If your Ender 3 extruder is skipping or clicking, it’s a cause for alarm. Normally, clicking, clunking, or a grinding noise is a big sign that your print is going to fail. Luckily, most causes of extruder clicking in both the Ender 3 Pro and the Ender 3 V2 are easy to find and to fix.
In most cases, Ender 3 extruder clicking or skipping is caused by extrusion problems. In most cases, that means the print temperature is too high or too low, the print speed is too fast, or something is blocking the extrusion. Depending on bed leveling, that blockage might be the bed.
Why Ender 3 Extruder is Skipping
There are many reasons for Ender 3 extruder slipping. In most cases, it has something to do with the filament feed. However, the reason the feed is having issues can vary. Extruders feed filament from the Bowden coupling or “hot tube” to the build or print bed. The filament is fed through the extruder using a gear or a hob bolt and is pushed through the Bowden tube to the nozzle, to achieve the desired shape and thickness. This allows the printer to control the flow rate and thickness of the filament. When it starts to have issues, the filament will come out intermittently, on just one side of the nozzle, or not at all. And, you’ll see issues with your print. In most cases, extruder skipping looks like corrosion on a finished print.
Problem 1: Temperature Too High/Too Low
If your 3D printer is too hot or too cold for the filament you’re using, it might not melt properly. This can cause it to overheat and bubble or become stringy. Alternatively, it can cause it to not leave the extruder fast enough or at all. The result can be slowed or stopped filament feed.
That’s especially likely if you’ve recently changed from PLA to ABS or something else that requires a warmer temperature. If you haven’t recalibrated in between, the nozzle and the printer bed could be far too cold or too warm.
Solution: Check the Temperature Settings
Check your temperature settings and make sure they’re appropriate for the material you’re using. If they are, consider what the filament is doing. If it’s slowly oozing out or only partially melted, increase the temperature 5 degrees and try again. If it’s bubbling or stringy, decrease the temperature 5 degrees and try again. Some filaments have a higher or lower melting point than others. That’s especially true if you buy cheap filament, which might not adhere to the same standards of material purity.
Problem 2: Print Speed Too Fast/Too Slow
In some cases, your Ender 3 extruder skipping could mean you’re printing too fast. Very rarely, it will mean you’re printing too slowly. This happens as the extruder prints too fast and the filament doesn’t have time to properly cool. You then get blockages and clicking or slipping as it creates backflow into the extruder.
Solution: Adjust the Print Speed
Try slowing the print speed if you think it’s set too fast. You can attempt to slow it down incrementally to see if the problem solves. However, lower print speeds almost always result in a higher quality print with better filament distribution. Therefore, it’s almost always better to take longer for the print.
Problem 3: Bed too Close to the Extruder
Leveling the bed should be one of the first steps you take when experiencing any problem with a 3D printer. That remains true if you’re experiencing extruder issues like slipping, clunking, or clicking. Here, the extruder might be blocked by being too close to the bed. Having too little space can actually cause backflow or blockages in the extruder. In addition, you might have issues with the extruder scraping or grinding into the bed. If you hear clunking, this is the most likely issue. This is especially likely if you’ve recently added a plate or layer to increase bed adhesion.
Solution: Level the Bed/Check Z-Level
Ender 3’s don’t have an auto-leveling feature, so you’ll have to do it manually.
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- Take the build plate off and thoroughly clean it with hot water and soap.
- Reattach the build plate using the clips.
- Clean the nozzle.
- Turn the Ender 3 on and use the Control knob to scroll to the “prepare” menu.
- Go to “Auto Home” and press the knob.
- Go to Prepare and “Disable Steppers”.
- Use the four leveling wheels on each side of the bed to lower the bed, turn them counterclockwise to do this.
- Get a sheet of paper.
- Position the nozzle over the bottom left adjustment screw on the bed. Adjust the leveling wheel until there’s just enough space to slide the paper between the nozzle and the bed with slight resistance.
- Repeat on the other four corners.
- Check all corners and do readjustments as necessary.
Solution: Check the bed springs
The Ender 3 has a high rate of bed spring failure. If yours is losing tension, especially on one side, it’s a good idea to replace them. Creality’s yellow compression molded springs are a good choice as they are considered much higher quality.
Problem 4: Nozzle Blockage
If you’re having problems with Ender 3 filament not coming out, it might be a blockage. This can happen because of a variety of reasons. For example, the nozzle is damaged, dirty, blocked, etc. In other cases, the nozzle might be fine and the issue might be with the PTFE tube. In either case, the filament won’t come out or won’t come out smoothly.
Solution: Clean or Replace the Nozzle
Old filament, dust, cleaning solution, and even the random insect can block your nozzle. Physical blockages are usually easy to clean. Here, you want to heat your extruder up and then use heat-resistant gloves such as kitchen gloves or a potholder to wipe the nozzle and edges down. Then, let it cool. Take the nozzle out and use a pipe cleaner and hot water to clean the inside. From there, let it dry and put it back.
