Having a 3D printer your your offices has it’s advantages. First and foremost, it allows one to attempt some pretty impressive projects. Print submissions have been a little light lately, so I have spent the last several weeks working on something fun.

In November of 2015, Bethesda Game Studios released Fallout 4. I have always been a fan of the series and convinced my wife that I needed a Playstation 4 just for this game. Needless to say, my wish was granted and I spent the next several month’s battling it out in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic Boston.

One of the many iconic themes of the game series is that of your Pip-Boy, a device that reminds me of what an Apple Watch might have looked like if they pioneered the technology in the 1950’s. The device acts as your game menu, allowing one to manage inventory, heal wounds and listen the the radio.

After finishing the game, I thought how cool it would be to make a Pip-Boy on the library 3D printer, and thus my journey began. Luck for me, and you as well, there are a plethora of free pre-designed 3D models online. In my case, I was able to find a model of the exact Pip-Boy from Fallout 4 already for 3D printing with instructions on assembly.

The project began more as a test of our printer’s capabilities and therefore I neglected to take any pictures of the assembly process. The results went far beyond my expectations.

First, I started by printing the two semi-circular housing for the model, both in ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) with layers at 200 microns in thickness (0.2 mm). These parts were bigger than out printer is capable than printing, but the model was also designed to allow the larger parts to be printed in pieces and then glued together. After printing these parts, I was able to use regular Testors model glue to secure the pieces together.

The two halves turned out well, however this left a slight gap between the individual pieces, which should ideally be one large piece. After searching, I decided to try Plastic Wood which is available at hardware stores. It is intended as a durable wood filler that can be sanded, drilled, filed, etc… This worked well to seal the gaps and once it dried I was able to smooth them out as best as I could.

Sanding the model with a fine grit sanding block gave the smooth model enough texture for bonding to paint. I choose to utilize Rust-Oleum spray paint as they have a wide variety of colors, many of which are able to bond to plastic. I choose a matte nutmeg color as it closely resembled the color in the game. After two coats of paint, I once again lightly sanded the pieces to wear away a bit of the paint to give them a worn out look (this is the apocalypse, after all).

Next came several extra pieces with were to be glued to the larger pieces, which I went through the same steps to finish and then attach them with model glue. When assembling the clasp that secures the two pieces when wearing on ones arm, I had to sand and file the pieces to a certain tolerance so they would not be too loose or too tight. A few chop stick wood dowels cut into pieces worked very well as hinge pins.

The top section of the device is suppose to be a cassette deck that opens and closes. The pieces, like with the clasp, had to be refined to fit together and were held together with printed ABS pins. Attaching it to the main model required the use of rubber bands to allow it to spring open when a button is pressed. Adding a spring to the internal mechanism allows the button to be pressed and then released with the pin returning to the closed position.

The device in the game has a screen on it for you to interact with and the model I downloaded is intended to put your smartphone inside and run a Fallout app, this giving the appearance of a real Pip-Boy. I am not an owner of a smartphone, so I found and image of the “status” screen and printed it on a transparency. Adding a piece of white card-stock behind it gives the illusion of looking at a tablet’s screen when inserted into the model.

The entire project was very fun to work on and reminded me of a time when I had more time and patience to put together plastic model kits. I have more ideas in mind and hope that you, too, will consider the possibilities with using a 3D printer and your imagination.


Nick O'Neal is the Director of Technology & Online Services for the Kirkwood Public Library. He has been with the library since July 2012. He enjoys playing video games, listening to Classic Rock, and watching movies. His favorite authors include Douglas Adams, Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler.