Gun Design Books and Resources

Revision 1.2. Revision History:

Initial Publication: 26 December 2014.
Revision 1.0 Dated 26 December 2014.
Revision 1.1 Dated 23 January 2015.
Revision 1.2 Dated 3 July 2015.

Introduction to the Firearms Design Library

For something that has been so fundamental to the human race for so long, gun design has a rather anemic bibliography. We wrote about this absence back in 2012, and drafted a conceptual design approach based on Raymer’s Aircraft Design – A Conceptual Approach. But almost immediately, Forgotten Weapons had a post offering technical notes by John G. Rocha from 1968, which we noted in a follow-up was “the nearest thing we’ve seen to a weaponry version or Raymer or Roskam’s aero engineering conceptual-design books.”

So here’s what we have found. We have organized them into general references (things about the design of guns in general), specific references (things about the design of a specific gun),  manufacturing references, and Reference Repositories, where we provide some hints about finding such things as patents.

This document is far from complete and is a living, evolving document. We expect to add to it from time to time, and we invite contributions & suggestions. (No one of us is as knowledgable as all of us together, after all). As a “page” versus a “post,” it will permanently be available in the top bar of We will note the Revision and Revision Date of the document at the top.

General References

A point of departure here is Chinn’s magisterial The Machine Guna work in five immense volumes; the one most germane to design is Vol. IV, which contains extensive design information in Part X. These are widely available as (somewhat scroungy) .pdfs; the hardcovers are harder to come by, as they were never printed in enough volume as to meet demand. The books as a whole provide a history of rapid fire small arms, as well as design information current to the World War II period.

Principles of FirearmsChinn himself cited one of the best works to appear aimed at teaching the design of firearms, Charles E. Balleisen’s 1945 Principles of Firearms. It was one of a series of books published by Wiley that included Davis’s The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives, a reference still in some use today;  Bliss’s Mathematics for Exterior Ballistics; and Hayes’s Elements of Ordnance, which dealt with “automotive combat equipment.” These books graced many an Army and Marine officer’s and many a defense engineer’s library in the mid-20th-Century.

Balleisen was an Army Ordnance officer, and wrote:

The purpose of this book is to expound the concept that an automatic firearm is a piece of machinery operating in accordance with well-known laws of physics and hence capable of being analyzed and designed in accordance with common engineering practice. This approach does subject is believed to be new in this country, although much similar material has been published in France and Germany.

While some of his matter is dated today, 70 years later, and Balleisen obviously can’t account for postwar inventions, patents and developments, the basic engineering principles and mathematics in this book make it very useful for the engineering, design, or analysis of conventional small arms today. He gives examples from the common arms of the day, such as the Browning machine guns. Each chapter also suggests further references, almost all out of print, and many in foreign languages (especially German).

Balleisen’s book is probably the best reference for the would-be small arms designer. At present, you will be forced to hunt down a copy of this long out-of-print work, as we did.

Chronologically next after Balleisen is John Rocha’s Technical Notes: Small Arms Weapons Design that were published by Rock Island Arsenal the year it took over small arms design from Springfield (1968). Against its somewhat disjointed nature — it really was a set of notes intended to go with face-to-face instruction — is the fact that it’s freely available for download, unlike most of these other tomes.

Perhaps intended less than some of these others for designers, and more for technically oriented analysts, is Brassey’s 1999 Small Arms: General Design by DF Allsop and MA Toomey. It is lighter on the “sheet music” than, say, Balleisen or Carlucci & Jacobson, and is full of mostly British examples that are clear and concise, and of course it is much more modern, both in terms of its examples and its engineering sophistication, than the former.

There is some math in here but it’s largely of the analytical sort that might be used in initial conceptual design and analysis phases, some suggested metrics for probability of incapacitation and that sort of thing. However, there are excellent sections on barrels and on waste heat management, with all the math you need to substantiate barrel cooling issues, although we haven’t checked it against the Colt and ARL tests to destruction to see if it predicts the failures accurately.

