Why You Shouldn’t Care About The All-Metal 3D Printed Gun

Solid Concepts, one of the world’s largest rapid prototyping outfits, just printed a gun. Unlike previous 3D printed guns like the Liberator, this 3D printed version of an M1911 is made out of metal. It’s a real gun, with rifling in the barrel – something the Liberator doesn’t have – and has the look and feel of what the US military has been using as a service pistol for decades.

The Solid Concepts 1911 was made using the selective laser sintering process, using a combination of stainless steel and nickel-chromium alloys. Every single part of the gun, save for the spring, was 3D printed without any machining. It’s an impressive feat of rapid manufacturing – firing .45 ACP rounds, this gun will see 20,000 psi every time the gun is fired. It’s already chewed through a few magazines so far, and it apparently shoots pretty well, to boot.

Here’s why you shouldn’t care.

Solid Concepts business is to make things using rapid prototyping. They make everything from plastic baubles, tooling for injection molds, architectural models, and stuff that doesn’t get past the prototype stage. This 3D printed 1911 is simply a demonstration of Solid Concept’s capabilities, nothing more.

The printer used to manufacture this printer is an EOS SLS printer that costs many tens of thousands of dollars. Our limited research can’t pin the price of the printer down more than that, but let’s just say you could buy a very, very nice sports car for the same price, and we’re not talking about that awesome ‘vette down at the Chevy dealership.

This is just a neat little advertisement, that’s it. Someone at Solid Concepts realized if they made a gun using 3D printed parts, it would be picked up by blogs and wire services. They were right. It’s an excellent demo of what Solid Concepts’ capabilities are, but that’s just about it. You’re still not able to manufacture an M1911 on a desktop 3D printer, and even if you could, you could set up a machine shop in your garage and end up with a similar product for less money.

As an aside, and this is just me throwing an idea out there, can we please stop using guns as an example of what 3D printing can do? I respect your right to manufacture, own, and operate a gun, but as I write this paragraph, I’m cringing at the thought of all the pro and anti-gun comments this post will see.

If you’re looking for a way to demonstrate your 3D printing prowess, how about something like an engine? Given the right design, they’re more complicated than a gun, and a really small Wankel engine would be really cool.

Video of the Solid Concepts 1911 available below.


155 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Care About The All-Metal 3D Printed Gun

    1. Maybe that’s the plan. You can’t ban 3d printers, they are a tool… but you could make it really hard to own one so that only people in the rapid prototype business can legally get them.

          1. Then UK cops will raid and confiscate somebody’s home because they had a piece of metal in the place. They will then announce that an investigation if the metal had anything at all to do with guns as being ‘ongoing’, but be very proud of themselves nonetheless.

        1. I don’t think so, sure lathes,cnc,etc.. Can easy make a weapon, but you need to know how to use these tools. I already done a spud gun, it’s not very difficult, but you need to know how to do it, and have the abilities to do it.

          Here it’s a metal 3d printer. The first idea of 3d printer was to give the capacity for evrybody to print a 3d object, that you downloaded the plan. And that is dangerous, it’s not what you can do with it, but how people think they can use it. All is make for simplify the printing, there isn’t a limit, ask an object and you will have it, how difficult it is.
          Now give a piece of metal, a cnc and a lathe, you could do it, but it’s more difficult, with a 3 axes there are so limit of what you can do, etc..

          Sorry for the bad english, i hope you understand what i wanted to say ;)

      1. you will also put cnc, drills, hacksaw , on the list.? And what about ordinary hacksaw and metal tubes? I can make shotgun in 5 minute with hacksaw , metal pipe, pipe end cap and gauge12. :D

        1. They are already investigating if people with such dangerous tools as hands and brains should not be shackled and monitored with in-home cameras – in as far as it isn’t done yet.

  1. I guess what you are saying is that we shouldn’t be afraid of 3D printed weapons as 3D printing is one form of manufacture and there are simpler less expansive ways to make weapons already available. drill stand jig saw spring nail as striker steel pipe as barrel and piece of 2X4 as handle. on the other hand people are worried as the entry level required to make weapons in experience/knowledge and equipment is falling quickly. Arduino some servos GPS and a hobby rocket makes you a rudimentary guided missile.

    It is an interesting new world that approaches undecided on whether it is better or worse.

  2. How come no one brings up the fact that in the USA $99 will buy you a gun that can scramble anyone’s brains. All with zero waiting time to boot. I mean seriously, why 3D print one at all?

    1. It’s a good point. I think the hysteria is centered around the idea that “prohibited persons”–people with felony convictions and the mentally ill, who wouldn’t normally pass a background check–would be able to print themselves a gun. Given that criminals don’t seem to have that much trouble buying guns anyway, the concern about 3d printers is seriously misplaced.

        1. Except not on Craig’s list and not to/from a felon or minor. (I know, someone will cheat, but how is that different from stealing one in a burglary at a military base?)

          Anyway, don’t get caught building one without the proper permits and licenses plus a $200 one time tax and a serial numbering scheme per weapon. On the other hand, in nations ruled by tyrannies, 3D printers will no doubt be controlled as thoroughly as the Soviet Union controlled typewriters.

          1. The $200 tax stamp is only required if you are manufacturing a NFA firearm. Individual states may require the firearm to be registered and serialized, but not all of them do. Permits and licensing from the BATFE are only required if you are planning on selling the product.

          1. lol yes!

            But the problem is that once the technology matures, criminals WILL be able to get a decent SLS metal printer for under $5000, download the handgun_complete_layout.stl file, and click print without knowing anything about how the manufacturing process works.

            That’s why 3D printers will end up regulated whereas milling machines will not. 3D printers are like macs – you don’t have to know how one works to use it.

    2. In the true nature of hacking. Because you can! As an avid gun collector and someone who dabbles in machining… If I had the correct tools and time I would most definitely build my own gun. Just like, years ago I built a street legal Sand Rail from scratch and a number of other things. I did it because I could.

  3. Notice at the beginning of the video their mention of having a Federal Firearms License…

    Don’t worry, the gov’t will find someway of taxing, regulating and/or permitting our usage of 3D printing devices. All for our own ‘protection’ of course…

    1. They already do. What do you think sales taxes are? And depending on what you print, you might find the feds knocking on your door.

      Someone needs to start printing dildos, y’know, the other penis substitute.

          1. So is VAT, it’s added at the last stage. The customer only ever sees price inc VAT in the UK. Then the retailer at the end of the month or whatever, sends 17.5% off to the government.

            If you’re buying for a business you don’t have to pay VAT, so trade catalogues give 2 prices in their price list. Same for cash & carry warehouses. Obviously this is abused a little bit.

      1. Dildos aside, it goes well beyond sales tax and VAT – that generally applies to anything being sold… Permitting/Licensing is a gov’t way of regulating and adding additional costs to deter/prohibit the general public from usage unless they pass some qualifier.

        Contrary to my previous posting, I don’t think it’ll go that far with 3D printers… It’s just gives the media, politicians and gun-control fanatics something to jump up and down about.

        1. On the other hand if you print something that’s a necessity, the Gummint will give you subsidies instead. (Best to keep quiet is you are getting a subsidy, y’now since handouts are Socialism and all that.)

          I did encounter a couple of (very non-technical) folk who thougt pulling doing the Liberator files was a good idea. I don’t care for guns, but I did explain why it wasn’t.

    1. Yeah. I *think* I get what he’s going for–that people need to stop freaking out about this stuff–but it comes across as basically “this is not a worthwhile post” to which the obvious response is “so why are you posting it??”

      1. I think this is a fine post an the 1911 is an impressive piece of 3D printing. I am a little more interested in the last part of the post where he asks for ideas for better things to print. An engine would be impressive. What sort of useful things are we on the verge of making with these machines?

        1. If you mixed ferrite powder into the plastic, could you 3D print a ferrite core? If you replaced the plastic with copper wire, could you make a coil winder? Could you combine these to create an electric motor?
          Failing that, I’d settle for a Stirling Engine.

          1. Ferrite cores are compressed ferrite powder which is baked in an oven and then magnetized afterwards. It will work but poorly with mixing ferrite powder with plastics, but you still need to magnetize it afterwards to make it a permanent magnet. I don’t know if magnetized ferrite powder can be mixed, maybe it will demagnetize with the extruder heat or just get stuck as the powder clump together.

