Adventures in 3D Printing / by J. Logan Carey

This is more DIY project related than art related specifically, but I thought some people might enjoy this one.

So I like to occasionally browse the internet for vintage things that have to do with local stuff. Living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, there isn't anything quite as iconic as the See Rock City signs you can still see painted on old barns for miles in every direction and I came across this awesome sign that was formally a functional date keeper. Presumably, and let me know if anyone has more details about this one, it would have been hanging somewhere around Chattanooga in what I would guess was the 60s or 70s, very cool.


When I got it, it was pretty dirty and obviously the belts on the inside weren't being held in place anymore. I noticed it actually was two pieces, the front metal piece with the graphics could just slide up and off. I'm guessing whoever made these made a bunch of different versions for different businesses. 

Here's what was on the inside:


This was really good actually. The date belts were all still intact and with a light wash of warm soapy water they cleaned up very well. The yellowish tint comes from the sun-stained plastic covering the date windows in the front. It became clear that out of the four original spindles (my word, not sure if it's right) used to turn the day, date, and month, only one was complete and unbroken and two were completely missing. There are four holes in the side for the spindles to project out and then anyone could change the date just by spinning the appropriate spindle.

Here's the one good and one bad spindle:


Now this wasn't the biggest disappointment in the world. I figured I could probably tape the belts to the windows in the sign so at least it would appear functional. That's when my ever clever better half, Jacque Nodell, suggested we go to the Chattanooga Public Library. Not to research where to find replacement parts, who knows where you would find replacement date spinners for an advertisement sign from fifty-something years ago, but to check out the library's excellent fourth floor resources which include of all things, a set of 3D printers available to the public.

Now, I pretty much knew as much as anyone off the street about 3D printing. I knew it was cool, and looked complicated, that's about it. We decided to be totally honest with the fourth floor staff and explain how total beginners we were with this project. The staff was super helpful and guided us to a computer where in a few moments I had created a free account on TinkerCAD. Now, while I have a technology background as that's what I do for my day job, I'll say the interface is extremely user-friendly. If you have any interest whatsoever in getting into 3D design, it's worth making a free account and playing with the tools.

After about half an hour spent going through the online tutorial, I decided to give it a try and see if I could mock-up a prototype for the replacement parts I needed. Below is the result:


Not too bad if I don't say so myself. The library staff was duly impressed I was able to learn the software and complete a design in about an hour. Proud nerd is proud. 

After a few test pieces and learning some tricks with the FlashForge 3D printer the library uses like spraying a layer of hairspray on the printing deck so the first layer of plastic from the extruder sticks down enough to not go flying as it moves back and forth, we were able to get pieces that very closely resembled the originals.


Looks aside, the real test was installing them and seeing if they would hold the date belts in place and turn them as well.

Check out the result:


Everything held together fine and turned like a dream! The amount of plastic we used from the library cost us about $1.

After cleaning up the front face of the sign with some more warm soapy water and sliding it back into place, here's the end result we now have hanging on our wall:


We chose to leave it on May 20th as that's our anniversary which fit nicely with the whole "Make a Date" graphics on the front. 

I am super happy with how this project turned out and will love looking at this piece on our wall for years to come. The whole thing has made me start looking around our place for other things we could 3D print to fix or organize better. The library of already created designs in TinkerCAD is really worth a look, people have already uploaded thousands of ideas for things from Apple Pencil holders to gaming dice. 

Thanks for reading!