were samples only. I asked where I could buy some and they phoned the nearby bookstore to see if they had any (of course they had loads). The lady drew us a map showing how to get there, in English to boot! We then went on our way, stopping to grab a snack or snap pictures. There were ink stamps that you could collect as you walked from shop to shop too.

Gotta stamp ’em all!

Snacking on dango with the best Team Ooarai girl, Hana.

A flower (hana) store featuring Hana (best Garupan).

I would totally be elated if a tank crashed through my room.

At the end of the street is a 3-way intersection and the ryokan Kappou Ryokan Sakanaya Honten, simply called Sakanaya-san by the locals. It’s famous for being the spot where a British Matilda tank crashed into in the show during a tank chase scene. The bookstore we were searching for was just opposite the ryokan. You can book a room online in English here; I haven’t tried it yet but definitely for next time!

Marine Tower

According to official data, that aircraft carrier in the picture is 7.6 km long. We didn’t see it that day.

As we walked northeast, we eventually reached the end of the shopping district which led into a residential area and the Ooarai Culture Center. From there we decided to have lunch at the Marine Tower, a large building with many windows which housed a souvenir shop, an observatory, and a Girls und Panzer cafe!

To ride the elevator to the cafe or observatory, you have to buy a ticket at the front door for about ¥600 (younger children are cheaper). The cafe on the 2nd floor serves a variety of drinks and comfort food all themed to characters from the show. Even the waitress was dressed up like Saori, another girl from the show and a member of Team Ooarai! (I felt it was a bit rude to ask for a photo at the time.)

Noel ordered Kay’s All-American Freedom Burger, or at least that’s what I called it. I had some delicious and tender pork curry katsu. And since I’m also a fan of the show’s British team’s commander Darjeeling, I absolutely had to have Darjeeling tea with my lunch.

Saunders Burger!

The Panzer IV, Ooarai’s Anglerfish Team tank.



An inflatable 88mm German tank shell and a Garupan drama CD playing in the background.


St. Gloriana’s represent.

The observation deck offers a great view of the sea and the town. Right beside the tower to the south, you can see the Resort Outlets Ooarai mall complex, a great shopping spot for clothes, goods, and snacks.

Team Ooarai on the bottom left.


A park space. It reads “Welcome OARAI.”

A cruise ship. Doesn’t seem to have an academy on it.

Garupan Gallery

The red championship flag and the best character once again.

Inside the mall, you’ll also find a Girls und Panzer gallery mini-museum that showcases the development process of the media franchise and promotional items. Admission is free, just walk in! There are also 2 computers where you can play the online game World of Tanks; the client has been modded to feature the characters’ voices and tanks.

Get it!?

One of my favourites in the gallery was the Win Cutlet: two pieces of deliciously breaded fried pork in the shape of a tank. It’s a really cute Japanese pun: “cutlet” (カツ) and the verb “to win” (勝つ) are both pronounced katsu. The girls from Team Ooarai eat this the night before big matches!

We looked for the restaurant featured in the show that serves the Win Cutlet, Cook Fan, but it turns out it’s south of Mito and way west of Oarai; Google Maps doesn’t show any public transit to anywhere near it and it’s an hour walk from Mito Station. Next time!

Tank it easy!

At the end of the gallery you’ll find a souvenir shop with items such as slippers, towels, fans, and even full-size inflatable tank shells (Noel grabbed one of those)! There are also detailed scale miniatures of scenes from the show; the one below is from the finale where Ooarai’s Leopon Team used their Tiger (P) to block the opponents’ reinforcements from where the commanders were dueling for the championship title. The protagonists won, but hey it was close.


Another notable attraction of the city are the three shrine gates or torii, a 25-minute walk from the mall. There is a bus you can take but it wasn’t running when we were there. The first one you’ll likely run into is Ichi-no-torii, which stands above and across a road at the intersection right beside the Ooarai Hotel. Another, Ni-no-torii, lies up the hill past the Ooarai Seaside Hotel (not to be confused with the Ooarai Hotel beside it).


Ichi-no-torii. Also featured in the anime.


Basically says “Do not fly drones near the seaside.”

Kamiiso-no-torii in the evening sun.

One of the most iconic places in Ooarai is the third torii, Kamiiso-no-torii, which lies on a small rock outcropping in the sea. You can see it by going down a small alleyway right across the above shrine gate, but you can also see it from an observation deck a little up the street. It is frequently battered by the waves and makes for great photos.

Going Home

We needed to be at Ooarai Station by 6:30 pm so we could catch the train back, eat dinner, then catch our Limited Express back to Ueno. We walked back through Ichi-no-torii and through the main street one more time, but as time went on it seemed we weren’t getting much closer. We checked our map, and it seemed we were a lot farther than we thought we were. No buses were running, and there wasn’t a taxi in sight.

So we sprinted like mad little foreigners through the residential streets, whizzing by the stores we passed by earlier that day. It should also be noted that we’re carrying maybe 20 pounds of manga and souvenirs. At one point we ran into a festival procession with a shrine-shaped float and a line of people playing music. We took some time to watch it pass by, then resumed our run to the station.




I actually forgot this was in the anime and so I didn’t line up the shot right.

We made it to the station with about 10 minutes to spare. We then took our trains back to Tokyo and concluded our pilgrimage to this very special town where we’ll be back again one day. On the right is a photo of a dolphin statue outside the station, as shown in the anime and as photographed by us.

On our next trip we’ll go to the aquarium, the beach, Cook Fan, and the ryokan. All in all this was an amazing trip, and I still smile ear to ear when I watch the anime and see the scenes we saw in person. Until next time, Panzer vor! 

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