3D-Printed Freedom – Part 2, by A.M.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

What is the actual material you are printing with? Filament. It comes in a roll, usually 1 kg, and is 1.75mm thick. It is what is extruded out of the nozzle onto the print bed and makes your object. Filament comes in many different materials.

The most common and inexpensive filament is poly lactic acid (PLA). Better yet is PLA+. Both of these are made from corn as a feedstock, and do not use petroleum as an input. So if supporting corn growers of America as opposed to oil companies is something that resonates with you, so much the better.

Of note, PLA is easy to work with on a printer, does not give off dangerous fumes when heated, and can actually be composted as a waste product, if done so in an industrial composting type facility (needs the high heat to break down). As a downside, it does degrade over time in direct sun, and can deform in high heat. Don’t go shooting a PLA printed firearm full auto, or leave it on the dash in your car in the summer with the windows up, as it may warp. PLA also comes from a variety of manufacturers with other materials incorporated, such as wood, ceramic, copper, glow-in-the-dark materials, and more. These other materials can contribute useful or aesthetic characteristics depending on what you are printing. There are also magnetic iron PLA filaments, and electrically-conductive PLA filaments. Nearly all of the firearm components I refer to have been developed and tested with PLA or PLA+, and those that are not will be noted in the print instructions when you download the file.

Other materials commonly used to print are ABS, which you may be familiar with as a type of plastic used in pipes, and PET, a food safe type of plastic that is recyclable. Others include TPE (flexible and bendy), carbon fiber (light and stiff) and nylon (super strong but not as easy to work with as it requires high temps to print properly. And the list goes on, depending on your application there is likely a filament material best suited to it. All my prints so far have been with PLA+, as it is easy and inexpensive (about $20/kg) and comes in a variety of colors and is most forgiving to work with.

Controlling The Printer

How do I tell the machine what to print? With a file. Specifically, you need an stl format file. You can find stl files that other people have created at web sites like Thingiverse.com and Yeggi.com. There you can search by category or key word(s) and find a whole galaxy of things you can print, and download the stl files that someone else took the time to create. Often there are pictures of the final products, and instructions on how to print the best results (parameters like temperature, nozzle speed, in-fill density, etc). Many of these files are free and open-source, and many can be customized before you download them to adjust size, shape, and angles. Some of them have a cost, a price you pay to the developer who created the object file for their effort, usually just a few dollars.

Perhaps you want to create your own designs from scratch? If so there are plenty of open source software and tutorials available online for you to investigate (openSCAD), but that is beyond the scope of this article, which as I said at the beginning is targeted to the non-techie, cheapskate Luddite like me.

Now you have your stl file, you need to slice it. This means opening the file in a software program called a slicer, which allows you to tell the printer where and how you want it printed. Maybe that glock frame prints best with the top rails down, but the magazine body prints best bottom down. Maybe this material prints best at 210 degrees, but that one is better at 240. Maybe this is a protoype only and can get by with 5% infill, or maybe it needs all the strength and ridigity it can get and needs 100%. All these parameters are set by you in your slicer. Cura, by Ultimaker, is a free to download and use product that is easy to use and fairly intuitive.

Once you have your settings in your slicer and hit the “slice” button, it chews up the image and spits out a g.code. This is a file with your specific parameters for your machine which you save to an SD card and plug into the machine. The machine can then read the information from the card and print your object. When you are done you can remove the card, and the machine has no memory of what it has just created, as all the information is stored on the SD card.

“Wait a minute, I recall you saying this was supposed to be for cheapskates…how can I possibly harness this incredible power on a cheapskate budget?” Here is the price breakdown:

  • Printer: Ender3 printer, by Creality. $190-to-$290 shipped, depending on options
  • Upgraded build plate and springs $20-to-$25
  • 1 kilogram of PLA+ filament $20-to-$25

And with the holiday shopping season lovingly inflicted on us by retailers, you may be able to beat these prices. Will other printers work? Of course, but the Ender 3 is generally recognized as the best bang for your buck in terms of the most functionality for the best price, and using the same machine everyone else is using makes it easier for one person’s setting to be used successfully on another person’s machine. If your budget allows it, getting a model that will allow you to print at higher nozzle temperatures will make it easier to print with nylon filament, giving vastly more durability to your toothpaste couplers or Glock frames or whatever you decide to print. The Prusa 13 and FlashForge are well-regarded in that category, but I have no personal experience with them, so I cannot comment further.

The other upgrade you don’t need upfront but you will need if you intend to print nylon is a Microswiss Hot End ($60-ish) which allows you to print at higher temperatures. I have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with any of these products or companies. I’m just passing on what has worked for me and what I have been taught by others.

More, I need more info, and files, and everything else… (there is more even beyond what I can describe in this article).

Deterrence Dispensed is the name of a loosely organized group of people around the world who are committed to the free and open sharing of information about firearms printing.
You can find detailed step by step instructions on getting and setting up and using your first printer here, from two of the godfathers of the 3D printed firearms community. See their Getting Started Guide.

You can find firearm component and receiver files that have been developed and actually tested by Det_Disp members before being released.

Lbry, by the way, is a decentralized publishing and file sharing platform that offers a useful alternative to the Amazon/Google/Facebook/Apple type outfits. (It is spoken: “Library.”) They host a variety of files and apps you may not have found elsewhere, and they are hard to shut down; you can’t just de-platform someone and take down the video when it is user-owned and decentralized.

