3D Printing: Know your Hardware and Tools

This discussion has a more recent version.
edited June 2023 in 3D Printers

As more and more people are learning how simple it is to 3D print, they've been picking up printers. What some of those people aren't prepared for is the construction that is needed to get 3D printers up and running. While most of us have likely put together a desk or shelf, 3D printers come with their own set of, parts, tools, and intricacies that furniture may not have. And so, while we've previously dug deep into the Anatomy of a 3D printer, we never really looked at what goes into putting those pieces together. Today, we're rectifying that by discussing some of the tools and hardware that come with your new printer. Whether you're looking at an older model like the Ender 3 Pro which requires considerably more assembly, or a newer, less construction-intensive Ender 3 S1 PLUS, there are a few common parts you’ll come across.

The Tools

The picture to the left shows all of the parts that come with the newer Ender 3 S1 Plus. These are the tools and hardware you’ll need not only to assemble the printer, but to maintain it over time. Let’s take a deeper look at all of the parts.

Allen wrenches (pictured in the top right) are the primary tool used to assemble the printer. Most of the assembly you’ll be doing on newer printers includes attaching the upper x carriage to the base and tightening down four of the larger socket head screws. The wrenches in the lower right of the picture are used for tightening and loosening both the hotend and the pneumatic fittings for the Bowden tube. The small flat-head screwdriver next to these two wrenches can be used to remove some Philips and flat-head screws found around the machine, most notably if you need to swap out the thermistor on the hotend.

The blue-handled diagonal cutters are perhaps one of the most useful tools to receive in the pack. More often than not, I'll use them for unrelated projects and, as a result, find them missing when I need them for my printer. Normally in 3D printing, changing out filament requires a good clean end on the filament so it will feed easily. A 45-degree angle is preferred, as that will make it easier to feed into the hotend - hence the diagonal cutter. That said, ith direct drive hot ends, such as the one on the S1 Plus, it’s not as crucial to have it angled, but with older Bowden-style drive systems, it helps immensely to get it started through the extruder motor assembly.

The large spatula beside the diagonal cutters is often sent as a tool to help pry loose prints that have stuck fast to the bed. However, with a proper 1st layer and the increase of flexible sheets on 3D printers, these are not used nearly as often as they previously were. In fact, I regularly find that they make more of a mess of the bed than helpfully remove my print.

The wrench to the left of the spatula is used for tightening the eccentric nuts. These nuts are found on the wheels that ride in the extruded aluminum channels on the printer either for the bed, the x-axis movement, or the z-axis movement. If any of the axes are too tight or too loose, this wrench can help loosen them up.

Above this wrench is an acupuncture-style needle. While this is recommended for unclogging the hot end, I’ve yet to actually use one of these in any effort to unclog. I typically prefer to heat the hot end up to 220 degrees Celsius for PLA and then push some filament in and try to pull any clog back out that way.

Also pictured is a spare brass .4mm nozzle. This nozzle can be changed with the included single-sided flat wrench - normally 7mm.

Finally, you can see the SD card and SD card reader. Normally this will come with a copy of the manual, some initial test prints, and most likely a copy of the slicing program which can take your .stl models and turn them into the .gcode file that the machine can understand.

The Hardware

Along with all of the tools you’ll also receive a bag of machine screws. It’s important to know that machine screws and the construction-style screws you normally see are quite a bit different. Machine screws are intended to go into something that already has the threads to receive these screws, whereas construction fastener screws are meant to go into materials, which may have been pre-drilled, but do not have threads ready.

When putting your machine together, you may be asked to gruse something like an M5 x 45 Socket Head. While this seems complicated, it breaks down into fairly simple measurements and descriptors. The '5' in the M5 refers to the diameter of the shank of the screw. Similarly, the '45 'refers then to the length of the screw. 'Socket head' refers to the type/shape of the head of the screw. Socket head machine screws are very popular for building mechanical apparatuses. 'Socket head' refers to the type/shape of the head of the screw. Socket head machine screws are very popular for building mechanical apparatuses. So, with all that explained, this screw would have a 5mm diameter shank and a 45mm long length of thread with a socket head.

You may also see 'flat round head' screws as well. While this may seem like a contradiction, the underside of the head could be flat or tapered while the top of the head is what is round.

More often than not, when it comes to machine screws the associated tool to tighten or loosen them will be an Allen wrench. Occasionally you may need a Torx wrench, flathead screwdriver, or a Phillips screwdriver, but the benefits of the Allen wrench often outweigh the utility of other wrenches, as the Allen wrench can fit in tighter spaces and be torqued in different directions based on the wrench is oriented.

Extra Tools

While those are all the tools and hardware you may need to get a 3D printer up and running, there are a few additional tools that can help your prints shine. Kits like the AMX3d 25 Piece Kit comes with a wide range of finishing tools, like a file, hobby knife kit, and cutting mat. Tools such as these can be used to clean up your print, file down rough edges, and cut off small imperfections, helping your print look exactly like it does in your mind. There are even some all-around tools, like needle nose pliers and tweezers, to help keep your printer running at optimal levels (and tidy up those small bits of filament that fall in the cracks).

With all this in mind, we hope that the next time you start assembling a 3D printer, you’re better prepared to know what to recognize and use all of the tools and hardware! Of course, if you have other questions or tips for 3D printer enthusiasts, leave a comment below!

Looking for more information on 3D printing? We’ve got a 3D Printer section of the community, as well as plenty of guides and tips like 3D Printing with ResinSetting Up Your Printer with the Torture Toaster, and How to Choose a 3D Printer! And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to post a new discussion and the Community will be happy to help!


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