However, the plastic feeder assembly that comes with the Ender 3 is easily replaceable. You can upgrade to an MK8 in aluminum if you want to reduce future maintenance.
Solution: Replace the PTFE Tube / Bowden Tube
Bowden tubes can fail. If yours is old, damaged, or clogged, you want to replace it. Ender 3 printers are compatible with any 1.75mm PFTE tube. However, it’s important to ensure your tubing is rated for the materials and temperature you intend to print with. Of course, you can also try to clean your PFTE tube out with a pipe cleaner or with cold pulling. However, most likely, the issue is caused by poorly melted filament that got stuck inside. To clean it out, you’ll have to heat the pipe enough to melt the filament and then push it out. And that can be quite difficult to do.
In addition, Bowden couplings, or the couplings holding the tube to the extruder and the hot end can fail as well. It’s almost always a good idea to replace both at once if you’re having nozzle skipping issues.
Problem 6: Gear Failure
If your Ender 3 extruder is not gripping the filament, it’s likely because of gear failure. However, it may be difficult to fix this issue. For example, the most common issue is that the gear is just worn down. Here, you might get a phenomenon known as “filament grinding”. Here, the extruder will turn the hob bolt but instead of pushing the filament through, it will grind the filament. That can happen relatively quickly with machines like the Ender 3, because both the 3 and the Pro have just a single brass gear and a pulley. Brass is relatively soft, so it can damage with heavy use.
Solution: Replace the Gear
The fastest real fix is to replace the gear. You can also choose to replace it with a steel gear, such as the steel CR-10 from Creality. This ensures better longevity moving forward.
Problem 7: Extruder Arm and Spring Spacer Issues
The extruder arm applies pressure on the spring to adjust the tension on the extruder. If the spring is too loose or too tight, you can get skipping issues. In fact, one of the most common reasons for extruder clicking is a spring. If the spring is not tight enough to hold the arm against the hob bolt, it will click. That can create numerous problems with the print itself. That also holds true if the arm is damaged, however, that’s much less likely.
Solution: Install a Quick Fix
There are dozens of quick 3D print fixes on MakerSpace and other 3D print resources. You can normally print these shims in just a few minutes and use them to hold your spring in place. However, this will be a temporary fix at best.
Solution: Replace the Arm and Spacer
Buying a new extruder, a new extruder arm, or a new spacer spring is cheap, easy, and ensures your problem is gone for good. Here, you can choose OEM Creality parts or a different brand. However, you can generally replace the spring for as little as $1.50. On the other hand, extra extruder arms are not usually sold separately. You’ll have to buy the full extruder, in which case, the MK8 is considered the best quality available for the Ender 3.
Problem 8: Stepper Driver Issues
The Stepper Driver is the driver on your motherboard that runs the motors and makes the feeder go. If it’s having issues, your machine can skip.
Solution: Recalibrate the Drivers
These steps work on the Ender 3 Pro and Ender 3 V2 as well as the Ender 3 Pro V2. You’ll want to make sure you have the 30 October 2021 firmware update or later installed.
- Level your bed
- Go to Control and then Motion
- Mark 120 mm on the filament. It’s highly recommended to use a pair of digital calipers instead. You can use Pronterface or the built-in controls.
- Heat up the hot end and extrude 100mm.
- Click Prepare
- Click Move Axis
- Click Move 1mm
- Rotate the knob 100 times to achieve 100mm of extrusion
- Measure the extruded filament based on where the mark is on the filament still in the extruder. If it is under 100mm, it’s under extruding. If it is over 100mm, it is over extruding.
- Measure the full length of the extruded filament
- Check existing e-steps. Write that number down.
- Use the e-steps calculation. Steps taken x 100 divided by the actual length extruded = accurate steps per mm value. Adjust the e-step value to that length.
- You can make this adjustment using the M92 command.
Solution: Replace the Motherboard or the Stepper Motor
If recalibrating your drivers doesn’t work, you might have to replace either the motherboard or the stepper motor. However, this is difficult to tell without running a diagnostics check on the machine.
How to Replace a Faulty Ender 3 Extruder
The Ender 3 may be one of the best values for the money in the 3D print world, but its stock extruder is famously bad. Replacing the plastic extruder with a metal one is an easy way to improve the quality of your printer.
The MK8 is a good choice. However, there are plenty of knockoffs and unbranded options as well. Use the Allen wrenches or hex keys that came with the assembly. Otherwise, get a set of Allen wrenches.
- Take out the Bowden tube from the couplings by depressing the ring and pulling the tube out.
- Disconnect the extruder wiring harness from the motor. You should be able to pull it.
