Tools to Clean Up 3D Printed Parts

3D printers are a practical and fun invention and relatively affordable as some cost between $200 and $300 — not a bad place to start. 

The process is also known as additive manufacturing, meaning the object is created by adding material one layer at a time. Depending on the type of 3D printer, the materials readily available to print three-dimensional objects range from: PLA (polylactic acid), a type of thermoplastic; ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a thermoplastic polymer; nylon; and TPE (thermoplastic elastomer/urethane). 

These materials are heated to a melting point and extruded through a nozzle to print the designed object in evenly added layers. The nozzle can skip over areas easily and precisely, so printing details like openings in all imaginable shapes and possibly sizes is achievable. 

a group of multi-colored 3d printing filament
It is this process that enables us to create very intricate parts and designs that may not be made using traditional methods. However, due to the way the 3D printing process works, after the part is printed, it will need to be cleaned up — and for this, you’ll need the right tools.

There are a few things that your freshly printed part will need addressing: coarse texture, sprues and support material. 

Most parts will have a coarse texture that will require sanding to smooth out. There are techniques to reach various levels of smoothness. 

Support material is a term used to describe the framework printed around the design that prevents it from collapsing during the 3D printing process. It’s often brittle, with just enough material used to support and therefore easily removable, but still strong enough to support the object. This should be removed carefully and with the right tools.  Below is a list of tried and true ones to get you started on this step in the process.

Hobby knife — With the right blade, you can cut, trim, shave, carve and clean up excess support material. For an all-in-one option, check out the Craftsman Knife Set. It includes high quality, American-made blades and knife handles. 

See the Large Assortment of Excel Blades’ Hobby Knives

an excel blades flush cutterFlush Cutters — Also known as sprue cutter or side cutter, use this small and powerful tool to easily snip and closely trim off the bulk of the support material.

The sharp edges cleanly snip through the materials and the soft cushion grips reduce hand fatigue.

Files — Small, narrow and available in many shapes, files are ideal for cleaning up ridges, coarse texture and smoothing out surfaces. Our mini files are about 4” long, making them ideal for using on small objects. Round files have a pointed tapered tip and are cylindrical in shape. These are great for cleaning up and refining round openings. 

Hook Weeder — The curved shape and narrow point help reach the small areas and openings. Excel Blades’ version offers a grip-on handle for better control of the tool. The hook weeder tip is also removable and replaceable.

a green sanding stick

Sanding Sticks — These are perfect for sanding and smoothing small parts, details or objects. Use 600 or 800 grit sanding belts to remove coarse texture and prep for further polishing.

Our sanding sticks feature a spring-loaded mechanism so changing out the sanding belts is quick and easy!

Needle Nose Pliers — The long and narrow tips on these pliers help to get to those hard to reach places on larger 3D prints. 

a pair of excel blades tweezers

Tweezers — Used to get to the small areas to remove debris, the pointed tweezers help to reach very small areas where rogue debris might be stuck. Use the slanted tweezers for added control on intricate parts with deep-set details.

Check Out All the High-Quality 3D Printing Tools We Have to Offer

Awls — Used for scraping, debris retrieval and as picks, awls are great tools to have on hand for detailed work. Check out the retractable awls. The pointed tip stays inside the handle when not in use. It’s available in three tip sizes. 

Keeping your workspace clean, organized and table surface protected is a good habit. Use a large cutting mat like our 24”x36” version to work on all the trimming, filing and sanding. 

There are many techniques and other supplies used to perfect the newly printed object and the above tools are a great addition to your workspace and to get you started. Good luck!