There are some powerful airsoft rifles out there for very little cash. Particularly spring powered sniper rifles and shotguns with great internals, who's only draw back is that they just plain don't look real enough for a serious airsoft game.
Here's how I turned my $160 UTG L96 into a nice piece of eye candy.
It's not terribly hard to do if you have any kind of DIY attitude, but I'll lay it all out there and hopefully it will make you think twice about passing up some of those plasticy looking guns.
Last time I played airsoft in my local, orange tips were not nessicery.
Check your local laws regarding replica firearms.
I make things look pretty, I'm not responsible for what you do with them after.
Step 1: What You'll Need.
First you need a lousy looking airsoft gun.
My choice was the UTG K96 which is an imitation of the L96 commonly known as the AWP in counterstrike.
There's another brand that makes one almost just like this. Can't vouch for the internals though.
Pros of this weapon.
-Price point. $160 with a firearms grade scope.
-Powerful. 460 FPS, borderline too powerful for most fields.
-Primary weapon. All you need is a backup ready for close encounters.
-Spring powered. No batteries, no gas.
-Cheap mags. You don't need many for a game either.
-Realistic action. The real one works on the same concept. Cock and shoot for every shot.
-Looks and feels like cheap plastic.
-Does not load like the real-steel.
-No dummy mag. The spot where the real mag-well would be is just closed up.
Tools and materials.
-Jewellers saw. Not needed, but sure makes some of those little cuts a lot easier.
-Dremmel with heavy duty cutting disks and sanding wheel.
-Sandpaper. Prolly just 100, 220 and 400 grit.
-Precision hobby knife
-Files. Either one half-round or a small set of varying sizes.
-Matte Finish. Duracoat and an applicator or a nice brand of matte spray paint.
-Dummy mag, in the caliber of the weapon you are imitating.
-The saw on my leatherman came in handy too. Gerbers sometimes have grit saws for PVC that would be awesome.
The real L96 is available in multiple calibers. Most common is 7.62x51 which is the same as the M14.
I was able to pick up a real-steel 5rd M14 mag for $20.
For a sniper rifle you want the 5rd because the longer ones will get in the way when you're laying flat on the ground with the bi-pod. It's unlikely that you'd ever see a real sniper rifle with a long mag.
You could use one of the cheapo plastic airsoft mags you buy in boxes too, just cut it to size and maybe duracoat it as well. But other airsoft mags are usually more expensive and more complex than the real steel. Best not to cut them up for something like this.
For paint, I used Duracoat. It's a real firearms finish. It goes on thick, it's an epoxy coat with some elasticity so it doesn't chip, no primer needed.
For colors I used tactical OD and black for the barrel.
You either need an airbrush set up in which case you will also need to buy the Duracoat thinner to clean your equipment because this stuff ain't water soluble.
Or you need a disposable applicator. The place I bought my Duracoat from was selling something like a can of duster gas for your computer with a glass bottle on the bottom.
It was about $17cdn per 4oz duracoat, $11 for the degreaser and $18 per disposable applicator.
You could use a spraypaint but you'll have to primer and probably touch up before long.
If you are buying a gun with this project in mind, for the cost of the materials, duracoat and applicators needed to do one gun, it might be worth puting the extra money towards a better quality rifle from the start.
But if you have one of these already and/or you have more than one gun to paint, this is easily worth the money.
If you have an airbrush it will also cut the cost.
If not you will need one applicator for each color of Duracoat, and you can't re-use it.
There's supposed to be enough gas in one to apply an entire 4oz bottle of coat, so to get the most out of it, round up everything you might want to paint, prep them all, mix the entire bottle and use it up.
You only get one shot, the paint will cure in the applicator after a while.
Our mistake was that we mixed the enitre bottle thinking we'd barely have enough to do what we wanted.
In fact we had more than enough to paint the L96, my P90's frame, 1911's frame, my friend's glock's frame and my flashlight.
After that we still had half a bottle left, though the guns could have used a few more coats, I would have liked to have done some of my knives and other outdoors equipment, we could have even done my friend's P90.
Here are some before shots.
Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Mag Well.
I would give some exact measurments for this, but I was eyeballing it. I could not find any exploded diagrams of the L96 online.
