You can stop pounding on that anvil now; steel fabrication has moved onto the web. Shapeways, a company that made its name offering custom 3-D printing in plastic and resin, will now print your designs in stainless steel. All you have to do is upload your brilliant CAD design (or pick from a range of stock items). Shapeways will print it out in cold, shiny steel, and mail it to you.
As with any 3-D printing, the object is built up in layers. In this case, powdered steel is laid down, alternating with a binding material, in thin layers until the whole piece appears. Then your finished model is heated, cured and, according to Shapeways, "infused with bronze."
Steel printing from Shapeways is limited to models that pass specific size and detail guidelines. The printing leaves some lines and visible layers in the object, they say, so be prepared: your finished piece probably won't look as smooth and perfect as other bits of metal you own. Shapeways' cost chart quotes $10 per square centimeter for steel printing, which could add up to a hefty price for larger items. That said, being able to make your own metal objects without big equipment or the threat of horrible burns is pretty cool at any price.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.