How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate

Rich M.
By Rich M. March 7, 2019 08:45

How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate

In a way, I’ve always had a fascination with “bulletproof vests” ever since I first heard of them as a kid. My appreciation for them has matured over the years, as well as my understanding of them. Now I know that there is nothing that is truly “bullet-proof,” but rather bullet resistant. There’s always a bigger, faster, more powerful bullet out there that can make it through any armor you can come up with.

This has been the battle of the ages, since long before guns were invented. The contest between armor and armament brought us the great suits of armor from the Middle Ages. But it has also brought the flack jackets of the Vietnam era, as well as the improved ballistic armor we have today.

With this constant race, it’s no wonder that individuals and companies are constantly working to see if they can come up with a better ballistic armor. In the case of the companies, this is obviously for sale; but in the case of individuals, it’s survival they have in mind. Although… I have to say that I’m not sure how well some of these inventors are going to come out in the Darwin awards; you know… survival of the fittest.

Such was the case of an armor composite I saw a few years ago, which used a combination of denim and construction adhesive. Even though it supposedly worked for the guy who made the video, from my own testing, I’d say the only thing that particular attempt will do is ensure that the coroner finds denim fibers and traces of construction adhesive in the wound, along with lead and copper.

But I can’t say the same about the latest combination of materials that came across my desk. This was a combination of ceramic tile, stainless steel and fiberglass. I decided I needed to test this one out.

How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Materials

Making the Armor

What intrigued me about this particular combination was that the materials that this inventor chose materials that have all been successfully used in ballistic armor before. The innovative part here was that he chose to use them together.


A number of different successful ballistic armor designs have been done with ceramic plates installed.

Three-quarter inch thick ceramic plates, over Level IIIA soft body armor is considered effective for Level III armor against rifles. The big problem is usually dealing with the weight.

How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Ceramis & duct tape

What I did was to use ¼” thick ceramic floor tile, which is what is commonly used in DIY body armor. Rather than using a grid of 2” square tiles, I chose a single 6” square tile, as I was only planning on firing one test shot at it. The idea of using 2” square tiles is common, because the ceramic tends to shatter in a spiderweb pattern when shot.

In expectation of this shattering, I covered the front side of the ceramic tile with a layer of duct tape, so as to attempt to hold the pieces together as much as possible. I didn’t bother covering the back side, as that side of the tile is not smooth, so the tape would not stick well. I fully expected this tile to be shattered, without doing more than slowing the bullet slightly.

Related: What To Do When Gun Control Gets Really Bad


Ballistic chest plates are made of a special ballistic steel, formulated for the purpose. A ¼” thick ballistic steel plate over Level IIIA armor is also considered to be effective as Level III armor against light rifle fire. In my own testing I was able to shoot a 5.56mm rifle round through a ¼” ballistic steel plate, which would tend to invalidate it for body armor. However, the steel lowered the velocity of the slug to the point where it was trapped in the layers of Kevlar backing it; so it was successful.

I have never heard of stainless steel being used for any sort of ballistic armor. Compared to regular steel, stainless steel has the addition of chromium (think chrome plating) to resist rusting. The actual mixture of steel, chromium and other minerals varies, depending on the grade of stainless steel.

For this testing, I am using a 0.024” thick or 24 gauge piece of 304 stainless. This is a low-grade stainless steel, known in the automotive industry as “muffler stainless” because that is what it is commonly used for. I didn’t have high hopes for it.


Fiberglass is actually an amazing material, where ballistics are concerned. It has several advantages to it, including that multiple layers of material are used. With multiple layers, the bullet has to pierce each layer individually, even though they are all bound together by the fiberglass resin or epoxy. In the process of breaking through each layer, some energy is lost, making it harder for the bullet to break through the next layer.

Bulletproof safe rooms are actually made using fiberglass panels. Typically, 1 ¼” of fiberglass is used, made up of three 3/8” thick panels. Using multiple panels like this allows the installer to offset the seams, improving the ballistic protection that the fiberglass provides.

For the purpose of this test, I made a panel using 30 layers of 200g fiberglass cloth, bound together with fiberglass resin. This gave me a panel that was 0.035” thick. The main reason I chose 30 layers, is that I’ve shot 24 layers before and I know that a 9mm bullet will penetrate that much. However, it won’t penetrate 45 layers.

How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Making FiberglassWhen making any sort of ballistic plate out of fiberglass, it is necessary to paint the resin onto each layer individually, as it is added to the stack. This is to ensure that all the layers are fully wetted and there are no air bubbles in the stack. I’ve seen people stack up their fiberglass cloth and just pour in the resin, but this almost always results in creating air bubbles.

As you can see from the picture below, I made my panel oversize (8” square) then cut it down to size. The material underneath the fiberglass is plastic food wrap, which I taped to my workbench, in lieu of using any sort of a mold. The particular plastic wrap I am using is a freezer wrap, which is coated on one side. That makes it easy to peel off the finished panel.

Testing the Panel

The specifications for ballistic body armor levels come from the National Institute of Justice and provide specific rounds that are to be fired at the body armor in testing for each level. The most common of these is the 9mm, although different levels specify different muzzle velocities. In addition to the 9mm, traveling at 1400 fps, level IIIA also specifies testing with a .44 magnum semi-jacketed hollow point, traveling at 1400 fps. As I don’t own a .44 magnum, I chose to use only the 9mm.

From previous testing, I can state that the 9mm has greater penetrating power than any other caliber of pistol round, other than the FM FiveseveN. However, in all fairness to the 9mm, the FM FiveseveN is basically the same bullet as the 5.56mm NATO, on a shorter cartridge for use in pistols. It was developed specifically for the purpose of defeating ballistic body armor, and is therefore known as the “mata policia,” which is Spanish for “kill police.”

As a general rule of thumb, ballistic armor is said to be compromised once it has been hit by one round. Therefore, my intention was to test it with only one round. As it was, I fired two rounds at it, because it was the first time I had used that particular pistol; therefore, my first shot was on the edge of the plate.

Fortunately, I have a very good relationship with the owners of my local shooting range, so they allow me to do all sorts of strange things, like testing these panels, without question.

Related: Emergency Care For Gunshot Wounds

Test Results

Let me begin by saying that I was a bit surprised by the test results I had. I was fully expecting the 9mm round to penetrate the ceramic and stainless steel and get trapped in the fiberglass. However, the round was actually stopped by the stainless steel, which I hadn’t thought was thick enough to stop it.

Here’s the front of the panel (on the left), where you can see the penetration of the bullet into the ceramic tile.How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Testing - PenetrationThis is the back side of the ceramic tile (on the right), showing the typical spiderweb cracking pattern. You can easily seen where the bullet passed through it.

For ceramic to be effective as a ballistic material, I believe it would have to be mixed with something fibrous, much like fiberglass.

One option I’ve thought of for years, is to use something like wire screening material, allowing the screen to act much like rebar does in cement.

However, to do any testing of this type would require having my own kiln for firing the plates, as no one else is willing to fire them for me.

How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Testing - Stainless Steel

Here’s the stainless steel plate, showing the indentation of the bullet. Surprisingly, it only deformed the plate by about 5/16” and did not penetrate through it.

The second indentation, on the right side, is from the shot that hit the edge of the plate.

Finally, here’s the fiberglass panel and the back side of the stainless steel panel, together.

You can easily see how the two align, and that the force of the bullet’s flight passed through the stainless steel and into the fiberglass, even though the bullet didn’t. That’s why the fiberglass is discolored. The discoloration is actually showing the part of the panel that is delaminated from the force of the blow.How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate -Testing - Fiberglass & Stainless

Fiberglas Alone

I didn’t bother testing the fiberglass plate alone, as I had done so in previous tests. Besides, my fiberglass panel was already compromised, because of the impact of the bullet delaminating the fiberglass layers.

However, as you can see in the front and rear pictures below from that previous testing, a ½” thick fiberglass plate will stop a 9mm round. The delamination showing in the rear picture (on the right) is from the 9mm round, not the .44 mag; due to the greater penetration of the 9mm.How To Make Bulletproof Body Armor Plate - Testing - Fiberglass - frontWhile I personally think I’ll stick with my Kevlar body armor that I made, it looks from this testing that either stainless steel or fiberglass can effectively be used for making improvised body armor.

If I was to actually need this armor, I think I would do a bit more testing, just to make sure that this test wasn’t just an anomaly.

Another interesting thought that this brings up is that a suit of medieval plate armor, made of 24 gauge stainless steel or greater, would probably be pretty effective against pistol rounds.

It would be slightly heavier than steel armor, but only by about 4 percent. Again, I’m not sure I’d want to bet my life on it, but the possibility of it working is at least interesting enough for further exploration. I just might have to try that some day.

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Rich M.
By Rich M. March 7, 2019 08:45
Write a comment


  1. PB- dave March 7, 15:01

    Having worked up-armor projects for the gov’t, the article was a little remedial for me, however, it is good food for thought for those looking to build a safe-room or beefing up the front side of your home from street spray in less than peaceful villages ….. like Chicago.

    Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck March 7, 15:36

    While NIJ considers body armor that has been shot just once to be compromised and therefore should be discarded, I would suspect that other areas of the plate, away from the impact area would not be compromised. In addition, even if the plate has a defect in it from impact, in an EOTW situation, a compromised plate is better than no plate at all. Even if a projectile were to strike the previous impact point in exactly the same spot, traveling at exactly the same angle, it would still be slowed down by the resistance of the edges of the hole so that it would not penetrate as deeply as if fired against your unprotected body. In an EOTW situation where I could not replace the plate, I would not just discard it as no good any longer just because it has been hit a couple of times.

    I have experimented with table saw blades to see if they were effective in stopping bullets. I can report that they are not. Only the teeth of a table saw blade are hardened. The rest of the disc is mild steel and even a .38 special at 50 yards will easily penetrate a table saw blade. They might be useful for protection against ricochets or shrapnel but a straight on shot penetrates like a hot knife through butter.

