There are many reasons for your stepper motor to be clicking and skipping. Some reasons are a lot more common than others but trust me if there is a way to have an issue with something, eventually people will have that issue. So I have tried to cover as many issues as I could think of so that whenever you run into problems you can run through this list and fix your issue quickly.
The most common reasons for your Ender 3 extruder to click or skip is the bed level, clogged or damaged nozzle, temperature setting, slicer settings, and extruder damage. If your extruder is clicking you should immediately address the issue to avoid further damage to your machine.
I have broken down the most common causes as well as outlined solutions.
1 – Bed Level / Z-Offset.
Probably the most common reason that an extruder is clicking is the bed not being level. If the nozzle is too close to the bed this will obstruct the nozzle and will not allow material to pass through the nozzle.
If you are having trouble leveling your bed check out my bed level guide here.
Likewise, If your Z-Offset is set too low your nozzle may be too close to the bed on the initial layer and will not have enough room to extrude material. On some 3D printers you can change the Z-Offset in the printers interface but others you will have to slightly turn all your leveling knobs the same amount until your bed is at the desired height.
2 – Clogged Nozzle.
Your 3D printer’s nozzle being clogged is another very common reason for your extruder to start clicking or skipping. If you notice that your 3D printer is no longer extruding material but the machine is still moving as if it was still extruding, you probably have a clogged nozzle.
Common causes of a clogged nozzle are filaments with large particles like wood filament and glitter filament as well as a worn nozzle.
There are many tools on the market to prevent and fix clogged 3D printer nozzles. Most 3D printers will come with a .4mm nozzle cleaning tool but you may need to purchase one.
Here is a link to a great nozzle cleaning tool kit.
3 – E-Step Calibration.
Your E-Step controls how much filament your extruder extrudes at a set distance. For example, if you are trying to extrude 100mm of filament and you are only extruding 93mm of filament then you are experiencing under extrusion.
In contrast to that, if you are trying to extrude 100mm of filament and you are actually extruding 115mm of filament you are experiencing over extrusion which could lead to overloading your nozzle and cause skipping due to the blockage.
Essentially what is happening is your extruder shoving excess material into the PTFE tube which with enough force is too much for the extruder motor.
If you need help calibrating your extruder check out my article on calibrating and calculating new e-steps. How To Calibrate Your E-Steps. Simple guide and calculator.
4 – Damaged Nozzle.
If you have dragged your nozzle against the build surface or pinched the tip of the nozzle when trying to install or inspect the nozzle you may have damaged the nozzle of your 3D printer which can cause a material blockage.
If you have a suspicious nozzle that might be causing your 3D printer extruder to skip you should replace it with a brand new nozzle.
Here is a link for replacement nozzles. This kit also includes a few nozzle cleaning tools.
5 – Nozzle Temperature.
Your nozzle temperature can cause your extruder to skip or click if your nozzle is not hot enough for the material that it is trying to support. If the nozzles temperature is too low the material will not heat up quickly enough to properly melt the material and your material will extrude too slow.
This may seem pretty hard to mess up but if you try to run PETG at PLA settings then you will definitely start to have extruder and nozzle issues. The best way to make sure your temperature is correct is to look at your spool of filament for extruder temp information.
6 – Flow Rate.
Flow rate is a setting in your slicer that determines how much filament passes though your extruder, similar to your e-step. If your flow rate is set too high you can experience over extrusion which can lead to a blockage in your nozzle and will result in clicking and skipping on your extruder.
7 – Filament Tangled.
If your filament is tangled over itself on the spool the extruder will not be able to pull the filament through the extruder and will cause the extruder to skip or click. The filament spool should come from the factory well wound and should not have any issues but the filament being tangled has caused a few of my prints to fail.
8 – Nozzle Diameter Slicer Setting.
The nozzle diameter setting is usually the last thing that someone thinks about when they are having extrusion issues. I guess sometimes the most simple solutions are usually the most frustrating as well.