Keybase is an end-to-end encrypted chat program that is used by the Det_Disp team for research, development, troubleshooting, and problem-solving. It is also a program used by many businesses and organizations that need to have a secure chat option. Download the program and search for Det_Disp and you will find it. Listen and read, and only after you have done your due diligence, ask questions. But don’t misconstrue it as an online site to gripe about politics, conspiracy theories, or recruiting for your local prepper cell. As they will tell you repeatedly, they are there for the guns. Do work or be gone. It is a working group, but you can get technical help there if you need it, and get an idea of what other folks are working on, or even post a bounty (reward) if there is a particular something you would like to see developed.

Perhaps having by now read this, you are thinking to yourself: “Well, if a cheapskate Luddite like this guy can crank out Glock mags and rifle lowers from his bedroom all day and all night long with materials perfectly legal and easy to obtain, doesn’t that make gun (and magazine) control obsolete?” The answer is, of course it does. But the anti-gun crowd doesn’t know it yet. Use this time before their consciousness is awakened to educate yourself, and stock up on a few key parts.

A Printed Receiver

Receivers are not too hard to print with a little practice, but you still need the rest of the parts of the gun (or mag spring), and while they are not yet regulated. That could happen. Enter the FGC-9. It is the first functional practical, useful firearm fully 3D printed and finished using hardware store parts and an electro-chemically etched barrel, and it can be made entirely at home with off the shelf non-firearms related materials. I haven’t yet produced my own yet, but when I do so, I hope to bring another article about it forward. I mention it here as a teaser of things beyond the scope of this article. A little research here on the part of the reader may yield surprising options.

A few of you reading this might say to yourself “hey, I’m pretty handy, and I have a shop full of machinist tools and any tool I don’t have, one of my buddies does. I’m sure we can build our own guns if we wanted to…and all that other silly stuff about hose couplers and pipe brackets and tool organizers. Heck, I can make that stuff with my lathe and welder and drill press and angle grinder and … Yes, you can, and thank goodness for you, because a 3D printer can’t do everything, but it can do a lot and it can put some of that means of production you have in your shop full of tools and years of knowledge and experience into the hands of the cheapskate Luddite in his studio apartment. That is some power.


  1. It seems to me that 3D printers are complimentary to traditional fabrication machines like lathes and angle grinders, not a replacement. If an item can be made on a printer or a lathe, then make that item on the printer and free up the lathe for tasks that only it can do, like metalwork. On the flip side, I would suspect that there are complex items that traditional fabrication would have to make as individual components to be assembled later, which could be printed in a single step more quickly.

    I didn’t know PLA was a bioplastic. That means it still consumes quite a bit of petroleum as fertilizer and pesticides, which is why biofuels are net-energy losers, but you’re right that it makes the disposal situation much better.

    A lot of us can’t think about 3D printers without thinking of the replicator on Star Trek. Fun bit of trivia: a 3D printer was used as a replicator prop on the new Picard series.

    Thanks again for sharing some knowledge, A.M.

  2. Thanks for the info and resources. I’ll be doing my homework (:
    I wanted to make a comment on the current Supreme Court action. They did not dismiss the Texas case on ‘material grounds’ only on ‘procedural grounds’. They dismissed on the grounds that Texas did not have standing before the court (they were not the damaged party). The case will have to be resubmitted through members of the ‘battle ground’ States that have citizens that have been damaged. I would have been an anti-federalist at the time of the ratification so I am not holding my breath here.

  3. My questions are going to reflect my lack of knowledge of tech & 3D printing. I’m wondering about non-firearms stuff being produced on a 3D printer like the one described in this article. For ex, if one needed screws or nails, would such a printer work? a piece of wood? a small plastic part? a ceramic cup or bowl? tin or sheet metal for a small project? string or a part to repair fish net?
    When I skimmed thru the objects on thingiverse & yeggi sites, they all appear to be plastic or resin type material.

    1. The printers discussed in the article use plastic. Nails or screws might be made with sintering, but much easier to make from heavy steel wire or round bar stock using traditional means. U need cordage, look for tendons from large vertebrates, or learn to twist hemp (try your local Boy Scout Troop, at least one will know the trick and maybe even show you the gadget) or braid grass. We’re talking about sub$1k equipment. Metal work, you’ll want a lathe and mill.

      1. Indeed, the materials used in these types of 3d printers, which lay down layer upon layer of filament, all use some kind of plastic or polymer-like materials. Yes, some contain wood, ceramic, or various metals, but they generally do not have the same strength characteristics as parts made soley from those materials. Instead they have the strength characteristics of the underlaying filament, such as PLA, ABS, PETG, or one the of the strongest, Zytel (nylon). The filaments can however have other useful properties like electrical conductance, glow in the dark, or flexability and elasticity. As mentioned, there are plenty of other ways to make nails, cordage, etc, although perhaps for intricate designs you could 3d print the model of what you want and they use it to make a mold to cast it out of liquid metal…I hadn’t thought of that before, but now I’m intrigued to try it!

    1. Hey Murf…. That’s cool that you can make your own battery adapters with 3D printing. For anyone that can’t or does not want to, plastic battery adapters, taking one or more smaller batteries have been around for a long time, and you can get them on Amazon all day long. The prices are pretty reasonable. I’ve been using them for a few years now, with no problems or issues. Typically, but not in all cases, the vast majority of these adapters use AA and AAA batteries for a AA,C,and D size battery adapter. On occasion, you can find D size adapters that will take a C size battery. The applications are obvious, but whats really cool as it relates to flash lights ( wither they are rugged or not ) is if you have, or can find a flashlight that takes more than one size of battery. I picked one such flashlight up on clearance a decade ago now. I think it is an EVERREADY something something. I think there have been other flashlights like this produced over the past few years. Anyway….I hope this has been helpful.

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