3D vendor sells $1,500 machine to make metal guns

The machine is a little larger than a breadbox, and CAD files for building gun parts are expected to be released to the public.

Cody Wilson, the developer of the world's first fully 3D-printed plastic gun, is preparing to sell a consumer-grade machine that can make metal guns.

Wilson calls the tabletop machine the Ghost Gunner, and describes the project as a non-profit open source hardware effort by his company Defense Distributed.

screen shot 2014 10 01 at 12.16.20 pm Defense Distributed

The Ghost Gunner CNC machine.

Defense Distributed's website taking preorders for the machine states it is "shipping holiday 2014." CNC, which stands for computer numerical control, relates to a milling device that removes material from a solid block in order to create a part. It is a traditional method of machining, as opposed to 3D printing, which adds material layer by layer to construct a part.

The Ghost Gunner builds on the open source community's existing work, including circuit board micro controllers from Arduino.

Ghost Gunner CNC machine Defense Distributed

The lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle inside the Ghost Gunner, immediately after being milled.

Ghost Gunner is roughly 13 in. by 11 in., weighs 45 pounds and can make parts up to 9.05 in. x 3.50 in. x 3.90 in. Its metal routing spindle rotates at more than 10,000 RPM. The CNC machine is currently compatible with Windows 7 or higher PCs. A Mac version of the software is expected be available as well.

All Ghost Gunner schematics and ".dd" design files will be published into the public domain, Defense Distributed's site states.

"Defense Distributed decided to build our own machine from the ground up. We found existing CNC machines too expensive, too DIY, or too inaccurate to manufacture firearms for the casual user," it reads. "By miniaturizing the build envelope to just large enough to mill common firearm receivers, we were able to improve rigidity, reduce material cost and simultaneously relax some design limits, allowing us to sell an inexpensive machine with more than enough accuracy to manufacture firearms."

Ghost Gunner CNC machine Defense Distributed

The lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle that was made in the Ghost Gunner but is unattached to a weapon.

The Ghost Gunner ships fully assembled and ready to use right out of the box. No programming is required. After installing the included software, you'll be ready to manufacture publicly available .dd designs.

Defense Distributed stated it is committed to releasing future firearm design files, from the AR-15 to the AR-10 assault rifles to the 1911 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The company also plans to release some of its own custom firearms designs. The AR-10 and later AR-15 rifle were the basis for the U.S. military's standard M16 assault rifle.

In a demonstration video (see below), the Ghost Gunner is shown milling the lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle. The lower receiver is a key component to the assault rifle, containing the trigger mechanism and magazine well.

Last year, a company began offering the world's first 3D-printed, fully functioning semi-automatic pistol.

The company, Solid Concepts, created a replica of the storied .45-caliber, M1911 semi-automatic that served as the U.S. military's standard-issue sidearm for more than 70 years. Solid Concepts demonstrated the gun by firing 50 rounds with it.

The accuracy? At more than 30 yards, the gun was able to strike a target bull's-eye several times. Solid Concepts stated that it built the gun to prove the accuracy of its 3D printers for building machine parts and not as a test of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which specifies the right to bear arms.

Why Wilson does what he does

Last year, Wilson, a former student of the University of Texas School of Law, posted the plans for his 3D-printed Liberator gun online for anyone to download. Although the U.S. government forced him to remove the plans last year, the genie was already out of the bottle. The CAD drawings had been downloaded tens of thousands of times.

In a June interview with Computerworld, Wilson said he was planning another gun-related announcement by the end of the year.

In that interview, Wilson described himself as a "free market" anarchist.

"Freedom is scary," Wilson said. "If you want to talk about rights, what does it mean to respect a civil liberty or civil right? Well, it means you understand there are social costs in having that right; that's why it deserves protection in the first place."

Wilson demonstrated his 3D-printed plastic gun firing at least one round without damage to the weapon. In later tests, he claimed it could fire multiple rounds before incurring damage.

However, outsiders' tests of Wilson's 3D printed guns revealed they quickly malfunctioned and could be dangerous, a claim Wilson said was misleading because the government and universities performing the tests didn't adhere to his specifications.

"There are tons of different ways you can build them to blow up, but the way we put up on the Internet and suggested you build it, has never once catastrophically failed," Wilson said.

The Ghost Gunner is constructed with rigid A36 steel and 304 stainless steel. The machine also has fewer parts than traditional CNC machines to increase rigidity and reduce overall cost, Wilson stated.

"The end result is a small, cheap and simple machine that exceeds most consumer-priced CNC machine specifications," he wrote.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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