Case study: Artist 3D prints tiny hammers

High-tech toys and advanced manufacturing are making their way into our homes, and some artists have a thing or two to say about it. “I have immersed myself in the research, observation, and pensive commentary on our existing culture of consumption,” says Austin-based sculptor Nimer Aleck. His latest work — 3D-printed hammers — recently showed at the Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati and the Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn.

Nimer then explored what that might look like if a very specific hammer was made to perform a very specific job — subverting the object’s function.

Nimer uses freeware programs to design the components of his artwork: Autodesk’s Inventor Fusion mixed with Sketchup, as well as Rhino’s beta 3D software for Mac. Once he’s completed a design for the claw hammer head, he ports the drawing over to an STL file where it is mathematically sliced and downloaded to Solid Concepts, software of Solid Concepts Inc., Valencia, Calif. There it is double-checked using Solid Concepts’ viewing software, SolidView, before being downloaded for production.

The hammer files are imported into an EOS 270 DMLS machine that prints in 17-4 stainless steel. DMLS is a Direct Metal Laser Sintering process where parts are built using a high-performance, high-accuracy laser to sinter (heat and fuse) powdered metal into layers. Finished parts meet all the physical properties laid out by the original design, including dimensional tolerances and overall appearance. Tolerances are ±0.005-in. or ±0.002-in. per in., whichever is greater.

Once parts are finished, Solid Concepts removes a significant amount of support structure (similar to gating for a metal casting). Then jewelry-grade polishers finish them. Nimer performs all the hand-crafted oak woodwork for the hammer handles in his shop. Everything is then polished to perfection and assembled for display. “At the end,” he said, “I have used a lot of high-tech machines as well as old world handcraft to make an absurdly simple object.”

In the work Tiny Hammers 1-5, the largest hammer head is approximately 0.5-in. long and the smallest is 0.2-in. long. “Many absurd claw-hammer variations have come out of my studio in the last few years. The concept of creating these simple tools using one of the most advanced manufacturing methods available is ... entertaining,” Nimer says.

According to Nimer, this work focuses on understanding the way we perceive value — by using the iconography of the modern hammer to display and understand the way people appreciate value. “I chose materials and techniques that point out visual tools used by industry to alter our recognition of value — to expose the disconnect between perceived and tangible worth.”

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Elisabeth Eitel

Elisabeth is Senior Editor of Machine Design magazine. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Fenn College at Cleveland State University. Over the last decade, Elisabeth has worked as a...
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