Thanks to the commenters who not only recommend this long out-of-print book, but also sent us a link to a bookstore that had a reasonably priced copy (it’s a copy withdrawn from a military library, as it turns out). This out-of-print work is less technical and deep, but considerably more modern, than Balleisen; its examples are primarily British. Like many out of print technical books, it can get expensive on the used-book market. A partial scan is available on Scribd but is a poor one with many missing pages.

A more up-to date version is the  the Rheinmetall Waffentechnisches Taschenbuchwhich was also published in English. Both versions cover small arms but also midrange weapons like machine cannons and large crew-served artillery. From the 1980s and 90s, they are out of print and demand a considerable premium on the used market.

A sample page of Carlucci & Jacobsen's Ballistics. Most pages have fewer illustrations and more equations!

A sample page of Carlucci & Jacobsen’s Ballistics. Most pages have fewer illustrations. And more equations.

The most recent volume is: Ballistics: Theory And Design Of Guns And Ammunition, by Donald E. Carlucci and Sidney S. Jacobson, and published by CRC Press. Ballistics is the next generation of Rocha, in that it is a textbook to a graduate-level engineering course taught at Picatinny Arsenal to degreed engineers new to the world of weaponry. This book is modern, taking advantage of the last 70-odd years of advances in gas dynamics, FEA, and dynamic analysis, which are considerable. In includes analysis of secondary forces that are assumed away in Balleisen, such as the effect of rifling upon the gun itself (not just the projectile). It goes far beyond Balleisen in its analysis of all three regimes of ballistics: interior, exterior, and terminal; and it includes such things as fragmentation and shaped-charge effects. Its equations lend themselves well to computer analysis with Matlab or a similar product. It includes some thought-provoking details, like an analysis of buttress threads. The section on sabots (Section 4.12), for example, suggests why the shotgun sabots that we’ve discussed here before (made by hw97karbine) don’t work well. Against that, it is considerably drier than Balleisen’s book, and while it gives you the sheet music to analyze everything, it lacks concrete examples of the things of most interest to small arms designers.

Two Volumes by H. Peter are principally of use in the conceptual design and engineering substantiation of artillery pieces and tank main armament, but they can be adapted to smaller-calibre guns. They are Armament Engineering: a Computer Aided Approach (2003) and Mechanical Engineering: Principles of Armament Design (2004), both are published on-demand by Trafford and available at Amazon. They show how to apply modern engineering methods using common software like Matlab and Excel.

Specific References – Guns

These are references to the design of specific guns. Unlike the General References above, these are limited in scope to a single firearm; while you certainly can use them for points of departure to design something different, you’re on your own for the extrapolation.

Specific References – Features

These are references to the design of specific parts of guns. Unlike the General References above, these are limited in scope; while you certainly can use them for points of departure to design something different, you’re on your own for the extrapolation.

Manufacturing References

Any engineer working on guns ought to have a solid understanding of such basics as statics and mechanics, stress analyses, materials science, and industrial processes, which are fundamentals of the craft but beyond the scope of this page. Those vary from very established fields in which references are fairly stable, to fields undergoing ongoing revolutions today. Fortunately all of those have excellent reference lists and bibliographies handy online, so we’ll stick here strictly to information specific to the manufacturing of guns.

This begins with an understanding of the gunsmith’s craft as practiced in the small shop for centuries. It is still possible to make your own barrel and to make the rifling machine which rifles it out of wood as John M. Browning did in the century before last. Even if you are having your guns made by a modern hammer-forging process, and your function is, perhaps, to make a CAD drawing of the necessary mandrels, it helps to know how this has been done historically and why, for instance, benchrest shooters still tend to use barrels that have been lapped by hand to final smoothness in a process Browning would recognize from his apprentice days.

Unfortunately, much gun manufacturing knowledge today is closely held and proprietary. But it begins with the gunsmith’s art as practiced for centuries, and only in the last century has come to apply the mass production techniques from the automotive and aerospace production worlds.

Reference List

Chinn, George M., Lt.Col. USMCR. The Machine Gun. Washington: Bureau of Ordnance, Department of the Navy.

Rocha, John G. Technical Notes: Small Arms Weapons Design. Rock Island, IL: Rock Island Arsenal, 1968. Retrieved from:


32 thoughts on “Gun Design Books and Resources

  1. Pingback: Please Note New Page: Gun Design Books | WeaponsMan

  2. xxxx

    Weaponised Minds and you have mental bullets and missiles and operating in the invisible arena of Mind where there are no Firewalls.

    Time to cover this.

  3. Mike Smith

    Just a question? Vietnam, dry rice patty ambush, I fired in to below of unseen NVA, what are the skip,split of shot from M-16, 1968. It seemed to suppress their fire. It was hard clay. Like a water shot? Opinion.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Most times a round skips off a surface (whether it’s concrete, pavement, hard drywall at a very oblique angle) at a more oblique angle than it hits at. The consequence here is that skipping rounds stay close to the ground, or close to walls. (We called these “rabbit rounds” in SOT, and for that reason when we took a building we didn’t hug the wall, ever, which is a natural impulse you need to train out).

      The M16 of 1968 would have fired M193 ammo from a 1:12 barrel, and we found that the M16A1 didn’t have rabbit round performance much different from the 9mm MP5 or the .45 M1911, the last being our preferred weapon for room clearing and CQB in those days. If you stayed about a foot from the wall, you were protected from rabbit rounds. If you center yourself in the hallway, that’s almost as undesirable as hugging the wall. Rabbit rounds off the floor stay within about a foot of the floor at indoor distances, but you can’t “not stand on the floor.” In combat there’s risks you mitigate, and risks you accept.

      As you know firsthand, suppressive fire has to be accurate to be effective. Blazing away in random directions doesn’t get the enemy’s head down, blazing away at him does. If Mr Nguyen’s shooting seemed to decline in effect/accuracy then you were probably bouncing those rounds close enough to make him… concerned!

  4. shawya

    Couldn’t find where else to post this, but came across a Youtube series you might find interesting called “Just Fieldstrip” (it should come up if you type that exact phrase). I have no idea who the guy is, though his domain is Czech, but it is nice in that it is just an overhead view of him fieldstripping with no audio, save for some soothing flute music or somesuch. Doesn’t look like you’ve posted on it before so I thought I would pass it along for those of us who are “visual learners”.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Gee, that one’s long overdue to be added. Dated, but quality information. (Much like several of the other books). There are also outstanding references in German, most of which are cited either in Chinn or in other works. They are hard to find now.

  5. Mongo

    Rheinmetall Handbook on Weaponry – is another good reference I use in my work. It us to be given away for free by Rheinmetal but is no longer and can be hard to find now and expensive.

  6. Timothy W.

    Am looking for resources from building the frames, and stocks of old style revolvers from early times to modern day weaponry. A complete illustrated guide to building your own stocks, grips, wood & metal frames from scratch would be awesome grab for literature. Or an alternative means to begin gunsmithing, and making model copies of all the hardware as completely as possible. Send links to email, or options to buy. Maybe w can make a fair trade; Artwork for Literature, or something? :)

  7. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    “Benchrest Actions & Triggers,” Stuart Otteson

    Copyright 1983, ISBN 0-935632-12-3, Wolfe Publishing Co., Inc,

    This book, while analyzing older benchrest actions/receivers, gives a good background how to analyze a bolt action. Topics such as weight, rigidity, materials, and manufacturing/machining of a bolt action receiver & bolt are covered in some detail for several high-end custom actions extant in the 60’s through early 80’s.

