Only a few months ago, Phil Whitehead had never used a 3D printer. Now, he's teaching classes for children this summer at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center.
Whitehead, who has lived in Blair for 29 years, is a retired Black Hills Energy technical trainer. He also helps his wife, Janice, with her balloon business in which she teaches others to create fantasy flowers out of balloons.
But they found people were having problems stretching and twisting the balloon over wire. So they brainstormed a took they could make. Whitehead made the tool out of three pieces of acrylic, cutting it on a band saw, though it wasn't ideal.
Then, he learned the library had a laser engraver.
“We laid them into the laser and cut them and it was just phenomenal,” Whitehead said. “I thought it was just fantastic because that's what we were hoping for.”
In the process of using the laser engraver, Whitehead inquired about the 3D printers.
“I had heard about them, but hadn't done anything with them,” he said.
Library staff gave Whitehead a quick lesson on the machines.
“Then I went home and I started researching and digging deeper and deeper and deeper,” he said. “It didn't take long until the point I came in and I was telling them we could do this, and this and this.”
Librarian Gayle Roberts asked Whitehead if he would be interested in teaching others.
“That got me hooked,” he said.
Whitehead, also known as the Tinker Man, will be teaching 3D classes in June, for which participants must register. The children will learn computer aided design (CAD) and slicing.
“Slicing creates a code that the printer can read,” he said.
Class participants will learn how to make a name tag, ballpoint pen, rolling ruler and a balloon race car. If they complete all of the projects, Whitehead said they will be allowed to find something on one of the various 3D printing website to print, but they must modify it.
“It's easy to go out and get someone else's stuff and print it,” Whitehead said. “But to make it your own, you have to do a little bit of modification.”
Whitehead will also be available for walk-in help and instruction from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 6 to 8 p.m. Monday; and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays.