3D Printing for Gunsmiths

An overview of 3D printing for gunsmiths, how to get started, and making an example project for your gun room.

by Bryce Dunn

I first started 3D printing over ten years ago on October 25th, 2011 with one of the earliest consumer machines, a Solidoodle 1. At the time, I wasn’t a gunsmith. I stated as an airsmith by modifying airsoft guns and I bought the printer to make airsoft gun parts. About a year later I started learning gunsmithing and began the quest for a durable printed AR lower, which is still an elusive goal.

Here are the fundamentals. A 3D printer works like a hot glue gun if it were being moved around by a robot arm. It squirts out semi-molten plastic which is fed into it in wire form like a MIG welder. This plastic wire is called filament and it resembles weed trimmer line. You can buy filaments made from many types of plastic and even blends of different plastics and composites made of plastic plus additives or fillers. You can also make your own with a do-it-yourself extrusion machine and some people have had success just using trimmer line, which is nylon.

A 3D printer works by adding layer by layer, with each layer being a cross-section of the part at a particular height, hence why this is also called additive manufacturing. The 3D printer “draws” this cross-section onto the build plate (also called the bed) and then moves the bed down one layer and draws the next layer. This process is repeated until the entire part has been finished, from bottom to top. This process is called Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM. There are other kinds of printing processes, with SLA (Steriolithography) being the second most widely used behind FDM. SLA printers are also called resin printers because they use UV light to cure a liquid resin like your dentist uses. FDM is the cheapest and easiest process, so it will be the focus of this article.

Printer Hardware

We’ll start with the …

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