When people ask me about 3D printing, invariably the subject of 3D printed guns comes up. Obviously, they have heard of the Liberator and I think it’s only the second most popular question I get asked, the first being “when are we going to have real replicators like in Star Trek?” But for all the drama surrounding 3D printed firearms, it is very easy to purchase a gun in America and even to make one at home with a milling machine. At least in my opinion, 3D printed firearms aren’t very practical or interesting, but I guess they have shock value. However, sometimes weapons can be things of real beauty and when properly designed a 3D printed weapon can be beautiful, too.
I recently saw a 3D printed crossbow hanging in the Greenpoint Gallery in Brooklyn, amidst a wall of abstract paintings. Grant Goldner, the designer of the crossbow, believes that weapons have a power that goes beyond their ability to kill. He believes the practice of target shooting with the crossbow can be a Zen experience. As Goldner explains:
“Why print a weapon? Aligning my bolt (arrow) to the distant target, I realized this indelible power is a tool for meditation, not an act of violence… now, what you choose to aim at may dissolve that logic. However, in target practice, like all other parts of life, if I can get past the immediate urge to pull the trigger and take a breath to properly align to the target, I reduce chances of injuring myself and hit closer on point.”
Goldner sees the crossbow as a union of both ancient and contemporary technologies, each with equally importance capabilities. His process of creating the crossbow was a marriage of modern and time honored techniques. The bow is hand tillered (carved) hickory while the stock is printed out of PLA. According to Goldner, the tillering process to carve the bow requires a tillering stick on which you mount the bow and pull down in increasing increments to determine if one side bends more than the other. If one side remains more stiff you remove material until an equal bend is achieved.
The rifle stock is printed in 5 sections, including the PLA trigger mechanism, which has shown no sign of wear regardless of being subjected to high stress. Golden predicts that the wooden bow would wear out before the trigger does. Printing the sections with their longest side vertically allowed him to increase strength of the crossbow. The print layers add compressive strength when the bow string is stretched over the individual sections.
“3D printing the crossbow allowed me to provide a human-centered design approach,” says Goldner. “The infill of the print maintains the structure yet creates an incredibly light weighted experience. The rifle stock was designed to fit my body. Countless cardboard forms were mocked up to find the perfect fit. Once dimensions were established they were transfered to Autodesk’s Fusion 360. The trigger grip is contoured to my palm while cradling my thumb. The butt of the stock is curved inwards to sit on my shoulder and elevates the cheek rest to reduce straining my neck.”
The designer’s enthusiasm for his creation certainly has me seeing this traditional weapon in a new light. His attention to detail and human-centered design is impressive. You can see more of his work on his website, including biomimicry designs including his humpback whale inspired surfboard fins. I expect we’ll be seeing many more inspired creations from this young designer.
Here’s a video of the crossbow in action and some images of the crossbow: