Firearm Design for Dummies - What Books, Webs, Tools, etc. do you recommend?


July 26, 2006, 01:22 PM
I've been a small business owner for a few years now and I'm tired of driving all over and fixing stuff. So, I'm diving head first into the wonderful cottage industry of firearms.

Well, after proper home-study of course :p Er, and more tools :uhoh:
College is out, but I may attend a local vocational class in machining.
Maybe a course or two via distance-education.
Hey, JMB didn't do college, right? :p

Size and Scope : Specialization in pistol and handgun design and manufacture.
It will just be me, myself and I. So, low production, out of the garage, hand-fit type stuff.

I'll likely start out making improvement parts and caliber conversions for a few different pistols, while doing R&D on the first design, a .22lr revolver and/or straight blowback pistol.

I fear no machine, and can fix nearly anything, but I know I need more core knowledge, tools and materials, especially in the following :


Metalworking and Metal Supply

Material Removal : Machine Tools and Techniques - Lathes and Mill

Material Removal : Hand Tools and Techniques - Files and Stones

Heat Treating

Pistol and Handgun Mechanics

Blueprints - Why reinvent the wheel right? I need to see what works.

Design Software - Thinking SolidWorks here.

Legalese - BATFE and the home gun-maker.

I greatly value the opinions and knowledge of members on this board, but I can't pay ya-I'm a pro bono case :D
ANY thoughts, comments, links, suggestions, ideas, nifty pics, whatever, I'd be happy to receive!

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July 27, 2006, 02:47 AM
It's good to see someone else interested in firearms design.

I'm a college student (engineering) in NY and I've been running Solidworks.
I recently finished a design for pretty unusual rifle, I'll probably be posting a pic in the rifle forum sometime in the next week if you're interested in watching for that. A "cost is no object" type of design, probably be a while before I can get around to actually building it though.

I don't have a lot of money to purchase books on the subject, so I don't know what is available in print.

I've basically done a ton of reading online, these forums, the technical forums, thefiringline, couple other places.
If you hang out for a while you'll see who knows what they're talking about and learn alot about the different firearms and how they operate.

Aside from forums, I haven't found a lot of useful information online. I have a couple sets of blueprints/plans for AR-15 lowers, MAC receiver flats and random stuff like that. Some exploded parts diagrams.

I have a lot of pics of firearms in various stages of disassembly (mostly found online). A couple .pdf books, field/user/armorer manuals (.pdf) for popular rifles.

I think the best source of information is to disassemble whatever firearms you can get your hands on. I've found taking apart and studying AR-15 components to be extremely helpful, looking at a Winchester M70 helped a lot in understanding the sear/firing pin relation as well.

I don't know enough about the different CAD packages to make a recommendation, I've only used Solidworks and a little Autocad through school.
I also don't know how the software companies handle this stuff, but it may be possible to see/handle a demo through a distributor.
You might also be able to pick up an educational version of a CAD package through a local college if they offer design or computer aided design classes.

I can't really help with the legal aspect on it.

These guys can probably help you more with selecting tools and cutting metal, especially in the home machine shop area.


July 27, 2006, 02:25 PM
Hi boonie,

Thanks for taking time to respond. It is much appreciated.
I just got a new email update for SolidWorks 2007, it looks pretty neat.
Heh.. they have a SolidWorks for dummies book out, lol. Just what I need!

I really look forward to seeing your rifle concept. Do you have access to a rapid prototype machine? Maybe you could talk your instructor into letting ya proto your rifle.

Aye, I've been all over the web looking for stuff. I'm just looking to gather any bits I might have missed. I'm not real mathmatical, so finding stuff for say, metallurgy that isn't over-technical or over-simplified has been slow.
Another thing, and maybe it's just me, but, for about the last few months, the search engines seem way inaccurate.

Thanks for the link, that should prove quite useful.
Ima' go dig around that site a bit.

Thanks again!

July 27, 2006, 03:07 PM
If you want books and tools and how to instructions go to and do search on "books". You'll find a plethora of gunsmithing books, metallurgy, welding, engraving and just about any "how to" book related to guns that there is. While you are on the site, order a copy of the catalogue. Brownells is the pre-eminent supplier of gunsmith materials and tools. They carry every conceivable tool known to the gunsmith world and the catalogue description of what the tool is and what you need it for is an advanced course in gunsmithing 101 in and of itself.

July 27, 2006, 03:50 PM
You will be way better off building nice copies of other peoples designs than designing and building your own.

Because of the small quantities you will be building as a me myself and I business you will be looking at $2500 $3000 cost to build a pistol. After that, you have to get somebody to pay that much for a no-name gun, of unknown perforamnce and reliability.

Becoming somewhat skilled at milling and turning is going to take few years of full time experience. Becoming facile with CAD software will probably take a year or so. there is nothing demanding about firearms metallurgy... use what everybody else uses.

The machinery for rifling can be cost prohibitive.

