I have built my 2nd 3D printer. This time it is the FolgerTech FT-5. This printer is large (300x300x400mm) and with a modification or two, very solid. It took about 15 hours to build in it’s stock configuration. At $500 this printer is an excellent value however I definitely cannot recommend it to newbies. Like FolgerTech’s other printers, the build instructions area work-in-progress and since this printer is fairly new there is still a lot of work to be done.
- It’s an enormous printer for $500
- The structure is all aluminum 2020-based
- Linear rails are REALLY smooth compared to smooth rods and bearings
- Fixed gantry is far more stable than the moving Z axis and moving bed on an i3
- With some tweaking you can get absolutely awesome prints
- The 2020 structure means it easy to attach ‘stuff’ to it; cable guides, spool holders, bowden motors, camera mounts, etc.
- Melamine is used for most attachments. It’s too soft
- Instructions leave a bit to be desired
- Heated bed is unimpressive (even the new white version) – ABS will be a challenge
- Some parts are too cheap… in particular the X and Y-axis bearings
Building the machine was not too much of a challenge having built a smaller FDM printer in the past however without that previous experience it would have been far more difficult. In particular I encountered the following issues:
- Instructions often unclear on orientation. They do not include technical drawings but rather photos of the installation in-progress. Occasionally those photos are from an angle or of a quality that makes it difficult to figure out exactly how parts go together. For instance I was almost completely built before realizing that the mounting holes for the heated bed were not perfectly symmetrical. No mention of orientation at the time of installation and I had to disassemble a large part of the machine to flip the plate.
- Squaring and binding was a challenge. The sliding rails need to be perfectly square or else the bearings will bind. the threaded and smooth rods need to be perfectly parallel or the Z-axis will bind. Even minute changes from tightening the T-nuts is enough to throw everything off.
- The wiring instructions are mediocre. It seems there is a lot of evolution in this section of the document however when I assembled I had a slightly different part list (a few wires were pre-cut), didn’t care for the soldering/wiring of the power switch (use spade connectors instead), struggled with the instructions on combining the Y and Z motor wiring, and the little tiny cable chain was a pain to thread. In addition, the newer white bed is a SOLID chunk of aluminum and even my 30w soldering iron could not heat it fast enough. I had to resort to a butane torch/iron to heat the bed and then solder the joints. I would recommend installing connectors (I use JST for low power, XT for high power) on just about all wires. Really makes maintenance easier.
- The melamine parts are just plain bad. Melamine compresses like cardboard. Over time I’ve had parts loosen, holes expand, even parts that were destroyed under the pressure of their nuts and bolts. In a number of places the instructions call for driving a bolt so far into the melamine that the head is flush so another part can mount on top of it illustrating both poor design of the part as well as the softness of the melamine.
- Pull extra wires through the cable chain! The chain has small openings and it’s a pain to thread wires though. I designed an open-face version of the chain (as well as stock replacements) that makes it easy to replace wiring however it’s not as smooth as the injection molded stock chain. When you are building run extra wires through for part coolers, BL touch, or even an extra extruder if you think you might go that route.
Printing and Upgrades
The FT-5 is a standard Marlin based 3d-printer. Coming from a Marlin-based i3, everything was very familiar. The stock firmware worked well (v3 at the time of writing) and everything was reasonably tuned out of the box however I did make a couple notable adjustments. First, I turned off ‘Z_SAFE_HOMING’. This ‘feature’ disables homing the Z axis before X and Y have been homed (I supposed for the inexperienced that would home after a complete print?) and it centers the extruder before homing. It takes time, it’s confusing and I see no added benefit. Second, I have (and am) tweaking acceleration and jerk. While this printer is large and stable being a little more conservative with those settings can still lower ringing at higher speeds. I’m currently at 1200 accel and 10 jerk but those may be on the low side and will likely have changed by the time you read this. You should, of coursem, tune your extruder and stepper settings and voltages as soon as you have the thing set up.
Of course, being stock Marlin the standard slicers and controllers work with it (Slic3r, Cura, Simplify3D) and OctoPrint/OctoPi work out of the box as well. The firmware defaults to 250k baud so if you’re having connection issues, check that first.