You need to figure out where on that flat area the mag-well is going to be.
With the callipers, measure and trace the outline of the mag.
On the M14 mag there is a little metal square that the mag catch would grab on to. Cut shape of this in to the plastic as well.
The thumb-grooves in the side are optional as I have seen a picture of a real L96 that did not have them so you could get away with not putting them in.
But if you want to go all the way, measure how far from the trigger guard they're gonna start.
I used a film can as a template for the diameter and the depth.
Pretty much just trace half of the film can on the side.
If you can find measurements for proper positioning, use'em.
Next, you gotta start cutting. Cut the mag-well first, save the thumb-grooves for later.
I used the dremmel with a cutting disk for this, then my leatherman saw for the more narrow spots.
It was kind of a pain using the dremmel because the plastic would melt and harden in a way that was not easy remove it.
Be mindfull of it, remove any excess material while it's still soft and give yourself plenty of margin for error. You can cut, file and sand it to the lines later.
I used my jeweller's saw to cut the thumb grooves. The plastic even melted on me here too, but the problem is that the blade would easily get surrounded by it as it hardened and get stuck. I kept breaking the blades. You could just use the sanding wheel on the dremmel here.
Once all this is cut, then file and sand it down to the lines.
The insides of the thumb grooves don't have to be smooth, the epoxy will bond better if it's rough, just shape it.
The dremel with the sanding wheel and even the side of the cutting disks work well for this. Sand it, carve with the precision knife. Anything to make it purdy.
Step 3: Fill'er'up!
Keep in mind, I'm drinking as I write this. It's prolly gonna show as you progress through the steps.
So now we need to fill in the thumbgrooves.
I didn't use epoxy putty for mine. I didn't know it was available in stores here.
I used a DIY plastic($10) that melts in boiling water.
You're far better off using the putty that angry man advertises on TV for $30. I have since found it in a store, three tubes for $17.
You might be able to find something similar for sealing up aluminium boats at a marine supply store for about $11.
Whatever filler you use needs to blend seamlessly with the original material of the stock. Color is not important, just texture.
This will be really easy with epoxy putty. Just pack it in there, then use the film can to shape and smooth the inside.
Smear it along the edges with your fingers, you can sand out the prints later.
Make sure the putty isn't bulging out into the mag-well.
If there's too much material there it's going to separate the pieces of the body when you jam the mag in it and will expose the seam.
Using my DIY plastic was a pain. It stuck to everything and there was no way to mould it. It would get all stringy and you couldn't smooth it.
I pretty well had to wad it in there then cut out the excess later.
This added a few more steps for me.
Once the plastic cools or epoxy hardens, you'll need to sand it smooth where it will be exposed.
Again, I used the film can, this time as a sanding stick.
The objective here is going to be to have a surface as smooth as the rest of the body. If you're using the epoxy, you can work your way right down to 400 grit.
Since I still had a lot of little nooks and grooves from using that unwieldy plastic stuff, I had to fill them before I could sand.
It didn't fully bond with the plastic of the body so I had to re-apply a couple times.
It also doesn't bond to it's self very well.
To seal it up, I used a little tiny bit of left over epoxy putty I had for modeling gaming miniatures.
It's more expensive and you get less.
This stuff is a little more gooey than the regular epoxy putty, easy to work with your fingers and spreads like butter.
Holds fine detail really well.
Step 4: Sac the Mag!
The survivalist in me regretted demolishing this mag on the off chance I may need to yank it out and use it in a real M14 in some upcoming cataclysm.
But I don't see myself owning a real M14 any time in the near future and if I do. I can spare the $20 for another mag.
There is a metal socket in the body of the rifle that the action fits in to. It prevents the mag from sticking in all the way without modification.
First I bent up the 'fingers' that hold the round follower-pusher-guide-thingy, removed it and the spring.
I used the heavy duty cutting wheels on the dremel to carve a chunk out of the back.
Again, eyeballed. If you can figure out how far the real mag sticks out of the gun, go'fer.
Make sure it sits the way you want it to. It should sit squarely, without wiggling. The bottom should follow the angle of the mag-well.
For added realism, you could attach a small metal tab to the back of the mag to imitate the mag-release.
