The Third Wave, CNC, Stereolithography, and the end of gun control

Effluvia

Baseball is the national sport, but for those with an extra 2 or 3 IQ points above the mean this is displaced by the even more fun activity of confusing cause and effect.

For example, we are told that "the labor movement is the people who brought you the 40 hour workweek", but any objective review of facts shows us that as technology improved and the consumer surplus increased working people negotiated a goodly portion of this new surplus in the form of shorter working hours.

The labor movement – whether consciously or unconsciously – tried to position itself in front of a train that was already moving, and like a small kid marching in front of a parade, came to believe that all the bands, elephants and baton twirlers were following its lead.

(There is a tangential story here, about how the labor movement took a left off of main street onto Mao Zedong Blvd and then got ripshit that the bands, elephants and pretty girls didn't "continue" to follow it, but that's a post for some other time).

The 40 hour work week is not the only social movement driven by technology, broad social trends, and mass communication wherein cause and effect were reversed in the popular narrative.

Slavery was repealed in the West thanks to growing consumer surplus caused by technology, and growing awareness of the evils caused by cheap printing…( I argue that the former is far more important – it's a lot easier to oppose slavery when you can buy clothes made cheap by the cotton gin than when you have to choose between "blood clothing" and not eating for a few weeks in order to buy a new outfit). Again, in the popular imagination, cause and effect are reversed, and Abe Lincoln's invention of Total War (including mass enslavement of free men by the State, war crimes and atrocities) was the cause of emancipation, instead of uniquely bloody, bungled, and murderous implementation of a world wide technology-driven trend that managed to be peaceful and bloodless almost every place that the US Federal government was not involved.


And speaking of technology-driven emancipation, we arrive at the thesis statement for today's rant: the end of gun control is not politically or culturally driven, but was a historical inevitability that was written into the book of destiny by 1810, when Joseph Jacquard started using punched cards to control weaving patterns on his looms and when the practice of chucking rotary cutters into lathe headstocks was adopted en masse at water powered factories in Western Massachusetts in response to British attempts to confiscate American civilian-owned firearms.

OK, if I'm going to do an impression of James Burke, let me do it right. Hold a moment while I put on a thick set of glasses and hammer myself in the mouth with a mallet. …and…MMFGH! .. Ah, yes, now I look more like a product of British government-run dentistry. < spits teeth ; makes appointment for follow-up care with NHS sometime in late 2017 >

So, how does weaving in France tie in to British seizure of civilian owned weapons, BITNET, and the Homebrew Computer Club, and lead us to the death of gun control in the 21st century?

People ascribe the invention of punched cards to Herman Hollerith in the late 1800s, but in fact they dated back 150 years earlier, where they were created as an easier-to-file version of the ancient concept of the tally stick (Pliny the Elder documents these before the birth of Christ, but it turns out that we can push the date back 20,000 years before that).

So we've got people recording data on punched cards in the early 1700s, and a few decades after that we've got Basile Bouchon using them to half-assedly control textile mills in France, and a few decades after that Jacquard drastically improved the mechanism.


(Hint: the end of the week quiz will cover this specific point, and in your response to the essay question you could do worse than to note the parallel between 'using stored information to create physical items' in 17-aught-mumble and 20-aught-mumble).

So, we've established that information can be amplified into a nearly finished product by clever arrangements of spinning bits, moving bits, and stationary bits.

Let's take a quick digression into metal working.

Your average man on the street has a pretty good idea of how wood is worked: metal is harder than wood, therefore metal cuts wood.

…but how in heck is metal itself cut and worked? I've done a few small social experiments and it seems that, like the internals of a MRI machine and the operation of the Federal Reserve, these concepts are delegated strongly to a mental bin labeled "magic", and or "Jewish currency manipulation / mysticism". (This view is not 100 percent wrong).

Zaphod told us that the secret is to 'bang the rocks together', but Zaphod was a liberal arts major and probably should have stuck to opining on Womyn's studies issues and pomme frittes upselling. The real secret is heat treating. Bring some steel up to temperatures that you can reach in your basement with an oxy cutting rig that you can buy for less than the cost of taking your wife to dinner and a show then plunge it into cold water, and you've got a nearly diamond-hard object where the carbon atoms have been do-si-doh-ed into proper body-centered cubic alignment…and then throw it in a $20 toaster oven from Target and you can relieve some of the internal stresses and create a cutting tool that can slice through regular steel…and
cut through aluminum like Tipper Gore through the 1st amendment.

The point of all of this being that working metal is not magic, and if more of us saw our dads building mufflers from scratch instead of building bird houses from scratch, the mental block on home-building stuff from metal in modestly equipped shops wouldn't exist).

Advance the clock a century or two and move the Google Earth cursor a bit to the left and pretty soon we've got Wozniak and Jobs unloading the first breadboarded Apple computer out of the backseat of their car and taking it in to show their fellow geeks.

We all know the part where Gordon E. Moore descends from the catwalk over the stage supported by ropes held by a Greek chorus, waves his magic wand, and declares that the price of transistors will fall by half every 18 months.

(Little know fact: the Intel it-760 Quad Core has the processing power of 7.9 trillion punched cards, and can control six automated looms for every person on the planet.)

You see where we're going here: information not only wants to be free – it wants to control machine tools.

So how much does it cost to start cutting metal at home, using all the power of Jacquard, Jobs, and Moore?

If you want to do it right it's still not cheap.

…but if you're willing to go small, crappy, and scrappy, the options are there.

If you're content with laying down lines of extruded hot glue, the friends-and-family of the Bng-Bngers will sell you a device.

If you're a bit more roll-your own, you can cobble together you're own glue-extruding mess from instructions .

If glue is a bit too shoddy to build with and you want to turn work wood, people are rolling their own machines for about $1.5k.

If you want to take a step up to working metal, that's about $2k…or closer to $1k if you already have an old box sitting around that you can install Ubuntu on. (Side note: How did it get so cheap to build machine tools? By taking the labor out of the process and using automated metalworking machines to build automated metalworking machines.

If you really want to carve big metal, you can pick up a 2-ton, full-sized Bridgeport milling machine with a J head off of Craigslist for less than most folks spend on cable TV over the course of a year and follow instructions on how to CNC-ify it.

So, we've established that

  • technology and productivity drive social trends
  • data-driven control of tools is nothing new
  • working with metal is pretty easy with cheap tools
  • off-the-shelf CNC tools are cheap and getting cheaper

There's one step missing: proof that the average man on the street can actually use cheap CNC tools to build firearms.

Even with out a first amendment, samizdat would ensure that the data would be out there…but given that the legislature and the executive do have to respect our right to speak (even if it has to be reminded somewhat rudely by the courts and the people from time to time), it's relatively easy to find folks to talk to about home CNC production of firearms.

And remember that thing about information wanting to be free? In our glorious jetcar-free, but peer-to-peer-laden future, collecting and swapping is no longer just for baseball cards; it's also for plastic printing your own AR-15 magazines and lower receivers.

…or, if you prefer metal over plastic, download the plans for a a full AR-15 lower that you can crank out with your fresh-from-the-box $1k Sherline CNC milling machine and $15 worth of aluminum, then kit it out with $410 worth of barrel, shoulder stock, and such.

Due to forces of technology (CNC controlled machine tools, cheap computation, open source ethics, and social sharing of designs) gun control is utterly dead. It's a corpse, staggering along, not yet aware that it's been gut shot, it's blood pressure has dropped to zero, and its brain (such as it is) is about to die the True Death.

Try to outlaw gun powder and we'll move to railguns and big capacitors. Try to outlaw primers and we'll see plans for electronic ignitions up on wikileaks by the end of the day.

Go back a step and outlaw the sparkplugs and the capacitors and …yeah, it'll work as well as the restrictions on cold syrup have ENTIRELY shut down meth production.

Gun control will stagger on for a bit, but there's no putting some genies back in their bottles, and home printed firearms are one of those genies.

One hundred years from now everyone from Chinese peasants to American bankers (or do I have that backwards?) will have all the firearms and ammo they want, in the same way that 15 year old have all the hot monkey sex pr0n they want today.

It's called technology, and it's the universal solvent.

Last 5 posts by Clark

55 Comments

53 Comments

  1. samsam von virginia  •  Oct 6, 2011 @7:20 am

    Tyrants will eventually figure out they can't block the creation of tools, but that won't quench their desire to control them. To retain control, ever more intrusive laws will be passed, allowing ever more intrusive searches to confiscate banned objects. I don't see a bright future from "(manufacturing) power to the people", but rather a bleak and oppressive one.

  2. Patrick  •  Oct 6, 2011 @7:45 am

    The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

  3. PeeDub  •  Oct 6, 2011 @7:49 am

    Who's that fellow "Clark" with the cloven hooves? I like the cut of his jib!

  4. mojo  •  Oct 6, 2011 @7:57 am

    Small beer. Wait until the home "hobbyist" recombinant DNA kit arrives.

  5. Goober  •  Oct 6, 2011 @7:57 am

    It gets even easier if you have a referencing tool for your old j-mill, and just one original of what you're trying to create. Then, you don't need CNC. A trained monkey could make machine parts using a referencer. Essentially, you bolt the original down to a table that runs on the same gears as the mill table, put a referencing bit in the reference tool, and then just crank handles until the reference tool makes you stop, then crank another handle until it makes you stop, etc. repeat until you have an idnetical facsimile of the original. Grab another billet and start again. FYI – this works for lathe parts, too, and it doesn't take a genius, or even someone who is that smart, to rig one.

  6. Goober  •  Oct 6, 2011 @8:01 am

    But the even simpler fact is that gun control is dead simply because the genie is already out of the lamp. There are more guns circulating around the American citizenry alone than all the guns of all the armed forces of the entire world combined. YOu simply can't get them all, even if you tried. I read somewhere that the American citizenry buys something like 14 bilion rounds of ammo a year. THat is so much ammo that we could just keep pulling the trigger until everyone else ran out of ammo, and then still have enough left over to keep shooting for another month (I just made that up, but it sounded good. The number, IIRC, is correct, however). There are more licensed deer hunters – just DEER HUNTERS ALONE – in America than the 5 largest armies of the world combined. THe number is something like 14 million. Gun control is dead on arrival simply because it is far too late – you can't control something that is this far out of control.

  7. Clark  •  Oct 6, 2011 @8:01 am

    > you don’t need CNC. A trained monkey could make machine parts using a referencer.

    But a trained monkey can't email a reference part to 10 million recipients.

    Nor can a trained monkey offer feedback in the form of a blog post containing a better reference part.

    Nor can a trained monkey create a system of genetic algorithms to create better reference parts.

  8. Mad Rocket Scientist  •  Oct 6, 2011 @8:07 am

    Makers & Open Source Hardware – Doing to the physical what Hackers did to to information.

  9. Brian Dunbar  •  Oct 6, 2011 @9:47 am

    For only a few thousand lousy stinkin' dollars I can build a rifle in my basement? And repeat this trick as needed?

    I may have found the motivator to clean out the basement.

    I love the future: it's a great place to live.

  10. bill.  •  Oct 6, 2011 @10:13 am

    Sounds like Cryptonomicon's Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod.

    "What do you think of the HEAP gun?" Cantrell asks.

    "I don't think it's as crazy as when I first heard of it," Doug says, "but if your friend Avi thinks that people are going to be able to manufacture rifled gun barrels in their basements to protect themselves against ethnic cleansing, he's got another thing coming."

    "Rifled barrels are hard," Cantrell says. "There's no way around it. They'd have to be stockpiled and smuggled. But the idea is that anyone who downloaded the HEAP, and who had access to some basic machine tools, could build the rest of the weapon."

    "I need to sit down with you sometime and explain everything else that's wrong with the idea," Doug says.

  11. Clark  •  Oct 6, 2011 @10:18 am

    @bill:

    > Sounds like Cryptonomicon‘s Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod.

    Indeed; I had intended to reference that VERY quote in this post, but I forgot. Many thanks!

  12. Piper  •  Oct 6, 2011 @11:16 am

    I think Gun Control will move more towards Guns in Public, and along the lines of societal controls. It's not like it's socially acceptable to show up at the Opera House toting an AK-47, even in the most lenient of areas…

  13. Dwight Brown  •  Oct 6, 2011 @11:22 am

    I was thinking about the HEAP, too. I'm pretty sure at least one other person was as well, and I'm kind of surprised he hasn't posted yet.

    Two thoughts:

    1) You don't really need rifled barrels. They're darn nice to have, but smooth-bores (like shotguns) will work at reasonable ranges. (I note too that the Liberator pistol had an un-rifled barrel.)

    2) If there's anyone out there (Clark?) who knows: why are rifled barrels so hard? At first blush, it seems like all you need is a solid tube, something to hold it in place, and a long drill bit of the correct size. I know I'm oversimplifying greatly, but what does make them hard to produce in a basement with CNC machines?

  14. Scott Jacobs  •  Oct 6, 2011 @12:01 pm

    It's the fact that the barrel needs to be very strong, and the fact that the rifling needs to be very, very precisely done.

    Barrels are easy, it's the rifling that makes them a stone-cold bitch.

  15. eddie  •  Oct 6, 2011 @12:02 pm

    Gun control is not necessary. People control will suit their purposes just fine, and advances in that technology are coming along quite nicely.

    We can only win the meat war if we win the mind war. The moment the masses decide they don't care all that much what the leaders do to the few, the few are gone.

  16. Hasdrubal  •  Oct 6, 2011 @12:18 pm

    why are rifled barrels so hard?

    This is a good article on why.

    Rifled barrels aren't hard due to cutting the hole in it, though that is significantly difficult. (Keeping a perfectly straight bore for 30 inches is non trivial.)

    But, once you have a straight bore, you have to put the rifling grooves in it. That requires pushing a blank through that has cutting edges on it at high enough pressure to ream out the grooves. That not only requires some Serious pushing power (whih can be overcome, true) but it also Seriously stresses the barrel.

    Remember the part about heating up and realigning carbon atoms? Friction from pushing the plug through heats the steel enough to do the same, and the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds of pressure has a wee bit of a tendency to make those carbon atoms shift to accommodate that pressure, rather than staying nice and straight.

    There are very few people who actually manufacture gun barrels in the US right now, and iirc.

    Then you have to polish it so the bullet doesn't hit a snag that increases pressure enough to blow up in your face.

    So, yeah, rifled barrels are Hard. At least if you want them to shoot straight, still be rifles after a few hundred rounds, and not blow up in your face.

  17. TJIC  •  Oct 6, 2011 @12:21 pm

    @Dwight Brown
    > I was thinking about the HEAP, too. I’m pretty sure at least one other person was as well, and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t posted yet.

    Me? Yes. As I mentioned at TJIC.com a few times, I started Smartflix.com in part because of Stephenson's HEAP idea.

    …and speaking of SmartFlix, re barrels: please seeBill Web's Rifle Barrel Making Machine.

    Two thoughts:

    > why are rifled barrels so hard? At first blush, it seems like all you need is a solid tube, something to hold it in place, and a long drill bit of the correct size. I know I’m oversimplifying greatly, but what does make them hard to produce in a basement with CNC machines?

    A long drill bit is good, for starters, but that gets you a SMOOTH barrel. Even that is pretty tricky. I've read this book, and there's a lot of work involved.

    To ** rifle ** the barrel, you need to drag a specialized cutter through the barrel, from end to end, and rotate it at a very precise rate as it moves. You then need to repeat the operation extending the cutter a bit more.

    This is not part of the repertoir of the typical CNC machine.

    You also need to machine the chamber, and that requires some specialized and slightly expensive tools.

  18. GeekChick  •  Oct 6, 2011 @12:54 pm

    Clark, I know you're out saving the world, and can't be bogged down by complicated relationships, but I still love you. I will be content to remain your devoted fangurl and number one groupie from a distance.

  19. ZK  •  Oct 6, 2011 @1:03 pm

    While manufacturing a rifled barrel to modern standards is hard, let's not forget that rifling isn't totally required. Every so often, some tired assembly worker will make a mistake on a Friday, and someone will get an un-rifled pistol or rifle. They usually have accuracy problems beyond, say, 20 yards, but bullets still come out the proper end.

  20. Dwight Brown  •  Oct 6, 2011 @1:10 pm

    Hasdrubal, Scott, TJIC:

    You guys are amazing. Thank you.

  21. Brian Dunbar  •  Oct 6, 2011 @1:47 pm

    let’s not forget that rifling isn’t totally required.

    If I have a rifle that doesn't have rifling there is no point to using it.

    The entire reason for _having_ a rifle is to kill things hundreds of meters away.

    Now, if it's a shotgun, that's a horse of a different color.

