Sheetrock Penetration Testing, Take 1

There are a lot of strong opinions out there when it comes to home defense firearms. Nick’s Self Defense Tip; Don’t Use a Rifle caused some of the best discussion I’ve seen on the subject in a while, and it got me thinking on the subject as well. It seems to me that the biggest hang-up for any person, no matter what their view point is, is the issue of penetration. If I shoot someone in my house and miss, how many walls is it going to go through? Will it hit my neighbor’s house or go into the adjacent apartment? Is a rifle or shotgun round going to penetrate more walls than my pistol? These are valid concerns and ones that any responsible gun owner should consider. So I decided to get some supplies and see what would happen if I shot at and missed an intruder with the firearms I have in my household.

The idea was to create two walls using sheetrock and 2x4s. Each wall would be 4’x4’ and framed as if it were an interior wall in a house. Then the walls would be placed 15 feet apart to simulate a room. Unfortunately there were two things working against me and my shooting buddy that day, our lack of carpentry skills and the powerful Montana winds. After setting up our walls and preparing to photograph them, a huge gust blew through the shooting range and knocked everything over. Due to the aforementioned poor carpentry skills, the braces broke and we were left to improvise. So, using a few of the target stand bases we were able to stack the four layers of sheetrock approximately one inch apart from each other and create a sort of pseudo wall.

The table below shows the results of each load and what weapon it was fired from. All shots were taken at a distance of 15 feet.

Cartridge Firearm Result
TulAmmo 230 gr .45 ACP FMJ Kahr Pm45 Fully Penetrated
Hornady TAP +P 230 gr .45 ACP JHP Kahr Pm45 Fully Penetrated
Remington UMC 115 gr 9mm FMJ Springfield XDm Fully Penetrated
Speer Gold Dot 115 gr 9mm JHP Springfield XDm Fully Penetrated
American Eagle 130 gr .38 Spl FMJ Ruger LCR Fully Penetrated
Hornady Critical Defense 110 gr .38 SPL Ruger LCR Fully Penetrated
PMC Bronze 125 gr .357 Mag JHP Ruger LCR Fully Penetrated
Hornady Critical Defense 124 gr .357 Mag Ruger LCR Fully Penetrated
Hornady TAP 55 gr .223 M&P-15A Fragmented after fully penetrating
PMC XTAC 55 gr 5.56 FMJ M&P-15A Fully Penetrated
Remington 55gr .223 JHP M&P-15A Fully Penetrated
Remington 2 3/4″ 12 gauge 00 Buck Remington 870 Fully Penetrated
Winchester 2 3/4″ 12 gauge #4 Bird Shot Remington 870 Penetrated 2 layers, stopped by 3rd layer

As you can see, everything except the #4 Birdshot had no problem blowing through 4 layers of sheetrock and hitting the berm.  After firing the .223 Hornady TAP though, there were 3 separate and distinct dust clouds about 10 feet behind the target. This leads me to believe that the round fragmented and tumbled upon exiting.

Basically no matter what you’re firing, it’s going to go through at least one wall with ease. There are many variables that enter into this of course: insulation, studs, muzzle velocity, ft-lbs of force, rifle vs. pistol vs. shotgun and interior vs. exterior walls etc…. Unfortunately time and money constraints haven’t allowed me to test with all those variables (yet), but this less than scientific test has lead me to one conclusion. If forced to use your firearm in self-defense within the confines of your own home you need to make good clean hits on your assailant and be damned sure of what’s on the other side of the wall they’re standing in front of.

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About Ryan Finn

Ryan Finn is the Director of Operations and an Associate Instructor for Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction as well as a contractor for Vanguard Security Consultants when he isn't writing for TTAG. In his free time he is a volunteer firefighter and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his family.

41 Responses to Sheetrock Penetration Testing, Take 1

  1. avatarHere Iam says:

    In case you haven’t stumbled across the site before, http://www.theboxotruth.com .

  2. avatarspymyeyes says:

    Very good article.

    One point you missed though is what was the thickness & type of sheetrock used?

    Also, do not forget about the wires inside walls and throw in some PVC pipes with some copper pipes just to name a few and when you do, please list the size & make of each item you shoot through.

    Corners of walls, window frames, and door frames, all offer either stacked 2×4′s or lager pieces of wood depending upon desires.

    As a last thought try shooting through different width’s & styles of plywood and hardwoods because you will get VERY different results than just sheetrock.

    • avatarCRCobb says:

      I disagree.

      I would also like to know what the thickness the sheetrock was. But testing what is inside the wall is not that important. In a perfect world, the defender’s walls would be bulletproof – unless the defender wanted to hit an assailant through one of his own walls. But I’d rather see a test that shows what only 2 panels of sheetrock separated by a 2×4 (1-1/2″x3-1/2″). It’s the least-common denominator. I have blown insulation in my walls, but where’s it blown? Where’s the pipes?

      In the past, I would agree with you. But what’s the least-common denominator? That’s your penetration risk.

      • avatarCRCobb says:

        I meant “What’s the weakest barrier?” not “What’s the least-common denominator?” I gotta get my math metaphors straight!

  3. avatarPatrick Carrube says:

    Nice – I love seeing this stuff, no matter how many times I read “The Box O’ Truth”, I still like seeing more done.

    I’ve been reading up on ballistics gel vs water jugs and how they correlate. I may make a mold soon and start playing with things :)

  4. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    Yikes am I the only guy who lives in an old house? It is 90 years old. There ain’t no dang sheetrock here ! It is plaster and lathe interior to the room. Then a real 4 inches and 3/4 inch pine board sheeting. Then vinyl siding on the upper floor. The lower floor has red brick work all around. I fully expect that a 223 FMJ hitting the lower floor is gonna disintegrate as it hits the bricks on the outer layer. The interior wall construction is plaster/lathe the lathe/plaster. No insulation anywhere in the house. Again I suspect that a round like the 223 FMJ is gonna fragment internal to the interior wall.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lath_and_plaster

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      No, you’re not. My house was built in 1927, and has wet plaster over wood lathe. All the major ceilings have been redone with wet plaster over galvanized lathe for cosmetic reasons (long cracks in the ceiling). The exterior walls are stucco or stone, and one third of the house is stucco on, strangely, terra cotta block. No bullets are going through any of the walls, unless I defend with my .375 H&H, using solids. I suppose I hope any bad-guy doesn’t stand in front of a window. Even if I stop him, though, the repair bills for the old house will kill me. It’s a tradeoff.

  5. avatarbgryphon says:

    I’d be inerested to keep the same setup and use a custom round designed to under penetrate like the blue glazer. I just want to give a big +1 to the setup though, most of us want the worst case results for this one, not the results that show copper piping can deflect bullets as that is hardly the point.

  6. avatartdubb says:

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. Nothing really surprising but, it does illustrate the point. I have little doubt that my .38 special semi-wad cutters I use for practice would go through all 4 layers, let alone my .357 self defense loads.

    Testing a non brick/stone exterior wall might be interesting. Layers would be drywall, insulation, plywood, water barrier and siding? Maybe even throw another interior wall in there to simulate a room. Both aluminum and vinyl siding would be good too.

    I think most of the same rounds would still penetrate but, I don’t think they would have much energy left.

  7. avatarBrad_in_MA says:

    Anyone reading this post should check out “The Box-o-Truth” — an entire site devoted to ammo penetration testing. LOTS of good info. Pistols are pistols, rifles are rifles, and shooting stuff is fun are their tag lines.

    Brad

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      Absolutely. He hasn’t posted much lately, but his extensive tests of calibers, loadings, and materials are the best around. Gel tests are fine when the question is “how much soft tissue will a bullet or buckshot penetrate?” But for the walls question, TBT is very good.

  8. avatarRalph says:

    I’m was concerned about the welfare of my neighbors across the hall in the event that I have to use a firearm in self-defense, so I lined all the walls of my apartment with lead radiation shielding. I took a few practice shots and the lead shielding works great! Unfortunately, my apartment collapsed into my downstairs neighbor’s apartment, so now we are sharing one apartment with a lot of broken furniture and sixteen foot ceilings.

  9. avatarimrambi says:

    It would be interesting to know not only how many walls, but it would also change with ballistics gel.

    The test that would be nice to see:

    1. Ballistic gel then wall then ballistics gel (hit the perp, but also someone else on the other side of the wall)
    2. Ballistic gel then wall, then wall and ballistics gel (same thing, but the other person is two rooms later)
    3. How many walls total

    Yes the thickness of sheetrock makes a difference. Most people use 1/2″, I have 5/8″ in my place, but if people are cutting corners, they will use 1/4″. That will make a difference in penetration. Insulation might make some difference penetration, but remember that insulation is normally only on the outside walls, not interior, so that will not make a difference. There are also various types of insulation and thickness (foam, fiberglass, recycled), so that also must be documented.

    There are many permutations that can be done, but using ballistics gel would give a better idea as bullets like the .223 will tumble unlike the 9mm.

    • avatarRalph says:

      Let’s face it. If any thickness of sheetrock could stop bullets, our soldiers would be going off to battle armored in wallboard.

      I can ram an ice pick through 1″ of sheetrock, and it won’t be moving at 1200 fps.

      • avatarMatt G. says:

        You can also ram an icepick through a level-3 vest. That doesn’t really mean anything. Also, drywall is effing heavy. No way would I hump a vest of that shit even if it stopped bullets.

    • avatarRalph says:

      Hey, I just figured out a big-time moneymaking idea . . . . Bulletproof sheetrock! Perfect for buildings in battle zones like Fallujah and South Central LA.

      • avatarRopingdown says:

        It already exists. UHMWPE (Ultra-high molecular weight polyehtylene). The stuff they used to make poly rifle plates. The virgin uncolored industrial stuff is what they use. For $1,100 you too can have a 4′ by 8′ reinforced wall that will withstand repeated .308 shots. The best dealer we could find is here: http://www.interstateplastics.com/Natural-Uhmw-virgin-Sheet-UHMNV.php. It is best used between plaster or wood to provide UV protection for the material. It’s much lighter than steel for the same protection.

  10. avatarJoseph says:

    Tanks Ralph….you be right.

  11. avatarBob says:

    Two important points we can take from this:
    1. The wall and doors in our houses are not cover, they’re concealment. If a bad guy knows you are there, he can shoot you through your wall or door, especially an interior wall. They are concealment, because he can’t see you through them.

    2. However, we can use this fact against the bad guy too, by shooting him through a wall or door IF WE KNOW exactly where he is over there or at least know that there are no good guys over there. This can be a huge “home field advantage” when a bad guy is in or about to enter your house.

    There are some legal concerns about shooting a bad guy that you can’t see, of course. Every individual has to decide when legal concerns are trumped by just trying to survive the next few minutes or the lives of your loved ones. Everyone’s decision will be a little different …

    I would just state that you need to keep this strategy in mind as a possible option in a home defense situation. If I knew A Bad Guy With A Gun was in my house, I might decide to shoot a couple rounds in a questionable direction instead of the probability that the bad guy would shoot a couple rounds in a known bad direction.

  12. avatarCurzen says:

    Given how well guns in .380 ACP sell it would have been a good idea to test with that caliber as well.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      A very good point, but I don’t own any guns in .380. I’ll make sure to borrow one for the next test.

  13. avatarRalph says:

    Self Defense Tip of the Week: if you have to shoot a BG in your home, don’t effing miss.

  14. avatarLawrence T says:

    Once had a negligent discharge in my 100 year old home. Hornady Critical Defense 115 gr. FTX, distance approx. 12 ft out of 3.6 in barrel. Penetrated first layer of plaster over wood lathe. Did not penetrate 2nd layer, though 2nd layer popped out with slug buried in it. No studs, wiring or pipes. Beautiful expansion. I was pleased. I worry about missed shots and over penetration causing injuries to unintended parties.

  15. avatarTom says:

    I love these type of articles. Pistolero Magazine used to do them and actually built a mock house in the desert.
    You might want to do some tests on standard outside walls and walls with insulation. A good test would be sheetrock, stud, plywood, vinyl siding.

    I used to play a lot with bullets penetrating stuff when we had the farms.
    Birdshot out of a 3″ shell will go through thick sheet metal.
    Birdshot out of a 2 3/4″ shell will not.
    .22 lr will go through a gallon milk jug filled with water.
    .22lr will go through most stud type boards.
    .45 ACP will go through a small sappling tree of about 1 1/2 ” thick.

  16. avatarTom says:

    I think about any round fired from most firearms will sing through most walls in a house. It is just after they leave your house; how many of the neighbor’s walls will they penetrate?

  17. avatarRich Keagy says:

    This is all well-documented in the movie Four Brothers.

  18. avatarGraybeard says:

    As I recall, my brother had a NG in our house, built in the early 1960′s, from a pistol – cannot remember if it was a 9mm or a .357. It didn’t exit the house – hit one interior wall & into the attic. (He was upstairs.)

  19. avatarAPBTFan says:

    Disregarding all the hippie crap this makes sense,

    http://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/11/solving-nigerias-housing-problem-with-plastic-water-bottles/

    If it can stop a 7.62×39 I’m good with it. Sheetrock house, bottom floor apartment and an understanding better half? Start buying 1 liter (?) bottles and find a bunch of dirt. It’ll certainly cut the dimensions a room a bit but there ain’t any typical home invader’s round going through 9″ of hard-packed dirt into you or your loved ones. Sort of a safe room. One door, one field of fire if it comes to that. Of course I’m the kind of (happily single) guy to entertain the idea.

  20. avatarKen Hobbs says:

    I live in a 5th wheel; can’t afford to miss.

  21. avatarpercynjpn says:

    Thanks for the nice article, Ryan; I’ve always thought bird shot would be the best
    choice for avoiding (at least somewhat) wall penetration.

    Todd

  22. avatarAPBTFan says:

    From extensive use of Hornady V-Max’s I can attest they disintegrate on contact with just about anything. Hit or miss they broke up on whatever they hit. In a home defense scenario I’ll trade a shallower hit from my AR on a BG as opposed to something that’ll penetrate multiple walls. Complete energy dump will interrupt just about anyone leaving a guy open for multiple other shots if needed. Everything is a trade off. Pick what suits you. I load my own to factory spec if the internet heresy of “handloads” manages to come into play. 30 rounds of 60gr. V-Maxes makes me comfortable.

  23. avatarJoe C. says:

    Take index finger. Fold, make knuckle. Point toward 1/2″ sheetrock from a distance of 18″. Thrust forward. It will penetrate.

    • avatarEd says:

      good point. who cares if they all penetrate. its more important to know what they’ll do after going through the wall.

  24. avatarMark says:

    Lesson learned: if you don’t live in a brick house with no windows or doors, don’t miss.

  25. avatarBen says:

    In .223, 64 grain Winchester PowerPoint (the non bonded version) is completely stopped by two interior walls. After the first wall the bullet is nothing but little chips that are easily stopped by the second wall.

    One caveat seems to be that the LE version of this bullet has a cannelure, and the civilian version sold for hunting does not, so the crimp is probably not as secure.

    Testing FMJ was a waste of time.

  26. avatarJaylemieux says:

    Are there sites that further detail ballistic testing of birdshot? A friend suggested some months ago that birdshot offers the least wall penetration while remaining highly destructive to human tissue at home defense ranges. The above results would seem to support that idea.

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