    I did not try a penetration test with .22 long rifle ammunition. It may be they will stop a .22 long rifle, certainly not any of the center fire .22s and maybe not even .22 WMR or .17 Hornady.

    Reply to this comment
  3. TheSouthernNationalist March 7, 15:46

    This article reminded me of what my basic law enforcement trainer said at the firing range about “bullet proof vests vs a shotgun slug” he said, “The only thing a bullet proof vest will do against a shotgun slug is slow it down a wee bit”.

    Reply to this comment
  4. phil March 7, 15:52

    The test should be repeated several times. as I have shot a 9mm at a plastic soda bottle (2Litre) from apx. 30 ft., and the bullet was inside the plastic bottle.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Art March 7, 16:40

    9mm is not the most effective penetrating round. .38 Super, .357 SIG, .357 magnum, 10mm, 41 magnum, etc. are just some of the handgun cartridges that will way out perform 9×19 in penetration. 9mm(9×19) is only more effective than larger diameter slow moving bullets like .44Special, .45 Colt, .45 ACP, etc. It is mainly a matter of sectional density. OTOH those big diameter bullets if heavy enough and moved fast enough will penetrate any known light body armor. Note that big heavy bullets even when they don’t fully penetrate the body armor can still cause massive bodily injury.

    Reply to this comment
    • young prepper March 8, 17:35

      i thought .38 super was a relatively low caliber cartridge,or am i thinking of .38 special?

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck March 9, 06:19

        .38 special has a poor reputation because for so many years that it was the main firearm carried by police departments all across the country loaded with 158 grain led round nose bullets. They would penetrate, but left didn’t leave much of a wound channel. We had a case at the district legal office where a sailor involved in a robbery was shot in the chest with a .38. It was a through and through wound but didn’t really hurt him. 3 x 3 gauze patch on front and back and he was good to go off to the brig on Treasure Island.

        The .38 super was built to field a round for law enforcement that would penetrate the body of an automobile and perhaps even damage the engine block. It is a high velocity round. The usual muzzle velocity of the .38 special is about 850 fps. I don’t recall the muzzle velocity of the .38 super but it was above 1000 feet per second.

        Reply to this comment
        • Art March 9, 21:18

          Actually the .38 Super (or Colt Super .38 as it was originally marketed) was touted to be the ultimate outdoorsman’s defensive field pistol capable of stopping bears and lions. It was a little later that LEOs found that the high velocity rounds could penetrate the body armor (of the time) and the auto bodies of the time. Colt did not specifically create the round for that purpose.

          Reply to this comment
      • Art March 9, 21:04

        .38 Super velocities will better 9mm with the same weight bullet 200+ fps.

        Reply to this comment
  6. Randman March 7, 16:44

    IMHO, it comes down to weight. If you are serious about a vest, I would look into Kevlar chaps that are used by loggers and using them on the front and back side of 2″ phone books. Make pockets for the phone books to slide into so you can swap them out or use any other impact deadening material you can find when SHTF.. Ceramic tiles can shatter and cause multiple wound cavities. Better yet, drop the SOB before he dials you in. 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  7. Contrails March 7, 16:47

    There was an attempted bank robbery years ago in Southern California. The robbers wore layers of Kevlar (as I remember) and were able to leisurely walk around shooting at the police, although hit several times from police gunfire. This seemed pretty effective body protection but I don’t know if the police used anything more than a .38 revolver. Thoughts?

    Reply to this comment
    • Art March 7, 20:05

      “North Hollywood Shootout” 1997.
      Initial police contact was with .38 Special revolvers, 9mm pistols, and 12 gauge shotguns. None of those weapons penetrated the armor. However serious wounds were inflicted to buttocks, legs and hands of the perps.

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck March 7, 22:07

      That was known as the North Hollywood shoot-out. The bank robbers had flak jackets that they were wearing. I don’t know the composition and it was not mentioned in the news that I saw, just that they had body armor. At that time body armor was pretty primitive.

      The cops were shooting from some distance away with their duty 9 mm sidearms and shotguns. That was before they were nominally armed with .223/5.56 type rifles.

      As a matter of fact, several cops raced over to a large gun shop in North Hollywood and the shop owner lent several .223/5.556 rifles to the cops with mags and ammo. It was those guns that finally killed the bad guys, although they had sustained life ending wounds prior to the final shootout which was televised live. I watched it unfold. The cops were disorganized and didn’t put up a very good offense against the bad guys, both of whom were reputed to be high on drugs from the autopsy report.

      The bad guys had modified AKs to be full automatic and sported multiple 30 round mags. They mostly sprayed and prayed. A lot of the shooting was done at 50 or more yards.

      A final ironic note, the owner of the gun shop lost his shop because the BATF as it was then known decided that he had lent the rifles to the cops in contravention of federal law. It was a very large gun shop that I used to frequent often. It actually was one of the larger gun shops in SoCal.