  22. TJIC  •  Oct 6, 2011 @1:55 pm

    Some guy printed out AR-15 plans from the internet and then machined his own lower from a cutting board:

    http://230grain.com/showthread.php?31611-Homebuilt-HPDE-AR15-Lower

  23. Windy Wilson  •  Oct 6, 2011 @2:12 pm

    "using automated metalworking machines to make automated metalworking machines."
    That, iirc is how the word processor was invented. Some guy about 30 years ago was tasked to write the manual for some archaic and slow computer. He was lazy as well as bright, and thought, why not make the computer do it for itself? The first killer app was born, taking computers out of geekdom forever.
    I expect that CNC can make the machinery to make rifled barrels.
    As for plans to make a bolt action rifle receiver, JPFO had pdf files on how to do just that on its website some years back. Dunno if they are still up or not. One did not even need CNC.
    "Machine shops don't kill people, people kill people."

  24. TJIC  •  Oct 6, 2011 @2:43 pm

    @Windy Wilson :

    > “Machine shops don’t kill people, people kill people.”

    Well, SOMETIMES machine shops kill people.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/yale-university-limits-access-equipment-student-death/story?id=13372558

  25. Jenny  •  Oct 6, 2011 @2:54 pm

    Backwoods Appalachian-Americans (*heh*) have been rifling gun barrels in the sticks for ages. Ain't no big thing.

  26. Brian Dunbar  •  Oct 6, 2011 @4:57 pm

    I'd wondered about that, Jenny: guys were making rifled barrels with equipment a lot cruder than, say, Travis has in his basement.

    I don't know that I'd trust a barrel made 'the old fashioned' way on a CNC milled rifle firing modern ammunition.

    I suppose what a guy needs is a TJIC-grade machine shop _and_ a lot of land in the country to test the results.

  27. ElamBend  •  Oct 6, 2011 @5:30 pm

    I'd venture a guess that most 'enthusiasts' these days still have a basement shop a bit cruder than Travis's basement. (probably less organized, too; and less dogs)

  28. ElamBend  •  Oct 6, 2011 @5:35 pm

    btw, Clark, awesome post.

    My first exposure to machine tooling was in the tool shop of my Dad's cardboard tube factory. (hey, it paid for college; thanks Dad). They were the only guys who got to work in luxurious air condition in the plant and there was no problem that couldn't be fixed by firing up the old lathe which was new and huge and impressive looking.

    Later, while living in St. Louis, I was surprised to learn that even now big manufacturers like Boeing and GM still rely on small independent shops to do a lot of machine tooling.

    I think we're on the edge of a big wave of innovation based upon independent tinkering. Ultimately, it won't bring back manufacturing jobs, but will likely mean that we'll be stuck with more leisure time (kind of like the Jetsons…without the flying car….of course)

  29. SPQR  •  Oct 6, 2011 @6:28 pm

    If one ever thought that guns were sophisticated works of delicate and expensive machine shops, they should have seen the Sten gun.

    Or for that matter, the Liberator pistol – although maybe that one does not count as it does use what was in 1943 relatively sophisticated sheet steel stamping technology.

  30. Scott Jacobs  •  Oct 6, 2011 @8:46 pm

    I'll but the Sten, but not the Liberator, as the later was a one-round pistol.

  31. Rick C  •  Oct 7, 2011 @8:08 am

    @TJIC: "Well, SOMETIMES machine shops kill people."

    I don't mean this to sound harsh, but that girl had at least shoulder-length hair. Why wasn't she using a hairnet or something? I have fairly long hair and I would NEVER go near something like a lathe without bundling it up!

    Also, I like how the official response is to close the lab to students instead of instituting safety requirements. If long-haired Burger King workers have to wear hairnets, so should long-haired lathe operators.

  32. Smock Puppet, Ideamancer Extraordinaire  •  Oct 7, 2011 @9:01 am


    The labor movement – whether consciously or unconsciously – tried to position itself in front of a train that was already moving,…

    Pretty much what the Feminist movement did, too.

    First off, I recommend one watch the very early Academy Award Best Picture, "Cimmaron". Not because it's a good movie, it really isn't, offhand, by modern standards … but watch it for several things:
    a) the depiction of the relationship white people in it had with indians and so forth.
    b) The behavior of women in it.

    Now, this movie was made in the late 20s mind you.

    Now, if you can find them (they occasionally show up on AMC) try to watch, back to back:
    That Way With Women (Sidney Greenstreet)
    Mother Is A Freshman (Van Johnson, Loretta Young)

    Notable by looking at the female leads in both of them. The films are done about a year apart, and show an interesting juxtaposition of the kind of woman Hollywood was "pushing" at the public.

    In TWWW, the female lead is spunky, sassy, fully self-capable, and willful. Rosalind Russell, if you will.
    In MIAF, the female lead is helpless, incompetent, and unable to care for herself without a man. Kim Novak if you will.

    My key point is, the 50s and its treatment/depiction of women was an aberration, a sideroad, not the main direction women in society were heading. It was an effort by the Powers-That-Be to sell a different role for women than they EVER had, which was totally submissive to men. Women put up with it for about 10-15 years, then rejected it more and more throughout the 60s as they decided it sucked.

    The Feminist movement got ahead of it, just as you're speaking of the labor movement… and it got detoured at the corner of Misandry and Marx, and headed off uptown on both, into territory no sensible person wanted to follow.

  33. Smock Puppet, Ideamancer Extraordinaire  •  Oct 7, 2011 @9:07 am

    OT the original topic, I've got you by 10 years on this one.

    When I first became aware of what was available in the form of CAMM (Computer-Aided Milling Machines), ca 2001, even at the time I could see it would represent the end of Gun Control.

    The inexpensive ones at the time could not generally handle gunmetal, but that was just a matter of time, and, nominally, you can probably make guns out of plastic, aluminum, and/or brass, I'd just think you'd want to learn something about making them strong enough for the job.

    I was predicting then that, if America didn't have fascism within 15-20 years, that it would become impossible to outlaw guns. Nice to see we're rather clearly on track for that to be the truth.

  34. Steve  •  Oct 7, 2011 @10:34 am

    In keeping with Occams Razor. I say, Bullshit.
    Gun control is dead because we like guns a lot.

    lex parsimoniae FTW.

  35. ScottH  •  Oct 7, 2011 @11:53 am

    ElamBend said:

    "I think we’re on the edge of a big wave of innovation based upon independent tinkering. Ultimately, it won’t bring back manufacturing jobs…"

    This is a good thing. More and more holding a 'manufacturing job' means you're a small businessman – more Steve Jobs than Joe Lunchpail. It also means you look at your tax bill and realize you can't file a grievance with the union, you have to fix this yourself.

    How would Brock Samson react if they came for his shop tools?

  36. Ken  •  Oct 7, 2011 @12:58 pm

    This may be the most useful blog post ever. It's certainly the most useful I remember reading myself.

  37. Hasdrubal  •  Oct 7, 2011 @1:27 pm

    Backwoods Appalachian-Americans (*heh*) have been rifling gun barrels in the sticks for ages. Ain’t no big thing.

    Have you ever seen the result of rifling? The grooves were often like an 1/8th of an inch deep and the barrels were a couple inches thick. Also, don't underestimate the sophistication of 18th and 19th century metalworking. They had ways to bend steel to their will that very, very few garage machinists today know.

    If I were trying to develop a paint by number gun design for the masses, I'd at least try a smooth bore design using saboted, fin stabilized projectiles. Might not be as accurate as a bullet in a rifle (but do you really need 1/2 MoA accuracy at 300 yards?) and it might not leave as large a wound as a tumbling or expanding lead bullet (but you need to be VERY careful of what's behind your target,) but I imagine a 0.10 caliber, 40-60 grain hardened steel penetrator moving at 4500-5000 feet per second would be effective enough to raise some havoc. And I'd love to see how it would perform against body armor up to, say, 300 yards.

  38. Just Some Gunsmith  •  Oct 7, 2011 @1:55 pm

    Folks, you are over-thinking and over-complicating this issue. I'm not a luddite – CNC stuff is great and I know how to program CNC machines in G and M codes…. but manual machines have been used to make guns for a long time before the computer was invented and they're all that are needed for someone to crank out some entirely serious and capable firearms in their own basement. A computer on a CNC won't replace the knowledge necessary to make a gun, it just makes the second one faster to build than the first one. Making your first gun is what teaches you how to make guns.

    In the midwest and eastern US, for perhaps $2000 (on the high end) and as low as $500, you can find old manual lathes that will do everything you need. Sometimes these machines come with tooling, which seriously sweetens the deal. Look for a 10 to 13 inch swing, 30 to 40" capability between centers. That's all you *need*. You might *want* a mill, and a mill is certainly nice to have, but you can mill on a lathe with a milling attachment onto the cross-slide and putting your end mills into a collet in the headstock.

    Examples of old manual lathes: Look for South Bend "Heavy 10's" aka "Model 10L," or a South Bend 13, a Clausing 5900 series (5913, 5914), Atlas, Rockwell and other lathes between 10" and 13" swings. They'll weigh about 1500 to 1800 lbs, and can be disassembled into pieces small enough that two grown men should be able to move it into a basement or garage without killing themselves.

    If people really want to see how this was done, go look at information on machining from 100+ years ago. There are TONS of books in Google Books and archive.com that have been digitized, including Hatcher's Notebook, Dunlop's book on gunsmithing, Howe's two volumes on gunsmithing, books on milling, turning, cutting threads, precision grinding, heat treating steel, etc. They're free. A wealth of information on machining, machines, techniques, etc – all there for the taking.

    All you really need to make a gun is a way of turning stuff round and making holes in things. The rest you can actually do with a file. One of the highest skills used by working gunsmiths is being able to drive a file, and the collection of tools I'd want to give up last would be my 60+ files. I'd give up nearly everything else first before I would allow one of my files out of my sight. That said, if the worst came to pass, I could make new files from car leaf springs, a hammer and a torch or forge. Nicholson files are OK. Look at Grobet files – very nice, with tidy prices to match.

    re: Boring and rifling barrels. Go look up "gun drills." There are special drills made for making deep holes (generally, machinists consider any hole that is "more than three diameters" deep to be a "deep hole.") With the addition of a pump and some fittings to pump light oil down the gun drill, you can do gun drilling on a lathe. You drill the hole undersize, then ream to bore size, and a long reamer can help straighten deviations of path by the gun drill. Then you need to rifle the barrel. Go look up "sine bar rifling machine" to see pictures. Read up in the machining books I've referenced previously to learn what a "sine bar" is.

  39. Just Some Gunsmith  •  Oct 7, 2011 @2:05 pm

    One more point: The choice of steel to make guns is often over-wrought in gun circles. Unless you're trying to make a barrel that has walls that are wafer-thin, or one of these idiotic "mountain rifles" where every possible gram of weight has been shaved or bored out of every piece of metal, you can get by with some very easily available steel.

    4140 steel is good for almost everything on a firearm. Lacking that, you could use truck axles for barrel and receiver stock. Truck axles are often made from steels like 1045, which can be heat treated to increase hardness and strength. 8620 steel, which one can often find in large hitch pins, is good for receivers because it machines pretty well in annealed state, but can be carbon-packed case hardened to .030" deep pretty easily. Just don't make the barrels or receivers wafer thin and you can use some proof loads and a remote trigger setup to test them.

  40. SPQR  •  Oct 7, 2011 @4:44 pm

    A couple of years back a hobbyist machinist magazine had a series on machining a nice copy of a classic falling block single shot rifle.

  41. nyjets427  •  Oct 8, 2011 @1:00 pm

    I think what some of you are missing, is only the lower on a AR15 is controlled by the government. The upper and trigger gear can be ordered and to your house overnight.

  42. SiGraybeard  •  Oct 8, 2011 @5:32 pm

    Linked back from my place. I have a Sherline CNC mill and have already made an AR, although I used a cast aluminum lower from Colfax tactical. I may have to give this a whirl, though.

    ARs are like potato chips. Betcha can't stop at one!

  43. Smock Puppet, Ideamancer Extraordinaire  •  Oct 10, 2011 @1:12 am

    Gunsmith, you're kind of missing the overall point — it's good that there's plenty of stuff out there to learn the techniques. But, just as the Macintosh popularized the WIMP interface so that "the average joe" didn't have to become a tech expert to accomplish something on a computer, so, too, will these milling machines add that capability to the average joe who wants to be able to make anything he wants — without a great deal of technical reading at the start — comparatively easily. Don't get me wrong, I'm a tech guy myself, I cut my teeth on IBM 360s and, on Apple ][s I can (could) program down to the bare metal. But I can say that, the first time I saw the Lisa, I knew that was where computing was going. Because it took most of the need to understand the underlying mechanics of the task out of the mix. It HELPED to understand that, sure, but it made it a lot less essential, lowering by a huge measure, the introductory curve.

