back to article 'Liberator': Proof that you can't make a working gun in a 3D printer

People are missing one important point about the "Liberator" 3D-printed "plastic gun": it isn't any more a gun than any other very short piece of plastic pipe is a "gun". Parts for the Liberator 3D printed pistol1 You can take my Liberator ... and shove it Seriously. That's all a Liberator is: a particularly crappy pipe, …


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  1. EddieD

    All very true, but..

    It's a first go, and it's a proof of concept.

    You could easily design most of the parts for a 3D printer, and use a metal pipe for the barrel.

    In the future, the materials used by a 3D printer will be developed, and there are plastics and composites that would be able to be used for a short lived firearm.

    Nonetheless though, everything you say is bang on - Harlan Ellison style zip guns and numerous other improvised firearms already exist, and are better than this, but nothing, particularly not the truth, will stop the hysteria that can be drummed up by the media for this sort of thing.

    Best to just chuckle gently, and wait for the reports of folks losing bits of their anatomy

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: All very true, but..

      You couldn't just use a metal pipe, it has to be of very close tolerance surely? And using a metal pipe to ensure a proper fit would DRASTICALLY increase the pressure in the chamber which would promptly explode.

      For now anyway - doubtless we'll be able to 3D-print in diamond soon or something.

      1. TheVogon Silver badge

        Re: All very true, but..

        The printer that is used for the test versions of this gun was an industrial type printer that used HARD plastic, which negates most of the points raised in the article as to why it won't work.

        The printer in question cost £3,000 from eBay. However, it is likely that you could just order the parts created via a print to order service if you didn't want to buy the printer....

      2. SDoradus

        No. Tolerances are not so important

        Pre WW1 revolvers often did not have gas-tight seals yet worked well. Gas tightness is useful to prevent powder burns and to provide some boost to muzzle velocity, but is not vital to a working weapon.

    2. Annihilator

      Re: All very true, but..

      "It's a first go, and it's a proof of concept."

      But it's not really, you could make the same product by injection moulding and we don't have a plethora of plastic guns being sneaked onto planes etc. Guns are necessarily made out of metal to have any sort of impact.

      "You could easily design most of the parts for a 3D printer, and use a metal pipe for the barrel."

      You could, but as the article points out you could do all that without the 3D printer.

      1. danR2

        Re: All very true, but..

        I'm wondering how Harlan Ellison became the authority on more than cooking up specious lawsuits against rival s-f writers and movie producers. Having got that off my chest, you just have to google images "zip gun", and see the amazing range of options for making crude but workable (smooth-bore, short range) hand'guns'.

        My favorite is the paper mache gun, although one of its claims (burns itself up on firing, self-destroying the evidence) should be taken with a grain of salt. You'd probably want to wrap any thin-walled tube round with several layers of fiberglass tape, just to be on the safe side. Or better, not make a zip-gun at all.

      2. SDoradus

        The point is rapid development

        The importance of 3D printing is twofold.

        First, few people have access to injection molding equipment, but a 3D printer is potentially within reach of anyone. (Expect a licensing regime for them within months except in places which view them as vital for economic development).

        Second, what has been downloadable is the 3D model which means the design is out there and cannot reasonably be banned. Injection moulders can be enjoined by a court: millions of Brazilian gangsters cannot.

        Third, this successful model will be rapidly tweaked to become even more effective. As an engineer I would "improve" it in one of two ways, with a view to keeping it undetectable:

        - either make the barrel from crack-free tensioned and wound nylon fishing line, a method dating back to wire-wound flash boilers; or,

        - locate a common steel ballpoint pen with a case that fits the desired cartridge, cut it to fit, sleeve the pen back together and take pen and gun parts in your shirt pocket through customs.

      3. gromm

        Re: All very true, but..

        Oh, but the 3D printer makes the whole thing look nice and vaguely well-made.

    3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: All very true, but..

      "You could easily design most of the parts for a 3D printer, and use a metal pipe for the barrel"

      That is true but that pretty much removes the panty twisting aspect of 'OMG, it's undetectable by HomeBoy Security! Oh the huge manatee!'; doesn't it?

      1. Fibbles

        Re: All very true, but..

        "That is true but that pretty much removes the panty twisting aspect of 'OMG, it's undetectable by HomeBoy Security! Oh the huge manatee!'; doesn't it?"

        I have to admit being confused by the hysteria of people making such comments. If we assumed for a moment that the Liberator was actually a well functioning plastic gun and could be brought onto an aeroplane without detection, what use would it be without ammunition? I've yet to see reports of 3D printed bullets and casings.

        1. t.est

          Re: All very true, but..

          A bullet or a few are easily smuggled in and easily hidden into some other metal object. Custom made battery for a laptop, preferably an old Apple Ti Powerbook. The Ti part is very good for the x-ray scan.

          Custom batteries are not so hard to get, just pay a small amount. Give it 25% of the original power, so the computer works, and fill rest with ammunition.

          All that is needed is the will and a little knowledge combined with some imagination. After 9/11 the Powerbook Ti was prohibited from some air lines due to the Ti casing, and x-ray images where just black.

    4. Vector

      Re: All very true, but..

      First off, it is a gun. It may not be particularly effective but, per the dictionary definition ("a device that throws a projectile" - Merriam-Webster), it's a gun. I'm no expert (far, far from it), but I'd guess it's almost as effective as the early blunderbuss pistols.

      The author seems to miss the point. Sure, it's crap, but then, so were the printouts from early dot-matrix printers. This just proves that it can be done and it's up- or downhill from here depending on your point of view. Some really smart (and possibly twisted) people will figure out how to improve on this start and people will be able to "print" guns. It may take 5 or ten years, but the genie is out of the bottle.

      At the same time, the government seizure of the plans is laughable. Those plans are not physical, they're information and that information has been set loose into the world. You can try to legislate this out of existence but to paraphrase an old saying: if 3D gun plans are outlawed, only outlaws will have 3D gun plans. And you probably won't know they have them until they've printed their gun and used it.

      Personally, I'm not real thrilled about this eventuality, but sticking your head in the sand by saying "it's not a real gun" does nothing to address the issue.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: All very true, but..

        It wasn't so much a seizure. The Department of State* simply requested politely that the plans be pulled from distribution while they were attempting to decide if any laws had been violated. It wasn't even a legally binding request, just some strong advice. It just got exaggerated soon after by lots of paranoids screaming 'The Gubmint is comin' for our guns!'

        *I have no idea why they were interested, rather than the ATF or even DHS.

        1. SoaG

          State not ATF/DHS/FBI

          Nothing illegal disseminating weapon manufacturing information to his fellow yanks.

          Making it available internationally however is apparently an issue that they can go after him on. Haven't verified this part myself, but I gather that even then it's not so much a violation of law within the US, but of US adhering to international treaties and him not having the requisite permit(s).

          Either way, it's just an excuse to make an example out of him. If he'd got the permits and blocked IP ranges of embargoed countries, they'd have found something else. With millions of laws and regulations on the books and 100's of thousands more being added every year, everyone's probably in violation of something or other. Just most of us don't deliberately draw a great deal of public attention for the purpose of thumbing our noses.

          I'm sure that's why, after all the build up, he complied with the take down order so quickly. He didn't do it because he believes the Predator is useful or necessary as a device. He did it to get the US 2nd amendment reaffirmed (or not) by their supreme court 5 or 6 years from now.

        2. matt g

          Re: All very true, but..

          It was the State Department as they're responsible for licensing exports of military goods as per the ITAR requirements. Contrary to a lot of shrieking, the designer has not been stopped from making or disseminating plans except where there may be an infringement of the US export controls. And that is an emphasis on may - remember old' Phil Zimmerman and PGP.

        3. Tom 13

          Re: simply requested politely

          There was no 'polite' about it. He was ordered to take them down. It came from State under the auspices of some unratified international gun treaty.

          Yes, the guy was a putz and a fool for putting them up in the first place, and as such probably didn't deserve polite treatment.

      2. Matthew 25

        Re: All very true, but..

        'per the dictionary definition ("a device that throws a projectile" - Merriam-Webster)'

        Does that make a crossbow a gun? How about a longbow, or a catapult. All devices that throw a projectile which aren't guns. I'm sure there are many more. Then again how about a hot glue gun? What's the projectile there?

      3. Steve Evans

        Re: All very true, but..

        "a device that throws a projectile" - Merriam-Webster

        Like a catapult.

        Or my arm?

      4. tomban

        Re: government seizure of the plans is laughable

        Darth Vader called, he would like his plans back.

    5. Charles Manning

      It is not proof of concept, it is a diversion

      The www is full of sesigns for zip guns which are far more effective and easy enough to make with $20 of DIY hand tools.

      A 3D printed gun is not "proof of concept" because the materials just don't exist for making an effective 3D printed gun.

      It's like duct taping some cardboard wings to a car and saying you have "proof of concept" for a flying car.

      This was an exercise in hysteria... and it worked.

      1. fajensen Silver badge

        Re: It is not proof of concept, it is a diversion

        Precisely! Disney et. al. would dearly love to have some DMCA-like laws to control what can be printed, by whom, and how strong materials should be available to the <o>plebs</o> "consumers", maybe some inspection of data traffic on top?

        "The kids will print undetectable guns and blow up airplanes so they crash on schools"- will sell this legislation, maybe this is precisely why this "gun" was printed. If the objective is an effective DIY-gun, then there is the old STEN ... real, military weapons that can (and was) be built in a basic machine shop in their thousands.

        These days we have more to fear from lobbyist and governments overreaction/overreach than we have from actual criminals, rogue states and terrorists!!

    6. SDoradus

      Ten firings before breaking counts as a success

      The Liberator was designed to shoot cartridges of variable sizes (swapping plastic barrels). Given its likely customers want it as a holdout weapon (one which passes metal detectors), the fact that the barrel survived ten firings from the smallest calibre cartridge makes it a success.

    7. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: All very true, but..

      ..It's a first go, and it's a proof of concept....

      Indeed. A similar piece back in 1905 would be claiming that the Wrights had just shown that air travel was pointless. I mean, all that time and effort to glide a few hundred yards at 6 ft high...?

      1. PsychicMonkey

        Re: All very true, but..

        Doesn't really work though does it, if the right brothers had been able to buy an already functioning plane them maybe your argument would hold up...

    8. Jim 59

      Re: All very true, but..

      Has anybody actually tested it ? Presumably it can kill/injure st short range, despite the lack of rifling and overall power. The main worry seems to be invisibility to X rays & customs, unlike metal zip guns etc.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: All very true, but..

        Presumably it can kill/injure st short range

        As can knives, arrows, spears, and a tremendous variety of blunt instruments (including ones that collapse

        or are otherwise concealable).

        The main worry seems to be invisibility to X rays & customs

        And those can also be made of plastic or ceramic, to bypass metal detectors and (modulo density of material and sensitivity of detection systems) x-ray machines. (I'm really not sure what "invisibility to ... customs" might mean. The last time I traveled internationally, the customs officials seemed to have normal eyesight.)

        I'm having trouble conceiving of any situation where a Liberator would be the best choice, or even a particularly good one. I can legally bring materials for making much better weapons, and in some cases the weapons themselves, onto a plane; I could illegally smuggle many others on board with little chance of detection. Ditto for most other "secure" locations where a DIY plastic gun might conceivably be taken.

  2. ElectricFox

    "So what we have here is not, as everyone is saying, proof that 3D printers can be used to make guns. It's proof that they can't, and that 3D printing at the moment is basically pretty useless."

    I don't think you should write off 3D printing as useless, just because it can't meet the material requirements to manufacture a firearm. Perhaps in a few decades time, when prices come down, and material technology applications improve then some more lethal weapons could be produced. All of this is for nothing if you can't get hold of a bullet:

    Most of the other things you've said; I agree with, however.

    1. Miek

      3D Printer + Metalworking Lathe + CNC Milling Machine = Fully Working Gun less Ammunition;

      1. brain_flakes

        Why not just simplify that to "Metalworking Lathe + CNC Milling Machine = Fully Working Gun"? What part of a gun can you make with a 3D printer and not a CNC Milling Machine?

        1. Suricou Raven

          Not much, really - but a 3d printer is potentially much cheaper and smaller. If 3D printing can make some of the more fiddly bits, then at least it could make underground gun manufacturing cheaper and easier to hide.

          Not that there's any need for underground gun manufacturing in the US - the factory-made guns are quite cheap and readily-available.

          1. TheVogon Silver badge

            Yes but now Americans can extend their 'right to bear arms' to aircraft, secure locations, etc where previously metal detectors would have prevented them from doing so.

            I'm all in favour - let the Darwin Awards continue.....


        2. Stoneshop Silver badge


          What part of a gun can you make with a 3D printer and not a CNC Milling Machine?

          I'd think the grip would be easier to do on a printer, but even easier would be to take a lump of Polymorph and shape it.

        3. zaax

          It's actually bench drill + file = fully working gun

        4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

          ...Why not just simplify that to "Metalworking Lathe + CNC Milling Machine = Fully Working Gun"? What part of a gun can you make with a 3D printer and not a CNC Milling Machine?...

          Actually, the full equation would read:

          "Metalworking Lathe + CNC Milling Machine+ considerable skill+fully equipped workshop+lots of money = Fully Working Gun" - as against:

          "3D printer+ bedroom +bored teenager with internet access=Fully Working Gun"

      2. Psyx
        Thumb Up

        Which - if anything - is an argument for controls on ammunition, rather than controls on 3D printers.

        1. MrXavia

          I never understood why this was such a big deal?

          there are plenty of ways to make a gun with basic tools, and bullets are not hard to make...

          And there are plenty of ways to propel the bullet that doesn't use gunpowder, just look at air-rifles, sure in the UK their fairly low power, but that is by law, not because they can't be made at FAC power levels...

          1. TheOtherHobbes

            It's a big deal

            because it fondles a couple of USian hero-fantasy neuroses - i.e. guns and 3D printing and fluffs them up with a large side order of techno-evangelism.

            The fact that it's bollocks in any practical sense doesn't make any difference, because fake hero-bollocks from some imaginary bleeding edge is pretty much the definition of neurotic techno-evangelism.

            If you want to bring down the gubmint and kill a good few people, you're not going to do it with a toy pellet shooter made out of [cheap plastic and/or starch].

            You could certainly do it with other kinds of technology, but competence always loses to rhetoric with these topics. (Which is a good thing considering the damage a political movement could do if it had a clue about real science and was populated by people smart enough to use it.)

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. mickey mouse the fith

            "just look at air-rifles, sure in the UK their fairly low power, but that is by law, not because they can't be made at FAC power levels..."

            And you can put a .22 bullet in the silencer and fire a pellet into it. I did this with my trusty webley airpistol back when I was a teen. No idea how accurate it was, but it made one hell of a bang and the barrel/silencer didnt explode.

            A lot of the precharged air rifles can be modded easily into something quite deadly. Adding a gas-ram to a common and garden spring powered air rifle can take it way over the legal limit as well.

            This 3d gun thing is just a proof of concept, noone in their right mind would go to all the expense and effort to make one for nefarious purposes when there are many easier and cheaper ways of making a gun.

            Gun powder can be made by anyone with access to a few common household/gardening products, a basic firearm and makeshift ammunition are easily made at home (see zip gun). Il wager that most people on this forum could fashion a firearm at least as effective as this with just basic tools and materials.

        2. SDoradus

          Casings would be plastic

          You would then find 3D models for plastic casings to replace brass being downloaded.

          It's sometimes forgotten that various armies have experimented with caseless ammunition. The stuff worked fairly well but didn't quite meet standards for automatic weapons, back in the late sixties. A quick lookup of "Caseless Ammunition" on Wikipedia shows how far they have come.

          All that remains is to replace the lead pellet with a plastic one. Possibly with a hole drilled in the centre to accommodate a nail. Discarding sabot, anyone?

        3. apjanes
          Thumb Up

          Which - if anything...

          Which - if anything - is a queue for Chris Rock's bullet control:

          1. Tom 13

            Re: Which - if anything...

            Pat Paulsen beat him to that line by at least 40 years.

      3. John Bailey

        Fully Working Gun less Ammunition = ornament.


      Shocking lack of perspective

      This is something like the 2nd attempt at this EVER. It's new technology. This is real life, as opposed to a Star Trek episode. Stuff like this isn't instantaneous. Other types of firearms represent centuries of technological development. The author probably wouldn't like some of the original firearms either. He probably wouldn't like any of the first several generations.

      Version 0.02 isn't "magical"? Imagine that.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Shocking lack of perspective

        To some extent, I think it was purposely made to be something that didn't have a long shelf life. Not a gunsmith myself, or even a tinkerer in that area, but I'd imagine a competent one COULD put together something more, shall we say, serviceable. Rigid plastics have been a huge improvement in the area of handguns with traditional manufacturers. But to some extent, they've kept the metal concentrations high specifically because of concerns that were raised back in the 1980s about plastic guns being able to circumvent then current security processes.

  3. Martin 37
    Thumb Down


    I did see a quote from the muppet who made the thing saying "there are states all over the world where you are not allowed to have guns".

    No, they actually countries and there is more than one of them.

    1. TheRealLifeboy

      Re: Idiot

      Uh, who'es the idiot? States are Countries all over the world. Just in the US, they're provinces...

      Oh no, wait, they're countries too. It's just that the US central federal government has usurped power over them.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: Uh, who'es the idiot?

        The one who cant spell "who's"?

        1. You need to log in to use this part of the site

          Re: Uh, who'es the idiot?

          <i>"...Re: Uh, who'es the idiot?

          The one who cant spell "who's"?..."</i>

          ...or "can't"

          1. Bush_rat

            Re: Uh, who'es the idiot?

            ""...Re: Uh, who'es the idiot?

            The one who cant spell "who's"?..."

            ...or "can't""

            ... or read "plain text only, no HTML"


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