With the advent of 3D printers a few years back, it became possible for anyone to print a huge variety of models, spare parts, decorations, tools, toys……you name it…… If you could find a file online, (or put the model file together yourself), you could print whatever you want.
However, to begin with the cost of the printers was too high for most people to justify buying one, and the number of files available online was quite small. Now though, the printers are much more affordable and the number of 3D printable files available online stands in the millions.
I got a 3D printer this year as a birthday present, and after battling with a few minor hitches during the building process, started making 3D models. It took me a little while to learn how to use the printer, (and indeed, am still learning even now), but I was soon up and running printing cats, pigs and various other animals.
A few weeks later and I started looking for files to print the stuff I was really interested in, which was of course WW2 models. I was astounded at how much was out there, everything from files to print scale model weapons, to tanks and ships, grenades and mortars, mess tins and fuzes, and even full size replica weapons! Before I started printing WW2 replicas though I thought it best to avail myself of the law. I spoke to a few learned colleagues then had a search on the internet, quickly discovering that the law had been clarified by the UK government.
‘The manufacture, purchase, sale and possession of 3D printed firearms or component parts is fully captured by the provisions in Section 57(1) of the Firearms Act 1968. The definition of firearm in the act includes any component parts.
The expression firearm in the 1968 act means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description or component part of such weapon, from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged. 3D printed weapons are potentially lethally barrelled weapons and must be viewed as such in law. The method of manufacture is not material to the consideration. The Home Office did feel it was appropriate to specifically refer to 3D printed guns even though they were always illegal and remain illegal.’
Can’t get much clearer than that!
I was still a little unsure about other items of ordnance though like replica projectiles, grenades and the like, so again searched the internet. I quickly found hundreds of 3D printed bits of ordnance for sale all over the UK, which was reassuring as it confirmed it was not illegal to print things like this. It was a little silly of me really, because I then realised you could but plastic life-sized grenades and mortars at any decent toy shop! Still, better to be safe than sorry as ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.
I started out with replica 40mm Bofors shells. I had plenty of 40mm cases and had managed to acquire a couple of the original inert training projectiles, but had a full clip of 40mm cartridges on my hearth that needed projectiles for them. First step was to ‘slice’ the STL file I had acquired, to turn it into a file my printer could understand. That done, I set about printing 4 of them.
Once printed, I checked for fit and found two would need a bit of wiggling to get them in. So next step was painting them up. You may also notice that you can see the structure inside the projectiles. These aren’t solid plastic, but are still very sturdy.
The last step was to make a stencil and give the projectiles some markings. After doing this and placing them in the cartridges, I realised they were way too ‘new’ looking, so dirtied them up a bit.
Very pleased with the result, I moved on to more one piece replicas. Same process was followed, with the file ‘sliced’ then the plain plastic result painted to match the original. For some reason I decided to print a load of pistol grips, mainly due to the fact I found so many!
I was starting to find some other really interesting 3D files, but when I viewed them they turned out to be poor quality or just not accurate. However I then found a really good file for a 1:1 scale US grenade, printed in 4 parts. Fuze; Spoon; threaded bolt; body.
The really good thing about this print file is that I have 2 original US grenades that are missing the fuzes/spoons, but these 3D printed versions fit them perfectly! Anyway, the parts fitted together like a glove, but it’s no good not painting the grenade…..
Next file I found was a 1:1 scale US 60mm mortar bomb. This came in quite a few parts and took a long time to print, but well worth it.
Prior to printing these three, I had already printed one as a kind of ‘test’. I was very impressed with it but learnt something about the printer. When you get an STL file and go to slice it to make it printable, the orientation of the piece affects the print time. If you have any over-hangs, the printer has to include supports for these overhangs, so initially I was slicing files as they had been sent, as it was invariably the quickest print. However, doing it this way lead to an issue I soon learnt about. Printing a cylindrical body on its side leads to a vey visible set of ‘build lines’. The way the printer works is to build up very thin sections of melted plastic, but printing a cylindrical object sideways means the build lines are very visible. You can see them in my first print of a 60mm mortar.
As I said at the start of this blog, I am learning as I go!
I am still searching for more bits of ordnance to print. There are lots of files to print WW2 weapons out there, but many are either poor quality, or of too small a scale, or full scale including weapon parts which we know would be illegal to print. I have even found files for grenade discharger cups, but these too would be covered under the firearms act so I am steering well clear!
I did find one half decent file though, and as this is printed in one complete piece, with no ‘parts’ printed, is totally legal. It is, after all, just a model! I’ll get round to painting it soon…..
My venture into 3D printing has enhanced some of my WW2 originals, and given me plastic versions of quite a few others. I suppose my next step would be to make the CAD files myself, but that is for another day.
Of what I’ve done so far, I have to say the US grenades are the most spectacular. And the best bit? I reckon they cost me somewhere in the region of 45pence to print. Well worth the money!