As we have expected to happen for some time, and as the initial Cody Wilson “Liberator” first demonstrated, 3D-printed firearms made of common addititive-manufacturing plastics like ABS or PLA inevitably had to diverge from common steel firearms practice to take advantage of those plastics’ strength — and overcome their weaknesses.
That means that, while early prints were nothing but, for example, a plastic version of an AR lower dimensionally identical to its aluminum forbear, but destined for a short life (especially in PLA), more and more designs are innovating in different directions.
This series of videos shows the Shuty, a 9mm pistol based on kitbashing the designs of British homemade gun pioneer P.A. Luty and the AR-15 together. It uses several metal parts, including the barrel (which comes from a Glock 17), the fire-control group (AR), and the bolt (home-made). On the other hand, the magazine, upper and lower receivers, and bolt carrier, are all printed from a polymer generally thought unsuitable for firearms parts. Turns out, you can design around materials deficiencies (as the Japanese did when they used chrome bores for strength, to offset the suboptimal alloys they had for rifle barrels, decades before other nations adopted them for durability, and when their aeronautical engineers designed assemblies built-up of 7075-equivalent alloy sheet where every other skyfaring nation would use a 7075 forging).
Here is Derwood’s working Shuty, redesigned from the original, as of 1 May 15:
After several failed attempts with the Shuty, I decided to beef it up to handle the stress. The combination plastic/steel bolt works very good. After several test fires, the frame and lower is holding up well and no damage has occurred.
The plastic parts were all printed on the SeeMeCNC Orion printer, an entry-level machine, in PLA (polylactic acid), the entry-level printing material that is biodegradable and derived from renewable resources. The bolt assembly looks complex, but:
Its just three steel dowels stacked and welded together parallel with each other. the bottom smaller dowel is drilled for the firing pin. the center dowel is a spacer. the top dowel is the buffer.
Fosscad (an informal, leaderless, cellular homemade-3D-gun resistance) picked up the video and Fosscad user ma deuce posted it on 22 May 15. (Link only because it’s basically the same video, why embed it?)
Here’s Derwood’s next video, 20 May 15, showing a longer test fire. What appears to be a jam at the end isn’t, actually; what it is, is the bolt gnawing on the magazine spring because this work in progress doesn’t have a magazine follower yet — just a spring pushing the cartridges up! Oy.
Well, if you’re going to crib something, cribbing Glock’s feed ramp by using their barrel is a short cut to a working firearm. Glock reliability is not accidental, it’s a product of careful design and iterative improvement.
So that brings us to 27 May 15. It’s fully working, with firing and a mag change, two eight-round mags complete:
Derwood says it’s still evolving, and not finished yet; when he thinks it’s “finished,” he’ll release the .stl files. Until then, he tinkers on at a high rate of speed.
As a practical 9mm pistol the Shuty has its limitations. It gives you all the firepower of a Kel-Tec belly gun in a platform the size of what it is, a mongrel of AR-15 and MAC M10 ancestry. It has no sights, no stocks, and is only slightly more concealable than a basketball. Made of PLA, the stuff used in the dishes microwave dinners come in, it’s destined for a short life, by gun standards (we’ve got guns one and two centuries old here). So, as a practical pistol? A turkey. But as a proof of concept, it is enough to get would-be totalitarians “all wee-wee’d up” (in the locution of one such).
Ah, but bolts? Barrels? Too early to write about, but people are working those issues.
Some Other 3D Developments
Of course, the Shuty is far from the only 3DP pistol in development. Here one is with the Imura revolver (left) and the Songbird pistol (center):
Joel Leathers of Texas even posted the .stl files for the Glock 17 on Thingiverse. (That link 404s; the files were deleted, due to MakerBot’s political anti-gun position, but there is a story on PrintedFirearm.com. At least they didn’t unperson Joel on Thingiverse. Yet).
Of course, a printed Glock part will not be usable in a firearm as is. But we can see practical uses for the files. (How about a printed, brightly colored, safety barrel for use in mechanical training? Pennyslvania State Police?)
How has this technology progressed so fast? Some of these guys print a lot. This printer has racked up nearly two months of run time, and used over six miles of filament!
This is a 10-22 with receiver and trigger housing printed. We’ve discussed this project before. (Indeed, that story from last month has a photo in it which is a crop of the one below).
We’ve shown the receivers before, but here are some printed trigger housings.
AR receivers continue to be developed. This heavily-reinforced AR-10 lower design, the Nephilim (an obscure Biblical reference to a purported race of human/angel crossbred giants) by Warfairy, shows lots of reinforcement and improvement to make a plastic receiver stand in for a 7075 aluminum alloy forging.
Here at Hog Manor, we’re still on the waitlist for our printer. And we won’t be printing guns with it, but other stuff for our DOD clients.
If You Build It, Nanny Wants to Ban It
Banning this sort of thing is very tempting to anti-gun lawmakers, political appointees, and those executives in the ATF who see the agency’s mission as “to destoy gun ownership.” Indeed, some of the European nations with fewer checks and balances hindering their legislative range of motion have already banned this kind of experimentation.
The problem with that, is that it is but a short step from the Shuty to a select-fire submachine gun. If you drive this design activity entirely underground, the designers are as well hung for a sheep as a lamb, no?
The largely-libertarian tinkerers making these things are doing no harm to a society, and may do some good. They have no sympathy with criminals who would use this technology to harm or threaten people. But let that be the line the law draws in the sand: not the malum prohibitum “if you make this we will hammer you,” but the malum in se “if you do harm with this we will hammer you, and the maker community will help us find you.”
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.