If your slicer thinks that you have a .8mm nozzle but you actually have a .4mm nozzle on your machine then you will experience over extrusion. This over extrusion will cause a similar effect as your flow rate being too high.
9 – Filament Diameter Slicer Setting.
The filament diameter setting is another issue that is commonly overlooked in the slicer settings. If your filament is set to 2.75mm but you are actually using 1.75mm then you will experience over extrusion and potentially you will experience nozzle blockage which will lead to your extruder skipping.
10 – Extruder Gear Loose.
Your extruder gear being loose can cause binding in the extruder assembly which will overload the extruder motor and cause clicking and skipping of the extruder.
Typically the gear being loose is a simple fix and can be tightened with a screwdriver or an allen wrench. If you notice your extruder gear is loose you should fix it immediately to avoid damage to your 3D printer extruder motor.
11 – Extruder Damage.
Check your extruder for any broken pieces if your extruder is broken in any way this could compromise the functionality of the extruder and could cause binding or damage of the extruder motor. If the extruder is damaged it could also cause the extruder gear to not make contact with the tensioner bearing and will cause the filament to extrude properly.
If you have an Ender 3 this is one of the first things you should replace on your machine to improve performance. You can find an upgraded all metal extruder assembly here.
12 – Extruder Spring Tension.
The extruder spring presses the tensioner bearing into the extruder gear which gives the gear enough grip on the filament allowing the extruder to push the filament through the PTFE tube. If the spring has too much tension against the extruder gear the extruder gear will bind and will cause the extruder motor to click and skip.
If the spring is too tight you can cut a small section of the spring off with wire cutters and test the tension until you achieve the right pressure. Do not remove too much of the spring at one time because once the spring is cut you cannot undo it and if your spring does not have enough tension you will have to order a new one.
13 – Extruder Dirty or Dusty.
If your extruder is dirty or dusty this can cause the gear to bind due to the dirt or can cause your material to slip on the debris. You should check your 3D printer extruder regularly to ensure that there is not a build up of dust and dirt.
If you do have dirt and debris around your extruder you should clean the extruder with compressed air or take your extruder assembly apart and clean each part with soap and water.
14 – PTFE Tube Clog.
It is very uncommon for the PTFE tube to become clogged but when it does it is usually very difficult to clear the clog. A common cause for a PTFE clog is the tube coming unseated from the extruder which then causes the hot material to build up in the PTFE tube and to cool, which causes a plugging effect.
To unclog the PTFE tube you will have to pull the old filament out of the tube which can sometimes be very difficult and requires a lot of pulling force.
If you damage the PTFE tube you may have to remove the damaged section or replace the tube entirely. For a replacement PTFE tube, look here.
15 – PTFE Tube Damage.
The PTFE tube is one of the more sensitive parts on a 3D printer. If the PTFE tube gets crimped or flattened it can cause the material to get bound in the tube and cause the extruder to click.
The hot end of some 3D printer nozzles is also lined with PTFE and if the hot end is overheated the PTFE will melt and clog up the hot end an can also cause damage to other parts of the hot end assembly.
16 – Material.
Materials that are coarse and high in particles such as Wood PLA and Glitter PLA have a tendency to clog the nozzle more frequently.
Another common issue with material is selecting the wrong material in your slicer which will cause the temperature settings to be incorrect. When in doubt, always go back and double check all your slicer settings.
17 – Stepper Motor Damage.
Damage to the stepper motor is probably the least common issue that is causing the motor to skip. I know it is easy to immediately think that the clicking sound is caused by the motor but in reality the fact that the clicking sound is happening at all is a good sign that your motor is working as it should and there is another reason for the binding.
If your extruder is clicking you may need to diagnose one or many of these issues to resolve the problem. I know there might be a few reasons that I left off the list but in general this should basically cover all the potential causes of your extruder clicking.