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News From The Future-36-1-1


The world’s first 3D-printed gun:

An American gunsmith has become the first person to construct and shoot a pistol partly made out of plastic, 3D-printed parts. The creator, user HaveBlue from the AR-15 forum, has reportedly fired 200 rounds with his part-plastic pistol without any sign of wear and tear.

HaveBlue’s custom creation is a .22-caliber pistol, formed from a 3D-printed AR-15 (M16) lower receiver, and a normal, commercial upper. In other words, the main body of the gun is plastic, while the chamber — where the bullets are actually struck — is solid metal.

This project is making the rounds and I wanted to have this up as time-stamped milestone for 3D printing, there’s a lot to discuss – so consider this an open mic. Keep the politics out and stick to the topic, implications of 3D printing used to print weapons of any/all kinds.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.



  1. rallen says:

    I’m kind of surprised that we’re only now hearing about this. A gun is just a specialized tool, much like a “power hammer” that uses .22 caliber blanks to drive nails into concrete.I’ve heard of plastic guns being made before, but they weren’t printed and were for very “special” people who needed to be able to get a firearm through a metal detector. I was told that the hardest part was making the ammunition with the primers.

    This is going to really throw a red flag in places that outlaw gun ownership. Anyone with a 3D printer and some bench top machine tools could be making weapons.

    1. It may be a little more involved than that. To make the barrel, and especially if you don’t want is blowing up in your face, is a delicate process. This area is highly stressed. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I expect many of these to explode when fired if the proper precautions are not taken. This gunsmith was duly cautious in using a ready-made steel barrel and breech.

      1. Matt Franks says:

        Very good point – making your own barel seems to be the more dangerous route. One interesting thing about gun laws / specifically ordering guns – is that you can’t ship an entire gun through the mail – unless your a licensed dealer. You are however, ALLOWED to ship gun parts without a dealer license. The ability to print the rest of the gun parts after ordering the manufactured barel seems readily accessible. It wouldn’t surprise me if this affects gun laws sometime in the future.

        1. TJ says:

          You’re legally allowed to produce your own non-NFA firearms at home already. It’s just that most people don’t have a readily available CNC machine and the 3D printing is just another possible method. Most will still not use it because it won’t be very rugged and will easily break when thrown around for a little while.

          Also, there are certain parts that must be delivered to a Federally licensed-dealer as well. The lower that is printed in this case is one such item. You can’t home-order enough parts to make an entire gun without picking up some of it at a place with an FFL.

  2. maxfromthefuture says:

    Amazing and a little unsettling as the price of a printer and filament slashes the cost of producing weapons in volume. I suppose one still has to be a gunsmith to make anything of value though.

  3. Greg Krynen says:

    This will make it easier to obtain the lowers sections, but these can be carved out of wood also. A good machinist has always been able to make inexpensive guns, thus the Saturday Night Specials, low cost, sometimes dangerous guns from private shops.

    I can see some bills popping up trying to legislate registering of files and the trading of identified files being labelled as terrorist actions.

    1. rallen says:

      Obfuscation isn’t just for code, anymore. G-code can be easily embedded in a photo of the finished part, or the sketchup models can be collected into libraries and shared. Passing laws just make the illegal activity riskier/more expensive. See the current battle as the MP/RIAA keeps trying to salvage it’s antique business model. The only real limits are physics and engineering. And engineering is constantly pushing the limits back.

  4. Grey says:

    You were able to do the same thing with a good CNC for a long time now, so it doesn’t really make the availability much higher. The lower receiver is not a very high stress part, so I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen this earlier. I look at it more as a good developmental tool towards producing higher shock resistant parts and the print arrangements to make it work properly more than anything.

  5. rocketguy1701 says:

    Well, actually it’s a bit of a overblown non-story really. Anybody with sufficient mechanical knowledge and a few tools can be making guns at home. The 3D printing aspect may make a few parts slightly easier, but it’s not a decisive factor, especially since the critical components are metal, not plastic. The buzz is just that 3D printers are new, people don’t really understand them yet, and they’ve been put forth as some sort of uber-tool that will forever change the world. (They do change things, but perhaps not entirely in the directions expected or to the degree proposed by the press).

    Really, a lathe is far more “dangerous” in terms of weapons manufacture, but we’re not hearing about it because it’s a fairly ancient tool type.

    If the 3D print files were able to make a functioning weapon on their own, I’d be much more concerned, but the types of plastic used make that generally unfeasible. And then we’d have a real question of what the ethics of posting a “gun file” would be.

    Disclaimer: I own a 3D printer. (And a gun, but not with any printed parts).

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      What RocketGuy said.

    2. davidcdean says:

      The interesting part of this story isn’t as much the engineering bit so much as, on an AR, the lower is considered the gun. Yes, most of the important parts are in the upper, but the lower receiver has the serial and (usually) has to go through your local FFL, who receives the lower for you, files paperwork on the transfer, checks your ID (and firearms license if required), etc. That’s why there was a big run on these lowers when Obama was elected and everyone was terrified that the old AWB would come back. If they ban these again and you already legally own the lower, you can continue to build it out as a grandfathered rifle.

      Now… this one is shooting little .22 rimfire rounds, but he says he got it to run the regular .223 (~5.56 nato) with some extraction issues. I’d guess he’s just a tweak away from fixing that. And yes, people could machine these before, but a few hundred dollars or a local makerspace pass gets you access to a 3d printer and cheap media. It’s interesting, and I won’t be surprised if we start seeing a lot of screaming and yelling over this topic.

      1. davidcdean says:

        And I should say, I apologize if that bit of trivia on the AWB and run on lowers sounded political. I offer it only as legal context re: lower receivers, not to start a political argument.

    3. Tim Dolan says:

      I concur. I have a friend who has a lathe and a mill and he has build lots of single shot rifles. They were all single shot cartridge guns becasue that is what interests him (real antiques should not be shot to preserve them and they are very expensive).

      Remember that the most dangerous weapon on this planet sits on your shoulders.

  6. chuck says:

    The big threat isn’t some geek printing a gun with his makerbot- it’s a large number of angry or manipulated people, in a market that has embraced and become comfortable with the technology,being able to print an arsenal with consumer friendly off-the-shelf equipment. As this technology is accepted and integrated into daily life we could see pop-up armies all over the world. This represents a monumental change in the balance of power.

    1. rallen says:

      I’m more interested in the ability to produce new TYPES of weapons, than in just a new method of making parts for an old design. I think that a pneumatic delivery system, (paintball markers) with some nice smart ammo, and some phones with custom ROMs could give some real power and coordination to large groups of normally “unarmed” people. It won’t totally replace gunpowder firearms, but it will cheaply give lots of people short range weapons, to fill out fire support teams.

      1. chuck says:

        I like that. It also opens up defensive options for people who can’t or won’t own guns. Anyone working on an Arduino controlled 3D printed portable rail gun? Maybe a laser cut one sheet plywood flat pack trebuchet with an arduino powered ballistics computer for close in urban warfare?. I’ve owned several cheapo ABS crossbows that packed a whallop- it should be rather easy to print most everything but the bow.

  7. Cant see that it would be that much easier to get a 3d printer than it already is to obtain licit or illicit weaponry. Meaning that if someone wants guns they can get them from many different sources.

    I suppose the real danger here though would be the lack of traceability. Even illicit weaponry can be traced back to some point of origin. Traced and perhaps monitored and intercepted.

    But a one shot, 0-day type attack should now become all that much easier.

  8. Jim Hunter says:

    Now that someone mentioned it, the lower is indeed the “firearm”. So even if he bought all the other parts, doesn’t he have to be an SOT or manufacturer to do this legally?

    1. davidcdean says:

      I am not a lawyer (so treat this with all due skepticism, this is not advice, consult a lawyer, etc.). That said, my understanding is that, assuming it’s legal for him (with all relevant restrictions specific to the person) to possess that particular firearm in his jurisdiction, home built is OK for personal use. There seems to be a lot of discussion about transferring. Some seem to think you may NOT transfer without proper serial, tax, etc. Some have cited varied replies to inquiries with the ATF that appear to go both ways on transfers. The one exception appears to be in the case of willing a home built firearm to an heir. But of course, that only comes into play when you’re dead. :/ There’s lots of talk about how to properly serial a home built firearm, and some who say you should do it either way so nobody assumes you’ve removed a serial number. But it’s worth repeating, I am not an authority on the subject, and anyone considering a home built firearm should consult with the appropriate professionals, bureaus, legal experts, other regulating authorities, municipal code, etc.

      1. TJ says:

        Legally, the intent must be for personal use when you first construct the firearm. However, it gets a little gray, and the ATF would likely get involved, if you constantly make guns you intend to personally use….and then decide to sell two weeks later. You legally can sell the weapon after you have made it and private transfers are very simple.

  9. Ryan Adney says:

    I know that this point of view is naive and that there are folks out there shaking their heads and calling me a rube, but I really get sad when I see technology being used to create destructive devices. Makers create. They bring ideas into the light. We use our creativity and believe that the future can be better than the past. The very idea of using all that is good and positive about being a Maker to create a tool (or in this case a part of a tool) that serves no other function than to end life; to un-make.

    1. Ryan Adney says:

      Sorry, I posted before I meant to. The last line should read: The very idea of using all that is good and positive about being a Maker to create a tool (or in this case a part of a tool) that serves no other function than to end life–to un-make–causes me to cringe.

    2. davidcdean says:

      You’re right about it being naive, but it’s also incorrect. There are somewhere near 200 million firearms in 40-50% of American homes, owned and operated by 80 million people. So it’s rather impossible to say that they serve no other function than to end life.

      In addition, it’s inconsistent with an ideology that celebrates individual freedom, creativity, and responsibility… something that firearm owners tend to take quite seriously. Meanwhile, I wish I could say the same for some other things we let people do. :/

      But anyway, I thought what he did was interesting.

    3. sparkmike77 says:

      To some degree I agree that a big part of the “Maker Movement” often bandied about was a desire to improve the world at large and your local slice, but not everyone is so ethically focused.

      Even among those who ARE so focused, the opinion of this kind of product are mixed. In some parts of the world guns have been instruments of positive change, including the American Revolutionary War. Guns are tools, and inevitably some tools are misused. I personally don’t care for assault weapons or even pistols really beyond appreciating them mechanically and chemically for the work that goes into them, but I do own a rifle because I live in a semi-rural setting and coyotes are still a daily pest.

      I have really only known one gunsmith and an off-the-shelf 3D printer is no match for the wizardry that man was capable of. There is a LOT more to weapons manufacture than slicing an .STL file. My biggest concern is somebody printing a piece they expect to actually fire without understanding that most plastics can’t handle the concussion, heat or pressures involved.

  10. kenjbrown says:

    Interesting project, but it might be a lightening rod for the wrong sort of attention. Congress Critters are going to start talking about banning 3D printers to keep them out of the hands of terrorists (or making people register with the BATFE). I’m sure the Department of Homemade Security will be placing another request for 450,000,000 rounds of ammunition to be sure they can ward off the horde of nerds taking to the streets with their printed weapons.

    I want to see somebody print an electron microscope (and upload the file to thingverse). My boss really wants a 3D printer. I’m hoping he gets one so I can order a few bits of glass from Edmund Optics and build a nice microscope with a cam port.

    Keep creating!

  11. calisto says:

    I don’t see a problem with the idea that a firearm can be “printed”. As has been stated the printable parts are few and there is a good amount of metal machining involved. I think it will be a long time before “printing” a firearm is easier and cheaper than buying an illegal firearm. As far as security is concerned homemade “zip guns” have been around AT LEAST since the fifties when many hardware stores carried components made of high quality steel cheap thanks to metal smithing technology developed during WWII. Someone mentioned a shift in the balance of power, I don’t think so atleast not for a long time coming. The AK-47 is sold around the world and in many places can be bought for as little as $5 US! Anyone within the US or outside of it that wants a firearm without concern for legalities can have one.
    There are only two problems I can foresee, one is the possibility that an amateur gunsmith might hurt himself or another because they did not fully understand what was involved to the proper production of a precision engineered machine. Even a low stress part suffers some stress when a round explodes in the chamber. A firearm made by a person who is just following directions without understanding the real process is prone to make critical errors out of ignorance.
    The other problem is the perception that there will be a sudden influx of illegal/unsafe firearms. The impact this might have on the maker community or how people think and feel about the maker community has me concerned.

    1. sparkmike77 says:

      Hadn’t considered the perception side. Thanks for that.

  12. redhat says:

    I can envision a day when 3d printers are complex machines that are able to assemble complex chemical compounds. Imagine downloading a chocolate cupcake from an un-trusted source only to find a live fragmentation grenade in your printer.

    1. Fritoeata says:

      Alas, redhat, the day is fast approaching when the machine will indeed go “viral” and will overtake it’s master. We will need someone chosen… Someone… named John Connor!

      But seriously, I’m more concerned for jr. High kids blowing off their arms by having a cold melt or something in their process and then the mom sue happy at someone. This is only a minor progress in a new application of a new technology, albeit a rather “in your face” one.

      “…move along” oh, and test it in a safe place extensively before being under sustained or “arduino’d” fire ;)

  13. jonas says:


    1. Jim Hunter says:

      What is? Are you referring to the fact that 3D printing technology is advancing or the fact that people may be more able to defend themselves in the future?

  14. glocks have been made with plastic receivers for decades, it is no surprise that a one off could be made with essentially a $1000 piece of hobbiest gear.

    the only problem i see is not making a political argument. the timing behind the release of this project is horrible, with the UN pushing gun bans and the recent shooting in CO it opens a Pandora box of people ignorant to the fact that criminals don’t follow the laws. so we end up with laws that only effect law abiding citizens.

    it actually upsets me that someone would post this type of story, and ask not to have political comments. it is every humans responsibility to be political to some extent, otherwise we are all doomed to be repressed.

    1. Fritoeata says:

      Hey now… Let’s not call an apple an orange here. Getting into the physical properties of an injection molded polymer pistol and saying it’s the same as this a pretty big misunderstanding. The molecular chains of a single piece molded impact resisting glass filled nylon frame will shoot high velocity pistol cartridges virtually forever. Nylon’s thermoset properties form into a single “mesh” and will perform much like a cast part would. An FDM(ie: reprap, stratasys, Makerbot) will, from a molecular chain perspective, shred itself to bits in very short order if this isn’t done with full design intent considered. Think of it as a “de-slice”. The actual bond will likely never approach that of molded ABS, let alone NYLON.

    2. Fritoeata says:

      To append my above comment, I too am peeved by the timing of this. Too bad I obey laws…

  15. watsonstudios says:

    The story should read the “First Functional 3d Printed Lower Receiver”. That’s really all it is, a “part,” not an entire gun. The headline strikes a bit more drama than what is actually unfolding here. The article is a bit misleading.

  16. Well, I figured everyone else was doing it, so I printed out a Glock…

    I did make it small enough to fit in a mint tin though… do I get points for that?

    1. davidcdean says:

      You sir, win all the internets.

  17. Gallery 31 says:

    We just put together a show at Corcoran’s Gallery 31 in Washington DC that really relates to this topic. The exhibit’s titled “Manifest: Armed”, and a lot of the work deals with issues surrounding American gun culture. The artists involved are Sarah Frost, the collective SmithBeatty, and Julian Oliver.

    Check it out if you’re interested! It runs August 8-September 2.

  18. [...] the article NEWS FROM THE FUTURE – 3D-Printed Guns, user rocketguy1701 writes: Well, actually it’s a bit of a overblown non-story really. Anybody [...]

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