July 28, 2015 | By Simon

If there’s one thing that can be learned from the general ‘Making’ and 3D printing community, it’s that anything can be modded to one’s particular liking.  For Boca Bearings, a Florida-based bearing company, this recently came in the form of a vintage toolbox that was outfitted with its very own portable and collapsible 3D printer.  

Built by designer Chad Bridgewater, the  ‘Toolbox 3D Printed’ project all started with a vintage Huot toolbox that was once used as a "Blower Repair Kit."

According to Bridgewater, the biggest difference between this particular toolbox and any other was that one of the main features of the existing box design included a fold-down - a feature that was vital for both viewing the 3D printer from all sides and allowing extra room for the actual 3D print bed.  

Starting with ‘mockups’ using existing 3D printed parts, Bridgewater built a series of rough prototypes that he used to help explore what would become the best and final execution.  

“I find it helpful to begin "mocking-up" a model, often using the parts I will be building with such as bearings, pulleys, guide rails, stepper motors, a hot end and spare 3D printed parts from past builds,” he explains.  

“For this build, I began with a piece of scrap ABS plastic cut down to the desired size (6" x 9") of my print bed. I simply position it throughout the toolbox and take some measurements to determine if everything will fit and how I will proceed. I determined that I would use the X and Y-axis to control the bed and the hot end would be controlled by the Z-axis. I created a crude model of the X and Y-axis by using parts I had lying around my studio. The ABS "bed" would be fitted with some linear bearings, precision cut drill rod and some parts from a bin of 3D prints from past builds so I can check the next set of components.”

Using the measurements based on his rough mock-up, Bridgewater then began the process of 3D modeling his working model using Rhino.  During this step, he also used the program to tighten the tolerances of his design.  

Once he had a final 3D model of the working assembly, Bridgewater then began the construction and fabrication stage of the project.  For this stage, the majority of the components for the 3D printer were made by hand and welded using measurements referenced from the Rhino model, or were 3D printed altogether using the actual CAD data and his shop’s MakerBot Replicator 2.  To ensure that the 3D prints were ready to be used as final, working parts, Bridgewater put them on the buffer and then cleaned them up with some dish soap and a toothbrush.  

At this point, the majority of the main fabrication is done.

In order to ensure that the printer would work reliably, Bridgewater put it under a demanding testing process.  It was also at this stage that he refined some of his original part designs including the decision to sandblast and powder coat some of the components.  Once all of the parts had been cleaned, he finalized the assembly by wiring all of the necessary components together including an Arduino.  

“Although the majority of the construction was complete, I still had to finalize some important details,” explained Bridgewater.  

“The end stops are mounted to aluminum brackets I constructed from more salvaged aluminum extrusion. For pieces like brackets, I normally skip the sketch pad and work directly in Rhino. Even though I will not use this file for any CNC processes, having it drawn up in the proper dimensions makes Rhino a great tool assist in manual layout and construction.”

Once these details were tended to, it was time to create the first test print.   

“I began with a 33mm cube to check if it was printing in the correct dimensions and to get an idea of how the surface quality was,” he said.   

“After printing a couple more objects such as a small cord clip and a skull ring, I tightened up some pulleys and belts. The cube on the right and the once stacked on top is the first print. The edges have small ridges that run down the entire face of the print and the surface has lines that seem slightly staggered on top one another.”

Like any other designer or engineer, Bridgewater is quick to admit that he will likely continue to refine the design and the 3D printer better and more reliable.


As it stands, the concept for a toolbox 3D printer is not only ingenious, but it is also expertly-executed in its current state.  As for what’s next in Bridgewater’s list of 3D printing projects, all we know is that it’s likely to be just as amazing as this portable toolbox.  For those who want to learn more about the build process, Bridgewater documented the build over on the Boca Bearings Workshop blog.    



Posted in 3D Printers



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