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View Full Version : Post-Apocalyptic technology, esp. gun making



Captcha
03-17-2010, 08:53 PM
I'm working on a story set an indeterminate time after our current world has eaten itself in a not-totally-nuclear manner. History-keeping has lost some of its precision, but I'd say a couple hundred years, at least. Possibly the apocalypse was some sort of peak-oil scenario, because there's no petroleum-based industry left. There's also no centralized government, and very little long-distance trade.

BUT, they have salvaged some technological remnants from our world. The idea is that there are islands of relative civilization, fortified, in a sea of total anarchy. I'd love general suggestions re. what technology could survive in these 'islands', esp. given the absence of oil and the definite scarcity of resources that need to be imported any long distance. For example, I'm thinking that simple hydro-electric turbines could probably be set up, but, as I understand it, solar panels are pretty complicated to manufacture and would therefore be less viable. Any other suggestions in this area?

And, my main question...I want my characters to have guns, if possible. So I'd like to know - is it possible for guns to have survived several hundred years from our time, or would they be able to manufacture their own? I don't need to get into total technical details, just know if it's generally possible. And, in either case, what sort of guns would most likely be manufactured or have survived? My main characters are nomads, living in the space between the islands of civilization, so they'd be living pretty rough. They would go to towns to trade (eg. for ammunition), but otherwise would be in the wilds. They do some people-fighting as well as hunting, so I'm thinking that guns of all sorts (handguns, rifles, shotguns) would be useful to them, if they are a possibility for the world.

Thanks for any help!

Al Ross
03-17-2010, 08:56 PM
Well kept guns could last ages. I think making simple guns would not be much trouble. Thing is will they be able to make powder?

Also tool making and blunt and slashing weapons won't be a problem. There must be some books kept about metallurgic.

dirtsider
03-17-2010, 10:22 PM
http://www.kingdomoflucerne.com/ - This group does black powder demos, in particular, Musketeer workshops out of Fort Mifflin in Pennsylvania. I knew most of them for some time. They also did a demo for the Jamestown Historical Site for its 500 year anniversary.

Also check out the Colonial American foodways as that sounds like it might be the tech level that you're dealing with for your MC's. Here are a couple links that might be useful:

http://www.pastmasters.info/index.htm - primarily foodways but does have a few other domestic items of interest

http://www.historicfoodways.org/index.htm - another website for historic foodways.

eurodan49
03-17-2010, 11:00 PM
Okay, oil is out, but coal’s still in (so steam engines could be developed relatively easy), and so would electricity (hydro and wind); so powertools would be available. Some firearms would have survived (but ammo won’t). Making new guns won’t be a problem, one good lathe-operator could turn up one/hour easily. Ammunition would be even less a problem. Gunpowder is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate (salts and urine) and would be available, as would be some other forms of propellent.

Stanmiller
03-17-2010, 11:03 PM
I'm working on a story set an indeterminate time after our current world has eaten itself in a not-totally-nuclear manner. History-keeping has lost some of its precision, but I'd say a couple hundred years, at least. Possibly the apocalypse was some sort of peak-oil scenario, because there's no petroleum-based industry left. There's also no centralized government, and very little long-distance trade.

BUT, they have salvaged some technological remnants from our world. The idea is that there are islands of relative civilization, fortified, in a sea of total anarchy. I'd love general suggestions re. what technology could survive in these 'islands', esp. given the absence of oil and the definite scarcity of resources that need to be imported any long distance. For example, I'm thinking that simple hydro-electric turbines could probably be set up, but, as I understand it, solar panels are pretty complicated to manufacture and would therefore be less viable. Any other suggestions in this area?

And, my main question...I want my characters to have guns, if possible. So I'd like to know - is it possible for guns to have survived several hundred years from our time, or would they be able to manufacture their own? I don't need to get into total technical details, just know if it's generally possible. And, in either case, what sort of guns would most likely be manufactured or have survived? My main characters are nomads, living in the space between the islands of civilization, so they'd be living pretty rough. They would go to towns to trade (eg. for ammunition), but otherwise would be in the wilds. They do some people-fighting as well as hunting, so I'm thinking that guns of all sorts (handguns, rifles, shotguns) would be useful to them, if they are a possibility for the world.

Thanks for any help!

K_S,
The guns are not the problem. Modern weapons with synthetic furniture will last a long time given proper care. It's the ammo that's the problem.

It takes precise chemical and mechanical engineering to produce modern propellant and the cartridge case, primer, and bullet. Without that industrial infrastructure, firearms will go back to the muzzle-loader shooting loose black powder at worst, or at best, single-shot rolling block style actions that use paper cartridges and crude lead balls or cast bullets.

No way a modern, precision bolt-action rifle will feed that stuff.

There was another thread on this subject a couple months ago. Lots of info it , so you might want to find it and check it out.

--Stan :evil

RJK
03-17-2010, 11:04 PM
Coal.
The U.S. has an abundance of coal. We could revert to a steam technology, that would power factories, heat homes, power vehicles, etc. Big excavating equipment was first powered by steam. It wasn't until the internal combustion and diesel engines came along that we changed. As long as we could generate electricity on a steady, reliable basis, we could manufacture whatever we needed, as long as the technology wasn't lost.

The knowledge of this technology would most likely be the most valuable commodity available in this society. Trading it would make you rich. Owning it would make you vulnerable to attack (theft).

Sounds like it could be an interesting book.

IanMorrison
03-18-2010, 03:44 AM
Would this be the one, Stan? :)

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=170393

Stanmiller
03-18-2010, 04:30 AM
IM,

That's the one. Thanks.



--Stan

Captcha
03-18-2010, 05:44 AM
Excellent information so far - thanks, guys!

In some of my preliminary research, I came across the idea that while there still ARE resources to be mined/extracted, we've already taken almost all of the EASILY accessed stuff. Does anyone know if this is true of coal? I've seen pictures of the huge open coal mines - ugly, but they don't seem to be too technologically demanding. But is there still coal that is close to the surface like that, or would the societies need to be burrowing deeper?

And thanks for the link to the previous thread - I promise, I did search the forum before posting, but the title on that one was a bit of a red herring (red 'hearing'?)...sorry.

In terms of ammo - would a cowboy-style six-shooter accept homemade ammo? I've seen movie characters making silver bullets themselves, so am I wrong to think that a reasonably adept person could make regular bullets that would fit the same guns? Or should I stop looking to movies about werewolves when I'm looking for realism?

Thanks again for any additional info!

Stanmiller
03-18-2010, 06:07 AM
In terms of ammo - would a cowboy-style six-shooter accept homemade ammo? I've seen movie characters making silver bullets themselves, so am I wrong to think that a reasonably adept person could make regular bullets that would fit the same guns? Or should I stop looking to movies about werewolves when I'm looking for realism??

Again, it's not the bullet, but the cartridge case that's high tech. Without the precision drawn brass (or other metal) case, you're back to loose black powder and cast lead. That's the way revolvers started out in the 1830s and 40s. To reload, charge each chamber with a powder flask, then use the lever under the barrel to seat the balls over the powder. Then percussion caps are attached to the nipples and the piece is ready to fire. Very cumbersome. (Google Colt Paterson to see one of the early revolvers)

So you need enough surviving technology to mine copper and tin to make brass (forget aluminum, way too energy intensive to produce), then good enough machinery to make the cases, then enough chemistry to make the priming compounds, then more precision machinery to make the bullets.

Now you have an industry.

--Stan :evil

Captcha
03-18-2010, 06:24 AM
I wonder if they could 'mine' aluminum from our landfills/recycling depots?

If they had access to aluminum, they could use that to make the cases?

Possibly I'm getting more technical than I need to, here...but, damn it, now I'm interested!