            Magnetic cores of Carbonyl iron are basically a special ironpowder with plastic as a glue/insulator between the particles. Have excellent eddy current reducing properties.

            3D-printers are Cartesian robots, they are not limited to just printing, just replace the tool with an other tool. I guess copper wire with the same diameter as the filament would be too much but I’m sure it could be done with minor adjustments with thin copper wire and some tinkering. But why not use copper powder mixed with the filament, same idea as with the iron powder but you need more copper per filament ratio so the copper particles connect. Its common in the electronic enclosure industry to mix stainless steel fibers/powder in the injection molding process for EMI/EMC shielding. The fibers have electrical contact and forms a Faraday cage, just like a full metal enclosure. Pure copper wire is of course much better.

            An induction or asynchronous AC motor don’t use permanent magnets, so you can skip the ferrite core. A magnetic core would be a plus but not a must. Its very possible to print such electric motor.

  4. Thanks for the well-written article, Brian. Involving 3d printers (of whatever sort) in the gun control debate is definitely a red herring. Not only can a law-abiding person easily purchase a mass-produced gun for less money (well, in most areas of the country…), but criminals who wouldn’t pass a background check nonetheless seem to have little trouble procuring firearms without resorting to manufacturing their own.

  5. Big respect for the tone of this article. It’s clear to me that these guy said to themselves “hey, we have this great device and how can we get ourselves in the news”. Well, everyone’s talking about them, so big PR win.
    To be fair, making a gun IS a really good demonstration of their fabricaton as the pressures and build tolerances need to be pretty high for this to work.But, yes a petrol engine 3D printed would have been more impressive… if a little less newsworthy.

    1. I still am having a hard time believing that a plastic gun ISN’T a bomb!

      I love how they used a string to pull the trigger. That is the only way I would ever consider firing a Liberator.

    1. Well a gun does show how a 3D printed device can handle high pressures and looks sexy, but this technology is exciting because you CAN print an engine, just form schematics, and replacement parts not only for existing things but for antiques where replacements don’t exist to things that haven’t been thought of yet, Print a gun isn’t the great thing, but printing parts for anything from a Stanley Steamer to the Starship Enterprise is!

  6. Ya, no one really cares. 8 year old kids in Pakistan can make 1911s in a couple hours from scratch. Not as good as this one, but the point remains. If I wanted a gun and couldn’t legally possess one, there’s about 100 better ways to go about it than to print one. I’m with the author, I see this is catering to sensationalist media for cheap PR. Plus let’s say criminals start learning to 3D print guns; if they actually work, the criminals could use their skills to get high paying jobs, lol

    1. I get your point but it irks me to see blithe misrepresentation of the truth in this manner. There are hand made guns produced in various parts of the middle east but to state it as you have is general misleading. I doubt that the 1911 is the type of firearm produced commonly if ever in those places. The arm of choice is something that resembles the AK type rifle and they still don’t produce them from scratch. Also the 8 year old part is not exactly accurate either. Im sure young children are involved but the actual building is no doubt done by older people who have learned the skill from others.

  7. Guns are 19th-century technology. Afghans make them in their homes with hand tools. Still, 3D printing will eventually make them as easy to create as cheap paper printers made a home newsletter. Same for the rest of the world of manufactured products. Good.

  8. The firearm, while an impressive design accomplishment, distracts from the point of the story – the capability of producing high strength components of fine precision without machining steps. Twenty thousand PSI and all the violent acceleration and cycling are difficult design and manufacturing goals, but an internal combustion engine and transmission would have been a better example without the emotional overhead.

    To really impress, Solid Works should make another 3D SLS with that one.

    1. The ammo which feeds this gun likely doesnt run at 20 kPSI. 21 kPSI is pMax for 45 ACP, given how much pressure can change due to the temperature of the powder, they are likely loaded to lower pressures.

  9. >can we please stop using guns as an example of what 3D printing can do?

    Wait what?? The only place I’ve seen this 3d gun printing sensationalism is here at hackaday. As I recall, the last time wasn’t even a hack just blatant trolling to the point that they even had a go at british gun law as being ‘weird’!?

  10. “very nice sports cat for the same price, and we’re not talking about that awesome ‘vette down at the Chevy dealership.”

    No, I was thinking something more along the lines of a Jaguar.

