Cartridge Heaters: Mounting Blocks

Drilling SHCS head clearance
Drilling SHCS head clearance

MBI sent me a selection of 1/4-inch cartridge heaters to evaluate, seeing as how I’ve been such a pest on the subject of those poor aluminum-case power resistor heaters. Thanks, Zach!

I initially thought I could punch the cores out of the resistors and slip the cartridge heaters into the holes, but it turns out the resistor bodies aren’t quite the right size: slightly too short with slightly too large holes. So it goes. Some earlier thoughts live there.

This is a first pass at building mounting blocks to attach cartridge heaters to a stock MK5 Thermal Core. Ideally, you want a solid Thermal Core with a hole or two for the heaters next to the filament extrusion nozzle, but that requires fancier machining that I’m ready for right now. The fabled nophead shows how that looks for a ceramic power resistor.

The obvious question is whether you want a single high-wattage cartridge heater or a pair of low(er)-wattage units. I think a core-with-hole can get away with a single heater, which is also the lower-cost option. My thermal measurements suggest the Core is pretty much isothermal, so there’s no problem with distributing the heat evenly from one side to the other.

However, adding two lower-wattage heaters to a stock MK5 Thermal Core makes more sense, because the interface between the blocks and the Core seems to run a bit under 1 °C/W. A single 40 W heater would thus run 30-40 °C higher than the Core: call it 260 °C. IMO, that’s much too high for something an inch away from a plywood frame and an acrylic support structure.

A pair of 25 W heaters would run at 245 °C-ish. That’s still pretty hot, but every little bit helps. I’ll start with that arrangement and see how it works.

Block top and bottom
Block top and bottom

The blocks are ordinary steel from the Scrap Box: a convenient length of 1×1-inch bar stock that somebody else had made into something else a long time ago. I bandsawed off four 1×1-inch slabs, each about 5/8″ thick. A second bandsaw cut turned the square slabs into rectangles. I finished two blocks; the other two slabs await more experience with how these work.

I squared up the blocks with a flycutter in the Sherline, then sanded down the bottom surface a bit. The thermal tests suggest the contact is Good Enough with a reasonably flat surface, so I settled for a used-car finish: high shine and deep scratches. They’re actually smoother than the pictures would have you believe.

The Thermal Core has hard inch dimensions (minus cleanup cuts): 1 inch front-to-back and 13/16 inch tall. I generally work in metric, so the sketch at the bottom has everything in millimeters.

The mounting blocks have holes matching the resistor footprint. I drilled clearance holes for the heads of the original M2 socket head cap screws, ran an end mill down the hole to flatten the bottom, then drilled clearance holes for the threads. Those holes are perilously close to the edge, but the blocks really don’t want to be any taller. Perhaps use a less-generous clearance?

The alternative would be to mill a flange along the edge to match the resistor mounts and put the SHCS heads in free air, but that seemed like more work and it would cramp the thermal path from cartridge to block.

I also thought about chamfering the edges to make the blocks look less, well, blocky, but that’s in the nature of fine tuning.

The cartridge heaters slip-fit into a nominal 0.250 hole; the samples are 0.247 to 0.248 and (from what I read) the diameter tolerance stays on the minus side of 0.250. I don’t have a 0.250 reamer, which is how you get a precise hole ID, so I’ll go with drilled holes. Fortunately, I have a set of letter-size drills in nearly new condition:

  • A drill = 0.234 to poke a hole in the block
  • E drill = 0.250 to get the final diameter

The final holes worked out to be exactly 0.250 inch, to the limits of my measurement ability, which I will declare to be Good Enough. The cartridges have a loose slip fit with no side-to-side play.

The cartridges expand when heated and squeeze against the hole to make good thermal contact. While cool, however, they can slide out without much urging, so I added a 4-40 setscrew. It’s on the butt end of the cartridge heater shell, away from the leads, so if a cartridge becomes one with the block I can drive it out with a pin punch. Putting the setscrew at the end with the wire leads makes more sense (it’s cooler there), but then you’d be beating the entire length of the cartridge out past the setscrew hole.

The setscrew and the M2 SHCSs get a liberal dose of anti-seize grease before assembly.

Here’s what the holders looked like, just before bolting them in place:

Cartridge heaters in blocks
Cartridge heaters in blocks

Doodles with the more-or-less as-built dimensions:

Heater block dimensions
Heater block dimensions