Xelebes
03-18-2010, 06:53 AM
Smiths would still be able to manufacture guns - it would just be more crude than the guns we now know. My friend goldsmith made a gun with his tools of the trade.

eurodan49
03-18-2010, 07:05 AM
The coal reserves are so huge they can’t be depleted in 10,000 yrs of intensive mining…. 20% are close to the surface.
Don’t get too technical. Just say they traded for the metals (iron, copper, tin, lead, etc.).
They could easily make batteries and have some sort of transportation run on that.
Weapons; they could have some old stuff and/or manufacture new ones. Ammo won’t be a problem…. Maybe a little smoky when fired but good enough. The settlement gets is power from wind, hydro, and thermo (burning coal)…. And that’s how they charge the batteries.

Stanmiller
03-18-2010, 07:07 AM
I wonder if they could 'mine' aluminum from our landfills/recycling depots?

If they had access to aluminum, they could use that to make the cases?

Possibly I'm getting more technical than I need to, here...but, damn it, now I'm interested!

Aluminum doesn't deteriorate as quickly in dry climate, so there could be some 'mining' of aircraft graveyards and so forth. The supply would be limited, making the stuff hugely expensive.

Aluminum can be used for cartridge cases. In fact a brand of ammo made in Russia has alloy cases. But the machinery that produces them is the same machinery needed for brass cartridges.

So you're back to the military-industrial complex again.

World-building IS fun, isn't it?

--Stan. :evil

IanMorrison
03-18-2010, 08:14 AM
Can't cartridges be reloaded? If creating brass cartridges is too much of a challenge, couldn't you simply make a point of recycling the brass and sticking new bullets, powder, and percussion caps in? Sure, it'd be a pain in the ass and you'd be looking at a limited ammo supply, but that might be a workaround.

WMcQuaig
03-18-2010, 09:28 AM
I do know that people, namely hunters, can repack their own ammo. They do it to save to money. Instead of the bullet costing $3.00, it costs like $1.50. Anyways, I think it's only a matter of repacking a new bullet, powder, etc. I'm not exactly sure how it's done, but I know it's possible.

Also, if you want some alternative ways to create things watch the Mythbusters show. You will have to pick and choose the things that work for what your looking for but some of the more complicated builds they give a brief overview of. It was mentioned earlier about steam power. Watch the episode titled "Confederate Steam Machine Gun", I believe that's the title, they took to water heaters and attached them to two pneumatic acuators to power a machine gun.

So, there are plenty of workarounds it's just a matter of figuring out how things work and finding something that does the same thing or works the same way.

GeorgeK
03-18-2010, 03:08 PM
Can't cartridges be reloaded? If creating brass cartridges is too much of a challenge, couldn't you simply make a point of recycling the brass and sticking new bullets, powder, and percussion caps in? Sure, it'd be a pain in the ass and you'd be looking at a limited ammo supply, but that might be a workaround.

Firing a bullet will cause some damage to the casing. You have to inspect them very carefully. One of my friends used to do reloads and told me that 30% of the casings had to be rejected.

Stanmiller
03-18-2010, 04:10 PM
Firing a bullet will cause some damage to the casing. You have to inspect them very carefully. One of my friends used to do reloads and told me that 30% of the casings had to be rejected.

Ian, WM, and George,
While I don't reload ammo, my brother does. Case life can be anywhere from 3 reloads for hot hunting loads to as many as seven or eight for light target loads.

The case stretches a bit every time it's fired. After x number of firings, the case will rupture. NOT something you want to happen a foot or so in front of your face, whether from rifle, pistol, or revolver. The technical term is ka-boom and it can tear up the weapon.

Brass corrodes over time. I have a couple boxes of antique .38 S&W (not .38 Special). It's from the 1920s and it's pretty ugly stuff, with green brass and chalked lead. We tried six rounds. Three misfires out of six. The primers had corroded and wouldn't ignite the powder. Not something you'd want to stake your life on.

Military ammo is generally packed pretty well in sealed containers. So it's plausible the hero (heroine?) could stumble on an old cache of 5.56 NATO or 7.62 NATO or 7.62x39 for the AK47 and it would still work. Plus the brass would be reloadable, if primers could be found.

Civilian hunting and defense ammo is sold in cardboard boxes. It won't last nearly as long.

--Stan :evil

Captcha
03-18-2010, 04:25 PM
This is great - I like the the idea of re-using casings - just a nice little detail I could add in, having the characters pick them up after firing. Even if they only took them back to town for the gunsmith/ammo producer to re-use. Casings ARE the things that go flying when a gun is fired, right? I mean, the ones that go flying four feet from the shooter, not the BULLETS that go flying! But there are some guns that retain the casings, I think? (you're beginning to get a better picture of my gun knowledge, I'm afraid). It's the casing that people shake out of a revolver before they reload it, right?

And while I'm back, and you guys are being so useful...is there a type of gun that is more likely to be simply manufactured and used? Like, hand gun/rifle/shotguns - all would be workable? Or are some more delicate than others? I don't have the expertise, or, I hope, the need, to get super-detailed about types, but those are the general classifications, right?

I'm asking 'right' a lot in this post, right?

shaldna
03-18-2010, 05:03 PM
Okay, since the gun issue has been covered, here are just a few facts on the energy issues:

No oil means no plasitcs, no synthetic materials.

Also, renewable power (hydro, solar etc) is very unreliable and generates a relatively small amount of energy compared with fossil fuels. Maintenance is a massive issue with renewable energies also, as is storage of energy.

Stanmiller
03-18-2010, 05:20 PM
This is great - I like the the idea of re-using casings - just a nice little detail I could add in, having the characters pick them up after firing. Even if they only took them back to town for the gunsmith/ammo producer to re-use. Casings ARE the things that go flying when a gun is fired, right? I mean, the ones that go flying four feet from the shooter, not the BULLETS that go flying! But there are some guns that retain the casings, I think? (you're beginning to get a better picture of my gun knowledge, I'm afraid). It's the casing that people shake out of a revolver before they reload it, right?

And while I'm back, and you guys are being so useful...is there a type of gun that is more likely to be simply manufactured and used? Like, hand gun/rifle/shotguns - all would be workable? Or are some more delicate than others? I don't have the expertise, or, I hope, the need, to get super-detailed about types, but those are the general classifications, right?

I'm asking 'right' a lot in this post, right?

Evil Gun Geek Info Dump :evil

Quick summary of differences in rifles (also applies to shotguns).
Single-shot - retains the cases. Pluck it out with your fingers and drop in another one. Can be bolt-action, rolling block (opens with a lever, usually the triggerguard) or top-break (think double-barrel shotgun). Low tech. Easy to make. Can be pistol or rifle lengths.

Repeater - Ejects the case so another one can be loaded. Four main types:
- Bolt-action - shooter manually operates a bolt to eject the fired case out the side (on the back stroke) then strip a fresh round off the magazine (not clip) and chamber it (on the forward stroke).
- Lever action - Same operation except a lever around the triggerguard operates the bolt.
- Semi-automatic - Uses either inertia or gas pressure from the just-fired round to operate the bolt. Fires once per trigger pull. Requires good springs
- Full automatic - as above except keeps firing as long as the trigger is held back.

All repeaters are higher tech than the single-shot, requiring greater precision in forging and machining. A blacksmith and a machinist could make a decent single-shot and many did, in the 1800s. Of the repeaters, lever actions are possibly the simplest, bolt-actions are the strongest. But all require precision machinery to produce.

Pistols and revolvers.
Revolvers came first, but they had many small, easily broken parts and were not reliable until Colt's Manufacturing came out with the Dragoon models. They still have many small parts but with modern metallurgy and designs they don't break. No chance a blacksmith and a machinist can make a S&W M29 .44 Mag.

Pistols- Inherently greater mechanical reliability than a revolver (fewer, more robust parts), less reliable in actually getting a bullet down the barrel (magazine problems leading to misfeeds). Equally dependent on metallurgy, precise machining and modern spring technology for proper operation. Equally unlikely the village blacksmith can make one.

