DIY Guns, Part 1: An Intro to Modern 3D Printing and Making Your Own Firearms at Home

3d printed guns ivan

Courtesy Ivan the Troll

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[This is the first in a series on 3D printing for producing your own homemade firearms. (Part 2 here.) Despite the best efforts of federal and state level politicians, making your own guns at home for your own use is still legal in almost every state (some require registration…check your local laws)].

Experienced 3D gun maker Ivan the Troll, head of PR for Deterrence Dispensed, will be taking us through the basics of 3D printing and revealing how easy and affordable producing your own 3D printed firearms has become.]

By Ivan the Troll

In the past five years, there have been massive advances in the world of consumer 3D printing. The quality and capability of these printers have gone up while their prices have gone way, way down.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the early work of Defense Distributed. Back in 2013, the kinds of printers you needed to print guns or gun parts could easily cost more than $20,000. But since 2018, the Chinese company Creality has been producing very affordable printers that have exceptional performance, even compared to the expensive printers from 2013.

Creality Ender 3 3D printer

Courtesy Amazon

Their mainstay model, the Creality Ender 3, has become a gold standard of the current 3D printed gun world. The Ender 3 runs around $200 dollars (it goes on sale often for $179, but sometimes is listed for as much as $230 on Amazon).

In this article, I’ll walk you through the basics of 3D printing with a focus on producing your own guns and gun parts.

3D Printing Basics

Perhaps the most important item to touch on is the definition of a “3D printed gun.” Because of how US law defines a gun, it’s factually correct to call a 3D printed AR-15 lower a 3D printed gun – but this point causes consternation for some people.

I tend to break printed guns into three categories:

1) 3D printed receivers/frames/parts kit completion builds

These are items like printed AR-15 lowers, printed GLOCK frames, or printed AKM receivers.

They are printed guns under US law, but usually only feature one or two printed parts and require other parts to make it operate and go bang. These types of guns are somewhat analogous to Polymer80 GLOCK-style frames, or 80% AR-15 lowers. You order the whole parts kit and make the receiver/frame yourself.

These types of firearm are effectively always based on existing firearm designs and tend to last thousands of rounds.

how to make 3d printed guns

A GLOCK G17 built on a pink 3D printed frame (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

how to make 3d printed guns

An AMD65 (AKM pattern rifle) built on a 3D Printed receiver (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

2) 3D printed hybrid firearms

These are firearms that give the outward appearance of being fully 3D printed, but still rely on some metal parts.

Sometimes these metal parts are commercial gun parts — like a GLOCK 17 barrel in the Shuty AP-9 — or sometimes they’re off-the-shelf hardware store parts like screws, springs, or hydraulic tubing.

These firearms tend to have some basis in existing designs, but are unique from commercial firearms, but still tend to last thousands of rounds.

FGC9 3d printed gun

The FGC9 (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

The FGC9 (for Fuck Gun Control 9mm) is a hybrid printed gun based on the Shuty AP-9 that uses an AR-15 (or similar airsoft gun) fire control group and a barrel made from hydraulic tubing.

3) “Fully” printed firearms

These tend to be the least common type of 3D printed gun. The most notable examples are the Liberator, the Songbird, and the Washbear revolver.

There aren’t actually any fully printed guns. The guns in this category still use some parts like metal firing pins and sometimes rubber bands as hammer springs.

These designs are usually totally unique and don’t draw inspiration from existing firearm designs. They tend to only last a few rounds, frequently only between 1 and 30.

Adding a barrel liner to these designs can push their life into the hundreds of rounds or more, but adding a liner makes them a hybrid firearm in my mind (see category 2 above).

Liberator, a .380 ACP 3D printed gun

The Liberator, a .380 ACP 3D printed gun (courtesy Incarbonite)

Songbird, a .22lr 3D printed gun

The Songbird, a .22LR 3D printed gun (courtesy Incarbonite)

Washbear, a 3D printed .22LR double-action revolver.

The Washbear, a 3D printed .22LR double-action revolver. (courtesy Incarbonite)

With the definitions out of the way, let’s talk some more about . . .

Printers

The prevalent consumer printing technology is known as fused deposition of material (FDM). That’s just nerdspeak for a printer that melts and deposits plastic as it moves around in a computer-controlled path.

There are many other types of 3D printing; SLA which uses a UV laser or light to harden UV-sensitive resin in a computer-controlled pattern. There are even printers that use a high-power laser to melt metal powder in a computer-controlled pattern to create metal printed parts. However, FDM printers tend to be the cheapest and most accessible printers and are the primary focus of the development of 3D printed guns.

Common among most types of 3D printing is that parts are made layer by layer. Each successive layer is built up upon the previous one.

 

These FDM printers are quite simple in design – they feature a print bed, where the part is built up from, a hotend, where the melted plastic is extruded from, and an extrusion drive system that feeds plastic into the hotend.

They also feature three-axis movement, which is usually done with stepper motors.

how to make 3d printed guns

The Ender 3’s bed (courtesy Incarbonite)

how to make 3d printed guns

The Ender 3’s hotend (courtesy Incarbonite)

how to make 3d printed guns

The Ender 3’s extruder assembly (courtesy Incarbonite)

how to make 3d printed guns

The Z and Y axis stepper motors for the Ender 3 printer (courtesy Incarbonite)

While the printers are marvels of affordable technological sophistication, they’re useless without . . .

Plastics

 

One of the best things about FDM printing is the huge variety of plastics you can print with. Many different types of thermoplastics can be printed with a capable FDM printer.

FDM printers consume plastic in the form of filament, a long string of plastic wrapped around a spool. The printer feeds the plastic in slowly as it prints a part. The most popular types of plastic for gun printing tend to be one of four types: PLA, ABS, PETG, and Nylon.

One thing to note is that most filaments are hygroscopic – meaning they adsorb water from the atmosphere. For PLA and ABS, this usually isn’t a big deal unless you leave your filament sitting out for months in a humid room. For PETG, and especially for nylon, even a day or two of sitting out in a room can cause them to soak up enough water to cause issues when printing.

Luckily, you can dry filament out using a standard kitchen oven. Set your over as low as possible (under 180F ideally) and let the spool sit in the oven for 6 to 24 hours.

PLA is a cheap, easy-to-print polymer that has become a mainstay in 3D printing. It exhibits good strength, high stiffness, but it has a very low melting temperature. Sitting in a hot sunlit car can cause PLA parts to overheat and deform.

Additionally, very hard use of PLA-printed parts in guns can overheat them if they aren’t allowed to cool. I did a 150-round dump in a GLOCK 17 frame printed in PLA and the heat radiating from the chamber melted the recoil spring seat.

That said, I had over 1500 rounds on that frame and most people will never do a 150-round dump. PLA parts will last long term if they aren’t pushed past their limits. My personal favorite PLA is eSun’s PLA+. It runs about $25 a kilogram.

how to make 3d printed guns

Courtesy Amazon

A roll of eSun PLA+ filament.

how to make 3d printed guns

A 30-round GLOCK 9mm magazine printed with eSun PLA+ filament (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

ABS is a very common polymer. It’s what LEGO bricks are made of and is found everywhere from plumbing supplies to car interiors.

ABS, though, is quite tricky to 3D print as it has a high warp factor. As it cools, it tries to curl and shrink. However, ABS is quite strong. It’s a little more flexible than PLA, and has a much better resistance to heat than PLA.

ABS is a great choice for things like AR-15 lowers, which need a little flexibility to function long-term in polymer. I like IC3D’s ABS – it runs around 30 bucks a kilogram.

how to make 3d printed guns

Courtesy Amazon

A roll of IC3D ABS filament.

how to make 3d printed guns

An AR-15 lower printed in IC3D’s ABS filament (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

PETG is another common polymer. Its blends are found in things like water bottles and milk jugs. PETG can be tricky because there are many different blends sold as PETG by the different filament manufacturers.

Some PETG is more flexible than ABS, some is less. Some PETG is brittle, some is soft. However, PETG is generally as strong as ABS and has a lower warp factor, while still having comparable heat resistance to ABS.

My experience with PETG is somewhat limited, but I had good success printing a Warfairy Charon AR-15 lower in Polymaker’s PETG, which ran me around $30 a kilogram.

how to make 3d printed guns

Courtesy Amazon

A roll of Polymaker PETG filament.

how to make 3d printed guns

The Warfairy Charon Lower printed in Polymaker’s PETG filament (courtesy Ivan the Troll)

Nylon is another polymer with a lot of different blends. For 3D printing we’ll just look at low-temp nylon alloys and high-temp nylons.

Low-temp nylon allows, such as Taulman 910, can be printed on a stock Creality Ender 3. It is strong, flexible, and very well suited to printing AR lowers. 910 has a little bit of warp, but not near as much as ABS and runs around $35 a kilogram.

High-temp nylons are the top shelf for gun printing on consumer printers. While even stronger filaments exist, they require printers outside the price range of most consumers.

High-temp nylons can’t be printed by stock Ender 3’s. For that, the Ender 3 needs an upgraded hotend, such as the MicroSwiss all-metal hotend, in order to handle these nylons. That will run you about $65.

My favorite high-temp nylons to use are DuPont’s 3D printable Zytels. DuPont specially formulated its flagship nylon blend for 3D printing, and the results are amazing…very strong parts, low warp, and easy printing.

DuPont offers a Zytel that has 33% glass fiber fill – this is my personal favorite filament. While DuPont’s filaments cost about 100 bucks a kilogram, their strength and longevity make it worth the price.

how to make 3d printed guns

Courtesy Amazon

A roll of Taulman 910 nylon alloy filament.

how to make 3d printed guns

Courtesy coexllc.com

A roll of DuPont Zytel filament.

how to make 3d printed guns

A GLOCK 22 frame printed in Glass-filled Zytel (courtesy Ivan the Troll)

With a background in filament, now let’s look at what a kilogram of filament actually gets you. About $100 for a kilogram of Zytel sounds steep, but that kilogram can print eight or nine GLOCK frames (depending on your exact print settings). That yields a cost of around $12 for each GLOCK frame.

While its strength will be a little below an OEM injection-molded GLOCK frame, Zytel frames are strong enough to use long term, even as carry guns. I’ve carried the glass-filled Zytel frame GLOCK G22 above for several months and it has taken its fair share of bumps and knocks over that time. That and over 900 rounds of practice fire…it still holds up just fine.

3D printed GLOCK G22

My G22 carry gun (courtesy Ivan the Troll)

Limitations

There are some notable limitations to 3D printed guns. Some parts, depending on their design and uses (be they receivers, frames or otherwise) simply don’t lend themselves to printing.

FAL receivers would be nigh-on impossible to print with an FDM printer. Barrels can be printed for calibers like .380, but they only work for a short time. Bolts and breech faces lack the mass and strength to hold up long term when printed in polymer.

In this way, 3D printing isn’t a universal solution for the home gunsmith. This is simply a new, cost effective tool for some aspects of home gun making.

Turning out receivers for things like AR-15s is simple and parts like AKM receivers and GLOCK frames lend themselves well to being printed along with using simple metal parts on wear surfaces such as slide rails or bolt carrier rails.

how to make 3d printed guns

A look at the simple metal rails screwed into the 3D printed AKM receiver to give it wear-resistance where the bolt carrier travels. (Courtesy Ivan the Troll)

In the next article in this series, we will touch on how to get started printing guns yourself, talk about the current state of printable guns, and showcase how 3D printers can be used to print tooling and jigs for other aspects of gunsmithing.

Read Part 2 in this series here.

 

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comments

  1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    Hmmm. Interesting. I know of Creality Ender printers, and I’ve built several P80 polymer Glocks with great results. In fact, my EDC (for the office), nightstand, and trunk guns are all P80s that have collectively gobbled up thousands of rounds with nary a hiccup.

    I’ll be looking forward to Ivan’s next article.

    1. avatar Peegeetwo says:

      Not clear what you’re trying to say.

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        What part confused you?

      2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        “Not clear what you’re trying to say.”

        Is the following clear enough for you, ‘peeegeeetwo’?

        “What I wrote in that July post stands. If you want to talk about the topic raised in a post, have at it. If you want to hijack the comments to talk about vaccines, crop circles, the Holomodor…whatever…do it somewhere else.”

        Dan Zimmerman, TTAG manager

        https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/when-openly-carrying-a-firearm-limits-others-free-speech-allegedly/#comment-4463216

        Got a problem with that? Take it up with Dan Z…

        1. avatar Someone says:

          Nice!

  2. avatar Rick3 says:

    Very helpful and interesting article, Ivan. Makes me want to look into investing in a 3D printer, since my home state of Washington has gone “full retard” about guns.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Same here!
      When I saw the price on the Creality, I about sh!t.
      Then get the upgrade to use Zytel… cheaper than a store bought gun.

      I may hit some order buttons tonight.

      Zytel, seems to me, it’s what the Remington nylon-66 was made out of. Super durable!

      1. avatar bad player says:

        If you’re handy you can probably learn Autodesk Fusion in which case you can design your own stuff. Owning a 3D printer is a huge QOL upgrade even if you don’t make gun stuff.

        I’ve made a lot of prints for just stuff around the house. I’ve got a bunch of printed shelf brackets that are supporting tempered glass shelves and like 50lbs of stuff on each shelf.

        1. avatar Greg says:

          Ditto the Autodesk Fusion 360. It’s a powerful 3d design software program that is FREE for hobbyists. It is fairly easy to learn with lots of tutorials online.

    2. avatar JasonM says:

      If you can afford it, get a Prusa. I have an Ender 3 and a Prusa MK3S. I don’t bother using the Ender. The auto leveling, auto loading and unloading, magnetic bed, and sturdier design make it worth it, I think.

      I did print a 10/22 receiver on the Ender (a “semi-automatic assault rifle” around here), but I haven’t bothered to assemble it yet.
      I have built many accessories though: mag bodies, mag extender plates, reloading case holders, chamber flags, etc.

      1. avatar KenW says:

        If it was the warfairy stl you will need to to some machining for the barrel and bolt. I decided after several were made(and did not hold up) to print it in natural pla and cast it in aluminum and after some machining ended up with a pretty nice receiver. I’m temped to cast one in brass just because.

        What may happen in more restrictive parts of the country are attempts at controlling 3d printing. They have already tried but were laughed at as chicken little. If it becomes common for making parts for weapons watch them use that as proof they need to do something. What heck if I know maybe some idiot would try to control it with a reel registry? If they do make or buy a filastruder.

        Or more likely restrictions on what you can make with your printer. Which may already exist, if I am reading it right my owning AR15s means it is illegal for me to possess swift links so if I were to print one it could possibly cause me problems. Since I do not need problems and really can’t think of a need to blow through ammo even quicker than I already do I’ll let others print that sort of stuff.

        One thing they will not be able to do is shut down 3d printing. It’s not that heard to make one yourself.

      2. avatar Someone says:

        Prusa je uchyl! (Prusa is a deviant!)
        https://youtu.be/CDtseF2CP7Q

        Just playing. Prusa printers are great!

  3. avatar GS650G says:

    In 10 years we’ll have a choice of buying our guns or making them from parts with printed assemblies done at home with equal results. And we will laugh at attempts to tell us we can’t have what we want.

  4. avatar Draven says:

    You didn’t need a $20,000 printer in 2013 to print the gun parts you can print on a Creality printer. a $1500 or so printer would do. It would be a bit slower, and would likely take longer to set up, but it could print just as well as the Creality printers. Also, keep in mind that the Creality printers are Chinese clones of the Prusa i3 (current version of which runs $950 assembled), which is in itself a variant of the third-generation Reprap design, which originally became available to the public in 2010. So, basically, the tech for those Creality printers has been avalable since 2010, print-quality-wise.

    1. avatar Phillip J says:

      Yeah, but a sevenfold reduction in cost is nothing to sneeze at.

      1. avatar KenW says:

        There was even more of a multifold drop in the need to work on them. My first printer a RepRapPro Mendel which was built in 2013 looked like a tinkertoy and needed near constant monitoring it while printing and prints were not as nice as newer printers can produce. But it was the first affordable 3d printer I had ever seen.

  5. avatar Ban it says:

    Ban daylight savings time, for the children!

  6. avatar Kevin says:

    Thanks, Ivan, that was an interesting primer. I look forward to future articles in the series.

    One question: how long until printers that print metal (as opposed to plastic) are affordable to mere mortals? That will open up a new era.

    Thanks again.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “how long until printers that print metal (as opposed to plastic) are affordable to mere mortals?”

      Not for a *long* while. The gas lasers with the power level required to fuse metal powders are quite expensive, the work area has to kept under an inert gas like Argon ‘blanket’ while printing, and the metal powders themselves aren’t cheap.

      What I expect to see happen is people locally in a ‘Maker’s’ environment or similar coughing up the necessary few hundred thousand a copy to buy it, and then selling time on it by the hour with consumables like the metal powder and gas added on top…

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        Printing a metal gun frame that way will be a few thousand bucks at today’s rate.

        There’s another option available that’s a whole lot cheaper – 3D printers printing a wax object that is used in ‘lost wax’ metal casting :

      2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        And here is the lost wax method used with 3D PLA printing to make a mold :

        1. avatar Jenny says:

          Fascinating video! Thanks for the post! 🙂

      3. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

        I’ve wanted to use an online printing service, but printing of gun parts was prohibited by the service. I did not pursue actually trying to print the item because didn’t want alphabet bois kicking in the door and shooting the dog.

        I’m assuming any local 3D metal service will have the same kind of stupid rules.

        1. It’s not legal for a local 3D printing service or job shop to create a “gun” for you. That means a pistol frame or AR lower, the parts that the ATF consider to be the legal firearm.

        2. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

          I’m pretty sure the policy was NO gun parts but I honestly don’t remember which service I was looking at.

          At this point I can buy any legal gun part I want, but I could see the beauty of printing standard capacity magazine parts and spring winder if I was behind enemy lines in the slave states.

        3. A lot of machine shops and job shops have an across-the-board no gun parts policy.

  7. avatar Napresto says:

    I wonder if anyone is doing guns or parts with SLA resin printers? I have one (Elegoo Mars) which has amazing print quality, especially for the low price. But the cured resin, while strong, feels more brittle to me than than the plastics used in FDM printers. It’s a great printer for adding little details to models, and for making 3D fittings for the VR/mixed reality research project I’m developing at work right now. Not sure it would hold up in the same way as FDM in more aggressive applications. Maybe?

    1. avatar Irving Washington says:

      Most of the cheap SLA printers use cell phone screens as their light source and don’t have a print volume large enough for things like a Glock frame.

      From what I’ve read it takes some more expensive engineering resins to be able to withstand the shock involved in firearms parts.

      Certainly interested to see what people can come up with using different printer technology.

      1. avatar Napresto says:

        Yep, the one I have works exactly this way. The print volume is quite small, but good enough for most parts. A full-sized frame would be a problem.

  8. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    Most of these look like crap compared to many of the traditionally built homemade guns built in underground machine shops that thefirearmblog.com periodically features. And those machine shops are often operating with relatively primitive tools.

    The technology to make semi auto and full auto weapons cannot be suppressed. It is too easy.

    1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

      Someone who *needs* a gun but is unable to get one won’t give a shit on what it looks like, as long as it goes *bang*…

      1. avatar Prndll says:

        This is part of what makes the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

        1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

          Huh?

      2. avatar Cloudbuster says:

        Most of the homemade guns made with traditional methods are safer than the 3D printed guns, even the crappy-looking homemade guns.

        https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2020/03/09/underground-arms-watch-march-pt-1/

  9. avatar former water walker says:

    Interesting! Probably too techy for me but quite compelling…

  10. avatar Bob says:

    No thanks, looks like a good way to get hurt.

    1. avatar arc says:

      If I ever test a home made 3D printed pistol, it will either be in a vice with a string, or I’ll be wearing animal handling gloves, eye protection, and a full face mask as a primary shield for my eyes.

      These gloves are 3+ layers of Denim, kevlar, and leather reinforcement. Puncture resistant and beefy, I’ve yet to get poked by anything yet.

      1. avatar Someone says:

        Most of these pistols still use a regular machined metal barrel and a regular machined metal slide. Only the frame that doesn’t need to stand up to any pressure is plastic. For GLOCKs it even means metal frame insert like in factory made one. No need to worry.

  11. avatar Lowell says:

    Also, if you don’t want to print with black nylon, Matterhackers makes NylonG (glass filled) in LOTS OF COLORS, including Olive and Desert Tan, almost like they expected us to use it for gun stuff(which I’m pretty sure they did). https://www.matterhackers.com/store/c/nylong

    Also, you think that 3D printing is changing DIY guns? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  12. avatar MouseGun says:

    I’m not saying that 3D printed firearm receivers will never be viable, but I think I’ll let the rich kids and technophiles deal with the growing pains. We’ll see where the state of this stuff is in a decade before I get me hopes up.

  13. avatar BusyBeef says:

    Awesome. Especially for printing magazines.

  14. avatar Andy says:

    I often wondered about the durability of carbon fiber reinforced nylon filament like this:
    https://www.matterhackers.com/store/l/nylonx-carbon-fiber-nylon-filament-1.75mm/sk/MD5LDGS7
    in an AR-15 lower receiver application.

    Has anyone tested this?

  15. avatar Pete Zaitcev says:

    Fully support Ivan regarding IC3D ABS. One big advantage it has over the lowest-priced ABS filament is its purity. It can be hell to clean heads.

    Fraurem AR9 PPQ adapters are printed from IC3D ABS.

  16. avatar Frank V says:

    I have one question and that is is there a place to get free plans? If there are free plans for 3d printers then those of us who do not own one or can afford one right now, then a person could rent one or ask to use one.
    I know of one place in my area that has a 3d printer (Looks like a little booth-I don’t know the model) you can pay to use just like buying time on a computer at Kinkos.

    I should have asked are there any plans available for sale? And proven?

  17. avatar dickballs says:

    The FGC wasn’t based on the Shuty… The shuty was a joke of a weapon.

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