If you can't afford to pay for advice, you probably can't afford this business.

Jim Watson
July 27, 2006, 06:36 PM
A good historical library of past and present designs will help.
So you can avoid reinventing the wheel in thinking up a new .22 revolver or blowback. Or maybe you could reinvent the wheel and produce a design that was not practical with older materials and machine tools.

July 27, 2006, 07:07 PM
Thank you jaybar.
I didn't know the brownells catalog was that comprehensive. I'll order one up :D

Thank you owen.
I may do just that with some old designs. Maybe the Makarov.
I'll probably follow that with a cobble-build, using my own frame and slide design with existing parts and barrel blank. I'll not even think about trying to rifle any barrels. At least not as a one-guy, low output op.

Due to initial start-up costs, I'll likely start out quite primitive. I'll hand draft the cobble-designs and run the mill and lathe by hand until (if) I make enough extra capital to invest in CNC controls as well as CAD/CAM.

Insofar as metallurgy, I need to get a strong conceptualization of what is happening within the steel during heat-treating/stress relieving..
As well as learn about heat-treating, stress relieving, and the tools needed for these processes.

The bit about being a pro bono case was just me saying I can't pay any of you fine folk for your advice :D

Thank you Jim.
Good idea on a library. I have a few reloading books, but nothing on any specific firearms.
I've been thinking about the different operating systems for pistols, and I'm quite intrigued with the Remington 51. Got a couple ideas up my sleeve for if things progress beyond the cobble stage :D

July 27, 2006, 09:36 PM
if you're going to go with CNC, start with CNC machines. retrofits suck eggs. CNCmachines are much more powerful and rigid. (rigidity is everything in a machine tool)

July 27, 2006, 10:46 PM
Build a .45 Luger. There actually are blueprints available since DWM had plans to produce it commercially until WWI got in the way.


Build a modern day Merwin & Hulbert New Model Army revolver.


Re-engineer the I-Frame size S&W .38 Double Action Perfected revolver into an N-Frame size.

July 27, 2006, 10:57 PM
I think rather than trying to learn how to build it, you should be first learning how to design it. There's a fine line between handgun and IED. And I'm not trying to be a jerk (seriously). I'm an engineer and I use Solidworks everyday. It won't keep you from designing an unsafe machine (or even one that can't be assembled--ask me how I know this :D ).

I imagine that you would find it more cost-effective to farm out most of the fabrication work anyway--unless you already have a few years of machine work under your belt and a quarter million dollars worth of machinery and tools in your garage. The pros will almost always do it faster, better, and cheaper.

I daydream at work about building rifles in my own shop someday, and I've even applied some math to my doodles, but I want to die with all ten fingers (and both eyes). I think I have a lot math ahead of me.

July 28, 2006, 01:38 AM
corncob, you just reminded me about the troubles I had working on my bolt design.

I spent a considerable amount of time designing the bolt and bolt carrier, but then, as I was finishing up the firing pin and all, I realized that there was no way to actually put the firing pin, bolt and bolt carrier together. They all interlocked, but you wouldn't actually be able to assemble the thing. After that, I spent a bit of extra time to make sure that everything would actually work.

I have looked at starting work on this in the school shop, but materials cost and a handful of complex operations prevent me from starting construction at this time. Like I mentioned, it's a "cost is no object" rifle.

I looked at rapid prototyping before, but pretty much dismissed it as too expensive and I planned on building my first mockups with wood and maybe some plastics. I always figured that I'd wait a couple years until I had the time and some money to start working on it for real.

You got me thinking though; maybe I can get the major parts prototyped and assemble a working model relatively quickly, then show it around and see if I can interest anyone in building it for real.


My problem with the search engines has been that a lot of the time over half the hits I get are for airsoft or toy websites. Or, if not for that it'll be those poorly written advertisements for a set of cd's with "blueprints and instructions on building machineguns and silencers". I'm sure you've seen that a couple times by now.

July 28, 2006, 01:19 PM
I'm not really sure what route to go just yet. I'll be buying equipment on my own dime. A while back I started looking at Sherline mini lathes and mills, then realized they would be too time consuming due to the size/power.
Lately I've been looking at Bridgeport stuff on ebay. Used of course.
If I ever want to make any kind of money at this, and be able to offer an affordable product, I will probably have to go with CNC.

Some neat ideas there.
I really like the .45 Luger idea.
Though I think I'm going to focus on small pistols and revolvers. Not mouse guns necessarily, but very compact.
Hmm, I've never heard of Mervin & Hulbert. Foreign?
Maybe I'll do a I/J frame .38 snub, all-steel, no lock.

'..first learning how to design it.' Indeed.
I'll rig up a remote triggering device and scatter box to test any of my own designs. Maybe I'll run a cam on it too, so if I have any explosions, I can study them and post 'em here too :D

I'm primarily a hands on learner, kinesthetic I think they call it.
I understand physics and mechanics. Tis why I want to study blueprints as well as studying and measuring the firearms on hand.
As far as SolidWorks, I probably won't get to use this due to the price.
I was primarily interested in playing with SW's COSMOS FEA and motion features, would these not help in catching some design faults?

