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For me, the whole process of building homemade shooters started with Wham-O. Yes, Wham-O. The seller and marketer of the Slip ‘N Slide, Hula Hoop, Hacky Sack and the much-loved Frisbee started out not with the Hula Hoop, but with a powerful slingshot. It was robust, well-made and accurate. It hit hard enough to take small game. Hence, the name Wham-O. I could not buy one, so I made one. And it was easier than I thought . . .

The materials consisted pair of wire coat hangers, properly trimmed, bent into position and wrapped in plastic gaffer’s tape, rubber bands and the tongue of an old shoe for the pouch. Ammo consisted of marbles. Within a short time, I was able to hit tin cans at 25 yards and more, easily, repeatedly. Which only whetted my appetite for more.

My next effort was a linoleum rifle. Materials were a length of 1”X2”, rubber bands and eye hooks for anchors. They could be shot bow-and-arrow style or with a spring-type clothes pin for the thumb-operated trigger. Ammo was small, cut up squares of old linoleum. Linoleum proved to be less accurate than marbles as the squares tended toward curved flight. But if you were hit by a shot from a linoleum gun, you ran home crying. Which only whetted my appetite for more.

I wanted to make a real gun.

In the Bronx of the 1950s, the making of zip guns was a cottage industry. There were two basic kinds. The most elegant were built up from cap guns. Frankly, I was unwilling to sacrifice any of my cap guns. They went too well with my holsters, hat and little cowboy boots.

The crudest .22 caliber zip guns utilized a length of thin tubing, such as the kind found in percolators, telescoping car antennas or rigid, under-sink plumbing. Supporting that “barrel” was a piece of scrap wood, perhaps left over from the 1”X2” strips used to make a linoleum rifle. The firing pin was a nail with the tip blunted, so it wouldn’t puncture the case. The nail could be stabilized with a plug of cork from a wine or whiskey bottle. The striker was driven by a spring or rubber bands.

More firepower was available, of course A piece of ¾” plumbing pipe was a good size to make a zip shotgun, and threaded pipe and end caps were readily available. Because of high pressures, homemade shotguns tended to blow up, dispersing shrapnel in all directions, including toward the shooter. This gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “one shot stop.” A zip maker had to really know what he was doing to make a 12 gauge. Learning was by experimentation, since there was no Internet. There was a library, but who wanted to go there?

Ammo was hard to come by, but there was usually a hunter in the neighborhood with a .22 or a shotgun. And they usually didn’t notice one or two cartridges or shells missing.

So today it’s printed guns and yesterday it was zip guns. How easy was it to make zip guns? Very. Child’s play, really. I was ten.

Making functional, safe homemade firearms with 3D printers is amazing, no doubt about it. It’s a breakthrough. It’s disruptive. Best of all, it scares the crap out of the Imperial State. But let’s face it, people have been making homemade firearms ever since firearms were invented.

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  1. The noise around the 3D printed firearms has made me wonder if the very concept of the “zip” gun simply hadn’t occurred to millions of people until the Liberator made news. People cant be that clueless. Can they? Don’t answer. I’m sure they can and too often are.

    • Yes. Guns are magic devices that can only be produced in far-away factories run by maniacally-laughing evil men who feast on caviar paid for by the profits of children’s blood.

    • Yes, they can be that clueless…not just in the fabrication of mechanical things but in the idea that firearms are a halmark of barbarity rather than a halmark of civilization.

      • Yes.. because there are civilizations on this planet where guns are outlawed because they are barbaric, but they have a Utopian society.. like China and North Korea to name two..

    • I hadn’t heard talk (or thought) about zip guns since the mid-80s until they got brought up again with the Liberator a few weeks ago. It doesn’t have to be people being clueless; just a case of never considering that anyone would bother, what with “Saturday night specials” and Hi-Points out there.

    • Well, consider the scanned newsclipping that’s been making the rounds that pleads for people to stop killing animals for food and just get their meat from the grocery store instead so nothing has to die.

      • Attribution? I haven’t seen this, and while it’s certainly of a piece with recent punditry, it’s simultaneously so absurd that I’d want to make sure of its authentic origin.

        • It’s as absurd as the lady that wanted deer crossing signs moved… for the sake of the deer.

    • Heard once from a visitor to a machine shop: “I didn’t know you could make gears. I thought you had to buy them.”

    • For the ordinary zip, a hollowed our C or D cell lightly packed with cotton actually worked.

  2. If prison inmates can build a zip gun from stuff they find lying around, it can’t be that difficult.

  3. Read an article on Cracked last week on why the Liberator is nothing to panic about. I had hopes it might actually point out that zip guns and other homemade boomsticks have been around longer than Cracked (including the defunct magazine), but no. It was full of the same ignorant statist garbage. No knowledge of what it is, what it represents, or why it’s important. The worst part? The asseration by the (Cracked article’s) author that the Liberator is illegal to have without doing federal paperwork. Like you have to do a background check on yourself.

    On Topic: great article, Ralph. Nice to have a little perpective on how easy it is to hand make a gun.

    • Oh man, just read that article. Lots of mechanical ignorance and typical statist boot-licking comments. I guess I shouldn’t expect too much hard-hitting factual information from what’s basically a college humor site – but they sure do have solid opinions about it.

  4. I was trying to explain to a friend the other day that while the 3-D printed guns are a game changer, at the exact same time, they’re completely not. The bar is actually higher on 3-D printed guns. With all of Ralph’s examples, all you needed was a few bucks (at most), and some ingenuity. 3-D printed guns require a printer, which at minimum is about $5-600 right now, or at least access to one. Those printers, in addition to being not cheap, require a certain amount of computer/technical expertise. These things do not just work, right out of the box. First, they don’t come “out of a box.” They all have to be assembled. Then they require somewhat extensive configuration, calibration, and testing. And only then can you start printing stuff that matters. But be careful what material you use, because some materials (basically all the entry-level stuff) are not strong enough for use in a firearm. You want to use the better material? That requires recalibration of your existing printer, or may require a new printer entirely, because the good material cannot be used in the cheaper printers.

    While this sort of thing is a game changer if you were part of an underground organization living under an oppressive regime (y’know, like Australia), in the U.S. this is still currently a hobby-type thing. Don’t get me wrong, one crazy guy living alone could still eventually come up with a working, single-shot gun with which to kill someone. But he could do that anyway. And for the amount of money he’d spend doing this, he could easily make something less technically advanced, or just buy a real gun, legally or illegally. And that one wouldn’t be single shot.

    In short, for as long as you can buy a Glock for less than the cost of the printer (and probably a whole lot faster, given the testing/tuning time on the printer), this is completely a non-issue in this country.

    • Agreed that as a method of aquiring a firearm, the printed method is one of the last things one would do out of need. But as a idea, that we are free to devise and create our own means of self defense and that no government should have the keys to that kingdom, it means mountains.

    • Have you had your coffee today?

      You confused Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in the comments of the other post AND you just repeated yourself.


      • I don’t know where I repeated myself, but that’s OK. Some days are like that.

  5. Zip guns and 3-D printed guns are WAY TOO COMPLICATED! Improvised guns are much easier to construct – safely. Remember the Philippine Guerrilla Gun? Simple. Safe. Easy to construct. Suitable for many calibers.

    All perfectly legal to construct and use – with no serial numbers or any other identification.

    However, add an illegal oil filter and …… just sayin’….

    In a serious social situation, it might be a way to obtain a better gun & ammo…..

  6. Do you remember the whammo air blaster? It was a compressed air bazooka with a built in pump that when you fired it made a loud booming noise. It had a smoothbore barrel to expel the pressurized air and that barrel fit a variety of projectiles quite well.

    The toys we had as kids were seriously capable of doing damage with little to no mods. I’ve never used tannerite but we could go into any five and dime and buy explosive peel and stick caps by the sheet. These rarely got used for cap guns.

    After hearing the story of David and Goliath in sunday school we boys cut up a bunch of bike inner tubes and made slings. Fun times explaining the rash of black eyes and bloody noses and welts and bruises to the grups. But honestly, we didn’t have too much explaining to do. In those days the parents expected boys to be a little rough around the edges.

  7. I have no worries about printed guns. My fear is printed food. When they start printing the things we eat and feeding them to our children, then i feel we will have a few problems. But the Statists will rejoice in the new found ability to feed the masses with food like products.

    • Speaking as someone who makes his own bread and cookies, I already consider grocery stores to be mostly full of “food like products.”

      • I fully agree. I try to grow as much of my own food as possible, including raising a cow to butcher. I believe we’ve been lead astray by the convenience of processed foods. People need to get more whole foods in their diets, but its cheaper to eat fast food, than it is to eat healthily. Its my belief that our current high cancer numbers are directly connected to all of the processed “food like products” we put in our bodies. Its sad..

  8. Reminds me of the time I discovered the “Anarchist’s Cookbook” at my local used bookstore as a kid. Recipes to make BOOM-BOOM? Oh man, I was in heaven.

    Thankfully, I survived my childhood. Once my father started taking me to the range, my interest in making homemade explosives was instantly replaced.

  9. This charming reflection upon the long-ago engineering pleasures of youth elicited only melancholy in me. How did we go from a can-do society to a can-do-a-few-rivals society. True, by ‘we’ I mean ‘them.’ Printing guns conjures in the minds of officialdom images of a future riotous anarchy. These worries are just the colorful distractions of minds in denial, which fail to see that by legitimizing the ethos of the rapper and the mau mau preachers of hate and entitlement one can print actual murderers, using much less ingenuity and to more horrific effect.

  10. Ignorance can be fixed.
    You can’t fix stupid. Even with duct tape.
    Knowledge is power.
    Consider this, the most prized tools where created during a time when computers did NOT exist. Electricity was not so common. Humans have had a knack for creating ways of putting food on the fire since the very dawn of our existence. Clueless, maybe not.

  11. I’ve had more fun with a sling I made out of mason’s line than with anything else I’ve ever made.

    Try the braided sling. You can throw a 1″ ball bearing well past a hundred yards with minute-of-Goliath accuracy. A lot of boys have done much better than that. Well worth the time and effort!

    • I made a sling but never could get a rock or marble to go where I wanted it to go. For years I believed that the whole David and Goliath story was BS. When I saw a demonstration of what an expert could do with a sling, I knew that poor Goliath never had a chance.

  12. see also “The Home Gunsmith for volume two of “EXPEDIENT HOMEMADE FIREARMS” plus “Expedient Homemade Handgun Ammo” and “Expedient Homemade Shotgun Ammo”. Each is a free PDF.

  13. Yes sir. You can make almost anything with readily available parts at any good local hardware store. Some pipe and springs and scrap wood is all it takes to make a functional firearm. For the more industrious, a drill, a few bits, a hacksaw, and a couple files, and you can make a firearm as sophisticated as you care to put forth the effort. Making firearms is not rocket science.

  14. Yep! Not rocket science. Every gun show has some old shotgun barrels for sale – or barrels in other calibers for sale – cheap. Take a modern barrel, turn (or file) down the breech end so it’s a cylinder, and make a Philippine Guerrilla Gun barrel…. Cost? Maybe 10 or 20 bucks. Result? Priceless!

  15. I read somewhere a long time ago that it is legal for anyone to make his own firearms (even fully automatic ones) as long as it is not for sale or transfer to anyone…

  16. I was 13 or 14 when I made a zip gun that fired .22 long rifle high velocity rounds. It was the size of a sub-compact .38 you see today. It used a car antenna as the barrel, a ground masonry nail as the firing pin and a bed spring as the hammer.

    I probably shot 100 rounds in it with no signs of wear. I didn’t have any examples to go from at all, I just built the gun around a cartridge. Sure, the bullet tumbled out of the barrel but it did penetrate pretty deep into a phone book.

    Of course, I’ve long gotten rid of it, Mr government spy…

  17. When I was about twelve, my brothers and I used to make exploding arrows out of 410 shot shells duct taped to the head of a target arrow. Line up the primer with the blunt tip. Pretty spectacular impact. Almost as spectacular as the ass whipping we received when Dad caught us.

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