All in all, the printer is very stable and accurate. The default mk8 extruder set up is decent and there’s a significant quality increase over the i3 even with an E3D v6 clone on the i3. I have since moved the E3D over to the FT5 and it’s remarkable. That does bring us to our first upgrade. Melamine is soft and compresses over time especially with the continuous pressure changes of a 3D printer. I started noticing random minor layer misalignments about a month in and could not find the cause. All belts were tight, the steppers didn’t seem to be skipping and it would seem to autocorrect itself every few layers. Turns out the X-carriage melamine compressed enough that there was horizontal play in the extruder. Tighten that up a bit and it was back to excellent. A second problem with the X-Carriage is the two melamine pieces that attach the carriage to the rail as well as to the cable chain are not properly counter sunk and I question their strength (being melamine). I designed a replacement X-Carriage (compatible with stock) and the printed versions have been printing perfectly.
In addition, during construction I had the melamine pieces that attached the X-rail to the Y-rail sliders. Those pieces were also not counter sunk and I quickly destroyed the vertical belt-attachment piece by overtightening its screw. I designed replacements for those parts including a 1-piece combination for each side as well. The other thing that is essential to getting decent print quality from just about any 3D printer is a part cooling fan. Some great designs that attach to the X-carriage are available. I’m using the fan and mount from this one. However once I get my Titan installed I’ll likely switch to this one or this very cool and very popular design.
As I have been tweaking speeds I did notice that the whole apparatus would shake a bit. Re-tightening the melamine every couple weeks would help but in the end I printer new top corner pieces to add some rigidity and added in aluminum corners on the rails that support the Y-axis. Those two rails seemed to be a bit of a weak spot as they are holding the Y-Rail and supporting the top of the Z-axis rods held together by nothing more than melamine.
A notorious problem with this printer (seriously, everyone seems to have this issue) is that the idler bearings are very cheap. They quickly started ‘crackling’ and binding. I picked up a couple spares from Folger however others have come up with better solutions with larger bearings that I will likely consider after my spares are used up.
The stock spool holder is kind of junk. It mounts to the side of the printer and feeds filament over the top which is ok. However the melamine and PVC contraption is awkward to put together and if you don’t angle it so that the filament slides out, filament spools with ribbing can get stick on the bolts holding the frame together. I lost a couple prints thinking I had a jam when it was the spool catching on those bolts. There are a top of spool holders. I’d recommend something top mounted like this and mounting it at or near the front of the printer otherwise the filament rubs against the cable chain. Otherwise consider a bowden tube to prevent any rubbing or catching.
The final big upgrade to my machine was the heated bed. Even the white ‘v2’ bed I received took quite a while to get up to 60 (my PETG/PLA temp) and would not hit 100+ for ABS. I ended up getting a 12v 280w silicone bed and a TriGorilla mosfet to control it (after quickly burning out the SSR on Folger’s page). This combination is wired into the stock PSU and working great! If you go this route I designed a simple case to house it.
At the end of the day, Folger is selling a pretty phenomenal printer at an incredible price. Even if you factor in the cost of upgrading the bed and adding an E3D v6 you’re still looking at $650 or so for a printer kit with the build volume and print quality of printers in the 2000-3000 range. The down side is you will need to know what you are doing to build it. You will need to know what you are doing to get the best prints out of it. You will need to know what you are doing to maintain it.
I certainly cannot recommend this printer to a first-time user who just wanted to plug in and print. I can barely recommend this printer so someone that is tech-savvy and wants to learn 3D printing (go with their i3 2020 kit). However, I can whole-heartedly recommend this kit to a seasoned 3D printing veteran looking to get the best quality at absolutely rock bottom prices and doesn’t mind turning a wrench now and then. In fact, even if you independently sourced parts for a CoreXY or similar design I doubt you could compete with the kit price. There is no better cost per quality/volume on the market today.
And time for some pictures.
Here’s what she looks like printing today:
And some of the prints from the beast: