A Prepper’s Argument for More American 3D Printers

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By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications and The Faithful Prepper

I’m looking at the events taking place in America, and I thoroughly believe that if more Americans had and were comfortable with the ins-and-outs of 3D printers, we could ride over a lot of the rough and bumpy roads that we’re dealing with. There is a lot of content out there about 3D-printed firearms, but you’d be limiting yourself dramatically if you only used them for that purpose.

Is a 3D printer a panacea? By no means. It’s a piece of equipment.

But it is capable of a lot. Following, find a few examples of ways they could be used.

Shortages are just one reason.

Let’s say that you work at a factory that needs a specific component to make an essential piece of equipment work. That component breaks, and because of trade embargoes with China (because they invade Taiwan), because of supply chain problems (because of strikes, gas prices, inflation, new geofence laws, etc.), and because of factory issues, nobody can get you that component anymore.

Or, at the least, that component now has a five-week waiting list, and you can’t not have that piece of equipment for five weeks.

A 3D printer could likely print out the part that’s needed, or at least a functional, short-term alternative, making it so that the factory could squeak by until the “real” component finally shows up.

What about inflation?

You’re having a harder and harder time buying the things that you need. Hyperinflation causes you to have to pay a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy the gear you need.

If more people knew a thing or two about 3D printers, though, they could likely print out exactly what they needed for pennies on the dollar.

These work great for hard-to-reach areas as well.

Consider a Hurricane Katrina or Balto-style event.

An isolated region is now in need of critical supplies, and traditional logistics are impossible. 3D printers in these areas could print out what is needed. If we lay aside all thoughts on whether paper masks work to protect you against viruses or not, we can find examples of this from 2020. Hospitals decided they needed PPE (and nasal swabs). They couldn’t get the PPE they wanted. 3D printers were used to print the PPE hospitals wanted.

The same could be done in a Balto event.

This little rural town in nowhere Idaho could print out the supplies they need. If somebody has hurt themselves in the middle of a blizzard and a splint is needed, a splint could be printed to the specific size requirements that person would need. If somebody’s prosthesis fails, another could be printed. This could be done on-site as well.

Think about what that would mean if the blizzard stopped all roads for several days.

3D printers could be huge for community preparedness as a result. Hospitals could print out much of the gear that they needed, hobby farmers could tend to injured animals, radios could be built (or fixed), and water filtration could be made easier.

There’s a lot of potential here.

3D printers save space.

Admittedly, if you need an airway passage, you need it now. You can’t tell that almost dead person that you’ll have what they need in five hours.

But there are a lot of other items that you don’t necessarily need exactly that minute that you may not want to store either. Perhaps you live in an apartment, and you don’t have the space or desire to have boxes full of stuff lying around everywhere. In such a case, a USB filled with Thingiverse files, a 3D printer, and filament would be all you would need to print whatever it was that you needed within a matter of hours.

Obviously, you would have to ensure that you had electricity for it all to work. This would not only be a space-saving measure, but could potentially increase your safety as well.

Think about 2020. It was unsafe to go outside in major cities because they were on fire due to protests. It was unsafe to go outside in many areas to get what you needed because you could be arrested simply for being out of your house.

If you had a 3D printer, there would be less need to leave the house to begin with. Should there be a Matt Damon Contagion event, you would be able to print out the supplies needed without having to go out to get them.

More 3D printers = more national resilience

Nations are comprised of individuals. The better-prepared individuals are, the better prepared a nation is. Are 3D printers a cure-all? By no means. But they are a potential part of the solution. These tools are becoming more and more affordable every day and simpler to use as well.

A lot has already been done to help people with these machines, and we’re really only looking at the tip of the iceberg with what these machines are capable of. These may be machines that could help you too.

What do you think? Do you agree? It’s impossible to argue that 3D printing is a gimmick – it’s here to stay – but have you seen stories in your community that have exhibited what I’m talking about above?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper,  An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

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Aden Tate

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  • When they take away your weapon, you could print out another one.
    That certainly takes more brains and money, which I don’t have, but it could be done.

    • Not to be an a$$hole but this is the exact type of comment that could get us in trouble. In Venezuela they even forbid the drones after the supposed killing attempt of Nicholas.
      We have to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention.

