3D printing and custom tools in entomology

I am excited about 3D printing. Here’s why:

Custom-printed pinning block

Custom-printed pinning block specifically for point-mounted insects

That’s a pinning block, an aid to pinning insects.  It’s a custom-designed one, however, not the standard sort you can buy at an entomology supply company.  This one is specifically built for point-mounted insects.  It has holes going down vertically through each of its three steps.  The upper step is for the insect itself: with the insect on the point, by pushing the pin down into one of the holes on that step, the insect is pushed up to a standard height on the pin.  The middle step is for a first label, and the bottom step is for a second label.

I’ve never been satisfied with standard pinning blocks, as they are built for larger insects (those not mounted on points). They have the hole in the exact middle of each step.  That is a very awkward place for point-mounted insects; for point-mounted insects, the holes should be near the edge, so that the end of the point (onto which the insect is glued) can hang over the edge with legs etc. dangling down.  Standard pinning blocks have the steps set too low for pointed insects as well, as they are designed to accommodate the substantial depth of a large insect, rather than the shallow depth of a small, point-mounted insects.   Given my dislike for standard pinning blocks, I’ve had to make crude versions myself, which in the past has been laborious.  Until now…

Last year Julia, my daughter, designed using AutoCAD software a 3D model of my ideal pinning block.  A few weeks ago I uploaded this model to the company Shapeways’s website, paid them a bit over $40, and received the beautiful, hard, and perfectly functional pinning block pictured above.  Well, it was perfectly functional after I drilled the holes a bit wider – I’ll update the 3D model for version 1.1 to have slightly wider holes.  I am completely delighted by this, and will order a few more (maybe in different colors!).  If anyone out there would like to obtain one of these pinning blocks, I will see about making the (version 1.1) model available.

The power of being able to design a product yourself to your specifications and have it appear in the mail is extraordinary.  Or, at least it was extraordinary – and I am delighted that it is becoming ordinary.

This entry was posted in Miscellany, Morphological Techniques and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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