Best bests-
Handguns - Single-shot, top break pistols. Google Thompson Contender.
Rifles - Single-shot rolling block or top-break. Google Winchester high wall or Sharps for the rolling block. Go to the wikipedia entry for double barrel shotgun to see a good explanation and pictures of the top break design.

Ammo - Black powder, reloaded brass cases, modified primer pockets to take percussion caps (another level of technology required here) and cast lead bullets.

--Stan :evil

PeterL
03-18-2010, 09:30 PM
The technology of the culture described might be superior to today's cultures. Petroleum isn't a major problem; although I assume that this is set more than three hundred years in the future, when the existing petroleum reserves were largely depleted but the reservoirs hadn't had a chance to refill. Thermal-depolymerization will produce liquid hydrocarbons are are essentially identical to petroleum, so the need for liquid fuel will be filled. Since there are islands of order within the world, and I would assume that there is electricity in those places. Firearms aren't all that difficult to make, if one has knowledge and materials. With a goolathe and a vertical milling machine one man could produce all of the machined parts for a rifle in a day. The furniture would be no problem. In those areas where electricity is not available people could make their weapons the way that they still make some in Pakistan, that is by hand, filing raw stock into the size and shape necessary. They were making jezails that way in Afghanistan for centuries, and after the Russians invaded they switched to making AK47's. Anyone who can file am AK 47 out of raw steel would have no trouble making ammunition. Nitrocellulose can easily be made in a jug. The primer is a little more difficult, because ammonium-tri-iodine is very unstable, but you can mix it in a water glass and form it beofr it dries. If you get it into the cartridges before it dries, then it will be safe.

Gugland
03-18-2010, 11:07 PM
Hi Kate,

I don't really know anything about guns, but I noticed the distinction between your "islands of relative civilization" (where guns, ammo, wind, solar, coal, etc would make sense) and your main characters, who you mentioned are nomads.

Well, if they are nomadic, they wouldn't likely carry heavy steel weapons and the ammo for them. I would expect their weapons to be lighter, able to be made quickly from commonly available materials in any area they wander through, and also be dual-use: for defense AND hunting. So, it seems to me that it would be most likely that your MC's would use spears, arrows, maybe crossbows (or some new, ingenious arrow-delivery method) poison darts, etc.

I realize that makes them sound more primitive than those who dwell in the "islands", but it does give you the opportunity to make your MC's more inventive.

GeorgeK
03-19-2010, 09:39 AM
just a random thought:

The dead would probably be recycled into oil via the Thermal Polymerization mentioned above.

Captcha
03-19-2010, 03:38 PM
GeorgeK, that is nasty! I like the way you think...

Thanks to everyone else, too - excellent information, here, and some fun conjecture, too!

Stanmiller
03-19-2010, 04:01 PM
Well, if they are nomadic, they wouldn't likely carry heavy steel weapons and the ammo for them. I would expect their weapons to be lighter, able to be made quickly from commonly available materials in any area they wander through, and also be dual-use: for defense AND hunting. So, it seems to me that it would be most likely that your MC's would use spears, arrows, maybe crossbows (or some new, ingenious arrow-delivery method) poison darts, etc.

I realize that makes them sound more primitive than those who dwell in the "islands", but it does give you the opportunity to make your MC's more inventive.


Gugland,
High marks for inventiveness, but in the history of human conflict, cultures relying on 'made' weapons for defense always succumb to cultures using 'manufactured' weapons for offense. For example, two continents with millions of people using spears and bows fell to a few European criminals with horses and primitive firearms.

Sure the nomads can create all sorts of ways to procure food. For example, the use of the blowgun, with or without the cooperation of the poison dart frog. But for defense, they have to carry guns, or get wiped out by other nomads with guns.

Unfortunate? Yes.

--Stan

dirtsider
03-19-2010, 06:06 PM
Gugland,
High marks for inventiveness, but in the history of human conflict, cultures relying on 'made' weapons for defense always succumb to cultures using 'manufactured' weapons for offense. For example, two continents with millions of people using spears and bows fell to a few European criminals with horses and primitive firearms.

Sure the nomads can create all sorts of ways to procure food. For example, the use of the blowgun, with or without the cooperation of the poison dart frog. But for defense, they have to carry guns, or get wiped out by other nomads with guns.

Unfortunate? Yes.

--Stan

In addition to Stan's comments, while the nomads may not be able to manufacture weapons the way the 'islands' can, they will have the ability to trade in these places. Therefore, they would likely have access to manufactured weapons.

On the other hand, the nomads may also have some bows, traps, and other more easily made weapons like blow dart to use for hunting and trapping in order to save on wear and tear on the more valuable guns. Also, since they're traveling through the various 'wilds' and thus know the landscape, they can use that knowledge to their advantage.

Gugland
03-20-2010, 02:54 AM
Yeah. Ok.

My point was that if they're nomadic, then weight would be an issue. Being able to make their weapons on an as-needed basis from readily-available materials seems to be a must.

Gugland
03-20-2010, 08:00 AM
@ Stan:

http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b40/bettieleetwo/ewok-1.jpg

Kenny
03-20-2010, 02:52 PM
Two interesting sources for you:
http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=24005&it=1
http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=19294&it=1

I don't own the first one but it seems like it talks about the earliest each tech item could be produced. One example is a Tommy Gun could be made by the Romans (if I remember correctly).

The second one is about how civilizations grew and what was involved. It is interesting and worth a read, disease and famine could play a major role in your world...

Captcha
03-20-2010, 07:30 PM
Thanks for the links, Kenny - I'm off to read them now!

And I appreciate the discussion about portability vs. deadliness. I think I'll certainly have them using alternate methods for a lot of their needs (esp. hunting, etc.), originally because of the cost of future-world-ammo, but, yeah, with these ideas, also because of the weight and portability.

And someone upthread mentioned noise, as well, so I'll definitely have at least some of them be experts with the quieter ways of killing, for stealth situations. I'm planning on setting this in a NA style area (I live in Ontario, so I'm using these forests as my inspiration) - does anyone know of anything that grows up here that could be used to poison darts?

GeorgeK
03-21-2010, 01:11 AM
Gugland,
High marks for inventiveness, but in the history of human conflict, cultures relying on 'made' weapons for defense always succumb to cultures using 'manufactured' weapons for offense. For example, two continents with millions of people using spears and bows fell to a few European criminals with horses and primitive firearms.

--Stan

Not necessarily. The archeological record does not support the stories written by the conquistadors. It's more likely that they won mostly by psychological warfare, germ warfare, and good luck in showing up just before major political coups which had been religious portents to boot (in other words, mostly luck).

Remember WWII when the Tunisians (I think it was them) whose spearmen defeated the Italian tanks. They counted off by tens and every tenth man carried a big rock instead of a spear and dove into the tanks treads gumming up their gears while the other nine climbed on top and opened the hatches and poked them with long pointed instruments. Sometimes a stick can defeat machine guns when draconian tactics are used. Never underestimate the warrior who has no escape plan.

dgiharris
03-21-2010, 03:37 AM
There are two books which you probably need to read in which the author 'sorta' does what you are intending to do.

Basically, it is about a small modern day town getting transplanted back in time to 1632. The characters face many of the same challenges your characters would be facing.

The author does an incredible job of walking the reader through the logistical problems of trying to realize modern technology when the supply has run out.

Read 1632 and 1633 by Eric Flint (1633 is a collaboration with David Weber and if you go to B&N for 1633 you have to look under Weber's name)

http://1632.org/

trust me on this one, his book will be of enormous benefit to you

Mel...

Captcha
03-21-2010, 03:28 PM
Thanks, dgiharris! And they're available for free download, too! (Maybe this can be my excuse to buy an e-reader, instead of just my laptop...although that would jack the price up from 'free' to 'pretty damn expensive', wouldn't it...)