Buttercup the Duck 3-D Printed Foot: The Truth Revealed (Interview with Mike Garey)


I wrote an article about how Buttercup the duck got a new foot that was 3D printed a few days ago, and I used as my main source of information an article by CBS News. I have since then found out, through interviewing the owner of the duck, Mike Garey, that much of the article by CBS was not at all accurate. In this interview, Mike reveals the truth behind how Buttercup the duck got his 3D printed foot. Check it out, please–it’s pretty interesting, and Mike Garey’s organization, Feathered Angels, is a very worthy one!

Douglas Cobb: You work at the Feathered Angels organization, right, Mike?

Mike Garey: Right. I’m the owner. Feathered Angels is literally just me, my wife and kids.  We are a very small non-profit organization, it’s just me, my wife, and kids, basically.

Douglas Cobb: How long has the organization been around?

Mike Garey: We’ve had the sanctuary since 2007. Back in 2007, we got a few ducks and geese of our own, thinking that when they grew up, they would fly off; but, when that didn’t happen, we started learning more about them, found out that they were truly domestic ducks and geese, not wild, and then over time we started seeing them in ponds in parks and apartment complexes, and knew at that point that hey, these guys don’t belong here, and that’s when we decided that there just wasn’t anyone out there to help these guys, and so we took it upon ourselves to start up an organization where we would be the ones to actually help them.

Douglas Cobb: Where do you think CBS got their information from?

Mike Garey: I have no idea. Literally, the whole thing seems completely fabricated and made up. They never did an interview, and at that point that they did their story, it had been a week and there were a lot of stories out there that were pretty dog-gone good. They may have had an error or two, but the CBS thing was completely wrong.

I was kind of reading back through the story, and right off the bat, it talks about “employees” at our sanctuary when we don’t have any employees; and then, it talks about…the first part, it’s actually NovaCopy, not NovaCorp, created a model of his sister’s foot. That’s actually correct, but then, from there, it’s completely wrong.

It says that NovaCopy (Mike used the correct name here, not how it appears in the CBS article) plugged a model into its 3-D Printer to create a silicon version of Buttercup’s left foot. Well, that never happened. And, this Tim Cafferey that is quoted–has no idea what he’s talking about. None of what he said happened. If you want in 2-3 minutes, I’ve got everything sitting here, and I can show you in a couple of minutes exactly how I did it. 3Dprinter-011-1306281632_3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712

Douglas Cobb: Do you know if this Tim Cafferey is an employee there at all?

Mike Garey: No, he didn’t have anything to do with us. They just say that Tim Cafferey, who was a 20-year veteran of 3-D printing, came up with all these things about how he thought it was created, but I never heard of the guy. This was the only article he was ever even quoted in, and, like I said, what he’s guessing about how everything happened, none of it happened that way.

Douglas Cobb: You knew someone there you contacted, but it wasn’t him?

Mike Garey: Tim Cafferey doesn’t work for NovaCopy, anyway. Basically, I wanted to create a copy of my other duck’s foot (Minnie’s), okay, so that I could make a rubber foot. That was the end goal (Mike then showed me a lot of photos on his computer screen showing Minnie’s foot from different perspectives).

I set my duck, Minnie, on the counter and took photos going around at 360 degrees. So, each one of these pictures is a different angle of her foot. This software is called AntiCache. It’s a free program that I use. Once you take all of these pictures, you upload them through this free program, and what it returns is this 3-D model that you see now which I can rotate and turn, okay?

Once I had that, I was looking for somebody who could print me that and turn it into a plastic foot which I could then use in a mold.

So, I contacted some universities that were here locally, and sent some emails out to different companies and NovaCopy was one that I Googled, and found, and they replied and said that sure, we’d be happy to print that for you, not a problem. So, they printed it, and what we ended up with is what you see here (Mike held up a hard, white, plastic foot).

It’s a piece of plastic, exactly like what’s on the screen. That’s the part they did for me.

Douglas Cobb: So, it’s not even red?

Mike Garey: The final version is; the final version is red because it’s rubber. So, they created this first version, then, to ensure that the foot worked, like a pencil eraser, where he could stick his foot down in it, I needed to make the leg portion fat. And so, on the computer, I then used this design software, and took that same model you just saw on the screen and I made it hollow for his foot to go down into.

And so, NovaCopy printed that for me, which is–here again, is hard plastic–it’s heavy, it’s impossible for a duck to use like this. But, once I had this, I was able to then make a negative mold of that, using these molding materials that I bought. There was no mold-producing via 3-D; there was no $5,000 of mold–I mean, the materials cost me like $200.