  • Appreciate this article. I would like to provide cou terpoint though: 3d printers require specific supplies that are not on every grocery shelf. I can’t always even find refill cartridges for my regular printer!!!! Prepping would require an individual to expend quite a bit to stock printer supplies/materials

    • You are correct about that…filament is the main consumable, and you have to keep it in somewhat temperature controlled conditions, high humidity messes with it’s properties and can cause printing problems….you can find ‘bundles’ of filament spools on sale from time to time, and certain types of filament cost more than others (you can get ABS plastic for example, the same material often .used in automobile interiors for example).

  • This 2018 article was about where to find the files so you could 3D print your own guns:


    There’s probably some much more recent information available.

    In the meantime here’s a recent story from just a couple of weeks ago. I dropped into a local pawn shop to get a dead watch battery changed out and noticed a huge collection of firearms on the shop’s back wall. I asked the owner if he had ever seen any 3D printed guns. He said yes … but he couldn’t deal with them in his shop. So I asked him why. His reply was that 3D guns don’t have serial numbers. Hmmm.

    The last time I visited my local city library I noticed they had a 3-D printer available for public use. That struck me as an ideal way to handle rare one-time projects that don’t justify buying and storing such 3D printing equipment.


  • Does anyone have anyone specific real-world, everyday-use examples of what items can be printed that would justify the expense of the printer and supplies? Firearm parts aside, other than a customized splint, most of the examples in the article seem commercial or rather vague.

    • How is it commercial? We’re not selling anything.

      There are many different components that can be made with a 3D printer. It depends upon your needs, but think about the odds and ends you need to buy sometimes when a belonging needs to be repaired. You can customize so many different things with a 3D printer! They’re really quite amazing.

    • While many TOP articles focus on frugality, this is more about adaptability IF you can afford the substantial startup cost. Some people are in the position of having plenty of money, but purchasing specific preps for every contingency is impractical. A 3D printer could be a real boon to them.

      • Something to keep in mind is that if you have several people who are willing to pool their $ and go in on a 3D printer together, that can make it cheaper for everyone involved. If you buy the parts, or buy a kit that includes all the parts, then put it together, you do save some money vs. buying a completely assembled printer.

      • Just imagine if you can print those small plugs that expand into the wall holes to secure screws. You won´t need a bag of each size, only a few rolls of filament properly stored. And a bunch of similar stuff. This tech has already reached a lower limit and has become very affordable though.

    • Here’s a few things I can think of off the top of my head that we have printed in our household…..the battery cover on a remote control (so you don’t have to buy a new complete remote), small irregularly shaped furniture parts, door stops, custom brackets, small shelving (some assembly required), special purpose fasteners, cable raceways (technology cables), motorcycle and car parts, small battery cases for carrying them with us when traveling, (AA, AAA, C, D), cases for Raspberry Pi computers, plastic clothing (yes, it does work for that), camera & telescope lens caps, ergonomic laptop stand for your desk, drone parts (not the electric motors, just the bodies, etc), small plastic waterproof storage cases sized exactly for storing certain items, artwork, puzzle boxes, coat hangar connectors, clips for holding snack food bags closed, slim credit card wallet, small human powered ‘squeeze’ drill, cell phone stand, baby groot ….and that’s all I can think of right now.

    • I have an older lawn mower that has a plastic gear connected to the starter motor. It often breaks and costs about $20 (last time I bought one was two years ago so the price is higher.) I have had to wait two to three weeks to get the part while the yard turned to jungle. I have been looking at 3D printers for a while now and will probably get myself one for my birthday.
      I have thrown away good appliances for want of a knob or other small plastic part. All good reasons to own one.

  • For simple repairs there is also a very cost effective system in the $20 to $25 range called Bondic that provide the UV light to quickly harden a very tough UV-sensitive adhesive that works on metals, plastics and whatnot. Here are some details:


    JB Weld is another product that works well to repair metals with a squeeze tube dispensed epoxy that hardens on its own:


    Of course neither of these product will create a new item from scratch (like 3D Printing can) even though they are highly useful for inexpensive repairs.


    • And of course you can use a 3D printer to print a mold which you then fill with JB Weld or the equivalent.

  • They are super expensive for those on fixed income or others working jobs that aren’t high paying. Someone could make this a business and people that need something made would pay someone for their service.

  • They are super expensive for those on fixed income or others working jobs that aren’t high paying. Someone could make this a business and people that need something made would pay someone for their service.

  • Could one use a 3D printer to make a 3D printer? Think of the personal financial implications. Why not do the same with 3D “cartridges?” I’m not trying to be contrary, but how far can one go with this technology?

