DIY bulletproof vests and armor plates may sound like a good money saver or fun project when you have some time on your hands. But there are several reasons to avoid making your own body armor and opt for professionally made vests and plates instead.
Spoiler alert — we'll probably sound biased toward professionally manufactured armor throughout this article. But trust us when we say your life is far too valuable to depend on flimsy homemade armor for bodily protection.
Can You Make Your Own Body Armor?
Technically, yes. You could treat body armor as a DIY project and gather materials to make your own if you felt so inclined. But just because you can make your own body armor doesn't mean you should.
If you've ever been told that homemade body armor is as effective as professionally manufactured body armor, know that this is a myth. Even if you know what you're doing, homemade armor involves many complicated steps and something can go awry at any stage of the production. Your life isn't something to play around with!
If you'll be depending on this body armor for serious use and bullet protection, we always recommend purchasing bulletproof vests and plates from a legitimate manufacturer. Just like brewing your own beer in the basement wouldn't yield the same results as buying from your favorite brands, making body armor is something you should leave to the experts.
NIJ Protection Levels
Proper testing is another reason to choose professionally made armor over DIY armor. You don't want to be the first one to test your armor, no matter who made it.
Most commercially manufactured body armor is tested and rated according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standard to protect against various common calibers and weapon types. Pieces of armor must be held to the highest standards to keep you, or whoever's wearing the armor, safe. Here are the NIJ armor protection levels:
- Level IIA: Level IIA body armor has been tested to stop 9mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) and .40 S&W ammo from short-barrel handguns. It does not protect against rifle ammunition.
- Level II: Level II can withstand handgun 9mm FMJ and .357 magnum rounds. It also doesn't provide rifle ammunition protection.
- Level IIIA: Level IIIA armor can protect against .44 magnum rounds and 9mm FMJ from faster-moving handguns. Once again, it does not offer rifle ammo protection.
- Level III: Level III body armor is tested to stop FMJ 7.62mm lead core rifle ammo.
- Level IV: Level IV is designed to stop .30cal steel core armor-piercing rifle ammo.
When you buy body armor from a legitimate manufacturer, you can rest easy knowing it's been carefully tested to withstand various caliber levels. You can choose a vest or plate based on the type of protection you need. Sounds like a much safer option, if you ask us.
What Is Homemade Body Armor Made Of?
A quick internet search will yield various homemade body armor tutorials from DIYers. While we have to applaud them for their creativity, we don't recommend trying these ideas yourself, particularly if you plan on using the body armor for legitimate protection. Here are some examples of common materials DIYers use and why you should refrain from using these yourself.
1. Ceramic Floor Tiles
Many DIYers purchase ceramic floor tiles from run-of-the-mill home improvement and hardware stores. That's because many professional body armor manufacturers use ceramic to construct armor plates.
The main issue with this is that ceramic is incredibly fragile, requiring extreme caution and care. Its main drawback is that it can't withstand precision fire, or multiple shots to a single spot. Any ceramic item will easily shatter when hit or dropped, and ceramic body armor is no exception.
To get a ceramic armor plate that is as durable, carefully constructed and reliable as possible, it's much safer to purchase a ceramic plate from a legitimate manufacturer.
2. Fiberglass Panels
Some DIYers use fiberglass panels for homemade body armor projects due to their inherent ricochet and shrapnel resistance. But contact with fiberglass can irritate the skin, nose, throat and eyes, aggravating asthma and bronchitis-like conditions. Working directly with fiberglass requires protective clothing and other special equipment, so it's best to leave it to the experts instead. Not only is fiberglass potentially dangerous to work with, but if you do use it and the fiberglass is struck by a bullet, microscopic shards will go everywhere, subjecting you to all of the same issues mentioned above.
3. Stainless Steel Panels
Because steel is another popular material used for professional body armor construction, many DIYers have opted for stainless steel panels to create their own body armor. Some even use a combination of ceramic, stainless steel and fiberglass panels to make the plate.
Steel is a heavy material, making it difficult to conceal a steel bulletproof vest. Not to mention it'll look and feel bulky. Steel's heavy-duty nature makes it tough to maneuver on your own, but a professional knows how to work with this material to create sturdy, long-lasting body armor.
It's also important to note that steel plates, even when manufactured professionally, can cause bullets to shatter upon impact and create dangerous shrapnel.
The Dangers of Homemade Body Armor
We briefly discussed the risks associated with building your own body armor earlier. But in case you're still on the fence between homemade and professionally manufactured armor, here's a recap of the main reasons to avoid DIY body armor to hopefully nudge you in the right direction:
- It's unreliable: Buying your own materials is more suitable for projects like installing new flooring, building a table or wallpapering a room. Body armor is for serious bodily protection purposes and shouldn't be treated as any DIY project. Commercially made body armor is far safer and more reliable than homemade armor.
- It hasn't been professionally tested: Knowing that your body armor has been professionally tested and rated is crucial. When you purchase armor from a reputable manufacturer instead of making it, you can take more comfort in knowing it upholds NIJ standards.
- It's unnecessarily time-consuming: While this isn't technically a “danger” of homemade body armor, handcrafting your own armor is highly laborious and time-consuming. Hours of measuring, cutting, shaping and attaching materials for body armor isn't exactly an ideal Friday night. If your time is worth something, think of all the time and energy you could save by simply purchasing your own bulletproof plate or vest.
- It's a waste of money: Another reason to say hasta la vista to homemade body armor? The unnecessary expenses associated with the supplies. The DIY materials we mentioned can cost you anywhere from 50 bucks to hundreds of dollars. Plus, time is money, and you'll be putting plenty of that into making your armor. When you think about it, purchasing pre-made plates and plate carriers is the smarter option — many of them fall roughly around the same price range, but you don't have to worry about putting them together. Or risking your life.
Knowing how to make bulletproof vests and plates may be a unique — and somewhat odd — skill to impress your friends and family, but it should by no means be intended for serious use. When it comes to body armor, it's best to play it safe and leave it to the professionals.
Turn to Atomic Defense for Your Body Armor Needs
Don't put yourself through the hassle and risk of making your own body armor. Professionally made armor tested to meet NIJ standards is a must. And that just so happens to be our specialty here at Atomic Defense.
Whether you're looking for bulletproof vests, armor plates, helmets or other protective equipment, we've got you covered — literally. Constructed from durable, high-quality materials like polyethylene (PEAD), ceramic, Kevlar and steel, our NIJ-tested body armor and other accessories are a top choice for law enforcement, military personnel and security-conscious civilians alike.
Your safety is our top priority here at Atomic Defense. Browse our selection of bulletproof body armor or contact us with questions about our products.
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