      The bad guys were finally shot point blank by .223/5.56 rifles and that ended their criminal career. There was some controversy about the cops letting the bad guys bleed out on the street. As you can imagine, they were low on the priority list for care by first responders. Cops and civilians got treated first and then the bad guys, by which point they had bled out. Golly, gee, who wudda thot that the bad guys would be the last ones to get treated for GSWs at the scene of a mass shooting.

      The grieving parents alleged that the cops were prejudiced against their loving sons. Well, duh! If you shoot at me, I probably would not be favorably disposed towards you and if you managed to hit me or some friends of mine I really would not be favorably disposed. I suspect human nature kinda runs that way.

      I don’t recall if the parents got any money. I hope not.

      I don’t recall any reports of whether the pistol rounds penetrated the armor or not. I suspect a 9mm from 50 or more yards would not penetrate even level II body armor. A hot .44 mag from 100 meters which is a little more than 100 yards sometimes will not move a 60 pound ram off a steel rail unless the ram is hit just right. The wounds that were described as fatal were artery severing rounds through the arms and legs. Pumped with adrenaline and drugs, the bad guys probably didn’t even realize that they were hit.

      I just finished reading an account of the Florida shootout with the FBI and one of the bad guys had his brachial artery severed and his lung punctured in the first few minutes of the gun fight but he managed to kill a couple of the FBI boys and wound others until he and his buddy finally were shot dead at point blank range by one of the wounded FBI boys with his .357 mag revolver loaded with .38 sp. P+ ammo.

      The North Hollywood shootout is still talked about among SoCal l.e.o.s. It was a damned shame about the owner of the gun store versus the BATF, but they had more lawyers on payroll than he could afford. I guess just proves no good deed goes unpunished.

      Reply to this comment
      • Mike March 8, 03:56

        I believe that the one walking and still shooting was killed by a shot to the lower leg just above the ankle by an officer shooting under a car. Mike

        Reply to this comment
        • left coast chuck March 8, 04:27

          My recollection twenty some years later is that he was driving away and was killed by officers heading his car off and killing him with rifles when he exited. He ended up laying back by the trunk in the street where the cops left hims for some period of time until the EMTs got through with everybody else and by that time if he was alive after he was downed by the car, he had bled out. His parents alleged that he was alive after being downed and if the EMTs had treated him sooner he would have survived. Of course, my recollection could be totally in error. I would really have to see the videos of the event again to be absolutely clear on the whole thing.

          Some of the cops were shooting from under their cars and my recollection is that is what put the first guy down in front of where they made their initial stand.

          Reply to this comment
      • WAP December 27, 01:05

        The store owner should have had the PD officers that used the rifles declare that they “commandeered” the rifles… Sad the BATF is still in existence… Criminal organization.

        Reply to this comment
      • john_atlanta March 5, 04:07

        I never knew the gunshop owner lost his license over that, pure insanity! I will have to go read up about that.

        How can he regret it, his actions saved countless lives. So, basically the bad guys destroyed everything they managed to touch.

        Reply to this comment
    • The Ohio Prepper March 7, 22:33

      That incident was infamous and the details and video were known even back here in the east. As I recall, the would be robbers were using AK’s and the police only had their .38 Special and 9mm, used to no real effect. A few of the officers hit a local gun store whose owners loaned them some AR-15’s an ammunition, and this finally level the field enough to stop the incident. I think that shortly after that incident, some officers received training and started carrying AR’s in the trunks of some vehicles. As a long time shooter, firearms instructor and NRA member, I remember this incident specifically because the Anti gun crowd was using it to denigrate “Assault Weapons” and body armor for civilians, while the pro gun side pointed out how effective those AR’s were to stop the bad guys. I think there was a follow-up movie based on that 1997 North Hollywood shootout

      Reply to this comment
    • Damonzach March 9, 11:00

      Bet that was the west Hollywood shootout f.y.i., both guys died one from head shot and one from a leg wound, he bleed out if that’s the right robbery

      Reply to this comment
  8. young prepper March 7, 17:40

    now i know full well that knives are rarely used for attacks (at least in free states). but none the less, i do also realize that an assailant wielding a knife is still a threat if it were to occur,so i built some pierce-resistant body armor, out of something you could find in practically any classroom or any household. it takes a reem of paper (not the whole reem) some duct tape (electrical tape would be effective as well since its only to hold the plate together but duct tape is best because its stronger and you can use less) and a three ring binder. if you take a knife and stab a notebook you’ll see just how resistant paper is (paper is basically very thin sheets of wood if you didnt know) so all you have to do is cut the two sheets off of the sides of the three ring binder,take a good few sheets of paper (paper is cheap, you can just stab an open notebook to see how many sheets it’d take to save someone from your force) and lay (i used like 60-70) sheets of paper on one of the sheets from the binder,cover with the other sheet,and tape it all together.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck March 7, 22:18

      You don’t have to use good paper. You can use magazines and glue them together with Elmer’s white glue and achieve the same thing. I think that magazine sheets would be more resistant to knife thrusts than 20 pound bond. Glossy magazine paper is clay coated to give it that slick finish. Plain office paper is not coated. Using glue takes a little more time, than duct tape. I experimented with magazines at the same time I was experimenting with the saw blades.

      I wanted to use cheap, readily available materials to see if I could do what the author of this article did. Laminating 30 sheets of fiber glass seems like a lot of work. Perhaps in an EOTW situation when that might be all that is at hand, it would be a handy expedient, but before then, it is quicker and easier to buy steel plates that are rated to level IIIA.

      One thing you have to be aware of in the purchase of plates is that they have anti-spalled coating on them. When a round hits a steel plate, small fragments of the plate break off and fragments of the round can ricochet. Those fragments can be deadly. Good quality body armor has an anti-spalled coating on it which cuts down on ricochets from the rounds and the plate itself.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Storm March 7, 21:50

    It would be very interesting to know the results of remade bullet tips using CA and baking soda. There are ways in the home shop to make very symmetrically tipped bullets and using some of those techniques make very accurate rounds in various shapes for experimentation of accuracy and body armor penetration using the handgun loads, …I am sure what I am talking about is against federal and state regulations. In shtf situations when all law is gone, I guess home rules prevail. We have manual loader equipment and ca glue and baking soda should be in the stock room.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck March 8, 00:06

      I wonder if you could explain the process your are talking about a little bit better.

      CA in the periodic table is calcium. I don’t know if you are referring to calcium or not. The only other thing that CA stands for in my limited experience is California.

      I don’t know what ca glue is nor how it reacts with baking soda to make a tip on a bullet that would stand up to impact let alone be armor piercing. I sure would like to know what the process is that you talked about.

      Reply to this comment
    • Mike March 8, 04:06

      I’ve found that .556 55grn FMG will at 100 yds. blow a clean hole, as if a drill bit was used, through 1/4″ steel plate. Not AR plate but regular steel. Green tips though a little more costly are 62 grns. and have a steel shank which gives more penetration as apposed to cooking up a concoction. Mike

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck March 8, 04:53

        Yes, the reason we can still buy green tip ammo is because it is called “penetrator” ammunition as opposed to “armor piercing” although the difference to me is lawyerese.

        I was readying an article today by Jeff Knox, son of Neil Knox wherein he talks about the black tip ban and the green tip controversy which I must admit at this point I remember nothing.

        I do remember that we used to be able to buy black tip ammo which in U.S. military .30-06 was true amor piercing ammo. It had a tungsten carbide core which would pierce steel easily. If one worked the butts in the Marine Corps during the 50s and early 60s, one could find the cores laying around in the butts on occasion.

        In fact, although I had heard of ball ammo, I never saw any ball .30-06 military ammo until I was a civilian firing DCM matches. Everything we used in the Marine Corps back then as far as I was concerned was all black tip AP.

        While I have never bisected a green tip round, my understanding is that it is just a steel sleeve over the lead core. It is much like the ComBlock steel ammo. It is like a sleeve over the lead core. Some call it a bi-metal bullet. I am not sure that is accurate, but I am also unsure what else to call it.

        I have managed to hit my steel target frames on occasion firing at 100 years with Russian 7.62x54R steel core or bimetal rounds and they blow through the front of the square steel frame with a hole about .30 caliber but blow through the back of the steel frame with about a .45 caliber hole.

        Level IIIA is supposed to withstand that impact, but I’ll bet you sure are sore and stiff the next day even if it doesn’t penetrate through to your body. I would suspect that even with adrenaline pumping through your system you would be out of the fight for a while.

        Does anyone know what “Storm” was talking about in his post? Or am I the only one who doesn’t have a clue? It sure would help if folks would expand their replies instead of posting a cryptic comment and then never coming back again.

        I agree with Mike that using green tip if one needs penetration is in all likelihood far superior to something you whip up out in the shed but I am still curious what he was talking about.

        Reply to this comment
        • young prepper March 12, 17:50

          first off,thank you for your service to the country
          and second,i have no idea either

          Reply to this comment
        • Storm March 12, 21:27

          Well, sorry about not realizing that Super Glue was not also known as CA Glue. (cyanoacrylate glue).
          The realm of model making uses the term CA Glue.
          Just for giggles and grins take some Cyanoacrylate Glue – Super Glue – and put some on a plastic lid and add some Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) to it and watch what happens in about 30 seconds or less.
          There is no bang, boom, or explosion just the combination turning rock hard.
          A little imagination and some experimenting could prove interesting both in armor and armor penetration.
          Just a thought for experimenting.

          Reply to this comment
  10. Dawnbreak March 8, 06:20

    Get real armor. Don’t skimp on it and get cheap shit. You’ll regret it when a rifle round hits it.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck March 8, 15:25

      Sarco Inc. has full suits of armor with helm, shield and spear for only $1200.00. However, it is 80 inches tall, so a shorty like me would be lost in it. If you are interested, their website is I imagine that shipping is extra.

      There is an illustration of the armor on page 78 of the current edition of Firearms News.

      Reply to this comment
    • ST July 22, 07:40

      Reconditioned armor is available and relatively inexpensive for those on a tight budget.

      Reply to this comment
  11. James Houk March 9, 08:03

    Years ago I got the state of New Jersey to pay me unemployment while I apprenticed in a shop hand crafting medieval style armor. I made barding for horses out of 304 stainless as horse sweat tends to rapidly corrode both hot and cold rolled steel. It also looks nice and shiny to the general public who don’t know anything about armor any way.

    (historic note: the white (bare metal) armor of the high middle ages was made possible by the exploitation of iron deposits in Southern Germany that contained enough chromium and other elements to qualify as a sort of semi-stainless.)

    304 is far easier to form into complex shapes than most stainless steels and it will work harden when you hammer on it enough. 304 is more forgiving than other stainless but it will still split if you hammer in sharp creases or grooves to make Gothic style armor so I usually reinforced fluting using stainless steel wire in in a wire feed welder. The heat from this procedure also provided some annealing of the stainless that had work hardened at these high stress points.

    You should be warned that trying to shape stainless is a real bitch because of the springiness. You have to hit much harder with stainless to reach the deformation point and fatigue and carpel tunnel issues take their toll.

    Working in 304 is made more difficult by the fact that using standard hammers on stainless transfers enough iron particles to the stainless that it can lose the stainless thing and start to rust. Bummer.

    Stainless also tends to destroy iron and steel hammers used to shape it (both the heads and the handles suffer) This leaves plastic hammers which tend to be lighter so you have to hit harder.

    Making hammers out of the Lexan stock they use for night sticks works acceptably. Lexan is a hard, heavy plastic that holds up fairly well. A drill press or milling machine can be used to form the hole for the handle. Make slightly undersized and then carefully file to fit the handle you intend to custom fit. Sloppy fits do not last very long. Some flex in the handle is desirable as the Lexan is not forgiving and has a nasty tendency to transmit the vibrations to your hand, wrist and arm.

    I strongly suggest that you do not try to break an 1 1/2 inch shaft of Lexan over a large anvil. We used to sucker strong boys being fitted for their armor into trying this experiment. frequently the transmitted vibration locked their hands shut and they vibrated in place like Wile E. Coyote. Once again hello carpel tunnel.

    This brings us to the proper sizing and fitting of armor. The armor of today is far more 4 or 5 sizes fits all than medieval style plate which works best if individually fitted by an experienced armorer.

    The armor systems used in the best armors of the 1500’s and 1600s were the result of centuries of trial and error development.and were very different from the off the shelf breastplates issued to ceremonial guards and the like. Different arrangements of plates were specifically built for different types of combat conditions and tournament armor usually had additional pieces to make the basic armor more suitable for the different events.

    It is not always true that some armor is better than no armor. There is always a trade off between mobility and the ability to shrug off damage. If the armor is too thin to stop the threat then one is usually better off without the weight of the armor. Of course this must be tempered with a true understanding of the threat.

    During the Vietnam War the Marines forced their men to wear flack jackets while most army units were much more lax. The armor was hot, bulky and did not stop an AK-47 round. Statistical evidence showed that the Marines had far fewer soldiers wounded in combat than the Army because the real threat was not AK-47’s but relatively slow moving fragments that the vests did an acceptable job of stopping.

    As to the ceramic plates used in armor systems it is important to remember that not all ceramics are equivalent where armor is concerned. Ceramics made to stop bullets are different than the ceramics made as floor tiles,

    Over 25 years ago I wanted to make flexible barding for police horses and police dogs that would stop 7.62 military rounds. I discovered the ceramic and Kevlar blankets used to protect special warheads in transit had the specifications I sought but the amount of blanket necessary to protect a police horse from 7.62 AP would have weighed over 200 pounds.

    The plates in this balistic blanket were made of a very special ceramic by a ceramic factory in Golden Colorado run by the Coor’s family.

    I am not joking. They make more then beer. My research indicated that this company also made the ceramic “bathtub” armor that surrounds the cockpit of the A–10 ground support aircraft.

    It is possible to cast and fire curved ceramic armor and other high precision ceramics. That is what the Coors Company spent years learning to do well. In theory an artist skilled in creating and firing ceramics could learn to create small batches provided the proper materials for making ceramic armor could be obtained. This would no doubt be expensive in time and labor.

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    • left coast chuck March 10, 02:31

      Thank you for a very interesting and informative post.

      I actually learned two new words with this post. Barding which is armor covering horses and bard is bacon put on a piece of meat before roasting. To bard a roast is to cover it with bacon.

      Bard meaning armoring for a horse is from Old French “barde” which is from Arabic. At least that is according to The New Oxford American Dictionary. I had never in all my reading and time in court heard the term before.

      The thought I had upon reading the original article was that the ceramic tile might better survive the hit if it were covered on two sides with epoxied fiberglass rather than duct tape.

      In any event, the NRA is selling 8 x 13 level III plates for $70 a piece to members. They are designed to fit into back packs, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t fit into a plate carrier. Not as much protection as IIIA plates, but better than fooling around with fiberglass and ceramic tile, in my opinion. The plates are NIJ certified to level III which will stop most handgun rounds. I think the FN7 round will penetrate III and perhaps even IIIA. It was specifically designed to defeat body armor. Like the medieval arms race, better body armor, better weapons, even better body armor even better weapons, and so on and so on until everybody said, “It’s too much hassle, just move faster.”

      Actually body armor continued into WWI with some cavalry units wearing cuirasses. However, fast firing cannon and machine guns inflicted such heavy casualties on the cavalry that they soon preferred to attack on foot as opposed to sitting up high in the air on a horse. At the same time they dropped the shiny cuirasses in favor of mud colored khaki.

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      • The Ohio Prepper March 10, 07:20

        left coast chuck,

        In any event, the NRA is selling 8 x 13 level III plates for $70 a piece to members. They are designed to fit into back packs, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t fit into a plate carrier.

        As a long time NRA member, I don’t know how I missed this and it’s an opportunity I think I will look in to. Thanks for the mention.

        Like the medieval arms race, better body armor, better weapons, even better body armor even better weapons, and so on and so on until everybody said, “It’s too much hassle, just move faster.”

        At which point we invented the airplane. It’s interesting how many amazing inventions were developed for fighting or defending. A hostile armed neighbor is a great incentive to innovate.

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  12. Bill March 10, 04:37

    I really enjoyed reading this article and all the responses.

    While I’m not sure I’d make this to wear, I could see having all the supplies on hand to make door panels for the current vehicles you own if the world starts spinning out of control. Hang the panels on the inside and you have a thin steel door/window and the homemade panel between you and the bad guys.

    Not great, but much better than nothing.

    I think I’d have a tiny hole where the door handle is, and run a thin steel cable through it and loop it around the handle and all you have to do is pull on the cable and open the door should you need to exit the vehicle quickly.

    Maybe even make a few heavy duty panels and set them against the inside wall of your home, where you have determined that you’ll have a fighting position. Walls in homes won’t stop much, but adding these could make all the difference.

    It would be fun to build a mock wall and then see what it takes to stop certain rounds from making it through. It would also be MUCH easier and faster to move and place these panels, than say sand bags.

    I also wonder if you could lay tile and wire mesh down in with the fiberglass and pour your resin on it and more fiberglass and so on and create layers?

    I think I’d also make a large box to build the panels in and make it as airtight as possible and put a vacuum pump on it to suck out all the air bubbles. Some heavy wood, caulk, and plastic on the outside should make it airtight enough for building these.

    I hope to see more articles on this sort of thing. Keep up the great work.

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    • The Ohio Prepper March 10, 07:13


      Maybe even make a few heavy duty panels and set them against the inside wall of your home, where you have determined that you’ll have a fighting position. Walls in homes won’t stop much, but adding these could make all the difference.

      True and some type of penetration barrier is one of those things we’ve been pondering over for years.

      It would be fun to build a mock wall and then see what it takes to stop certain rounds from making it through. It would also be MUCH easier and faster to move and place these panels, than say sand bags.
      Back in the 1990’s we were teaching a lot of firearms classes and did something similar, as a penetration demonstration for the students. We mounted a 2 ½ inch solid core door on a stand and fired various projectiles at it. 00 buck made a hole for another door handle; but, everything except the .25 ACP cleared the door and even it left a sideways impression on the back side of the door as it very nearly escaped. This was a demonstration on the difference between cover and concealment, and I think all of us were impressed with the outcome.
      Our main plan for now is to keep some 55 gallon plastic drums on hand, so they could be placed against the wall and quickly filled with water. While they will only survive a few penetrations, they will stop nearly any small arms fire at least a few times before they leak to empty. We’ve tried this and it works rather well.

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      • left coast chuck March 11, 01:33

        Ohio Preppier: Fifty-five gallon buckets filled with sand would stop bullets better and take more hits than a bucket of water. Of course, a water bucket could serve the secondary purpose of water storage. Darn! There just are no perfect solutions. I have read some place that sand is the best medium for stopping bullets. Don’t know who decided that or what tests were used in order to arrive at that determination, so there it is to accept or reject. I think it is something like kevlar. The bullet doesn’t actually penetrate, but loses energy faster trying to push the sand out of the way. There probably is some physics involved or some law of motion which is why I don’t understand the why’s of it. Or maybe it is just an urban legend.

        Of course, moving a 55 gallon container filled with either sand or water would be a major undertaking. Filled with water you are probably talking about 450 pounds. I think sand might be lighter than water, but I wouldn’t bet my retirement on it.

        I too have considered garbage cans filled with sand as bullet barriers but haven’t reached a firm — oh, heck, admit it. Just haven’t gotten around to it. So many project, so little time.

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    • ST September 21, 16:10

      I have some ideas for making the front of a home more resistant. Jersey Barriers are ugly, but relatively inexpensive, and with a little work, can be disguised. Gabions can be ugly or pretty depending on ingredients, and can also be disguised. Large concrete planters, same. Really, anything with mass that resists the elements will help stop the hot lead of a drive-by. Firewood, decorative boulders, berms. Any material you add to the house itself should catch what these exterior barriers did not.

