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I'm building a 3D printer and I've been looking around for materials suitable to make the frame.

I have occasional access to a laser cutter which I could use to manufacture a ply box-type (UltiMaker) enclosure, but I like the ease of adjustment provided by the T-slot beam kits.

I don't have any metal-cutting machine tools. Can aluminium beam be cut by hand with a hacksaw to a good degree of accuracy? How does one finish the cut end?

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Aluminum of almost every grade is very easy to cut with a hacksaw. I would suggest to mark clearly the cut line and to wrap masking tape at the edge of the cut. Consider to allow for about 2-3 millimeters (1/16") extra material for final finishing. Cut across the line, rotate the part ninety degrees and cut again. Once you have the guide cuts in place, you should be able to manage a square cut by following those guides

You will want to have a clamping mechanism available, such as a vise or workbench type device.

After the cut is done, use a sharp file to make final adjustments to the length and appearance. Push the file, do not drag it backwards. Push forward, lift away from the work piece as you return, then push again. Pick up a file card, which is a fine metal-tooth brush used to clear the teeth of the file.

It is very easy to remove material with a hand file, perhaps three or four strokes to remove 1/16".

Your accuracy will depend on the measurement of the lines you create and how carefully you file to the edge of those lines.

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    $\begingroup$ You might also consider a miter box. I've used one for cutting Al extrusion angles and it works pretty well even with a hacksaw. $\endgroup$ – Adam Mar 27 '16 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ I have a power miter saw and completely forgot that option or as you suggested, the manual-use miter box. Most carbide tip blades will cut aluminum as cleanly as a laser might. $\endgroup$ – fred_dot_u Mar 27 '16 at 23:07
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As an alternative solution, Misumi sells extrusions precision-cut to length for a very reasonable price. You'll get better quality ends and a more precisely square frame from Misumi than if you try to cut them yourself. The HFS-5 series of 2020 is perfect for 3D printers.

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I started to build with wood and then switched to T-extrusions -- very glad I switched. The aluminum is quite nice to work with. The extrusions are quite easy to cut, drill, file, etc. -- a hacksaw should be fine, though I often use a cutoff wheel on a "Rotozip" (basically an oversize Dremel).

Just a couple caveats:

  • Think about which extrusions need to be exactly the same length as which others, and use extra care on those. For example, you might have 2 or 4 supports with plates screwed into the ends, and the plates need to be parallel. You'll probably want to cut the supports all a hair long, then clamp them together and file them all at once.

  • Extrusions from different companies may differ slightly for the same nominal size. I found that the drop-in nuts that fit my first rails, didn't quite fit the additional ones I bought from another seller later. Also, the center core took a different tap size when tapping the ends.

  • Be sure to get at least some drop-in nuts. Plain square nuts are a little cheaper, but it's a pain to disassemble anything to get a nut in when you want to add a bracket or fan or cable guide or something later.

-s

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Misumi does provide a nice product but it's quite clear their business model is geared toward businesses and not the individual consumer.

The 2020 extrusion seems to be a bear to get parts for, specifically T-nuts and braces. Openbeam or Makerbeam might be better options and are readily available on Amazon for very decent prices.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Brad, and welcome to 3D Printing SE! I am not if I understand how this answers the OPs question. Could your please elaborate? $\endgroup$ – Tormod Haugene May 20 '16 at 10:32

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