Thunderbird 3 was my dads favourite from the show, so for his 59th birthday I decided to use my skills, my 3D printer and my eye for perfection to build him a Thunderbird 3 rocket for his workshop.

In this post I will be showing you how I went about making the idea to a reality, from start to finish along with the tools I used for those who also want to attempt a similar project.

In the beginning.. I had to re-watch some of original Thunderbirds episodes, (which I loved) so the whole project started with a positive. Whilst enjoying the nostalgia, I had to remember this was in fact research. I also scoured the internet for studio images, information on size, and what ever else I would need to make sure I could create the most accurate model that I could within the month timeframe I gave myself to complete the rocket.

Armed with my collection of reference photos, with a brain full of Thunderbird missions and a new roll of white PLA filament I began looking for the most “accurate” looking model that would point me in the right direction, after a long search I ended up choosing Platt980’s Thunderbird 3 model from Cults3D. This model makes a 1:164 scale version of the “real” Thunderbird 3 as per the technical specifications of being 287ft tall, which is a pretty nice size model for painting and detailing.

This gave me my references and starting point, next was to actually get some physical components to start putting together. Here I will simply show my printing process with images.

Now I had most of the model printed, there were a few things that I needed to modify and design to add to the project. Below I have compiled the full print list.

  • Engine Part A x3
  • Engine Part B x3
  • Bottom Plate x1
  • Bottom Ring x1
  • Finwing Part A x3
  • Finwing Part B x3
  • Large Fins x1
  • Nose x1
  • Collar x1
  • Small Fins x1
  • Wing Part A x3
  • Wing Part B x3
  • Middle x1
  • Engine Strut x3 (available to download here)

The total print time for these parts took 108 hours. This included 10% infill (apart from the engine struts which were 50% for stability), and were printed at 0.2mm which gave a nice smooth finish.

Wing Parts A and B. Left: filed and sanded. Right: Glued
28 printed parts (the engines, wings and fin wing parts are glued)

To get this far I had to slightly modify the model. The centre piece needed gaps for the wing fins to slot into, these were measured 25mm from the top, which is almost identical to the original from the tv show, and the gaps were 48mm from the centre of each other.

Now that the wing fins fit perfectly into the rocket part, the next part of the build was getting the struts connected to the wing fins. This was done using my burner. I warmed up the end of the strut and used careful brute force to push the 2 pieces together, then after about 5 minutes used the burner again to smooth the joint and make a nice continuous join making the 3 parts look like 1. A sand with up to 180 grit clears up the rough edges.

Warning! The following part is shocking, I regret the whole process, but as I’m documenting the full build, its only fair to include the good, the bad and the ugly.

Following on from the warning above, I got home from work and the paint I ordered was here, I was excited and impatient, and began masking up parts of the rocket, shook the can of Hycote Seville Orange (brought from Amazon) and sprayed, the whole 150ml, in short bursts to cover what I wanted it to cover, and in all honestly it looked great.. from a distance.

Some wise words from this point to you would be, take your time, preparation is key, and if your not happy with the outcome, do it again.

This was what I decide to do, I was not happy with the base paint job so I got out my wet and dry sand paper and got to work sanding the paint off and starting again, this time I am not going to rush, I am a perfectionist and this is not something I want to give to my dad.

Starting at 120 and working to 400 for that super smooth finish