As for the machining, I have most all of the handtools, air tools, measuring tools, etc. The only big things I need are lathe, mill and cut saw.
I liken to the saying, "If you want it done right, do it yourself". I'll most likely be taking a machining course.

What are you waiting for? Build yourself a scatterbox and remote and make those dreams reality!

There ya go!
Build it and they will come!

Jim Watson
July 28, 2006, 03:38 PM
That's Merwin & Hulbert, guys.
Made in the USA in the 19th century. Designed and marketed by M&H but actually manufactured by Hopkins & Allen in the 1870s and 1880s.
I think it was Mike Venturino that showed one to a major modern manufacturer who said his plant could not build them at any reasonable cost, they were too finely fitted. Kind of like a Luger.

There is a guy somewhere on the Net who specializes in reverse engineering. He buys a gun, takes measurements, analyzes the machining operations, makes drawings/CAD-CAM files and builds his own copy. Maybe someone here knows his site. Note, he is not an 80% builder, he does them from scratch.

Jim K
July 28, 2006, 09:37 PM
Making a .45 Luger sounds like a great idea, but Georg couldn't get it to work. The horrible fact is that the Luger is a lot more subtle and tricky design than most folks think. Example: If you think that the famous Luger grip angle was chosen for ergnomic reasons, you think wrong.


Jim Watson
July 28, 2006, 10:50 PM
Reportedly somebody took the extant US trials gun out about 1960 and it shot just fine. That was under sanitary conditions with fresh ammo, of course. I read somewhere that the Kraut .45 of the day was of poor quality.

July 28, 2006, 11:08 PM
Garry James of Guns & Ammo fired the remaining .45 Luger about 10 years ago and wrote about it.
As I recall it functioned fine. I don't recall any problems. The article was called Shooting the Million Dollar Luger of something like that.

There was also a company that made 100 of them a few years ago that sold for $15,000 each.

Actually DWM could make them work and there were plans to market it commercially around 1914. This was AFTER the US decided against it. But WWI came along and wartime production took over.

By the way Kraut refers to WWII. They were called Bosch in WWI.
So I doubt there was much .45 ammo produced anywhere in Europe before WWI.
Norway didn't start producing it until 1914 when they adopted the cartridge.

July 30, 2006, 02:42 AM
I'd like to do something that sorta resembles this :

July 30, 2006, 03:47 AM
I've suggested many time that someone made a slide for a 1911 that full encloses the hammer. It would be used with a spurless hammer.
That way the hammer is not visible and no one can see that you're really carrying cocked and locked.


It would be especially good for all of these DAO and LDA typr guns out there that can not be manually cocked. Why have a visible hammer on a gun that can't be cocked?

July 30, 2006, 02:03 PM
Indeed, BluesBear :D

Here's more:
Two trigger types:

Single Action -
Will only have a hammer block safety (gasp!)
No levers, No FP block (just a heavy FP return spring)

Modified (or Hybrid) Single Action -
Same safeties as above.
Will be a short stroke, fast reset (similiar to the H&K LEM system).
You can keep your trigger finger behind the trigger, on the frame, to help in avoiding NDs, for if you happen to be doing the low crawl in weeds, muck, debri, etc. ;)

Both designs will be put through extensive testing, to include drop testing, endurance, destructive, etc. and will exceed current mil endurance requirements.
I'm going to thrash the crap out of these things and make sure everything works like it's supposed to.

Then I'm gonna' let H.P. White Laboratory beat the crap out of em'
...If I can afford them. If not, I'll put out an invitation to bid and see if there are any takers.

Oh, it will be a short recoil operated locked breech.

Internals will be coated with NP3 or similiar self-lubricating.

Flush fitting 6rd 1911 magazines.

Smart bullets will have on-board micro-processing for target mark and track, and have dynamic flight control surfaces allowing < JK :p

Jim Watson
July 30, 2006, 02:19 PM
If you are going to nitpick what I call the enemy, spell it right.

VARIANT FORMS: also boche
NOUN: Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a German.
ETYMOLOGY: French, alteration of Alboche, blend of Allemand, German; see allemande, and French dialectal caboche, cabbage, blockhead;

Bosch makes electrical products.

Colt made a pre-1911 prototype hammerless. Layne Simpson says the Army didn't like it. It has a parallel ruler slide. There is a thumb safety like an enlarged pocket .32 and a slide stop like the 1905's. The picture in Simpson's book is small and fuzzy; I can't tell whether it has a grip safety.

oo7, I think you are getting the cart before the horse. You are talking about a lot of fine little details before you have the basic design.

July 30, 2006, 04:05 PM
Yep, cart in front of the horse. But it's fun.

Like I said, I'm going to start by selling some parts and other bits first.

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