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  13. Ben May 18, 04:32

    I was thinking of how to make good body armor and would a 1/2 of hot tar after it was formed slow down a bullet enough to stop on a 1/4 inch of steel?

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  14. James May 18, 07:18

    Tar over 1/4 inch plate would be heavy even with a very good harness. Steel weighs 489 pounds per cubic foot Tar weighs 72 pounds per cubic foot. assuming torso Armor with a surface area of 8 square feet you would have around 81 pounds of steel plus 24 pounds of tar. You would then have to add at least 5 pounds of harness and packaging so the Torso armor alone would weigh in at around 110 pounds.

    But your real question is would it work?
    would it stop a .22? yes
    would it stop a .223? maybe, if hit at an angle.
    Would it stop a .50 AP round head on? hell no.

    There are many types of bullets so the question is really rather pointless unless you specify the size and type of bullet, the range,the angle of impact, the alloy and hardness of the steel plate and in the case of tar potentially the temperature as well. Tar gets brittle when cold, messy when warm. So in warm weather it might help to prevent fragments from becoming shrapnel but in cold weather it might actually create shrapnel. Have to experiment with fragmentation in cold weather to tell for sure.

    for a fixed installation as opposed to body armor you could use the tar as a mastic to glue ceramic plates on to the metal. the tar would tend to contain the shattered ceramic and reduce the risk of shrapnel.

    In my youth I exercised and tortured myself with one mile runs in up to 70 pounds of medieval styled armor so that I could wear armor all day without collapsing in the hot sun. The rig you propose would need cold weather and a better man than I was at my prime to carry it around for long. In hot weather the wearer could easily become a bad joke for I was born a southerner and the Br’er Rabbit in me certainly recognizes a tar baby when I sees one.

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  15. James July 18, 04:21

    So many of these postings seem to be looking for unicorns. They want body armor that is both man portable and will stop anything up to a RPG. Body armor always involve trade offs. Direct fire from large bore rifles firing rounds designed to compromise body armor will defeat almost any armor. It is simpler to make a better round than it is to make better armor.

    Body Armor is, and should always be, Plan B. Plan A is not to get shot in the first place. This fantasy of wading out like juggernaut in the middle of a firefight is a fantasy brought on by too many bad movies. You might as well find a witch doctor who specializes in convincing men they are bullet proof. If you want to stand around in your heavy ass armor waiting to get shot, then people like me will be happy to oblige because people with that kind of mindset have a bad tendency of getting other people killed.

    I do not care how good your body armor is, basic physics kicks your ass. The kinetic energy must go somewhere. You cannot carry armor with enough mass to shrug off large bore impacts. The lighter the armor the more of the impact is transmitted in a painful fashion. The heavier the armor the more likely you are to get shot. It is a trade off with different optimum outcomes for different situations.

    Stopping the bullet does little good if your rib breaks and pierces your lung or heart. My belief is that you have probably already made preventable errors of judgement if you find it necessary to deliberately take a round in your body armor.

    Rigid body armor is typically curved. this increases strength and reduces the risk of a dead on shot. Bullets that are deflected do not need to be stopped. It is a better plan to deflect large bore rounds than to plan on soaking them up. Whether they penetrate or just transfer energy it still hurts.

    Good body armor is designed to shed impact energy when possible. You do not want your armor to snag rounds that could otherwise be deflected. I have studied medieval armor that was hit by grape and canister shot as well as large bore black powder weapons. My conclusion is that it is best not to get shot in the first place. Armor may be a great help in a meeting situation but if the opposition knows you have armor they will find a gun big enough to defeat it before they seek to engage you.

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  16. WW2 September 20, 17:06

    This is really great insight.

    Since the main function of well made body armor is to disperse energy which ultimately robs the bullet of its power, wouldn’t it be better to combine multiple layers of material?

    I could foresee several thin layers of stainless, possibly with 3 or 4 bonded aluminum screen in between. Maybe 5 or 6 thin layers of stainless and 3 or 4 layers of 80mil rubber mat in between the last couple layers?

    Seems as though the ceramic is really brittle so it is likely to quickly absorb and spread the energy which in turn leads to significant fracturing. Maybe a layer of ceramic in front of the first thin steel plate to spread even more energy across the plate?

    Or, as someone suggested, a magazine in between one of the first plate layers? Something to spread out and disperse the energy as it passes through the thin stainless layers.

    Would this type of setup be useful in stopping typical 5.56 or 7.62×39 rounds? Or, because of the high velocity of the 5.56 round, would it require more of the rigid ceramic to quickly disperse the energy where the heavier weight and slower x39 round might require the additional energy absorbing layers?


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  17. Just My Opinion September 29, 14:34

    We don’t need gun control What we need is gang control.
    Why make it hard for the honest citizens to protect their selves when criminals buy their guns from the black market or steal them.

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  18. Russ February 25, 16:25

    I wonder how the Kevlar wrap used for weathering homes would work is layered like fiberglass?

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