by J.P. Anderson
As a guy who loves to save a buck, make things, and generally prove that “I don’t need to buy into your culture of consumption, man,” I’m always on the lookout for new projects. My interest in guns led me to improvised firearms, which inevitable led me to homemade body armor. Really. I was intrigued. Sure, Kevlar-and-plate body armor has a proven, battle-tested track record. But was it possible that “the man” was just selling us a load of goods? Could I make my own body armor that would be just as effective, comfortable, and cheaper? . . .
In case you’re pressed for time, the short answer is no. If you’re worried about your safety, buy some damn Kevlar. Interest free credit cards are your friend. For the long answer, read on.
My first idea about alternative body armor came from recalling an experiment I did with non-Newtonian fluids in eighth grade. You know, the cornstarch and water thing. If you rest your hand on a blob of the stuff, it will slowly sink it. But if you punch it, the fluid is rock hard. Would the same apply to a bullet? And hadn’t I read somewhere that someone had created a hardening fluid that would work in a bulletproof vest?
A quick search led me to Mythbusters Episode 112. Damn it. Six slender bags of a water/cornstarch mixture isn’t bulletproof at all. The amount you’d need to wear for a bulletproof vest would cripple Jean Claude Van Damme, if it worked at all.
Youtube’s Taofledermaus confirms the uselessness of the cornstarch and water method, but gets surprisingly good results with a giant gummi bear. The 5 lb. gummi stops a .380, so if you want to go into a situation of civil unrest draped in a vest of ‘roided out candy, best hope the bad guys are all carrying mouse guns.
What about pressing common household objects into use? Maybe a thick book with a ceramic tile top layer? In a pinch, this might actually get the job done in terms of stopping a bullet. But stopping a bullet is only part of the equation; the body armor also needs to be relatively lightweight, durable, and not restrict your range of motion. A poncho made of old phone books and bathroom tiles, as awesome as that would look, really doesn’t fit the bill.
Layers of cloth, from the linen of the ancient linothorax to the layers of silk some aristocrats would don in the days of flintlocks (and later: the first bullet-resistant vest made by Casimir Zeglen in the early 20th century used the same principal) to the felt-and-silicone contraption proposed by “Josey Wales” in “The Poorman’s Bullet-Proof Vest” might work against soft, lower powered rounds hurled from a musket (might) but are unlikely to withstand any real projectile, ie a modern bullet fired from a rifled barrel. Having said that, there are some promising developments in the use of spider silks. If you want a spider farm as part of your shtf preps so you can weave a featherweight armor vest, more power to you. I’d rather be shot, personally.
The long and the short of it is this: you can hang two inch thick plates of Lexan off your body, or drape yourself in scales of 1/2” thick AR500 steel and shamble to your doom like a three-legged tortoise, or hide behind flower pots and filing cabinets like they do in The Walking Dead (that works, right?) but the bitter truth of the matter is that there is no homemade, field-expedient, inexpensive way to make a reliable bullet-proof vest. So if you like to tinker, make a kayak. Maybe you can turn your old Kevlar one into a tactical battle boat.
(Disclaimer: don’t let people shoot you to test armor, homemade or not, numbnuts.)