    But the real jewel in this book is the coverage & analysis of the Kenyon, Canjar and Hart 2-oz triggers, which used to be highly regarded benchrest & rimfire triggers before this country was overrun with lawyers and doubled down on stupids. I happened to meet Karl Kenyon in Ely, NV before he passed away – a real prince of a man who was highly regarded in accuracy rifle work in the 70’s through 90’s. Canjar triggers were well known among accuracy buffs, and Canjar had a “single set” trigger you could “set” by pushing the single trigger forward in the trigger guard, then pulling rearwards.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I am currently working my way through Otteson’s two-volume Bolt Actions which is outstanding (and still in print as an e-book on disc). The hardcopy books are like Balleisen now — treasured possessions that only come on the market when some engineer goes into Assisted Living.

      In fact, I was planning to add those and L.R. Wallack’s less deep American Rifle Design and Performance and American Shotgun… etc. in a section on sporting arms design.

      And I’ll redouble my search for the Otteson Bench Rest book.

      As God is my witness, I’m going to form a publishing company, track down the rights owners, and reprint some of these things, if no one else does.

      By the way, on military weapons, there’s a whole other line of design references in German from 1880-1940 or so that are outstanding. Some of these are cited in the bibliographies or text of Chinn or Balleisen.

  8. Mike

    Not sure how this all works so I am posting here.
    More on VT Fuzes
    The Deadly Fuze: The Secret Weapon of World War II by Ralph Belknap Baldwin (book)
    The Deadly Fuze: The Story of WWII’s Best Kept Secret (DVD or watch online)
    Note: I would say the “Bat Bomb” was the best kept WWII secret
    Also: For guided AT weapons the D40 Cannonball, I can’t find much on it, maybe someone has more intel they can share
    Let me know if there is an email POC

  9. Rusty

    I was sorry to see that comments had been closed on your April 2014 story about Harold “Lew” Jones and his gunfight with Saburo Sakai. I had the good fortune (with my wife) to stay at the Unionville, Nv. B&B run by Mitzi and Dave Jones, Lew’s wife and son. We had breakfast together and I saw the photo of the Dauntless on the deck of the Enterprise on the wall in a side room. I knew nothing about the story behind it but I “knew” there was one. So, says I, that’s quite a photo on the wall over there….
    I wanted to add to the comments section of that article; Title of comment, “Listening the gift that just keeps on giving”.
    If possible let me know. It was a rich encounter so I will have to work not to make a tome out of it.
    Rusty Joyce
    Ps. On another note if you are looking for a fun topic try comparing the B-26 Invader over Korea/Vietnam to the A-10 Warthog.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Rusty, I hope I remember to drop you a line in the morning. By the way, if I could afford any plane at all I’d keep an Invader in Bay of Pigs rebel colors.

  10. Matt

    While not really a gun book, it is, sort of, so I hope you’ll see this. I wanted to recommend Eric Blehm’s Legend for your next book post. The story of Roy Benavidez’ MOH mission, told from the POV of the surviving member of the B56 team, the chopper crews and Roy himself. It’s definitely worth a read.

    Keep up the good work otherwise, I look at the site every day.

  11. Anthony

    There is nothing out there on the design and timing of double action revolvers. This is disappointing.

    1. Hognose Post author

      There’s some gunsmithing texts that cover them, but yeah, nothing like the Otteson books on bolt actions where a bright guy compared them all…

  12. James

    There is a web site “derived mainly from Principles of Firearms by Charles Balleisen” here

    This may provide some insights, although the introduction notes that “Due to typesetting complexity I have not included Balliesen’s formulas and sample calculations in this document.”

  13. Ralph Furlani

    This comment is about a resource search that’s been very elusive. Maybe this shouldn’t be in the comments section, but perhaps your expertise holds the answer, or where to find it.

    I have a 20 rd. charger strip and base that must be for the Mauser C96 Military Model (the very early cone hammer w/ 20 rd. integral magazine). I’m trying to prove this by finding an image of this Mauser, but have only found later cone hammer models, which have the usual side notches in the bolt run for standard stripper clips.

