3D-printed pistol survives test firing


May 6, 2013

The 3D printed single-shot Liberator pistol in test fire mount (Photo: Defense Distributed)

The 3D printed single-shot Liberator pistol in test fire mount (Photo: Defense Distributed)

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The potential for 3D-printed guns has (unsurprisingly) generated a great deal of controversy, and the Liberator is no exception. Named after the WWII single shot pistol, this 3D-printed .380 caliber pistol is made almost entirely of plastic and looks more like a nozzle for a water hose than a gun. The weapon has survived multiple firings with very little damage, inspiring enough confidence that designer Cody Wilson has now tested the gun by hand.

The Liberator has 16 parts, 15 of which are 3D printed in ABS plastic by a Stratasys Dimension SST printer. (Stratasys took the step of seizing a printer leased to Wilson's group last year when it was made aware of what the printer was being used for, stating in a letter, "it is the policy of Stratasys not to knowingly allow its printer to be used for illegal purposes.") The 16th part is a nail, which serves as a firing pin. At present, only a precision 3D printer can form parts with the tolerances and precise temperature control needed to produce a gun that can survive multiple firings.

The design requires that the parts be printed in various orientations to take advantage of the directional strength of 3D-printed plastic. This means, for example, that a barrel is printed with the bore pointing along the growth direction, while an assembly pin is printed on its side, so it has maximum strength along its length.

The bore of the Liberator is treated with acetone vapor, which softens the surface enough to smooth the bore. Another important process condition is that the print chamber is heated to improve resiliency.

There are, of course, limits to material strength when one is restricted to ABS plastic without fiber reinforcement. The Liberator functions well with the .380 barrel, but an attempt to substitute a 5.7 x 28 rifle cartridge caused the gun to explode – perhaps not a surprising result considering the 5.7 x 28 round has 2.5 times the chamber pressure of the .380 cartridge.

Adding to concerns over what are effectively undetectable and untraceable guns, Wilson's Defense Distributed group is now trying to adapt the Liberator design to entry-level 3D printers. The editors at Wired take the potential disruption of these so called "Wiki weapons" seriously enough to name Wilson among the 15 most dangerous people in the world.

The gun can be seen in use in the video below.

Update 05/10/13: At the request of the US Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the Liberator 3D print files have been removed from Defense Distributed's website (Source: Forbes)

Source: Defense Distributed via Forbes

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

"...among the 15 most dangerous people in the world."

That is crazy. There is no security in obscurity.

If anything Wilson makes the world a safer place to show how an undetectable gun can be made using a simple 3D printer.

Besides, a stronger gun can be made using plastics and more conventional production techniques already.

Paul van Dinther

With a draft out there I am sure people will have improved versions floating around in a couple weeks. It would probably hold up for a while to 22LR rounds.


Details such as the projectile material and weight, and muzzle velocity, will give a more complete picture as to how dangerous this thing really is. Simply going 'bang' will no doubt scare many people, and I would not want to be at the receiving end even if the projectile was made of wax.

A metal liberator or zip gun can be made for a fraction of the cost of a 3D printer, but people today are more conversant with computers and software than hacksaws and files.


This really annoys me! I don't want 3D printers to be regulated.

When 3D printers become common in peoples homes, people will be going to the stores less and less as they print the things they need. How many people must be hoping for that to never happen?

Printing guns just gives the powerful and greedy the excuse they need to end what could be the start of an enormous and much needed change to the global economic structure.


This and haemorrhoid transplants will surely be known as towering achievements of mankind. Remember, guns don't kill people but printers will.

Roy Murray

"...among the 15 most dangerous people in the world." So Drug Cartels being supplied Firearms by Eric Holder was what, a joke?

Edgar Castelo

The Liberal Nonsense about guns: -They cannot eliminate Black Market, nobody can; So they just IGNORE Black Market. -They never admit Criminals have access to the best Guns in the Market, because they won't admit there are Criminals! -But any newfangled 3D printed Gun will instantaneously make a HUGE Army of gun-toting Maniacs. -Why? Because If it's not on the Net, it doesn't exist! LOL

Well, the future of Clandestine Gun-making is not toys made from Plastic, but the Guns Criminal are NOW making, in large numbers, with 19th Century Hobby technology.