Note: The only thing holding the extruder motor in place is the screws in the extruder. So when you take the last screw out of the extruder, the motor will fall free. Make sure you catch it and prevent it from falling to avoid damage.
- Start with the two right screws.
- Then remove the large screw that serves as the feeder arm pivot. Remove the feeder arm assembly and pivot.
- The final, recessed screw is holding the motor. So, keep a hand on the motor and gently undo the screw. Put the motor aside.
- Assemble the metal extruder arm based on instructions included. Unfortunately, assembly changes depending on which model you buy.
- Use the rounded head screws to assemble the spring and arm.
- Put the flat-headed screw in the base plate and attach that to the extruder motor.
- Put the spring into position on the feeder arm and put it in place in the extruder.
- Put that into the assembly motor and screw it into place. Make sure you compress the arm to ensure the hole lines up.
- Re-attach the extruder motor wiring.
- Re-attach the Bowden tube.
Still Not Moving?
If you’ve gone into your slicer and made sure that filament extrusion is set properly, you might want to try looking at your software. For example, if you’re using tools like Octolapse, your settings might not be ideal for the Ender 3. That’s especially true if you have plugins or other changes installed or if you’ve just set up the software. For example, with the Octolapse, you have to set the XYZ to Absolute mode, which you can do by using a G90 code in the start GCode.
However, you also want to go through each line of the GCode to see what it does. You can also check the settings of your slicer – which literally just functions to convert 3D print images to GCode.
If you do have custom scripts, plugins, or are using new software, this could result in the issue. However, the appropriate steps to take depend on that software.
5 Maintenance Tips for the Ender 3 3D Printer
Most Ender 3 devices experience the same general issues. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you have an Ender 3 V2, Ender 3 Pro, or Ender 3 Pro V2, you can use the same general maintenance. These 5 tips will get you started.
Check the Ender 3’s X and Y Belts
X and Y belt tension can affect every aspect of how the print arm moves. Make sure you regularly check the belts to make sure they’re on firmly. You also want to ensure there’s no sag. Finally, look for dust, dirt, and contaminants which could cause issues. Belts will always sag eventually. Some people choose to add belt tension devices to solve the problem. However, you can also replace them cheaply. When you do, you’ll have to run a recalibration.
Clean Out Ender 3’s Dusty Fans
Ender 3 has four fans and most heavy users eventually actually replace the hot end fan. However, you should clean all of them. Occasionally checking the fans for dirt, dust, and buildup can help you to keep your Ender 3 in top condition for longer. Clean them using a wettened Q-tip, a can of air, or a bottlebrush.
Check for Melted Filaments Around Ender 3’s Hot End
You should always check the hot end and nozzle between every print. If there’s still melted filament on it, try to take it off before the next print. The easiest way to do this is to heat up the printer and then use a heat-resistant glove such as a kitchen glove to wipe it down.
Inspect the Feed Gear on the Ender 3
Ender 3 comes with a brass feed gear. This gear, also known as the drive gear, is actually so prone to wear and tear that you can buy replacements in 6 packs. It’s important to check that the gear is not wearing down, that it isn’t chewing into the filament, and that it’s in good shape. Many users choose to replace the brass feed gear with a steel one. Otherwise, you will have to occasionally replace the gear. However, you’ll also want to make sure it’s clean and free from contaminants. This is especially true if you have pets, where pet hair might get into the gear and contaminate the filament.
If you still have questions, these frequently asked questions should help.
Is an extruder upgrade worth the cost?
Ender 3s plastic extruder is notoriously bad. You can easily upgrade to the aluminum Mk8 extruder for the Ender 3 or Ender 3 Pro for around $20. Some knock-off shops will sell it for as little as $8. Because you probably still have the Allen wrenches that came with the Ender 3, you won’t need any other materials. So, if you’re doing more than a few print runs, the upgrade is well worth it for most.
How long do extruder nozzles last?
Creality recommends changing nozzles every 3-6 months of regular use. If you heavily use your 3D printer, you might want to inspect and change your nozzle more frequently. After a few months, the exit points may start to deform, which can cause issues with your print. Ender 3 sells nozzles in 6-8 packs.
What is a cold pull?
Cold pull is the process of feeding a strand of filament through the extruder and Bowden Tube to clean clogged nozzles, tubes, and extruders. This is a great way to get bits of plastic and debris out of inside these elements. In most cases, it involves heating the end of the filament, inserting it through, sticking to anything stuck, and then pulling it out. In most cases, the best material for this purpose is nylon.
If you’re experiencing extruder skipping or clicking with your Ender 3, it’s likely because filament can’t feed properly. The best course is to assess potential problems and work through them starting with the most likely issue. And, as the printer’s owner, you would best know what you’ve recently changed or adjusted, so you would best know where to start.