    What seems likely, is that what I have is for some special C96’s that Mauser may have sent to the Springfield Armory in 1908, for their pistol selection tests (revolver replacement). BTW, I live in southeast New Hampshire, only 125 miles from Springfield MA. Moreover, I graduated from Spfld. Tech. Comm. College (located in the old armory buildings), where I was a member of their Rifle and Pistol Club as well as shooting on the pistol team. We meet once a week at the inside ranges below building #28. Range #1 was 200 yds., #2 & #3 were 100 yds., with #4 being 50 ft. for pistols.

    The base for the charger strip has a trapezoidal cut-out that comes up from the bottom. That would require a transverse saw-cut across the top of the barrel extension, about halfway from the back of the ejection port to the front of the rear-sight base. The base’s trapezoidal cut-out also forms two legs that would require vertical saw-cuts down both sides of the upper part of the Bbl. extension (which is narrow). Those cuts would be deep at the top, but angled to match the sides of the trapezoid cut-out; rising to the surface at the bottom of that narrow top section of the Bbl. extension. The base legs, in those close-fitting slots, would give the base fore and aft stability, so the tall (8″) charger strip wouldn’t flop around.
    The base also has an area, just above the top of the trapezoidal cut-out, which is bulged-out to the front of the gun. This provides clearance for the extractor, which protrudes from the face of the square bolt at the top. Unlike the Luger, there is no lever that’s pushed up to hold the action open, only an upward projection at the back of the mag. follower. When the first round pushes the follower down, the bolt will move forward and press against the back of the charger base, holding it in place, but without putting any force on the extractor. After charging the magazine, the charger and its base can be gripped as one and pulled out; immediately loading a round into the chamber.

    The charger strip is straight, and made of much heavier metal than any stripper clip I’ve ever seen. The bottom of the charger channel, at the top end (in the position to charge the pistol), is folded up to close off that end. There isn’t any liner as is used in stripper clips; instead, the other end (to be inserted into the charger base) has a flat spring, designed with a hook to hold the rounds in the charger. When the charger strip is inserted into the base, the flat spring’s hook end is moved away, freeing the cartridges, so they’ll slide down to the mag. follower.
    This charger strip is designed to be reloaded, not thrown away. In fact, when the strip is held upside down on a flat surface, and the base pushed on top, the cartridge-retainer spring hook is moved away, so cartridges can easily slide down the charger. Removing the base locks them in.

    The charger and base has a dark, dull gray finish with absolutely no markings, I even looked under the flat spring, using a strong glass and bright light from the other side.
    It takes the .30 Mauser round, and as far as some other weapon using this charger, I can’t think of one that could. Any other weapon would need a small, square-section bolt with the extractor on top that protrudes from the bolt face, fire a similar small base cartridge (not 5.56, its smaller), have a 20rd. integral mag., and the receiver where the bolt runs would have to be quite narrow.
    I can’t think of a rifle or any other pistol with an integral 20 rd. magazine for a small cartridge (but I wouldn’t be surprised if you did).

    I recall reading an article about the Mauser broom handle in Guns and Ammo magazine; sometime in the mid- to late 60’s or so. The author mentioned the 20 rd. integral mag. model, saying that it used a different stripper clip than the other models of the Mauser; and that the 20 round model had special cuts on the top of the barrel extension. Perhaps his source on the 20 rounder was someone with knowledge of the U.S. Army testing for a revolver replacement.

    So, what I’ve been searching for is an image of an early 20 rd. Military Mod. with those cuts at the top, a patent showing the base and charger, or a book, etc., that would prove my theory. A collector might have one, but so far, no luck.

    Weaponsman is a great site, most others pump out as much bad info as good (and their good is usually a rehash). Your attitude on social issues is spot-on, as is your small arms knowledge.

    Thank you for any assistance you can provide.


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