  11. I think I read someplace that the Liberator did have a rifled barrel (for what little good it did) to comply with US Federal regulations. Evidently, a smooth bore would have been illegal somehow.

    1. In the 1934 NFA regulated shotguns by using the wording “smoothbore”, distinguishing them from usually-rifled rifles and pistols. A smoothbore pistol would classified as “Any Other Weapon” which is the catch-all for everything that didn’t fall into other classifications. It would need to registered with the ATF as an AOW with a $200 tax stamp. Back in 1934, $200 was an insane amount of money and it effectively banned short-barrel rifles/shotguns and AOWs. Now it’s just a nuisance.

  12. I suspect these guys demonstrated printing an M1911 because folks like the USMC have been looking for parts for their M1911 pistols. The need for parts (and difficulty in obtaining them) was high enough for them to actually replace the existing stock of pistols. They ended up selecting one (once again) based on the M1911.

    Perhaps these guys are showing that they can manufacture M1911 components so they can sell their tech to USMC, or other military branches. “Hey, you could worry about shipping parts overseas all the time, or a guy spending hours on a lathe and CNC machine with tons of wasted material, or you could print out stuff, including firearm parts!”

    1. I doubt the USMC would care about this, especially since it isnt a proven technology. The 1911 is the AR15 of the pistol world, everyone and their mom makes parts of it, there are countless botique manufacturers and parts suppliers. Also the USMC’s 1911 has recently had issues with the slide and frame cracking, so I doubt they would want to use a unproven technology.

      1. No it doesnt. A single Lt. Cmd. doesn’t set policy for the Navy. Get back to me when both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secratary of Defense start calling for this and congress actually starts allocating money for it. Other than that this is just some nobody in the Navy saying ‘yeah it would be cool but we arent going to do it’. Also what he is talking about doing, printing bullets for naval guns, because non square bullets leave too much dead space, is a horrible idea. Ignoring things on naval guns and artillery like driving bands, how much space would this massive 3d printer take up compared to space saved of bullets not stacking efficently? I’m guessing powder of 3d SLS printers isnt as compact as a solid piece of metal either.

        1. And furthermore, is it really a good idea to have a 3d printer on a ship? Ships are moving all over the place due to waves, somehow I think the workpiece of a 3d printer would move around some too which would screw up all the tolerances. Sure it could worked around with massive gyroscopes, but this too would take up lots of space once again working against the intended use of saving space. Or the massive cost of this program in a environment where the military is seeing its budget severly reduced.

  13. You are wrong. It simply doesn’t matter how difficult and expensive 3d printing a gun is versus cnc or zip-gun.
    All that matters is the possibility and the populist media and political attention this brings to 3d printing.
    There was already an arrest in the UK for possession of “suspected printed gun parts” for Christ’s sake!
    This will become a regular event.
    There will be more and more trials to ban or tax 3d printing.

  14. That is awesome! I have a few custom or rare guns I’ve been wanting to add to my collection, it looks like by the time I get my finances back in gear, I will have my choice of custom manufacture places.

    Accuracy’s good, but the slide seems to stick a bit. They should probably look at that.

    I think an internal combustion engine would be a good demonstration of how reliable the manufacturing technique is. It would be the equivalent of a couple thousand test-firings per minute, so if it can run for a few hours, then we can be fairly certain that any firearms they produce aren’t going to suddenly explode on the 150th shot.

  15. You’re so right !
    I’m bored to see “moldus” believing that the 3D printers can only be used to make weapons…

    Some days ago, I made some demo at an event, using my own reprap, and almost *every* people discoreving the 3D printer “live” said the same thing : “Oh, this his the stuff used to make weapon, right ?”

    I’ve used most of my time explaining that this printers can be used to do more peaceful stuff, like prothesis, etc…

  16. Although I know where you are coming from, we really need to continue to 3D print whatever the hell we want, especially guns. If we can print weapons, then we will probably be ALLOWED by govt to print other things. The point is, this gun is not illegal, the process is not illegal, the communication about it is strictly legal, and if we shy away from stuff like this, then our freedoms will continue to get legislated away. I say keep printing in your face kind of stuff, or be happy with your Yoda prints, which will also probably be forbidden as well.

