Liberating the 3D Printed Gun

The Liberator

Yes, yes, we now have 3D printed guns, and our world has changed because of it, right? Right.

I’ve written about 3D printed guns before, and I’ve talked about 3D printed guns before, and now they are (somewhat) possible. But don’t be frightened, as there is little new here.

Andy Greenburg at Forbes has been leading the pack on the story of Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed and their attempt (and success?) at 3D printing a gun. And OH NOES! Now other people are printing guns! And some of them are even improving them, but this should be no surprise. Hackers and makers see something that needs improving, and they improve it. When I saw the files for the Liberator the first thing I thought was that it needed work. After I talked to someone who is well versed in 3D printing and gunsmithing, they agreed.

I want to toss out this quote from HaveBlue again:

The one point I try to make (and that they generally fail to grasp) is that if it eventually becomes possible to download a file from a website, feed it to a printer, and have a fully operable handgun a few hours later, the technology will have already impacted our lives in far more incredible ways.

So has our world changed? Yes, I think it has… As I mentioned recently in Your 3D Printed Future, people have created open-source designs for mechanical finger prosthetics. Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. We’re not talking about medical companies charging thousands of dollars for mechanical finger prosthetics, we’re talking about a couple of really awesome people working together on this, and creating something you can 3D print yourself with a sub-$1000 3D printer.

What else is there? Well, bioprinting is progressing nicely. Boprinting sheets of skin for skin grafting procedures, bioprinting a replacement bladder, bioprinting replacement for missing bone for a human skull, and even bioprinting part of a face!

(The joke is that you’ll be able to print out a replacement hand for the one that gets blown off by your 3D printed gun. It’s only half of a joke, because it’s pretty close to being true.)

Now, back to the gun issue. I highly recommend the Hackaday post: The first 3d printed gun has been fired, and I don’t care. Right now the Liberator is little more than a zip gun, which is a simple (single shot) gun that anyone with access to a local hardware store could build. But don’t worry, you’ll be safe:

In late 2000, British police encountered a four shot .22 LR zip gun disguised as a mobile phone, where different keys on the keypad fire different barrels. Because of this discovery, mobile phones are now x-rayed by airport screeners worldwide.

Sigh… more security theater. Just what we need. Do we need regulation on 3D printers? No, just like we don’t need regulation on lathes and mills and hardware stores. So here’s the deal. I have the file for the Liberator, and I’ve held a Liberator, and I’m not a bad person, and I hope to never, ever shoot another person in my life. Why? Because that’s not the type of person I am, and that’s not the kind of world I want to live in.

As for the Liberator, it’s a crappy gun, and if you want a good gun for cheap, there are dozens of ways to get one, both legally, and illegally. And if you want to make one, there are also better ways to go about it than 3D printing one. If the novelty of a cheap, crappy, plastic gun intrigues you, go ahead and print one. Try not to blow your hand off in the process. Guns are dangerous, and even a well made gun can malfunction.

3D printing is all the rage right now, and the media loves hype because it means more attention, more page views, and more dollars. So yeah, go 3D print something, maybe a gun, maybe some mechanical finger prosthetics. Just follow this one simple rule: BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER.

Be Excellent to Each Other.


A Coat Hook

Coat Hook

I recently (temporarily) changed offices at work, and with the new office came a new door, and this door has no coat hook! Because I couldn’t drill a hole in the door or mar the surface in any way, I needed an “over the door” style coat hook. Ah yes, the classic coat hook. Adrian Bowyer made one back in 2008, so I decided it was time to make my own.

OpenSCAD Coat Hook

I took a quick measurement of the door to determine how wide it was. I then fired up OpenSCAD and made a bunch of “cubes” of various shapes and sizes, some rotated 90 degrees, but all in all, a pretty simple OpenSCAD model. One thing I did do was add in the “door” based on the measurement I took, so I could see how the coat hook would fit around it.

Plate Coat Hook

After compiling it in OpenSCAD, I exported the STL file, and at this point I usually use Gary Hodgson’s STL Viewer to take a quick look at the file and make sure it’s oriented correctly.

G-code Coat Hook

After viewing the STL file, I use Slic3r to generate the G-code, but hey, let’s check out the G-code while we’re at it! Joe Walnes wrote a great web-based G-code viewer you can use online, or download and run locally. If you want a somewhat improved version, Jeremy Herrman’s got a viewer and some code for you.

Working Coat Hook

Well, after all that generating files, and viewing files, I printed the file. It worked out well! Here’s a terrible photo of it preventing my shirt from falling on the floor. Success! The magic of a home 3D printer pays off again.

Audio Channel

Plastic Sun on Lake Effect

Lake Effect

Remember last year when the Chipstone Foundation issued the Tool at Hand Challenge and I created a piece called Plastic Sun? Well, during the event I was interviewed by WUWM and the story aired on Lake Effect this past weekend.

You can check out the archive and if you want to hear my segment, here’s an MP3.



The Making of MAKE

One of the great things about Milwaukee Makerspace is the inspiration you get from other people. Kevin recently used our aluminum forge to create a piece he calls FEAR, which he said was an update of Robert Indiana’s LOVE.

I’m not one to give in to fear, and I figured that with a new year beginning we should focus on something a bit more positive, so I created MAKE.

I also figured I’d walk through the process of creating this piece.

MAKE in Inkscape

While MAKE is three dimensional, it’s really just an extruded two dimensional form (sometimes called 2.5 dimensional) so I started as I often do, with Inkscape. I used Georgia Bold, which is the font Kevin used in his piece, and typed up the letters for MAKE.

MAKE outlined

I selected each letter and combined them into one object via the “Union” command under the “Path” menu.

MAKE outlines joined

At this point we no longer have editable text but an outlined object. We still have curved lines though, and that just won’t do for 3D printing, as we need all straight line segments.

MAKE with straight lines

I selected all of the segments and inserted new nodes. Once you have more nodes, you can convert all of the segments into straight lines. No more curves! If you add enough nodes the short straight line segments will look like a proper curve. (Adding more segments can increase the complexity of the file, which can increase the time to process and print it, so don’t go too crazy.)

MAKE reversed

After I had my artwork outlined, I exported it as a DXF file and brought it into OpenSCAD to extrude it. Also, here’s a trick: I actually flipped it 180 degrees in OpenSCAD so that it would face down on the print bed. I wanted the “front” of the piece nice and smooth.


Here’s what it looks like in proper perspective… What’s that? You’re already getting inspired to make something? Excellent!

MAKE in plastic

And here’s our final piece. MAKE… in plastic… for your desktop. I like the white, but I definitely need to get more filament colors… I think this would look great in orange or red!


I made an attempt at a larger version, but the old RepRap went a little crazy and the print failed about 15% into it. Still, it’s a pretty good MAKE if you ask me. Perhaps this one is more suitable for the wall than the desk.

(Note: grab the file from Thingiverse.)


GoPro Hero3 Frame

GoPro Hero3 Frame

I like the acrylic housing that comes with the GoPro Hero3, but I tend to run some pretty long time lapses, and the battery doesn’t last long enough, so I made a lightweight frame, and it’s over on Thingiverse.

GoPro Hero3 Frame

I’m (slowly) getting better at OpenSCAD, thanks to projects like this. I’m sure I’ll get even better in 2013.

GoPro Hero3 Frame

I’ve got plenty of long USB cables and USB power supplies, as well as a Minty Boost from Adafruit to provide power for shooting hours and days at a time.

Here’s a quick time-lapse test I shot before I had the frame. I ended up balancing the GoPro on a book on top of two water bottles, which was silly, and just one more reason for this thing.

GoPro Hero3 Frame

The frame has a bit of flex to it so you can easily wrap it around the camera. I may play around with some thicker housings, but for now, it does the job.

I ended up printing about 6 versions before I got one that was good. I should probably do more paper prototyping, but with how easy it is to 3D print things, sometimes you just hit “print” and hope for the best. If it doesn’t work out, you tweak things and try again. It’s just the way it works.

(Note: I guess GoPro also sells a frame for the Hero3. Go buy it from them if you want a really nice one and have $40.00 to spend. If you just want this cheap plastic one, print it yourself.)