How to Build a Suppressor (and why you probably shouldn’t)
WARNING: Do NOT start building your own suppressor until you have paid the $200 tax stamp and received the completed and approved Form 1 back from the ATF.
The firearms industry has always been full of DIY projects. Really and truly, the vast majority of arms making the world over was, in one form or another, DIY for centuries until the proper technology and mechanization came along to modernize and streamline production. Gunsmiths used to need to be masters of their craft, spending years to perfect the process.
These days, the number of arms-related DIY projects are more plentiful and accessible than ever. Thanks to the internet, making your own legal suppressor is one of the projects that has gotten easier.
Obtaining a professionally made suppressor is an expensive and time-consuming process. (Silencer Central does, however, make it as quick and easy as possible. More on that at the end of this post.) If you think building your own suppressor is going to be a faster, easier, cheaper, and safer route than buying one from a company, we’d caution you to pump the brakes for a second and read this whole article first before making that decision.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
Building a DIY Suppressor Isn’t as Easy as You Think
Often, we associate “DIY” with something that’s super easy to do by anyone. While this is the case with most things, it’s not always the case with suppressors. Sure, there are some situations and people who have the right stuff and skills to do it properly themselves. We’re not saying that it can’t be done, but since the world of NFA items is fraught with potential legal issues, we’re saying it’s worth taking a good, long look at the process and the options out there before committing to the DIY option simply because it seems easier.
So now let’s take a look at some of the things you’ve got to take into consideration when determining if you’re going to go the DIY route with a suppressor or choose to buy one from a manufacturer or a dealer.
Paperwork and Legal Requirements
As we stated in the warning at the very top of this page, you should not start building your homemade suppressor until you’ve paid your tax and received an approved Form 1 back from the ATF. To be extra safe, we recommend that you not even purchase the parts or kit for making one until you have the necessary government approval. Better safe than sorry because penalties for possession of a silencer, including DIY ones, are steep if you don’t have ATF approval and that $200 tax stamp.
Federal guidelines call for a minimum sentence of 27 months in prison without the possibility of parole. It also carries a potential fine of $10,000. The maximum sentence, if the silencer possession coincided with possession of drugs with intent to distribute, is 30 years in prison without parole, and a $250,000 fine. (Note: we’re not saying you’re a drug dealer. Just pointing out how harsh the government can be about two things they really, really, don’t like: drugs and NFA items.)
Parts, Design, and Manufacturing
There are a wide variety of DIY suppressor kits on the market today. Some of them are well made and can be very reliable if finished properly. Unfortunately, the majority of them are not. Oftentimes, you’ll see these items being offered on various sale and auction sites for really cheap prices. This definitely has the potential to be a case of “you get what you pay for.”
It’s not uncommon for many of the sites or sellers of these things to change store names, alter product names, etc. in an attempt to stay one step ahead of any potential legal issues that may come their way. This alone should be a big red flag. After all, you don’t know the quality of the parts they made and there’s certainly no warranty.
If you’ve got some machining skills, you could also opt to take DIY to a whole new level by designing and manufacturing the entire thing yourself. This will take an extra degree of careful planning on your part to ensure that you’ve got a solid design that’s going to work properly once you’ve got an approved Form 1. It would be a huge bummer to spend the time and money getting everything in place only to build a can that doesn’t suppress properly.
At a minimum, you’re going to need a drill and some drill bits if you decide to build one of the kits. If you don’t have a drill or bits, that’s an extra cost. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s still extra. Those dollars can add up quickly if you’re not keeping track of the expenses.
If you’re going to 3D print your suppressor, then you’ll need the printer, software, and printing medium. All of those are extra costs, and they vary greatly. It could be as little as a few hundred or it could stretch into the thousands.
If you’re going to design and build your own suppressor from the ground up, then this is where you can incur the most unforeseen costs. You’ll need raw materials, a lathe, a drill press, a welder, and some other things as well. Unless you already have these things, that can add up to quite a lot of extra costs.
Another thing to consider with the cost is that there’s no warranty on a suppressor that you make yourself. Warranties in and of themselves don’t cost any extra, but not having one certainly does! If the can you build gets damaged or destroyed from a baffle strike or it sails downrange like a missile because of improper threading, that’s all on you. Sending it back to the manufacturer for repairs or replacement isn’t an option.
This means that in order to repair or replace your suppressor, you’re going to have to buy the materials or kit all over again and quite possibly have to pay for another $200 tax stamp and wait on the ATF again as well. On the plus side, you’ll already have the tools needed to do it, so that’s a plus in some ways.LET US TAKE CARE OF ALL THE HASSLE!
Still, Want to Build a Suppressor? Here’s What You Need to Do
If you’re still intent on building your own silencer, that’s great. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from making something yourself. So to help you on your journey, we’ll go over the basic steps necessary for doing so. It’s important to note that this is just an overview. If you have any specific or detailed questions, be sure to check with the ATF’s published guidelines as well as your state and local laws.
Give the ATF Its Dues
Just because you made the suppressor yourself doesn’t mean you’re exempt from completing the appropriate forms with the ATF. Homemade or not, a suppressor is still an NFA item and you have to follow their rules if you want to stay out of prison and avoid hefty fines.
When you buy a suppressor from a manufacturer, you’ll need to complete an ATF Form 4 and submit it for government approval. If you’re building your own suppressor, you’ll need to fill out similar paperwork, known as a Form 1, and submit it to the ATF.
ATF approval of a Form 4 is notoriously long. We’re talking 8-12 months in many cases. Thankfully, ATF approval of a Form 1 for a DIY silencer is much quicker. We’re talking only a few weeks to a month in many cases. Faster approval time is really the only benefit in this whole process versus buying a suppressor.
Just like a Form 4, your Form 1 will still require all of the normal information you’d expect to fill out, but it also requires you to input the specifics of the suppressor you intend to build. There are spaces for the model, caliber, overall length, and serial number.
You can be creative with the model and serial number if you want, but the serial number has to contain at least one letter and you cannot use any special characters.
Pay The $200 Tax
Just because you made the suppressor yourself doesn’t mean you’re exempt from paying the $200 NFA tax stamp. Just like buying a suppressor, you have to get a stamp for each and every suppressor you build yourself. Uncle Sam still wants his money, and if you don’t want to be a felon, you’d better give it to him. There’s no legal way around it. Sorry.
Decide How You’ll Construct It
The sky’s the limit here. And by sky, we mean your imagination and engineering and/or fabrication skills.
There are a lot of options for making your own silencer, but not all of them are equal in terms of safety, durability, and longevity. Some of the ones we’ve seen include:
- Complete from scratch with homemade machining, metal fabricating, and designs
- 3D printing your own or someone else’s design
- Heading to the hardware store and buying pieces of PVC, etc
- Retrofitting an actual oil or fuel filter
- Purchasing a so-called “solvent trap”
A quick search online will provide you with multiple sites that have parts and kits for sale, as well as a bunch of information, tips, tricks, hints, do’s and don’ts, and more from people who have gone through this process already.
It’s highly recommended that you take a look at other people’s DIY suppressors, ask lots of questions, and use their experiences like a lighthouse to avoid the dangerous rocks that they hit before you. A few extra minutes of research can save hours of headaches.
Acquire the Necessary Components
What you’ll need to complete your DIY suppressor will vary depending on how you decide to make it. If you bought a pre-made kit, you’ll need those parts and any tools they recommend.
If you’re building it from scratch, you’ll need to assemble a list of all the parts and tools you think you’ll need and head to the store to pick them up. (And let’s be honest, if you’re like most of us, you’ll end up making multiple trips to the store. We always forget that one thing!)
Of course, the most important component for your build is an approved Form 1 from the ATF. Without that, the rest of your components are useless. Well, OK, maybe not useless, but certainly illegal if you start piecing things together.
Complete the Actual Build
As we’ve mentioned before, under no circumstances should you build your suppressor before you receive an approved Form 1 from the ATF. Once you have that piece of paper and tax stamp in your possession, then – and only then – can you start building your new silencer.
Depending on what route you take, this could involve any number of steps and procedures.
If you buy one of the pre-made but undrilled solvent trap kits, now would be the time to set up your drill press with the right size drill bits and carefully drill the holes into each of the pieces that will become baffles. It is of utmost importance that you use the right size bit and drill in a straight line. Failure to do so could result in catastrophic failure at the range.
If you’re going the 3D printing route, now is the time to download the suppressor files, input them into the printer, and let it work some magic. Once printed, follow any necessary steps to complete your specific pattern of the build.
If you’re going to build a new silencer completely from scratch, this is the time to assemble all of your raw materials and tools to get to work. This option is recommended only to those who have previous machining and fabricating skills. While the phrase is “measure twice, cut once,” in this case, we’d recommend altering it to “measure thrice, cut once” just to be on the safe side.
No matter which option you choose to go with, there’s one step that they will all have in common: engraving. You must engrave the information you provided on your Form 1 onto your new suppressor. This includes things like the make, model, serial number, caliber, and your city and state. The engraving doesn’t have to be pretty or professional. It just has to be legible. Most people opt to use a handheld Dremel tool for this, but you can also use a laser or CNC if you have that available to you. The serial number must be marked to a depth of .003” and no smaller than 1/16”.
You can do everything right in the manufacturing process, but if you fail to engrave the proper information on your new silencer – including doing it to the right depth and size – then all of that effort will have been for nothing because you still have an unregistered silencer.
The NFA has been subject to multiple reinterpretations by the ATF in recent years. It’s frustrating, for sure, but that’s what we’ve got to work with right now. The very concept of 80%-anything in the firearms industry is under heavy scrutiny right now, and it’s unclear what the future may hold for these kinds of products. What is clear, though, is that purchasing a completed silencer from a dealer or manufacturer has never been disputed under the NFA. (Fingers crossed that it never does.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the websites that sell these DIY kits are based overseas. Purchasing these kits exposes you to potential charges of illegal importation of a silencer. This is rare, but it does happen from time to time.
One case from March 2020 involved a man in New Mexico who bought components online from overseas and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted the package at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. Agents opened the package because the Chinese company that sent it was known to ship silencers into the U.S. illegally.
To Buy or Build? For Most, It’s No Question
If you’re a huge fan of DIY projects and you think you’re up to the challenge of legally building your own silencer, then by all means, go for it!
If, however, you’re like the majority of silencer owners, then your best option is to buy a completed silencer from a reputable company. This is where Silencer Central comes into the picture.
We’ve been in this business for more than 15 years and our top-notch staff can help you pick the right can for your needs. We’ll walk you through our super-easy ordering process and even set you up on an interest-free payment plan if you’d like. Plus, once your stamp is approved, we’ll mail your new suppressor right to your door!SHOP SILENCERS TODAY!