Edgar Castelo

just think...If the whole world had no guns if the people have the need to rise up against their Government. Now they have the means to do it if that time comes.... Personally i hate war and violence. Guns ARE bad. But like all thing. There is a time and a place.

Nathan Jeffree

"So Drug Cartels being supplied Firearms by Eric Holder was what, a joke?

Edgar Castelo"

Drug Cartels were, and ARE, buying guns by the case.

The ATF and the FBI were limited to watching, helplessly; Bush instituted a Federal "gun-tracking" policy but Arizona Law allows anybody to buy all the guns they want as long as they promise not to resell them.

Of course, the "Straw Buyers" immediately did that.

Finally, somebody in the Arizona Bureau cracked and tried "gun walking", injecting a few guns into the endless stream and tracking them with the vain hope of catching the end buyer.

Don't pretend this had any effect on the ability of drug lords to get guns. You'd make a fool of yourself that way.

And don't pretend Eric Holder had anything to do with it. He was cleared in the subsequent investigation, although the panel slammed him for letting agents go rogue.

William Carr

This is neither changing anything nor making it impossible to outlaw guns, which, by the way, they should be. Over one million people shot dead with guns since 1980 in the U.S., whom are we kidding?

Guns can be made on metal lathes that can be found in many hobbyist's garages. But nobody would outlaw metal lathes. Just outlaw guns! It can be done as many other countries in the world prove. Two-shot hunting rifles, fine. But anything else, go away. Move to Somalia, you'll need a gun there. Gun clowns love it there, and nobody has to pay taxes.

Bombs can be made from fertilizer but nobody would outlaw fertilizer. Just bombs are illegal. Seriously, it can be done!


@BeWalt Do you NOT realize that you just MADE the case FOR guns.....if "Guns can be made on metal lathes that can be found in many hobbyist's garages"(YOUR words), what in GOODNESS name do you think will STOP CRIMINALS from making their OWN.....Do you REALLY think criminals FOLLOW the law?

Darin Sunny McCullough

So BeWalt, tell us this now. Are YOU willing to put up a nice big sign on your front door or in your front yard which proclaims to the whole wide world that your home is a gun free zone?? When was the last time that anybody walked into a police station (except in the movie The Terminator) and started shooting up the place?? Every "mass shooting" has occurred where guns were prohibited!! How do you explain that? Shooting and killing people unless you are defending lives or property is a CRIME!!! It's against THE LAW!! So obviously someone does not care much about any laws when they commit that kind of crime, right? So which law is it that is going to make criminals stop breaking laws? When we finally enact a law that says it's against the law to break a law? Oh yeah, that will stop them for sure!! We just didn't have the right law on the books is all. See how easy and simple that was??


Expanded Viewpoint

BeWalt I am not sure what you mean. In Somalia it is prohibited by law for civilians to possess automatic firearms, civilians may possess or acquire handguns and ammunition with proper licensing but that is it. I believe you were just trying to say we should prohibited by law for civilians to possess automatic firearms in the USA but then you make fun of a country that has already done so (rather ignorant I'm afraid). I also like how people like to point out how other countries (like England, France, Japan & Australia) have far less murders and crimes committed with guns than the USA. I also find it astounding because there shouldn't be any gun violance in those countries because they outlawed guns, just like Somalia in 1963. Give England, France, Japan & Australia sometime to sit with their controls in place and their track records will improve just like Somalia's. I bet if you outlaw automobiles, trucks, planes, and anything sharp like knifes, razors, and scissors we could have murder rates down to almost nothing. Oh yeah and don't forget bombs. We should outlaw bombs too. Wait a minute bombs are illegal, so why are they still being used?

Matt Fletcher

I suspect that Mr. Wilson will wind up in court when one of these zip guns blows up in somebody's hand. Which I think is guaranteed to happen.

I don't know what would happen if one of these guns were to be used in a bank robbery. I wouldn't hold Smith & Wesson responsible for a bank robbery, but then Smith & Wesson doesn't distribute guns in the manner that Mr. Wilson intends to.

Jon A.

re; Jon A.

Somebody makes his own gun and uses it to commit a crime and your going to hold a different person responsible. Really?


All I'm saying is that for anyone able to read numbers and understand their meaning, it is not possible to make a case FOR guns.

Matt Fletcher, you even freely admit it: There are far less murders and gun violence in these countries mentioned. That's the logic, right there. Outlaw guns, violence will go down. And yes, as messed up as it is in the U.S. right now, it will actually take decades for the effect to kick in, that is how badly screwed this country got by gun nuts. But we gotta start at some point.

Nobody is claiming it will drop to zero. But right now, any nutcase in the U.S. who wants to die has no trouble taking a gun and run amok.

America isn't any different from other places. There are just as many crazies here than there are elsewhere. The only difference is, in America, they can grab a gun whenever they feel like. And statistics show that they do just that. End of story. Very simple.

A crazy in ...wherever... is known as a guy with a knife who tried to stab a bunch of people before getting tackled. In America, the same crazy is infamous as XXX who managed to kill dozens before turning it on himself.

My Somalia comparison was a bit poor, I admit...


re; BeWalt

Guns are an inanimate object they do not cause behavior. In Switzerland guns and ammo are everywhere almost every male over 18 is in the militia and they keep their service weapon at home and have a very low crime rate.


i have four guns, all of them have no intentions of shooting anyone the same for me, this sensitization is tiring, yeah one holds over 20 rounds of 9mm so what, the only person I am gonna shoot is someone breaking into my home

Bill Bennett

re; BeWalt part 2

I noticed you didn't mention Japan where the crazies put nerve gas in the subway. I noticed you didn't mention gasoline bombs. I noticed you didn't mention throwing rocks from the roofs of tall buildings. Also in the USofA the more law abiding people allowed to carry guns the lower the violence rate. If you want low violence make everybody equal in their ability to deliver it effectively.


@Slowburn Swiss militia is a very old and highly regulated organism. For instance, at this time members issued rifles must store the parts in 3 different lockers that must be in different house locations. Militia members are also "de facto" under military law.

Joaquim Guerreiro

It still amazes me that there is so much hysteria about 'printing' a handgun. Airport scanners and Xray machines operators claim to still see even a plastic gun's shape, so it may possibly pass a department store or mall's detector, but people have been taking 'zip' (home-made) guns on subways and into shops for decades! The only difference as far as the public is concerned is that the plastic ones are more expensive to make ( 1st buy your printer) than knocking one up in a shed or workshop with a drill and hacksaw or whatever. The 'zip' guns still fire, are also - generally - single-shot, and are often used by muggers.

The Skud

Remember Francisco Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun? He had a gold cigarette case, a functioning gold lighter and a gold fountain pen. No one at TSA would seriously consider such things a threat. However, put them together and you have a functioning golden gun!


I can see this being great for the military in terms of cost reduction. Instead of keeping a rifle way past their prime or outdated designs like the M-16/M4 variants, the military could "print" new weapons every time it needs a new infantry rifle. This would save millions in testing and acquisition costs. The Army has a bad habit of creating programs dedicated for testing new rifles to replace the M-16 and they never follow through. For the past 20 years they have taken the money allocated to improving infantry weapons and cut the research program and then used the money elsewhere. Meanwhile the infantryman gets screwed. There are many new ultra efficient rifles and pistol designs that could be 3-D printed and distributed immediately to our ground troops. They should have the best weapons possible to complete their missions.


Big deal.

So the gun might be undetectable on X-ray machines, but the ammunition - without which it is entirely harmless - most certainly won't.


as an European I am always missing the point. Look at Australia which banned guns after several mass shootings. since then no mass shootings happened. The theory for guns against guns is no good. What is expected to happen if guard/teachers have a gun. That suicide idiot will enter a school, shoot the guard/teacher and go on with his work. English police don't have a gun, yet theŗe is a very low rate of policeman killed. But of course everything is different in the US, where a minor shoots his sister with "my first rifle". But face it, guns is money, made in usa 8 million pieces, the rest of the world together 7 million.


I want a copy of the CAD for this thing. Can someone send me a copy of it please.

Ronald David
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