  17. “The printer used to manufacture this printer is an EOS SLS printer that costs many tens of thousands of dollars.”

    Technically true, but misleading. I’ve seen base price quoted at 415,000 EUR.

  18. “Can we please stop using guns as an example of what 3D printing can do.” Amen and pass the ammunition.

    I can 3d print a working syringe and inject heroin. I can 3d print loadable det. cord.

    The engine was a great choice. There is nothing that nobody hates, but at least the engine doesn’t immediately say “Everybody involved in 3d printing is scary and should be feared.” Also the sales guys will stop asking me to “print them an M16”

    1. I hate engines,so can you print me a nice 1/4 scale Mirlin that can run on pump gas and send it to me in the mail to really offend me. Thanks. But really in todays world why print guns then tell everybody? The anti gun nuts could pass laws quickly to ban 3d printers. You want proof, not too long ago you could buy Dynamite at most hardware stores but now?

      1. I’m with you. Print me an Allison T63-A-700 turboshaft engine in 1/10 scale, or a RR griffon at 1/24 scale. How about both?

        My son and I are wanting to get into scale R/C flying, him in fixed wing and me in heli. That would be so cool to have operating scale engines in our birds.

    1. Look up on “sand casting”… you make a wooden positive, use that to create a negative mold from casting sand, remove the wood, cast metal…your metal part is ready to be cleaned ;-)

  19. I hate to point it out but you just published an article 2 posts down about 3d printing in metal at home….you are aware the less mechanical and technological of use are gonna try an put these 2 together.

    You know its not possible using that technique, I know it to, but your average daily mail reader/fox news viewer’s gonna go: ” OMG!!! WTF!!!! PPL R GONNA DIE!!!111″ just like when police here in blighty seized a 3d print cos they “believed” it was used for 3d printing gun parts…everyone practically shit the bed!

    whilst the rest of us engineers/tinkerers went: “Meh!”

    1. I forgot to include the magazine as well.

      Also after watching the video, the berm at 1:54 is laughably unsafe.

      And finally I doubt they just printed this gun a shot it, certain parts such as the barrel need to be hardened.

  20. criminals will always get guns especially the drug cartels.

    i think as the resolution of the printer gets better even to the point of being to print watermarks then it should be possible to instead of refusing to print it will print the serial number of the printer, computer used and even the registration number of the software in microscopic size into the piece being printed. as well as phone home to the atf, fbi, cia and mib

  21. Whenever HaD writes an article about guns, there’s always this wimpy “why you shouldn’t care” pseudo-disclaimer and tons of backpedalling.

    Just write the damn story, and let the reader decide whether he should care or not. What you do now is clearly an attempt to assuage gun control advocates without officially taking a position — but you do implicitly take a position by presenting the article in the first place. Be professional, and either come out with a real opinion on the matter or simply present it as a news article. You can even post a *real* disclaimer saying “Hackaday blah blah does not necessarily endorse printing guns.” But just come out with it rather than dancing around the edge.

    1. That’s not completely fair. We do take a position – if you’re in the US (and we’re basically a US site), you have the right to make a firearm at home. I wouldn’t fire a liberator without a really long string, but we’re pretty much on a pro-3D printed gun tact.

      The problem, however, is with every other news outlet. They’ve taken the stance that it’s the freakin end of the world because guns exist. In response to that, we need to take a position saying the liberator isn’t the end of the world, zip guns are easier, safer, and more deadly, also you shouldn’t make a zip gun if you value having hands, and you can make your own 1911 with a lathe and mill.

      As far as the manufacture of firearms go, 3D printing really doesn’t change anything. We’re not seeing cool projects where someone makes a 3D printed action for a Martini-Henry rifle or replicas of truly weird guns. Hell, by now you’d think we’d have seen someone print a rail+laser pointer holder. That would actually be somewhat useful.

      But no, all we get are links to sensational articles for impractical guns from Huff Po. All stuff that has been done a thousand times before without 3D printers. Apathy is really the only position we can take.

      1. “Apathy is really the only position we can take.”
        Except that your apathy is a lie. You clearly do care, and not just due to the obvious site traffic these articles generate. I care too, and I expect most readers care. The “Why you shouldn’t care” bit is simply amateur journalism. I think you can do better, that is all.