What I did was, I poured this rubber silicon over this plastic foot that you see here. I poured it literally into a plastic dish I bought from Walmart. Once it set up; this is what we had.

We had this plastic foot inside of this rubber that had set up hard, so when I pulled the plastic foot out, now I have a negative mold of what I wanted to make the foot out of.

All of this literally was done by hand, and then I built this board that you see it sitting on, where I could position this, and I made a copy of this peg, using the same mold materials, and put his peg down in the material. It set up, and at that point I had a plaster peg.

Here’s samples of all the different materials I had to choose from–this company called SmoothOn sent me all these samples and I selected what I wanted the sock made out of.

Douglas Cobb: So, really, you went to two different companies but you made the mold yourself?

Mike Garey: I did everything myself, yeah.

Douglas Cobb: How much did the companies charge you?

Mike Garey: NovaCopy did the 3-D printing that I needed to make the model for nothing; they donated their services. The SmoothOn company that makes these materials, I asked them to donate them, but they said they weren’t able to do that, so I had to buy the materials. Like I said, about $200 for all the materials.

Once I created this frame-up that you see here, that allows the peg to be positioned in the middle of that hollow foot, and then when I poured the red material down in there, it set upto actually create the final foot that then would fit his peg.

Part of it, too, is this silicon sock that I created; that is basically the gap you see here (he showed me a diagram of the inside of the leg) between the foot and the peg.

Douglas Cobb: You created the mold yourself?

Mike Garey: I invented every bit of this that you see. I created the mold,  the sock, the design, every bit of it. Literally, the only part any company had in it was printing the first and second plastic foot, but all I did from the second foot was make my mold. That was it.

In a lot of the stories, it was a corporate thing, and I got all of these engineers to make the design. No, I’m the engineer, and I made the design, and it all came out of my head, and so I felt like I needed to get some appropriate credit for what I did here.

Douglas Cobb: Can Buttercup use the foot to swim and fly with?

Mike Garey: He can, though because Buttercup is a domestic duck, he can’t fly. They’ve been bred over centuries for meat and eggs and so they’re heavy-bodied and can’t fly. So, flying’s not an issue.

It’s another reason why it’s so important that Buttercup has a foot. Their whole mode of getting around is walking. They’re not able to fly. So, having the peg, he wouldn’t be able to walk on concrete, because it would start to bleed. He could walk on grass and do okay, but still, it would get a sore on it over time. ButtercupLeftFootFitting

Douglas Cobb: So, he could swim with it okay?

Mike Garey: Yes, he swims with it, and he’s doing remarkably well, considering I finished the foot last Sunday and he’s had it on really less than a week.

We’ve been traveling so much, and doing all of these media appearances. And, I’ve been continuing too do all of these computer designs, because I’m going to make a second and third version, etc., to keep improving the foot as we go along.

Douglas Cobb: Butter the duck was hatched from an egg there, and was born with an inverted foot?

Mike Garey: That part would be correct, yes. His left foot was turned backwards. But the whole design and mold process was my creation, and NovaCopy just literally printed the plastic copy of my other duck’s foot so I could use that for my molding process to then create the final foot.

The final foot’s actually made from industrial-grade urethane, like they use to make gears, things like that. I wanted a type of material so he couldn’t bite it off, it wouldn’t wear out walking around. You literally can’t wear that material out. Yet, it has a little bit of flexibility and it’s rubbery, so it has a grip.

Douglas Cobb: You wanted to have some flexibility and traction to the foot?

Mike Garey: Exactly. And also have in-between it and the peg this silicon sock. You roll it up on the peg, and you can’t pull it off. Yet, it’s comfortable and stretchy, squishy. It can stay on indefinitely. Nothing can get down in there, no dirt, leaves, or anything. If you see the little pin at the bottom, that fastens through the foot and this little pin in the sock, so there’s nothing mechanically or surgically attached to his peg. I’m attaching the sock to the leg. That’s kind of part of the coolness of the design, basically.

Douglas Cobb: I wasn’t sure when I first read the word “sock” what kind of material it was made out of.

Mike Garey: Right. It’s a stretchy silicon. These are all different grades of urethane and silicon. All of these are liquids. If you look at this, every one of these things, it’s a two-part process–it’s like mixing Epoxy. You mix part of one, part of the other. You start it up and pour it as a liquid. Once it sets up, it sets hard, and then you have this.

