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By James England via

In this video, you’ll see a rather rudimentary device constructed out of two pieces of pipe you can easily find at your local hardware store.  It’s called a zip gun or one-shot shotgun and such inventions have been around since modern munitions have existed and are still legal to make in most states.

The Basic Zip Gun

A zip gun, at its most basic level, need be nothing more than two pieces of overlapping pipe with a screw or sharp point to strike the primer of a shell or cartridge. There’s no rifling and not much to it. Some people build stocks so they can be aimed more easily.


Others just use a nail and a piece of iron tube.


Worth mentioning – the metal used in these tubes is not meant nor designed to absorb ballistic level forces. That means they are subject to catastrophic failure if a shell puts too much pressure on it. Catastrophic failure can, in this case, mean anything from a crack or chip to the tube violently exploding.

Who Uses Zip Guns?

The zip gun has long been employed by those who don’t have easy access to firearms. There were versions used in WWII for resistance elements who couldn’t legally own guns.

A famous example is the Liberator. It’s a slightly fancier version of the basic zip gun constructed out a single sheet of fabricated steel. The Liberator could only fire one .45 caliber bullet at a time and the handle could be used to store back-ups.

For the French resistance (and other resistance elements), it was a great way to kill a German at close range and take his firearms. It was not considered a firearm you, yourself, would take into battle.

FP-45 liberator pistol
By Armémuseum –, CC BY 4.0, Link

In modern times, zip guns are often used by young thugs in the barrios of Central and South American gang-controlled territory because it’s easy and cheap to make.

Basically, anywhere people need firepower and don’t have the money or resources to obtain a proper firearm, they resort to “one-shot shotguns” or equivalents. They’re brutal in close quarters, but not really within the scope of personal protection.


Can a zip gun be a reliable firearm? If properly constructed – absolutely. But there’s no real advantage of using a zip gun for self-defense purposes where a person can legally purchase and carry a firearm.

Where is a zip gun effective? Predominantly close quarters (10 feet or less). Outside that range, the lack of rifling on the barrel and ability to properly aim take a drastic toll on performance.

Are Zip Guns Legal?

Zip guns like the one you saw in the video are legal for personal use. If you’re really interested in making a zip gun for recreational purposes, be advised that there’s plenty that could go wrong, and you should already be aware that it’s a bad idea. As such, we claim absolutely no responsibility for how you decide to use this information because if you actually try to construct a zip gun, you’re just asking for trouble.

If you can legally purchase a handgun for personal or home protection – do so. If you want a shotgun, buy one. Don’t use zip guns.

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    • This is why you don’t take legal advice from a blogger… or anyone else online for that matter. If you’re not going to sell the gun, you don’t need to register as a manufacturer. There are other stipulations and state laws, but the notion that, at a federal level, you can’t simply build a firearm at home is B.S.

      • As a former Police officer in the State of “Communassachusetts” lol (one of the most strict States) i will tell you all, i have made them simply to save money. never had one “Blow up”. long as you make it out of 2 layers of overlaying steel, they’re hard to kill. im 30 now and i still have one i made at age 15. still shoots fine and no cracking after over 15 years of use.
        and NO, you do NOT have to register with the ATF to make and own one. however, it is a felony if you get caught with one if you are legally unable to obtain a permit. if you have a carry permit, or an FID card, you will be ok. no legal issues there.

    • You don’t have to register anything to make your own non-NFA firearm. You only need the manufacturing FFL if you’re going to manufacture them for sale (the exact wording of the law can be tricky). You do have to put a serial number on it, and you might be subject to state laws about manufacturing personal firearms.

      The video mentions filling out a form 1. That’s because the gun he was shooting is a short barreled shotgun (well under 18″ of barrel and 26″ overall). A stockless shotgun with under 18″ of barrel counts as an AOW, so it’s only a $5 tax to build it.

      • You don’t have to put a serial number on a gun you make yourself. Only licensees who manufacture for resale have to put a serial number on a gun.

        • In the case you live in a city or state that requires registration you will need to apply a distinctive “serial number” to the firearm in a way that meets related requirements.

    • No. This story needs to be corrected. That was a HUGE bit of misinformation. So long as it’s not an NFA device, you can make any zip gun you want. If it is an NFA device, you still don’t need to be a licensed manufacturer, you just need to send in paperwork and get the tax stamp from the ATF.

      • don’t they need to be register as an aow because it doesn’t have any rifling in the barrel

        • That’s right, so to stabilize the round you need one of two things, spins or fins, go with fins.

          The prez sez, (if you build a zip gun and) “if you like your zip gun you can keep your zip gun.” But the prez [AND HILLARY] also sez, “you didn’t build that” so you’re screwed.

          The ATF says “send us a tax stamp application so we can protect you from your zip gun.”

  1. Two corrections. First, a lack of rifling doesn’t affect accuracy for a much longer distance than 10 feet. This is evidenced by how accurate non-rifled shotguns are with slugs out to say, 50 yards. Second, you can make yourself any non-NFA firearms for your own use without filling out any federal form (your state laws may differ).

    • “Second, you can make yourself any non-NFA firearms for your own use without filling out any federal form …”

      This is my understanding as well. And the key words in that sentence were “for YOUR OWN USE”.

    • Just wait until Senator “Ghost Gun” sees this video. Pipes and nails at Home Depot will require a 4473!

    • In NJ, NY and CA you’ll be also req’d to leave a set of fingerprints, pee in a cup, turn your head and cough twice and submit to a full cavity search before buying that pipe.

  2. Cast iron plumbing pipe and Duct Tape? Great if you have Darwin aspirations. Just make sure you’re youtubing whenever you fire it. I mean, for the sake of posterior.

    • Is it cast iron plumbing pipe or galvanized steel pipe … or are those two different ways to say the same thing?

      Last time I looked at the wall thickness of galvanized pipe, it was way thicker than the barrel of any typical shotgun. I would think a typical 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge shotgun shell would not generate enough pressure to cause a galvanized steel pipe to explode … especially if you used a reduced recoil shell of some flavor.

      • I would think a typical 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge shotgun shell would not generate enough pressure to cause a galvanized steel pipe to explode

        I’ve shot shotgun zips and still have both my mitts. Then again, I made my own and wouldn’t trust anyone else’s.

      • Wall thickness isn’t an indicator of strength. The steel used in a shotgun barrel is far stronger than typical pipe, which is also typically of welded (with a seam) construction. Even finely crafted Damascus barrels from yesteryear have been known to blow using modern ammo.

        If you simply must build a zip gun, it would be better to buy Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM) tubing of suitable wall thickness from an online metals supplier.

        • The better Damascus barrels won’t blow up with modern ammo, so long as there are no faults in the forge welds.

          Many damascus or wire twist barreled shotguns are fired with smokeless ammo available from RST. It’s just downloaded for similar pressures to black powder (about 6K to 7K PSI).

        • 12 gauge shot gun pressure up to 3 inch shells is 11000 psi &
          3/4 inch steel pipe Schedule 80 burst pressure is 11500 psi &
          its inner diameter is .74 inch so use a 13/16 inch drill to chamber it
          to a 3 inch depth max & then a 1 inch schedule 40 pipe around it

    • “Posterity”

      Their “posterior” will be pretty much handled by the use of the Zip-Gun in the first place. And remember to use the “trigger phrase”: “hey, y’all, watch this!”

  3. Something tells me that a zip gun of the shotgun variety shooting #00 buckshot is plenty accurate to at least 20 feet — especially if you keep the pipe barrel long enough.

  4. For the French resistance (and other resistance elements), it was a great way to kill a German at close range and take his firearms.

    There’s no evidence any Liberator was ever used in WWII. They were dropped, but seem to have been more of psychological warfare.

  5. You’d need to get a NFA tax stamp because it’s a short barreled shotgun, not because you manufactured it.

      • nope, AOW’s still require a 200 manufacturing stamp. But if you’re willing to eat the loss and jump through the plethora legal hoops, you can subsequently transfer it for only a 5 transfer stamp. 🙂

  6. I started making zip guns when I was ten. Yes, ten. I used galvanized pipe for “shotguns,” and aluminum or copper tubes for .22s. None of the guns ever suffered a catastrophic failure.

    The hard part for me wasn’t making the guns, it was finding the ammo. I preferred shot shells because it’s easier to set off shot shells (and centerfire ammo) than rimfire ammo with a home-made firearm. The sweet spot for the striker (a nail or screw) is bigger and easier to hit.

    • I believe it. I made a handgun at age 15 out of stuff laying around in the basement and garage. It shot .22 long rifle high velocity (that’s what they called them back in the day).

      I ground a masonry nail down to make the firing pin, and mounted a small bed spring and ground part of it flat for the hammer.

    • “I started making zip guns when I was ten. Yes, ten.”

      Any truth to the rumor car radio antenna tubing works for a .22 zip?

    • In WV all I had to do was tell my old man I wanted to hunt. We had shotguns from Sears and other sources. Never had need of a zip gun.

      Even in CA I can buy a safe full of guns, so no need for a zip gun.

  7. I have something more effective than a zip gun. I have a stiletto.

    “Oh, look, now I have a machinegun too.

    Ho Ho Ho”. – John McClain 😀

  8. OK, if you want to be safer in your choice of tubing, seek out 4140 DOM (Drawn over Mandrel) seamless tubing. You could probably also use 4130 as well, just make sure it’s seamless. Galvanized or black iron piping has been used forever for these types of homemade guns. The one tubing you absolutely do not want to use is electrical conduit.

    As for wall thickness: Parker Bros. did a test about 100 years ago to see how thick a barrel wall was necessary to contain the pressure of the new (back then) smokeless powder in a shotgun round. They finally saw dimensional distortion in the barrel when they got down to a wall thickness of 0.012″. This was in alloy steel, aka “fluid steel” of that day, similar to, but not the same as 4140 or other barrel quality steels we have today.

    The typical MAP for a 12 ga trap load will be about 9K to 10K PSI, with field loads being a bit over 11K PSI. This is about one-fifth of what a typical rifle round is, and less than half of what a .45 ACP poses for a pistol barrel.

    If people learned some shop skills, they could learn to make a much nicer gun than what was illustrated here with only rudimentary hand tools. It isn’t rocket science, and many of the older British high-end guns were made with files, chisels, etc. In Ye Olde Days, damascus barrels were made by forging strips of steel around a round mandrel. It saves you the hassle of deep hole drilling to make a barrel. Forge welding, tho, is a skill that takes time to perfect. Starting with a thick walled piece of 4140 DOM tubing with an undersized bore and then reaming it to size can get you a pretty good barrel. Modern shotgun American barrels tend to be 0.035 to 0.045″ wall thickness, and a bit more than 0.100″ around the chamber. You’d want to ream the bore to, oh, 0.685″ or so, then ream behind the chokes to 0.730 or so, then ream the chamber & cone, then you can either tap for a screw-in choke, or you hone the chokes to the dimension you need. Wha-la, a real shotgun barrel.

    As I said, this ain’t rocket science.

    Except maybe to the people who put up welds like the one above. It looks like a chicken with the runs took a crap on that piece of pipe. Here’s a tip: If you’re going to weld on galvanized pipe, sand or grind off the zinc plating before you weld. If you’re going to weld with the zinc in your way, you’re going to get crappy looking welds like the one above.

    Oh, and one more thing: If you’re going to insist on welding with the zinc on, do it outdoors, preferably when the wind is blowing. If you inhale too much welding smoke with burned zinc in it, you will regret it.

    • The only reason I clicked through to this article was in the hopes that you had commented with some (un)common sense beyond the “Iron pipes have a seam!” which I assumed somebody would note.

      You rock. That is all.

  9. I am the person in the top video.

    It is NOT PIPE! If you use pipe you WILL blow yourself up! Holy fuck do not be an idiot!

    It is 4130 DOM structural tube. I even said so…

  10. “If you’re really interested in making a zip gun for recreational purposes, be advised that there’s plenty that could go wrong, and you should already be aware that it’s a bad idea.”

    No. Being morbidly, unforgivably stupid is what leads to plenty going wrong.

    Use an online hoop stress calculator if you’re too lazy to make a spreadsheet…

    I have a Form 1 in on two different .410 designs for Zip Guns as we speak… Smaller diameter results in higher pressure handling capabilites, even with thinner tubing.

    Do math before you say stupid shit like this…

  11. Dan, you really need to put a note in that article, and contact it’s original author… Someone could die. This is not hyperbole. This is why Zip Guns get a bad name… Idiots make them from entirely the wrong materials and then it goes boom in their hands. All they really made was a grenade of stupidity… If they survive it, fun way to go to prison on an NFA charge…

    Making guns at home is not the problem. Being far too stupid to understand the laws of physics with which you’re wrangling is the problem. If you’re stupid, stick with pretending you accomplished something with an 80%…

    • My observation has been that stupid people are generally too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

      Thousands of youtube videos prove this.

      • Repeating and publishing that article on TTAG… And I’m the guy in the video… It really irks me that it’s being misrepresented and that the misinformation might be used to blow someone up. I don’t mind people learning the hard way if they refuse to learn any other way, but this is the die-before-you-learn option… You’d be way lucky if you got the chance to learn from pipe… This is why zip guns get a bad name; idiots make them from the wrong stuff, then bad things happen. “Simple to make” does not mean you can make it from any old whatever and live to tell about it…

  12. Actually I wouldn’t say that they are entirely useless for personal protection. Consider this. What about a non-gun owner in a state like California who faces an imminent threat to their life? Be that an ex-lover, relative, “business associate,” or what have you. There is no (legal) way to buy or transfer a firearm from someone in this state without going through a 10 day wait. A lot can happen in 10 days. I could see a zip shotgun being a good option in this situation. You could build it in a few hours and a trip to the hardware store, and then keep it handy for the next 240 hours until you got your hands on a real gun. And it would all be perfectly legal.

  13. This is good, articles like this blow a big hole in the gun control narrative. When gun grabbers say making guns illegal to buy stops criminals from obtaining them, show them an article about zip guns. Or these:—Yourself-Submachine-Gun-Durable-/dp/0873648404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436537173&sr=8-1&keywords=homemade+submachine+gun

    They prove that even completely banning firearms does nothing to stop someone who wants from obtaining a gun.

  14. I’m glad so many people stepped up to correct the authors glaring mistakes! I was losing even more faith in the site until I got to (most of) the comments.

  15. according to the 1934 national firearms act, you will only register the weapon you make if you want to sell it or distribute it in any way orhave a barrel for a rifle or shotgun under 18″. they are allowed for personal use only and it has been it a $200 fee since 1934. it is all explained on the ATF website and worth looking at because zip guns are definitely not the limit of what you are capable of making on your own in your home.

  16. The article is a fountain of misinformation. Just to clarify one point: What the author thinks is a “zip-gun” is actually a “bump-gun” , or a “slamfire shotgun” in this case.

    Zip guns have springs or rubber bands to drive a moveable firing pin against the primer.

    Bump-guns have a fixed firing pin that the primer “bumps” against when the loaded barrel is retracted.

    Frankly, the author doesn’t know zip.

  17. Wrong. Federally a person legally able to own a firearm can legally build one as long as it is for personal use not intended to sell it. And it meets batf laws. Different states have different regulations about getting approved for firearms manufacturing and some states you can build your own as long as it isnt a banned firearm and you usually have to get a serial number issued. But in several states it’s all up to the person building the firearm. Look up 80% laws and it will give you a more definitive answer.

  18. The RIGHT to keep and bear arms does not stipulate any details. The purpose if the second amendment is to fight a tyrannical government.

    They have zero lawful say in the matter or regulation of self defense.
    Technically… but the courts are owned by antiAmerican Democrats and they only care about power and money.


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