For the last couple of months, I’ve had the chance to use two different versions of the E3D all-metal hotend on two different printers. I’ve been running an E3Dv5 on my Makerfarm Prusa i3, and an E3Dv4 came with my MendelMax 2.0.
Both of these hotends, of course, are all-metal. If you’re interested, you can read some thoughts on all-metal hotends here.
To cut right to the chase, the E3D hotends do pretty much exactly what they claim to do, and do it very well. Since I started running them, I’ve printed in ABS, PLA, Laywood, and polycarbonate, and I have yet to experience a single jam.
Right out of the box, the E3Dv5 shows clearly that it means business. The heat sink is large and beautifully machined, with a ridiculous amount of visible surface area. Just looking at it makes me feel like I need to put on a sweater.
Also in the box is a small length of high-temperature insulated wire, rather than the traditional PTFE sleeving used to insulate the thermistor’s leads. I admit that I was a little puzzled by this for a few minutes, until it dawned on me that this was a seriously high-temperature hotend, capable of sustaining temperatures far higher than the maximum that PTFE can handle. In a similar vein, the thermistor leads attach to the high-temperature wire by means of crimp connectors, which again, can handle a higher temperature than the traditional solder (in all fairness, it’s probably unlikely that the joint would actually liquify, but you never know).
The heater block is the familiar cube shape, with mounting holes for both sizes of thermistor, as well as a hole for a 6mm cartridge heater, which, in my favirite arrangement, is secured with a grub screw
Assembly is a straight forward process, but the final step before use is slightly intimidating: th hotend needs to be connected to the printer, then heated to 300 degrees c. While it’s hot, a pair of wrenches are used to effect the final tightening of the nozzle, joining against the bottom of the heat break inside the heater block. In the end, this requires just a little bit of planning, but is much less of a big deal than one might imagine.
On both versions, the mounting groove at the top of the heat sink is oversized as compared to the groove in, for example, the J-head. At the moment, there is no standard size, so it would be wrong to say it is “non-stamdard”, but it does require a different mount than most other hotends.
For my Makerfarm i3, I was able to find a printable mount on Thingiverse, and for the MendelMax 2.0, an M8 washer was all that was needed to get a good fit. Not a big deal, but better to know in advance. It is also worth noting that the E3D is taller than the J-head, and is, in fact, the highest-profile hotend that I am aware of in the current generation. This is something that I think it a little bit over-hyped. Sure, you are losing a few mm at the very top of the Z-axis, but really, who prints objects that go right to the very last layer of which a printer is capable?
Once mounted, the E3D, like other all-metal hotends, requires constant active cooling. In the case of the E3Ds, it’s a 30mm fan mounted to the heat sink through the use of a printed ABS mount. It’s an elegant arrangement, but that fan is LOUD! In the big picture, of course, there is no danger of any cooling fan drowning out the noise made by stepper motors and linear bearings, but when the printer is otherwise sitting idle, the fan does make some noteworthy sound. If it really bothers you, there are also a number of aftermakrket fan mounts on Thingiverse that mount larger, more easily available, and possibly quieter 40mm fans.
So what happens when the rubber hits the road? I have to say, these hotends have taken everything I’ve thrown at them without complaint. The major bugaboo of most all-metal hotends is, of course, printing in PLA. With this in mind, as soon as I got the E3Dv5 installed in my Makerfarm, I printed a set of nautilus gears in glow-in-the-dark yellow PLA. Not only did the print complete intact, it also fit together nearly perfectly, and this was before any serious calibration.
After just a little bit of calibration, ABS prints have been highly dimensionally correct. Also, interestingly, because the E3D can handle such high temperatures, I have had great results with getting amazingly strong prints which are the result of printing signficantly hotter than is often recommended for ABS. In this regard, I have yet to really find a high end beyond which ABS starts to lose structure. The prints are rock hard, and the only downside appears to be an occasional scorch make here or there. But I digress.
I have also done some testing of the E3D with Laywood, and again, I was surprised at how little tweaking and tuning was needed to get quality prints.
The E3D was also quite able to extrude polycarbonate at greater than 280 degrees. Getting it to stick, on the other hand… Of course, that’s got nothing to do with any hotend.
The E3Dv5 and its ancestor, the v4, are very capable, tough, and extremely well-designed kit. I have been fortunate enough to have used a number of all-metal hotends, each of which has some combination of strengths and weaknesses. The E3D has a very long list of strengths, and if a noisy fan and a strangely-sized mounting groove are all I can find to complain about, that’s pretty darn good. One can never know what the future will bring, but so far, when it comes to all-metal hotends, the E3D is truly, the One to Rule Them All.
Here’s some more on the topic, and you can reach E3D at e3d-online.com.