Printing Hands for Children



by Johnathan Pierce  (Systems Administrator, Automation Geek)

My wife and I have been blessed with the ability to make things. We have had the unique opportunity over the last year to learn about and use a 3d printer. We have made some fun toys, many functional things such as funnels, various parts, and chess pieces. Our most recent adventure has allowed us to help people that have lost or were born without hands through E-Nable.



E-Nable is an organization that facilitates matching people who are in need of prosthetic hands with 3d printer operators. Danelle and I had an annual goal to print a hand for a child. A request was put out by E-Nable for the donation of 1,000 hands by mid September. My wife, Danelle, learned about this request and we both looked into it further to see how we could help.

We found out that a local 3d printing group that we were associated with, PDX 3D Printing Lab,

had volunteered to print some of those hands. They would be facilitating a workshop on assembling the hands and needed 3d printer operators to print hand for the event. We signed up to print a prosthetic hand and attended the workshop at the Portland Maker Faire.

In the process of doing this project we learned a lot. Up to this point we had primarily printed in a material called ABS. The hands are preferred to be in a material called PLA. So we have the opportunity to learn how to use that new material. The designs of the prosthetic hands are openly available for download and typically take approximately 24 hours to print.

One of the primary lessons we were reminded of was that quality matters. We started with a white PLA because that is what we had on hand.  We ran a 12-hour overnight print and when we woke up we were less than enthused with the results. When we took the plastic part off the printer it broke. This was not going to work. We tried to diagnose the problem and ultimately we decided we needed to change the brand of PLA we were using. We ordered another brand of PLA filament that we had good experience with in other materials. We ran the same overnight print and the difference was astounding. All printers are a little different and some filament works great for some and not so great for others. We went with a brand that we had success with in the past and it worked out.




We had all the parts printed and headed to the workshop. The workshop was about one hour long. We assembled the majority of 20 hands for donation to E-Nable. It turns out an hour wasn’t quite enough time. Lots of progress was made and the next day volunteers in the 3d printer section of the maker faire all chipped in to finish the assembly process.


Blog-3 (1)


While we were at the workshop a young boy that didn’t have a hand came in with his parents. They were curious about the workshop and stopped in. They thought they were just there to assemble a hand for donation. He was fit with a hand that was printed by Portland Community College. The smile on his face and the glow in his eye when he first put it on was amazing. He immediately grabbed for a bottle of soda that was sitting on the table. Originally he didn’t think he was going to be able to keep the hand that he had tried on. He thought he was trying it on, not that it was his to keep. When he was told that he could keep it he was so excited. While the family was at the workshop a member of PCC scanned his limb difference and will build a “perfect fit” model for him in the next few weeks.


Blog-4 (1)


A facilitator of the workshop, Shashi Jain said, “His joy in making the hand work was unforgettable. We also taught his parents how to assemble a hand for him. Amazing times we live in, where we can serve people so well, with a little bit of desktop tech.” We couldn’t agree more.

It was great to see the 3d printing technology put to good use in changing people’s lives. The hands that were printed and assembled are functional prosthetics that will be sent to Haiti and delivered to people in need.