I am really not a “pimp my ride” kind of guy. On the contrary, I lean vastly more in the direction of form follows function and ornamentation is a crime in general, but somehow this project has me stretching my sensibilities in addition to my fabrication skills. This is a lengthy, navel gazing exploration of that process. You have been warned.
So when I put the bot back together after staining it, I had deeply mixed feelings about it. I wasn’t thrilled with the color or consistency of the stain, partially because I just left it on too long and partially because birch plywood just doesn’t take stain all that great as I had read. That was just a small part of the problem though which was more of a conceptual struggle for identity for this much belabored creature.
On the one hand, it’s just a problem of conflicting signals. It’s clearly handmade and kind of crafty looking (not necessarily in a good way) because of the unfinished edges of the birch plywood, abundance of wood screws and general shoddiness, but yet the finish was a kind of amateurish attempt at a fine furniture finish. In some ways, these things worked together to create a Heathkit vibe, but there was a deeper problem as well.
3d printers are not yet an item that we have a collective sense of. If you think of a TV, or a microwave or just a simple chair even, you immediately have a mental picture of what that is and then when you see one in real life you understand how the example you’re looking at diverges from the vague idea of a TV, a microwave or a chair that you have in your head. A chair can be neo-Victorian arts-and-crafts (maybe?) or a TV can have a 1950s vibe or be a sleek flat panel 21st century affair and we have some ability to understand what those things mean.
We don’t yet have a collective vision of what a 3d printer is though. For most folks it requires some explanation just to get across what the phrase “3d printer” means (I can’t wait until everyone calls them fabbers) so, the long and the short of it is that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing to this one; not knowing what it started out as or what it “should” be if that makes any sense.
This one is more complicated than that though. Whatever larval form of 3d printer ideal that RepRappers do have in their noggins (Prusa Mendel, Huxley, what-have-you) or maybe folks that have been obsessing over the more commercial models in magazines or on the internets might envision (Makerbot Replicator, Solidoodle, Cube, maybe even a standard Printrbot LC or Plus), Brook and Ben have twisted it significantly when they decided to make the printrbot GO fold up into a suitcase.
I think I know what a suitcase is (and I rather fancy them I might’ve mentioned) and I am beginning to have some idea of what a 3d printer is, and now the two ideas are mashed up in my head thanks to mad scientists Brook Drumm and Ben Heck.
So what do I do? I mash it up even further by forcing some degree of a steampunk (or at least retro-futurist?) aesthetic into the mix and find myself increasingly at a loss for meaning and context as I get closer to realizing the vision I have for it. This conflict actually left me profoundly insecure about the project (and a little depressed) for a few days when I finally just said, “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. We’re not there yet.”
It occurred to me that the presence of the 3d printed bits (knobs, handle and corner protectors) on the bot and also the (pretty blue) LCD panel had pulled it a little away from the steampunk aesthetic that I was going for and that I needed to add some more geegaws (that’s the technical term), possibly on the right side front panel that was completely empty and looking a little plain in comparison to the rather busy left panel.
I’m not a big fan of non-functional ornamentation, steampunk or otherwise, but I thought I just might be able to justify the inclusion of some old school weather instruments. One can conceive that temperature, humidity and barometric pressure have some impact on the output of a 3d printer at least (come on, work with me here). And believe me, I did also consider the inclusion of a compass and/or astrolabe until I reminded myself that this is not actually a device for travelling through space and time. Not physically anyway.
I purchased a cheap weather station from Amazon that included a barometer, thermometer and hygrometer and, although the mock-old-world aesthetic was sort of satisfactory, the size of the dials was much bigger than advertised and I feared that they might make the bot look cartoonish (if all three of them were mounted on the plain front panel of the bot, they’d take up the whole damn thing).
I sent those back and scoured e-Bay for something genuinely vintage at least (I wasn’t willing to spring for proper antiques and wouldn’t feel great about modifying something with any real years on it). I was able to find however this lovely yet not overly nice and hard-to-know-how-it-was-originally-intended-to-be-used weather station, described by the seller as “nautical”. Perfect.
So then all I had to do was sketch out some mounts in OpenSCAD, print them up, drill me some holes and mount the suckers.
And upon installing these arguably functional geegaws, I obtained some level of peace with this weird machine. It’s still not quite there yet as far as adding spoilers, ground effects and tinted windows goes, but it’s close enough so as to at least hint at what it wants to be.