What do you get when you take adults who need to pay the bills (but refuse to deny that NERF blasters are seriously fun) and combine them with 3D printers?
Welcome to the unseen world of the 3D-printed nerf blasters. I use the lower-case ‘nerf’ because technically these aren’t actual NERF brands, even though most of us think NERF when we think dart blaster.
The practice of modifying NERF guns has been around since the beginning of this foam-flinging sport, with many people, known as Modders, seeking to improve the performance and accuracy of these blasters. However, it hasn’t been until the introduction of the personal 3D-printer that individuals could actually start designing and producing their own pieces.
Most of these individuals produce simple upgrades – reinforced trigger catches, tighter barrels, etc – but a few serious modders have taken things to the next level and have gone into business producing their own blasters.
While this is just going to be a short article highlighting this incredible community and no aspect can be developed in any serious detail, it is important to give an overview of the variety and impact of 3D-printing in the world of nerf, starting with Captain Slug and his Caliburn.
Rise of the Caliburn
While by no means the first 3D-printed blaster, the Caliburn was one of the first to truly sweep through the modding community with other popular modders like LordDraconical and Captain Xavier putting their own spin on the blaster. A single shot, pump-action dart blaster, this particular creation was immensely customisable, from the types of darts used to the power produced to the style and colour of the blaster itself.
What’s more, the specifications for the Caliburn were released online for anyone to see and tweak as they saw fit. These tweaks were then used to improve the original design. It was crowdfunded nerfing and Captain Slug still sold his Caliburns during this process.
Other individuals such as OutOfDarts went the other way and set up their own shops selling modification kits, motors, etc, as well as their own 3D-printed blasters whose specifications weren’t available to the public.
Alongside this, companies such as Worker were created to produce their own blasters as well as 3D-printed and injection-moulded parts to use on pre-existing NERF (actual NERF this time) blasters.
Three different approaches, all brought about by the rise of personal 3D-printers.
This entire economic system exists largely online and in geographical pockets. Communities in different countries around the world are linked through the ability to communicate online and ship packages around the world. The local communities then get together to test and trial these blasters in their own ultra-competitive nerf battles.
What’s more, this micro-community may not be as micro as it first appears. The community’s demand for progress is, it seems, being met by bigger companies such as Dart Zone, who this year brought out the Dart Zone Pro MK-1. Designed for competitive players, this blaster is meant to be customisable and is built to mimic the freedom found in several of the 3D-printed blasters. It is not your average dart blaster.
And so, like Lego began producing sets for ages 16+ as a way of appealing to their older fans, blaster companies are responding to the demand for competitive blasters and are beginning to create products that appeal to their older fans.
It is an ever-advancing system. And where this hobby leads is anybody’s guess, but it is clear to see that these fans are no casual hobbyists. Sure, growing up is important, but so is making sure you have fun doing it.