    • Yes, you can do that…although if you only have a 3D printer that prints plastic parts, you will have to buy the metal and electronic based parts….we have a Prusa printer, and it comes with the 3D files for printing spare parts for the plastic parts – which by the way, some of them we had to print as part of the assembly process for the enclosure we made for it.

  • Just on a hunch I ran a search about finding 3D printer opportunities to rent — from as little as a week up to however long you might need. There were LOTS of search hits that were pulled up. The savings should be considerable in contrast to outright purchases.


    • Excellent point….we 3D print some things in exchange for the services of others who have skills we don’t, or tools we want to borrow instead of purchasing.

  • Several years ago I visited a hardware store in Texas and noticed a small machine tool called a Unimat (no longer made). It was expensive. I asked if they sold well. The store owner said they sold quickly. “What do they make with them?” “Guns.” Today similar machines can be bought at Harbor Freight for about $500. A quality American made machine can be bought at http://www.sherline.com .

    In comparison, a 3D printer that can print “low temperature” plastics—PLA and ABS—can be bought at Amazon.com for as little as $100 for a mini printer, less than $200 for a fairly good quality printer. As one goes up in quality, the price goes up, even into the thousands $. For most of the designs found on Thingiverse ( http://www.thingiverse.com ) the less than $200 printers will do the job.

    The big sticking point for me is learning the design software, then taking the time to make the prints. I tried the free version of Sketchup, fairly easy to learn but rather limited, FreeCad was used and I made several products, but because of its limitations, I am now learning Blender which is one of the most powerful modeling programs, but a challenge to learn. FreeCad is constantly improving, so now can model some of the things that it couldn’t model in the past.

    Another thing for me is that I don’t have a lot of room to print a lot of stuff, so most of the designs that I design and print are useful things. But I can see many of the designs on Thingiverse and other free design pages can be used for bartering. With the right plastics, it can be used even for light plumbing (sink drains), car parts, and other things that may not be available should the supply chain break down.

    Every skill that you learn expands your possibilities. 3D printing is a very powerful one.

    Now if you want to make guns ………

    • I´m going to be a Blender person too. Just watch a couple of basic videos and go slow. I found that learning only what I need is more practical. And don´t forget you can always ask to chatgpt: it will give you a very detailed answer on how to proceed!

  • Great article Aden!
    Being a CNCer myself (the parent technology of 3D printing), I have loved this since its very beginning as it will allow us essential independence of having to buy fragile, useless plastic stuff from overseas. You all know what I mean.
    And a CNC with some creativity and lots of time to invest in the learning curve is a GREAT machine for anyone willing to make stuff for their own.
    It´s great to see this tech barely scratches the surface of the potential applications, and the best is yet to come.

  • As a long time mec engineer and prototyper I have a few comments.

    I am always amazed when people start talking about 3D printers as if they magically make things. They are only as good as the inputs that you can get to print with. What happens if your 3D printer breaks down and needs parts to fix it.

    First of all 3D printers make plastic parts and are not very durable. Durable plastic parts are made mostly with plastics like delrin, acetal, and many are carbon fiber re enforced all of which 3D can not do. So gears and other stress parts can’t be printed. For instance a gun is not printed only some of the parts that are not stress inclined. The amount and kinds of plastic you would need to make many of the things that are listed by you all is not practical.

    Where I live, in the country, I know at least 5 guys that have full machine shops on their property, several with cnc operated equipment. There is almost nothing they couldn’t make. I can make almost anything in my small shop and I have a ton of raw materials to do it with. I know guys with 50 year old mill that still works like new. Even a small mill, lathe, drill press, grinding wheels, etc. all together cost less than a quality 3D printer. Then go to your local metal recycler and start buying chunks. All shapes and sizes of aluminum, brass, copper, steel, tube, pipe, bar, etc. I go the local recycle drop off which has a metals bin and you would not believe what you can find in those. Also get some machinable plastics, fairly cheap in surplus and scrap.

    As with all prepping the best prep you can do is to go meet some of your neighbors and find out what they have for skills and learn some yourself.

    Some like me find making things I need fun and fulfilling.

  • The author makes a lot of assumptions. I spent over 40 years in manufacturing, so I know stuff and I fix things as my tee shirt says.
    I bought my 3D printer last July. I have used it extensively. But that is only a small part of the picture. I have found only a few things on the various print file sites that I needed. Most of the time, I have to create the part using CAD solid modeling – a skill few people have. Then I had to overcome the steep learning curve of the 3D printing process. Designing a part for printing (additive manufacturing) is different than designing a part for machining, molding, casting, and other traditional manufacturing methods.

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