This is a transcript of an Instagram Live video that Rob and I did just recently. In it we discuss 3D printing firearms, home made gun manufacturing in general, and how I got started with CAD.
How I got into 3D printed guns and new people entering the hobby
Rob: I’m super curious about A) how long you’ve been 3D printing firearms and then B) on the other side I’m really excited about more and more people getting into it and I’m wondering if you’ve seen a lot of beginners jumping in as well. We’ve got this gun makers match coming up june 19th, and I know you’re coming up as well, and I think one of the really important pieces of the puzzle is making sure that the world sees gun making as a hobby that a lot of people are engaged in.
Me: For sure – so jumping into my history, I got my first 3D Printer in 2018 as a joint christmas gift between me and my wife, and at the time I didn’t think of it from a gun perspective and at the time I just printed pots for plants and stuff.
Then I think it was february the year after that I got this 1907 Remington autoloading shotgun, and it was a really sweet shotgun but obviously it needed some work. It was from 1907 which is way back when. At the time I thought to myself: “I bet I can 3D Print some parts for this” and that was the catalyst that set me on the journey into 3D Printed firearms.
That was right when everything was taking off – the initial wave of adoption with 3D printed glock and magazines just blowing up in popularity.
At first it was tough because I don’t have a background in engineering and there was a big learning curve because I had to learn CAD. Once I got CAD picked up it was pretty easy for me because now I can just go into CAD sketch up an idea and I have it like that.
It’s funny because early on it took me hours and hours to make a shotgun forend and now I’ll be making a video and I’m like: “yeah so I made this full auto Mac conversion in an hour” and people are like: “what an hour?” and for me it’s just like yeah of course – I guess because I’ve been in it for 2 years now.
So it’s really neat to be at that skill level, but it’s so easy for me to forget that I struggled just getting into it.
To touch on new people entering the hobby, my channel has grown astronomically in the last year. I went from 3,000 subs to over 21K this year alone and that’s all new people looking to jump into the hobby. To put it a different way it went from just a handful of developers that I could easily keep up with projects to now people are like: “Do you know about this project?” And I’m just flabbergasted: “I didn’t even know that was a thing!” and sure enough it’s a project out there being worked on.
It’s really cool to see that adoption en masse of 3D printed firearms and by extension home manufacturing of firearms, which is really the end goal isn’t it?
Rob’s journey into 3D printing guns
Rob: Right – exactly! Brownells has been selling gun parts for making and modifying guns for a while now, and 3D printing is only a handful of years old in the gun world. So it seems like this is some new thing but conceptually gun making isn’t a new thing at all, and craftsmanship, having a hobby, making things at home isn’t new at all either.
So I jumped into this in December on the 3D printing side and within the first week of printing I dropped this Glock with some contours. I’m learning CAD as well and just yesterday it cracked through.
But what’s funny is that we were only expecting this to last something like 12 rounds (you can see it says on the side C1 for contours test 1) and there’s a hollow spot here where I’ve gone too shallow.
So we knew it was bound to fail but the fact that it went over 600 rounds was pretty interesting to me as a proof of concept.
Rob: How did you learn CAD because for me, that’s where I’m stuck. The AWCY? Community, I know you’re part of it as well and have done some collaborations there, but I got some more experienced guys from there to jump in as well and help out with the xpd48 project and when they took the file that I’d been working on for the last 6, 8 weeks before that the comments I got were where several people mentioned escher: the artist who does 3d spatial art which is geography, topography, and architecture that doesn’t exist. And accused my CAD of looking like it, and one guy accused my CAD of crashing his super computer even.
So I’m not good at CAD. So how did you learn it cause I’m kinda just making things up.
Me: I’m not a traditional learner by any means, people have their learning styles and some learn by reading, watching others, etc. I tried to watch some YouTube tutorials and they didn’t help unless I had a very specific question like: “How to add rifling to a barrel”.
If there’s a specific question like that I can usually look it up, find a video on it, watch it, and be good to go. But as far as the general learning, I started off just banging my head against it.
What eventually made my first breakthrough was I said: instead of just trying to create things from scratch, let me try first modifying something. And so my first successful design was a modification of the 3D Printed Menedez mags, where I just made an extension. At the time it was hard work, but looking back at it it built the fundamentals that I needed because without it I wouldn’t’ve known how to edit a sketch face, how to press and pull and the differences between those and other functions in fusion.
I will add that right now I’ve not made a fusion 360 tutorial because I don’t feel like I’m a qualified teacher in that regard. I really am just bootlegging it and making things work. I don’t think I’ve had anyone look at my step files and say: “this is atrocious”, but I have had people look at my work and ask: “Why aren’t you doing it this way.” For example, I never use the timeline and I’ve had several people look at my work and ask: “Why aren’t you using the timeline – that’s such a vital tool.” And for me it’s just that every time I’ve tried that screws up stuff for me. So I don’t know if that’d make my projects crash someone’s computer, but I can definitely see where like these self taught people entering the industry and doing CAD stuff are introducing….
The impact of a new wave of designers on the industry
Anthony: So everyone who was in industry up to 5 years ago, chances are they had a formal education. You weren’t just some random person doing it.
And if we look at a similar industry you have coding, people for the longest time were doing web development with a formal education, and then suddenly everyone started doing web development, they had informal educations, and the regular web developers were like: hey you can’t do that, but they would reply, well I did and it’s working so I’m just going to keep doing it, and now I think that there’s be a decade or two since that happened, we’ve found that maybe these informal devs are doing things incorrectly, but they sometimes are a more efficient way of doing things.
Rob: Intuitive! Yeah so you’ve described the development process of my primary firearms programs: there’s all like this is working, or here’s a hundred videos of people doing this. Nobody is trained in that way – they’re not standing weaver, they’re not double tapping, so let’s reverse what’s working and make it a formal thing.
My programming and coding was limited to apple basic, but I do remember that kind of thing where I started taking computer related classes where I had made gosub. Go somewhere else in the code, run a subroutine and then come back. It worked really well – except that’s not how you’re supposed to do it.
So I’ve been bouncing my head off of that’s not how you’re supposed to do it for various endeavors of my life for 40 years.
So I think there’s an interesting thing there with the whole do it yourself, makers brain and creative/entrepreneurial brain that bounces against an establishment and says: “but it’s working, I know it’s not how you do it, but it’s working so that’s gotta count on some level”
Me: Yeah – I think it’s really interesting that you hinted at the creative brain idea, because it’s very on point of what is going on.
Everybody has different operating systems in their heads. For me that’s really apparent because I have no mind’s eye – so I can’t visualize anything, which makes me think in a totally different way than others. And you get these exoduses where all these new ways of thinking enter an established community and it results in innovation in that sector.
I think that’s what we’re seeing, a lot of makers, creative types getting into the home gun manufacturing community where traditionally it was reserved for like ex-aircraft assembly men. And now these new people are radically changing how gun design and manufacturing works.
5 – 10 years from now we’re gonna see some new designs. 100 years ago you had the browning designs and everybody is using variations of them. There’s not really been a leap forward and this might be that leap forward.
Rob: Yeah it’s a huge opportunity. A friend of mine that I helped do some refinement on his gun design to bring to the U.S. market, pointed out there hasn’t been change in firearms design for 100 years. There’s been evolution but there really hasn’t been radical change, and that’s more important.
The other side of the coin is that there are people who have nothing to do with guns getting involved in gun design. I’m working on this upper project with a guy who’s never shot an AR, never owned an AR, and apparently doesn’t have AR parts. It’s not quite operating perfectly by any stretch and nobody has ever shot his upper before so that’s blowing his mind too.
3D printed AR15 upper receiver
Me: I wanna see that, what’s going on with it cause I’ve not seen it before.
Rob: This is one of the AWCY? Projects with frankmallard, and it’s a threaded rod holding the upper together linearly, strengthening it, and then the print itself provides some amount of strength as well. I just printed it out of PLA+ and then just used a super goofy 1990s pigtail style 6” barrel. So there’s a bunch of variables here – and it’s with a vanguard lower. This has been a fun project, I’m actually taking it with me to florida next week, and I’ll be able to test it more when working from the office and workshop that’s at my range
I think I’m going to do some big leaps forward on some of the projects this week for sure.
FFLs and firearms industry people joining the movement
Me: It’s interesting – cool actually to see a lot of people entering who are more…. Like a year ago there were no FFLs in this. There were no type 7 SOTs and now I’m working on this Mac-11 and there are 2 or 3 of them that are saying hey we can legally test this in full auto for you. And I of course i’m like YES I want that. I can’t do that myself, but it’s really cool to see people like you and other licensed manufacturers getting into this.
Rob: That’s a grey area I’m going to be getting into in the next couple of weeks. I’ve been doing everything as an individual, but I do have a type 7 manufacturer, and when I start doing this as a manufacturer it really changes the game.
I have to serialize things, and technically I can even sell the guns and transfer them. I can also do full auto stuff, a printed suppressor, there’s all kinds of cool stuff, but there’s this compliance issue where I have to ensure I protect the 07. So there’s pluses and minuses there.
Me: I know that’s why a lot of the 07 testers have waited until they’ve gotten comfortable with nylon to test. I work out PLA mostly so that other people can print without issues, but long term PLA does degrade. It decays from outside exposure, solvents, etc. and so a lot of the 07 testers work with nylon because it’s not gonna fall apart.
Rob: and that adds an extra hoop to jump through if nothing else. So the other thing I want to do is talk about the mac 11 and your development.
My 3D printed Mac-11 receiver
Me: So the Mac Daddy is FMDA’s design. And it is the better design in terms of ergonomics. It takes glock mags and those are more reliable and on top of that on the front of the frame there’s space for your support hand – and the FCG is separate from the magwell so it’s easier to reload. If you want the more practical design that’s it.
I was one of the earliest testers for that, helping them get the dimensions down for velocity parts and all that. I believe that I may have been the 4th tester for that project.
And the Mac Daddy was cool, but a lot of people wanted that more traditional mac design, because the Mac Daddy is cool, but it looks like something out of Halo.
So let’s just make a cool traditional mac-11 that’s 3D printed because I don’t know how to weld.
Nobody had done the magwell in grip version of the Mac yet, at the time logsleeve was working on the SVTR which is a GHM9 lookalike using mac parts, but those were the only two projects.
So this was a version nobody was working on and I already had the parts to boot, so I said screw it. I haven’t made a frame yet. I need to make a frame and I’m going to do it with the mac-11.
Initially, the Mac-11 has a lot of machinist drawings, but the parts have crappy tolerances and then on top of that there’s like 3 different manufacturers
Rob: yes – and there’s inconsistencies between each of them!
Me: Totally! And so it took about 30 revisions just to figure out the tolerance stacking, which was a real hassle. Even now, the version I have has tolerance issues, because with these designs I built it for my parts, and what we’ve noticed when others have started printing is that other buying the same parts from the same manufacturers are having to fit their parts to the frame or vice versa.
That’s wild! But it’s what we’re working with, which makes it an interesting project because it’s exposed me to all these potential development issues.
But I’m pretty confident we’re getting towards the end of it, and with that in mind I’m out there learning to bump fire the mac-11 just to throw that at it and see what happens. The current frame has 100+ rounds to it, the other had 150, and the changes between those two were just feature adding.
The mac-11 is such an easy thing to build, it’s not like a Glock where you have all these internal parts where the supports not being clean will make it work wrong. You have a square tube that goes into a frame and then is secured with a single bolt and then your done. I’m really hoping this is the beginner thing to print, because it’s cheap – like $300 and then is really easy to make. It’s a rectangle.
Rob: And it’s relatively safe too! The manufactured parts that you’re purchasing, the barrel, bolt, etc. are all contained and away from the lower receiver.
Me: Yes! And an interesting tangent actually – one of the earlier frames broke on me and I was shocked because I had done the analysis in fusion and it shouldn’t have broken, but what I realized is that because the Mac-11 doesn’t have a disconnector for it’s trigger, and so if you’re still holding the trigger down when the bolt goes rearward it actually results in pressure being exerted downward on the frame right around the hammer pin, which wasn’t accounted for at all and lead to the early version breaking.
Rob: And that wouldn’t matter with a metal receiver obviously
Rob: We’ll that’s all the time we have, I do want to talk more about the makers match, but thanks for the time today and the insight + inspiration for working through this CAD stuff.
Me yes – like I said definitely modifying files is great if your in a rut. Just modify other’s files for a bit, you’ll see how they work and that’ll help you out.
Rob: Definitely that’s the boat I’m in – but thanks and we will talk soon!
Me: I appreciate it – I look forward to our next chat and I definitely want to talk about the maker’s match cause I’m super hyped about that too.
P.S. I was working on proofreading and editing this for clarity but just don’t think I’ll be able to get around to that. If you see any errors, let me know in the comments below, thanks!