        1. Agreed, it is unprofessional. All I ask is either A. be neutral on the subject, or B. simply not post about it. Either would be fine, and I would respect either decision. But no, there is clearly some bias there and they need to push their opinions onto the readers.

          It’s a shame when majority of the readers just want the tech, not having so-and-so’s “stance” being shoved down their throat.

  22. I think 3d printing a gun in our current political environment is a deliberate and calculated move on the part of the company – an engine may have been more complex and impressive to pull off, and they likely could have done it, but they did this instead..

    1. An engine would be way more complex, it would be much bigger, and be under constants heat and pressure, so quite a different thing.
      Although you are right that it’s a calculated PR move of course to make a gun, it’ll hit the news they hope.
      Although you can never be sure, some things that are 3D printed I would expect would get a lot of flak and attention, but it never does for some reason.
      I won’t specify what things though, I like it quiet :)

  23. Obviously they chose using a gun for their demonstration because it would get them a little extra publicity as compared to something a little more mundane. Very smart.

    Again, there are much easier ways to get a gun ‘under the table’ than to make one. Person to person sales are totally legal and there are no background checks, although where I live that handgun would get you sent straight to prison if you get popped carrying without a permit. In spite of this, I am certain we are going to hear a good many gun control people up in arms about it.

  24. Correction: the hackaday article states that there was no machining done to these parts, this is not factual. It was stated that EXTENSIVE machining was required to remove additional metal ‘smelted’ during the printing process. This requires a competent machinist with minimal workload, or a hacker with a lot of time to learn from mistakes.

    I agree this is not something that ANYONE should care about, this is just another MACHINE TOOL which creates TOOLS.

    1. Did you bother reading their posting?
      “The gun is 45ACP. It’s rifled and the rifling was built directly into the part – or as we like to say, “grown” into the part – using 3D Printing. This gun has NOT BEEN MACHINED. We used hand tools for some post processing (our finishers are wonderful), but we did not machine this gun. It’s born this way.”

      Now they did not mention that their process does typically include a post treatment in a Hot Isostatic Press. Heres a pdf that goes into more detail on the surface characteristics as printed and after treatment http://bit.ly/1bev05h

      We had test parts printed on an EOS printer. I was skeptical going in as I had poor results from early SLS, and later with SLM from phenix systems. I was surprised at the difference the shorter wavelength (1064nm fibrelaser vs 10,600nm CO2) made. There is still an uncomfortable 100 micron minimum feature size limitation imposed by the beam diameter, but much like your extrusion printers, this thickness of beam is somewhat made up for by the edge smoothing effect.

      Ultimately, Id agree that this has little relevance to HOME/Hobbyist 3D printers, as this $6-800k machine requires another $250+k machine for post processing. And any attempt to DIY would be held back by the need for a $10-80k fibrelaser. But I think SolidConcepts intent, more than to ride the wave of media hype to drum up business, was to drum up understanding that the state of the art in 3D printing is capable of far greater precision and material support than the mechanical glueguns getting all the press.

  25. I think the real worry with 3d printing is that the few who don’t have connections and want a gun to go out an do a crime could invest time and get one without *any* paper trail. The only thing is, they still have to buy bullets and I have to admit the hardware store route seems more viable at this point. I suppose the sensible thing to do would be to restrict bullets?


    *someone reads this and prints a bullet*


        1. Then it’s to easy to say “You clearly have no idea how easy it is to manufacturer ammunition”. :) Casting the bullets is pretty straight forward. Making modern propellant , primers, and brass probably isn’t.

          1. For propellant you can make black powder yourself. If you can’t do that then you can use match heads for both the propellant and primer, see the US Army’s Improvised Muntions Manual for details. And making brass, I think the manual may have something for that, if not its not like brass is hard to come by, I have thousands of peices just sitting around waiting to be reloaded. Either way, DIYing ammo with conventional methods is far easier and cost effective than printing it.

  26. I am unimpressed. Printing a gun in it’s individual parts seems rather boring. I would be greatly impressed, however, if they printed the entire gun(minus those special bits) put together. Better yet, print an entirely custom gun that you can’t disassemble.

    I’m waiting for the 3d printed microchips so I can build my own nano-scale model railroad complete with electrostatic acceleration.

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