Step 5: Painting and Finishing.
Right about now you're prolly freaking out.
You've hacked up a perfectly usable airsoft rifle and a real magazine, it's got this ugly kinda patchwork look to it now.
Don't worry, Duracoat covers all.
If you're spray painting, good luck. Make sure everyting is sanded smooth and evenly.
Remove the screws, cheek and shoulder rests, unscrew the barrel from the action.
Overall, disassemble the gun as much as possible.
Sand the entire body with 400 grit sandpaper.
Tape up the moving parts and plug the screw holes, hop-up adjustment and bore with masking tape.
You need to use a 'degreaser' often sold by the duracoat dealers.
I bought this big bottle of Firearms NST degreaser concentrate.
Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure I paid $11 for a pint of Mr. Clean. You should be able to use any degreaser that doesn't leave any residue behind.
'Degrease' the parts that will be duracoated.
Now mix and spray.
Can't offer many tips here. It was pretty easy to apply. Experienced airbrushers will know how to do it better than I did.
I think the disposable applicators did a beautiful job.
If you like, you can buy or make camo stencils and use multiple colors.
Just make sure you're working in optimal tempuratures.
Apply one coat, wait 5-10 minutes until that wet shine is gone and it looks dry, then add another coat.
They say it's best to make it something like a millimetre thick.
I didn't do that much, though I could have. I sure had plenty left over.
After a few coats you will be able to gage how much you're going to need to finish it, give a thorough check for thin spots that didn't get enough.
The instructions say 4oz will do two rifles or four pistols.
Like I said, I had a lot of paint left over, even though the P90 and L96 had a lot of body to cover.
You might use it all up on two rifles if you're putting a full 1mm coat of the same color over the entire rifle.
For airsoft, I don't think it needs to go on quite so thick, and if you're just painting the stocks or receivers, you could probably get away with coating four rifles per 4oz.
I was more careful about how much of the black I mixed. It was kind of a waste of that second disposable applicator for how little we painted, but I cut my losses and have some black left over for when I get my airbrush rig.
It's dry enough to touch in 20 minutes or so, but is still very easy to mark. After a day they say it's dry enough on a real gun that you can shoot it, so it should be ok for this. Once a day's past you'll feel that it's more durable.
Full curing time is a week I think?
The duracoat is the real star of this project. Matte spray paint will look ok, but it wears off and there is a texture to duracoat that gives it the feel of a real firearm.
Any plastic rifle will now look real. If you have a cheapy plastic M4 or clearsoft rifle, as far as looks go, it could very well be metal under that coating.
It will also protect real metal from dings and wear.
My buddy and I woke up the next day with horrible headaches because we attempted to apply this in a garage, in the cold, with a space heater. Wrong wrong and wrong.
The finishing touch is to lodge the mag in there. I plan on drilling some holes in to the plastic/epoxy and pinning it in there. Using liquid epoxy to secure the pins.
In the end, the cat will be intrigued and you'll have a sharp looking rifle for dirt cheap.
I think this particular model needs a better hop-up. But as is, it's a fine weapon. I have a 1911 with four mags for my backup, which also got a duracoating.
So that's my first instructable. Breath it in.
Hopefully a little more useful to the serious airsofter than those dime a dozen 'How to play airsoft' guides.
Once I make it out west and get my shop set back up, I hope to have some real, ground up, airsoft gun from scratch designs posted here.
I have since properly fixed the dummy mag in the magwell.
I had intended on adding pins then epoxy glueing it, or packing epoxy putty around it. It turned out this was going to require much more cutting of the mag.
Instead I placed the mag in the rifle, traced along the exposed section of the mag, removed it, then scorred the area that sits inside the rifle with a tungston carbide knife sharpener, then packed the well with epoxy putty and pressed the mag inside.
With the action and barrel removed, you can look insie the stock and see the back end of the mag.
Having already drilled holed for the pins, I just packed putty into them and under the mag catch.
I would have prefered to pin it, but I don't think it's gonna come out of there.
*********************UPDATE THE 2ND********************
I finally got to use it in a proper game.
There was quite a bit of wear on spots. So I'd say, to get the full protective value out of the duracoat, go with the recommended 1mm thick layer of it.