3D Printing for the Woodshop

By Tom Howorth
Howorth Woodworks

Why would a woodworker need a 3D printer?  Those are only used for making plastic toys and cosplay props, right?  Well, there are many 3D prints that are useful to woodworkers, including tools, jigs, templates, and replacement parts.

At first, I was unsure how much I would use a 3D printer, so I purchased a cheap one.  As I found more and more uses, I eventually upgraded to a high-end machine I still use regularly.  It’s been incredibly helpful in creating highly specialized parts I can’t find anywhere else.  There is also a multitude of free models available online for download.  I won’t go into the different types of printers and filaments or how to use a printer here.  That information can be found elsewhere. Instead, I will give examples of how you can use 3D prints to aid your woodworking.

Look around your wood shop and see how many things you already own made of plastic. Many other objects are made from metal or wood but can also be made from plastic. If something breaks, it can be quickly and easily replaced. For someone just starting out in woodworking, printing a needed tool could allow you to have tools you could not afford.  

So, what kind of things can you make?  Here are just a few examples.

  • Jigs/templates:
    • Dovetail cutting jig
    • CNC hold downs
    • Vice soft jaws
    • Cordless battery holders
    • Radius guides
    • Routing templates
  • Tools:
    • Marking gauges
    • Glue bottle opener
    • Center finder
    • Center gauge 
    • Dust collector/vacuum adapters
    • Screw/Bolt sizers
    • Sanding sticks
  • Replacement parts:
    • Clamp pad replacements
    • Zero clearance inserts
    • Specialized custom parts


Are 3D printers hard to use?  They require computer access and familiarity with CAD/CAM software.  But you don’t have to be a complete tech nerd to use one.  Some printers are created to work right out of the box.  Buying them in kit form can be less expensive, but that requires several hours of assembly and test time.  It all depends on your appetite for digging into the nuts and bolts of the printer (literally).  Creating a print can be as simple as downloading a model, assigning parameters, and printing it.  All printers will require some calibration and maintenance, but If you can run a table saw, band saw, or router, you can run a 3D printer.


3D printers are controlled using a simple language called G-Code. G-code is the same language used to control laser engravers and CNC routers. Another benefit of understanding how a 3D printer works is an easier transition to other automated woodworking tools you may pick up.  You don’t need to know anything about the specifics of G-code. The G-code is written by the CAD/CAM program you’re using to model your part to be printed.  Sketchup and Fusion 360 are common CAD/CAM programs; once you are familiar with them, you can create your own custom designs. 


If you are interested in seeing how a 3D printer might benefit you, check out free online model repositories like thingiverse.com, printables.com, or others.  You can search on terms like “woodworking” or “tools” to narrow your browsing.  

There are tons of YouTube videos available that cover every aspect of 3D printing. Watching YouTube videos before purchasing will help you find the right 3D printer and speed up your learning curve with baseline knowledge of 3D printing. If you want to try out a printer for free, those can often be found at schools, libraries, or maker spaces. Finally, if you don’t know anyone with a printer, you likely know someone who knows someone with a printer, and they would probably be happy to show you the ropes. 

When I need to solve a problem in the shop now, I find myself looking for a solution that I can make rather than buy. So I plan to post more examples of the prints I find useful for woodworking here on Furnitology.  I hope that you find them helpful, too.  

I wish you luck if you choose to jump into the 3D printer game. It’s a lot of fun. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send them my way. 

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