    People are a lot more likely to pick some new thing up and play with it, to learn that they like it and want to know more, if there's not a steep or expensive learning curve to get to the ability to accomplish the most basic of tasks.

    Hence, these CNC mills and such are a quantum leap forward in that direction. You might not want to take the time to learn to make a gun, since a "faulty" one is dangerous as hell, but if you have one of these in your shop for doing "lesser" tasks, then you have the main thing needed there for you to do so if suddenly you think it needs to be done — that is, if the Fed attempted an Aussie or UK style "gun grab": Fine, take my gun you c***suckers! (thinking: I'll make five more just like it in the next three freaking months you motherf***ing sonsabitches!)

    ===================

    P.S. thanks for all the info, though, I'll have to hunt down some of that stuff.

  44. Shay  •  Oct 10, 2011 @8:30 pm

    Interesting premise but I'm not holding my breath. The cost of sergers — basically a clone of factory sewing machine technology — has dropped considerably (from about $1400 when they first came out in the late 80's to less that $100 for a bottom of the line model right now). And anyone can go to Walmart and buy a stack of cheap fabric for about $25. Still, I don't see that huge numbers of people are starting to sew their own clothes.

  45. Scott Jacobs  •  Oct 10, 2011 @10:30 pm

    That is probably because, Shay, it is still legal lto buy whatever kind of clothes you want.

  46. johnny gee  •  Oct 11, 2011 @5:22 am

    I am an MRI tech and I can assure you that is nothing mysterious about MRI machines. I also just built my oldest daughter her first rifle using a unimat lathe and some very basic techniques. It was fun, and the only complaint she has is that the hot pink stock is a little TOO bright. Keep up the good work. PS: She has just over 200 rounds through it and keeps most rounds in the X at 25 yards on a standard sillhouette.

  47. Mark Matis  •  Oct 11, 2011 @7:32 am

    You fail to note that "Law Enforcement" no longer has to observe the 4th amendment, due to our fine friends in the Supreme Court. If they suspect an individual has a CNC machine they might use to make a gun, they can and WILL raid the place and confiscate. And well they might, because the time is coming soon when "Law Enforcement" will be on the receiving end of those guns.

  48. Mad Rocket Scientist  •  Oct 11, 2011 @10:13 am
  49. mymymy  •  Oct 11, 2011 @11:12 am

    They don't want you to have them… But if you have them, they want to know all about it and have you seek their permission so that you can exercise your "constitutional right" to have any. Note that your RIGHT has been suborned to their desires and needs, while paying lip service to the constitution and your "rights" while attempting completely destroy them, for their desires and needs, which they call Safety concerns for you.

    Yet when a family member is murdered because they are not allowed to have a gun for protection, when one would clearly have been of benefit, they refuse to change the laws and call it an isolated incident, which would only happen more often without the "protection" that their laws and their hand picked judges provide. They lie, in other words because they need people to believe that their way is the only way and of course, that they should be in charge because they are smarter than anyone else and chosen by God himself.

    They will not give back your freedom, They stole them from you while you weren't looking. Just imagine what they are going do to your children, when they aren't looking and then when they are and can't do anything about it. Because that's the dream folks and it's the one that gives them their little pup tent in the sheets, in the middle of the night. That, and a couple of other things you probably don't want to think about.

  50. ElamBend  •  Oct 11, 2011 @7:03 pm
  51. ErikZ  •  Oct 14, 2011 @1:54 pm

    This thread is fantastic. Every 3rd post has me running to Google to research and read up. You guys are awesome. :)

  52. Gene Callahan  •  Oct 24, 2011 @10:19 pm

    "'Slavery was repealed in the West thanks to growing consumer surplus caused by technology, and growing awareness of the evils caused by cheap printing…"

    Slavery was outlawed in Poland and Lithuania in the 1500s, and was very rare in the rest of Catholic Europe by that point.

  53. DonM  •  Nov 2, 2011 @5:52 pm

    Slavery in the US was growing in economic importance because of the Cotton Gin. No doubt it was going to decrease, but I had a lady work for me who picked cotton by hand, so machines to do that particularly nasty job are not very old.

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