Unfortunately, the stories have been limited by how much time they wanted to spend interviewing me and they didn’t care so much about the molding process. It was all about the buzz-word of 3-D printing. I let a lot of that go by, and it was fine. It wasn’t completely right; it wasn’t that big a deal. But, it wasn’t like I called a company and said I have a duck with a deformed foot and 4 months later I had one mailed to me.

I spent months and hours and hours designing. I have pages and pages of diagrams and notes showing how I wanted it to be built. These are my scratch notes on how I created the thing (Mike held them up for me to view).

Douglas Cobb: Some people would say that you went to a lot of time, trouble, and expense just for a duck; but, it’s a good humanitarian thing to do, and I’m sure that you don’t really feel it was too much time and trouble and expense.

Mike Garey: Not at all, and the cool thing about these guys is that they each have their own unique personalities. Buttercup knows his name, he has a teddy bear he’s had since he was a day old, he’ll come when you call him, he interacts just like a dog would, and so he’s not like a blackbird or something that doesn’t have a brain. He’s very intelligent. When you spend time with an animal like that, he’s no different than a member of my own family.

If he needs help–yeah, he could live inside in a pen for the rest of his life, and he’d be happy around us; but, now, he can go out into our sanctuary and forage around for crickets and bugs and get into water and swim and dive for slugs and worms. I mean, that’s what ducks do, you know? Hang out with the other ducks.

That was really my goal of what I wanted to give him. Let him be a real duck rather than stay inside in a baby pen his whole life and not be able to go outside.

Douglas Cobb: Feathered Angels–you deal with all kinds of domestic ducks and geese, ones that you find yourself, or ones that have been abused, or ones that farmers had that they didn’t want anymore?

Mike Garey: To some extent. Most of them are when people get them around Easter time, baby ducks and geese. Folks get these birds around Easter and they are sometimes even dyed different colors, which they shouldn’t do.

They bring them home and their kids think they’re so cute–“look at the pretty fluffy yellow duck”–but, within 2 to 3 weeks, the ducks and geese grow so fast they’re almost full grown, and people have them in their houses and think “Now what are we supposed to do?” They’re pooping on the floor, the kids have gotten tired of them, and so they take the birds to a pond at a park or apartment complex and put them out.

Then, people either call us and tell us or we see for ourselves as we drive around town. We’re here in Memphis, Tennessee, basically. That’s how we get most of them.

Some we get are injured, they get stuck in fishing line or fishing lures, or they step on bottle caps or glass and get their feet cut and are injured, limping. The reality is that they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Most states have laws against that. You wouldn’t take a puppy a day old and 3 weeks later put it out in the middle of nowhere, where it would starve or get eaten by predators. We call it: “Innocent ignorance.” They don’t realize that it’s basically a death sentence for them. If people thought about that when they got them, they would have enough heart to say “We’re not going to do that,” you know? “We’re not going to take this baby duck, who only knows people, and put it out into the middle of the wild where it’s gonna be mauled by a coyote or a fox, or it will starve because it’s stuck at that one spot it can’t fly out of and leave.” Or, it’s gonna try to walk somewhere and get hit by a car.

Douglas Cobb: People probably feel like they’re wild and can fend for themselves, but they’re not actually wild animals anymore.

Mike Garey: Yes, they’re not wild at all. I’ve tried to make Buttercup an ambassador for letting people know that. It’s just educating the public. If you’re going to get one of these guys when they’re little, you have to make a commitment like with a dog or a cat, that you’re going to provide an enclosure in your backyard to protect them from predators.

Douglas Cobb: Where do you receive your funding, if you have any?

Mike Garey: Not a lot (laughs). We’ve been a non-profit since 2012. It takes awhile to get the paperwork ready and approved. Last year, we had a few individuals who gave twenty here and there. Some Nashville songwriters took an interest in our cause and had a benefit concert and silent auction with a lot of donated items and we raised probably $3,500 last year, which was a help. It costs probably $10-12 thousand a year in food, medical bills, and hay. The difference in that I pay out of my own pocket. We literally just support it on our own.

Douglas Cobb: So, you have another job besides this one?

Mike Garey: (laughs) I have to. I’m a computer software engineer, which is really how all of this fits in naturally for me. I’m an engineer by trade, I have my own computer company, and so basically the wok I do through my company supports the sanctuary.

Douglas Cobb: Thanks, Mike, for revealing the truth behind your duck, Buttercup, and how he got his 3-D printed foot, with your design, and creation of the mold, foot, and sock.

If anyone would like to donate to Feathered Angels, go to their website and there’s a place to donate there.

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