The Proud Tradition of Gunbuilding in the Garage

I think that today in America  (and probably in many other countries) we have a misconception of where new ideas come from, especially among younger folks like myself. We tend to think that products are made by companies, and the individual craftsman or inventor is absent from the equation somehow. Apart from people actually directly involved in manufacturing businesses, we have a sterilized notion of things springing complete and prepackaged from the back room of a WalMart like Athena from Zeus. In addition to fostering a lack of understanding of how things are actually made, this notion also does a pretty good job of stifling our creativity. If there isn’t some reasonable expectation of possible success, how many people are willing to take on a project like a new design or invention?

We would do well to remember that in the field of firearms, virtually all of our really significant designs have come not from corporations and committees, but from individuals (often hobbyists) working in basements and garages. Eugene Stoner handmade his first aluminum rifle on a mill in his garage. Hiram Maxim got build his first guns in a borrowed workshop at an electrical company when he got bored. John Browning got his start in the back of a little Utah gun shop. These men got an idea and just ran with it, knowing that there is always a better mousetrap waiting to be built.

We have so many advantages today over some of those early pioneers in repeating arms, it’s a shame we don’t have more grass roots firearms designers. The advent of affordable CNC machinery means that the serious enthusiast can create today what would have taken a whole factory full of machine tools a hundred years ago, and computerized drafting and tool programming software allow incredibly flexibility in design. We have taken the biggest hurdles away from the amateur builder – the capital requirements and the need to spend years honing drafting skills. Yes, setting up a good home shop is still expensive, but no more than having a serious fishing boat or restoring classic vehicles.

There are several good forums our there for folks who want to pursue home firearms design, and I think more people ought to take up the hobby. The next great gun will come out of someone’s garage, and we just might help keep our firearms rights intact a bit longer by making the practice more mainstream.


  1. Very well written, I completely agree on the need for more hobbyists and enthusiasts taking a more involved approach. I think the only things stifling creativity are government regulations (Title 2 builders are hard to come by, whereas Maxim built tested his gun in his garden) and a lack of places to make meaningful innovations. We’ve already conquered self-loading weapons and simplified designs by leaps and bounds, and the current avenues of research wouldn’t offer too much more to the end shooter. Sure electronic ignition, caseless/lightweight ammo and interesting recoil setups are interesting, but the chemical and mechanical engineering involved tend to be beyond most hobbyists resources and abilities. Then again, something cool and new always tends to come out of the woodwork, like the Boberg compact and Kriss Kard, so maybe I’m just missing that vision.

    Also, I laughed at “knowing that there is always a better mousetrap waiting to be built,” considering Maxim invented and marketed a mousetrap.

  2. Great points from you both.

    There is a quote somewhere from Col. Chinn, wherein he was worrying about the day when firearms design would be dead in America. I think that has happened, largely. Today, any sort of new design in the marketplace comes from FN, or from Germany or Austria. While that may be a bit of a blanket statement, there really isn’t anything coming out of American gun designers.

    It is true that a large part of this is simply where the gun field stands these days in terms of technology. The modern double action revolver, the Mauser bolt action rifle, the Browning automatic pistol, the minigun, the pump or break action shotgun: these are pretty much end game designs. We still pick and paw at which subgun is the best, or which assault rifle our troops should field, but by and large these are preference based discussions and not design flaw avoidance. At some point, we may make the change to caseless ammo, as was spoken of above, or we may move on to ray guns.

    I see two large issues blocking further development in America. The first, and perhaps most important, is the willful death of blue collar work in America. As our host has pointed out, most people today are totally disconnected from the origin of their stuff. Stuff comes in boxes, which are sold in a shiny store. The only exposure than many of us have to actual physical laborers are those that work on our cars or do home repairs. Coupled with shows like “Sons of Guns” and whatever hip Motorcycle customizing show is on the air, many people get false impressions of what real work and innovation is like. They see grizzled people arguing, or people do backbreaking labor in the hot sun, and remind each other how important it is to go to college. This is a tragedy, and its effects are being shown by our current economy.

    The second issue, as was pointed out above, is the current legal landscape in America. While your average guy can make a title 1 firearm in his garage, the ultimate market has been and will always been police and military forces. With new laws (like ITAR), as well as federal efforts to enforce local zoning laws and so on, make it nearly impossible for your average person to get into the 02/07 game. With the banning of civilian machine gun sales, or the regulation of “assault rifles”, the 1990s in America really only produced two things: huge pistols that looked cool, or tiny pistols that you could conceal. Nothing else could legally be marketed, which made further innovation pointless from a commercial prospective. The MG world turned into a dress up business, finding new ways to use registered weapons in a manner that wouldn’t draw the ire of the ATF (conversion kits for MACs and Stemples, belt-fed AR uppers, etc). While these are new and interesting in their own ways, and credit does go to their inventors, they aren’t the future of gun design.

    Myself? I have ideas for weapons and new designs, but for the foreseeable future, that is all they will be. So it goes guys.

  3. There was a mention of forums… any specifics?
    The legal aspects in this country are ridiculous, and they do hamper innovation, but they don’t stamp it out. I for one would love to see gunlab show off any weapons they come across that are home built, because they are out there and some are super cool. I may even have something to show someday…
    And Nirvana: Well put about people forgetting how stuff produced.

  4. Don’t forget Bill Ruger,one of the best postwar gun designers. He built his first 22 pistol that would become the Ruger Mk1 in his garage. It would be a mistake not to mention him on a list of great American home-innovators, or even worldwide gun designers.

    • Can you not legally discuss even the design? Are there no books on this subject available where you are? That’s miserable luck.

  5. Firearm design is a mature technology. It has been in development as far back as 700AD. (1300 years!!) I see it following architecture right now: new materials that change the weight, strength and size. The next “new” direction may well be directed energy weapons. I have been toying with an idea for several weeks now that just popped up from reading “Forgotten Weapons”! We may well be hindered by Federal or local law, but there are avenues that are still unexplored. There are ideas that still need to be followed up. I’m intrigued by the automatic crossbow that starred in Van Helsing a few years back. I can visualize the release mechanism, but the reset of the string and feeding the bolts?? Hmmmm….

  6. In China.

    Of course, now many Chinese weapons enthusiasts enjoy making air guns, especially the Air Force Condor or sanjian B5-2 B5-3(Pump action-style air gun)

    Is also due to the severe punishment of the law for the production of firearms.

    Some of them already know the working principle of the rifling machine and create it.
    However, the U.S. and Russia in this area affect the Chinese people, as in other areas.

    Google translation software to obtain the knowledge and programs of the firearms manufactured, and then practice them.

    Unfortunately, the education, they could not have learned will be used in firearms production.
    Because learning in order to cope with exam.

    Of course, I wrote the above text is also relying on the Google translation software.

    Thank you, give us an eye-opener!

    The Internet is a good thing!

  7. Most of you are lucky … you live in USA or other countries where such experiments are generally allowed. In some countries it is highly restricted by law, so all the great ideas you have stays on a piece of paper and have no chances to become a prototype. 🙁

  8. Unfortunately here in Britain, unless an experimenter can convince the (unsympathetic) authorities of the merits of his work before he begins (very much a catch 22 situation) then, the penalties are extremely heavy.

    The project which forms the basis of this book:

    gives an example of the hazards involved.

    The parts of the story which I’ve pieced together (I neither met nor had any contact with the author, who unfortunately died about a year ago – so I apologies in advance if I make factual mistakes) are:

    During the controversy before the ban of breech loading pistols in Britain in the late 1990’s the author was arguing that the ban was pointless, as guns are easy enough to make at home.

    As expected, few would believe him, so he set out to prove his point,designing, scratch building with ordinary hand tools and readily available materials, then test firing the easiest of guns to make, a SMG.

    He wrote it up, and had a photographer “friend” photograph it.

    The “friend” snitched, and the author received 5 years in a high security prison, his family were also harassed with trumped up charges.

    Prison, it appears only strengthened the author’s resolve, and he published several more works (he had the opposite design philosophy to Adolph Furrer – very interesting)

    I’d recommend anyone who’s still reading, to google the author’s name to get the details of what happened to him after some Asian youths were found in possession of one of his books; The full force of Britain’s anti freedom laws were brought to bear on him, his family, those whom he had corresponded with worldwide, and those who had bought e-books from his website.

    The story has more in common with an Orwell or a Solzhenitsyn novel than “land of hope and glory, mother of the free”

  9. There is still some private innovation occurring. It’s just hard to do much of it if you are not independently wealthy (and I suspect independently wealthy people tend to exert their efforts elsewhere). Acquiring the experience, skills and tools to create new firearms designs can be done. Then you also need a creative mind to produce the ideas to try. But then the necessity of paying the bills tends to force one into other endeavors. I speak from experience.

  10. I am writing a book, “Homebuilt .45 ACP Carbine” about homebuilding a gun mostly with garage tools, essentially this one is a 5 shot version of my 10 shot .22 from “Homebuilt Firearms” 2010. I should have it done about May. Think of a revolver in a straight line, the bar ratchets through the weapon …no ejection and no feed, the bar is the chamber. It drops out like a magazine when done…
    Gary Hartman on Amazon, Ebay, Google Books

  11. My book “Homebuilt .45 ACP Carbine” is out in print now, It uses a manufactured .45 barrel, and machined Bar Magazine, 5 shots. The prototype is welded of cut out sheet metal panels, etc, made by filing, grinding etc.
    The book appears available at bookstores, Barnes & Noble, perhaps Amazon, Ebay.
    140 plus pages, 80 photos and drawings, 6,7″ x 9.6″ large format.

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