Intro: DIY Ballistics Gel
This is taken from my recipe at Survival Defense Lab
As many of you know ballistics gel is a medium used by forensic investigators to examine the characteristics of a round after it is fired. The gel is meant to mimic human flesh, and was made popular by MythBusters. Also, as many of you know, it’s not cheap nor should it be. The results obtained with it can affect human lives in a court of law, so it’s manufactured to the highest of standards. However, for most firearms enthusiasts the extra stuff isn’t necessary, so a nice DIY option that is cheap is always something they’re interested in. I know, because I was super interested myself. But every search I performed yield barely satisfactory results. That’s not to say there aren’t good sources, but either the instructions weren’t clear or involved some complicated processes. I aimed to fix that and I believe I did a good job. Here is my special recipe, and check the last step for my thought process that lead to this recipe!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
First you’re going to need 3 basic things:
- A Mold – 4x3x8 inch pan. I got mine from Dollar Tree
- Gelatin – Knox Original Gelatine Unflavored. I got mine from Walmart.
- A Releasing Agent – Cooking Spray – I got mine from Smith’s
You'll also need a pot for boiling, some water, and a couple butter knives.
Step 2: Stir & Refrigerate
Stir 6 oz. of gelatin (12 packets) slowly, as to avoid air bubbles, into 4 1/2 cups HOT water. You can boil it, but hot from the tap will work. This is a 1 oz gelatin to 3/4 cups water ratio if you want to use a different size mold.
Place the mold into the fridge and allow to set overnight. When it’s done it’ll look like the second image.
Step 3: Remelt for Perfection
Take a large pot, fill it with water, place it on a stove and turn the stove on high. Place the pan into the water. For ease of removal, because the gel is mostly water and as a result will float level with the water in the pan, I rigged mine just above the surface with a couple butter knives. Just be careful whatever you do.
Step 4: Rerefrigerate!
The mixture will turn to liquid. Once the entire thing is liquid again (check with a butter knife, not your finger), remove it from heat and place it back in the fridge overnight. Remove it the next morning, and it will look something like the above image.
Step 5: Remove and Enjoy!
Finally, Remove it from the pan and Voila! You have Ballistics Gel.
Here is a brief history and some facts about ballistics gel as well as a description of some the tweaks I made to come up with my recipe.
I used less water to begin with. While most instructions will use less water than on the box and have you boil your water to remove some of the excess while also helping with the dissolving of the gel, this can lead to different water amounts per batch if the timing isn’t exact between the two. By using only 3/4 of a cup, the need to boil is removed, and you get a more consistent texture from batch to batch. Many will cry foul, saying you can’t get proper dissolution without boiling, but that’s crap. Stir slowly and always add the powder to the water, not vice-versa, and you’ll be fine. I actually did a bad job of stirring while photographing for this article but still came out with a great product. Less water also creates a more solid gel that is less likely to bust when handling by hand, and will last longer as it gets warmer. I also believe this better mimics the professional stuff. The point of melting the gel is to help remove any blobs or air bubbles the gel received during the initial mix.
I’ve used hot water from the tap instead of boiling, but that can take forever. Steaming it is the best process in my opinion. Just be careful not to leave it on too long or it will begin to boil itself, giving you all sorts of air bubbles. This step can also be repeated as many times as you’d like until you get the right ‘purity’ for your taste.
Speaking of things taking too long, one of the biggest variances I’ve seen in other instructions is how long to let it set. I left mine overnight in these instructions, but that makes it a 3 day process. I mostly did it because of my personal schedule and convenience, but since I didn’t try 3-4 hours as a set time (which is what some instructions say) I put overnight in the instructions. However, I have done it with the 3-4 hour set time and seen success. Just make sure it is solid, and not, “Well I really want to shoot it now and that seems solid enough” solid. Your results when you shoot won’t be good, if you can even handle it without breaking it apart first. So experiment, but know 3-4 hours should work, and overnight definitely works.
You may have also noticed I said get cooking spray, but I didn’t mention it at all in the instructions. This is because I didn’t use it. Some people prefer to spray their pans first to help with the release of the block, but I was able to pull the gel out of the pan with my fingers with no destruction to the block or any of it sticking to the pan. So use it if you like, but I found it unnecessary (that statement will probably come back to haunt me in future batches).
Finally some history on Ballistics Gel. The most commonly used professional mix is made by Knox, and as you may have noticed so is the stuff we used here. It’s because they kind of have the market cornered on gelatin. That’s good news though because it means we have the same fundamental ingredients in the consumer food product. The difference is that Knox adds some proprietary ingredients to help it hold its structure at room temperature and to ensure a close resemblance to human flesh. We only have the basic gel here, but with a few tweaks as listed above and careful handling we can still get a very similar result. Just don’t try to use those results in a court room…
Well there you have it: The Easiest DIY Ballistics Gel Method on the Internet. As always I’m open to suggestions and critique. If you think there’s a better way to do it, please let us know in the comments.
To learn more and see other fun firearms and survival related projects head on over to my site at http://survivaldefenselab.com