How to Make a Sawed Off Shotgun (If it’s Legal Where You Live)

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Last Updated on July 30, 2021.
How to Make a Sawed Off Shotgun (If it's Legal Where You Live)

A sawed-off or short-barreled shotgun can provide you with unprecedented close-range stopping power in a compact package. However, sawed-off shotguns are tightly regulated. So how viable is it to make a sawed-off shotgun yourself?


What is a Sawed-Off Shotgun?

The legal category that a sawed-off shotgun occupies is short-barreled shotgun. A short-barreled shotgun is a smoothbore weapon designed to fire shotgun ammunition with a barrel or barrels of less than 18” in length. 

Alternatively, the ATF states: “A weapon made from a shotgun is also a firearm subject to the NFA if the weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length.”

You’ve probably seen sawed-off shotguns in movies and TV shows. These weapons are depicted, with few exceptions, as the choice weapon of gangsters, professional assassins, and post-apocalyptic road warriors. However, the utility of short-barreled shotguns isn’t limited to the criminal or wasteland hero.

Until 1934, when Congress passed the National Firearms Act, you could mail-order a sawed-off shotgun the same as any other firearm. One commercial example is the Ithaca Auto & Burglar.


Sawed-Off Shotguns and Their Stopping Power

These weapons are highly maneuverable in confined spaces and can deliver considerable stopping power.

Rifles can be devastating, especially when their bullets yaw, tumble, and fragment. However, fragmentation in intermediate rifle calibers, such as 5.56mm, is dependent on multiple factors. Insufficient entry velocity, angle-of-attack variations, or target idiosyncrasies can cause the bullet to fail in this regard, inflicting a less serious wound. 

Shotgun shells loaded with buckshot reliably inflict highly traumatic wounds, especially at close range. The shot pellets, collectively, often equate to more than an ounce of lead, delivering a hard-hitting payload. If you’re using #1 or #00 buckshot, you can expect these pellets to penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs and major blood vessels.

Shotgun Spread and Muzzle Velocity

The spreading pattern of a sawed-off shotgun is inherently difficult to predict, as it’s based on several variables, such as the gauge, type of shot, type of ammunition, and barrel length. 

The choke, a constriction in the bore that controls the spread of shot pellets, is the most critical factor determining how tightly or loosely your gun will pattern. Don’t expect your spreading pattern to open up like a fan as you shorten the barrel by a few inches — that’s typical of Hollywood portrayals. 

If you want to control the spreading pattern of your shotgun, you need to either change your ammunition or change the choke. 

The muzzle velocity of shotgun ammunition does not decline rapidly as the barrel becomes shorter. If you do notice a difference, it’s likely to be gradual. 

Recoil

Shotguns are powerful weapons, and you should be aware that shortening or removing the shoulder stock will increase the perceived recoil. This has less to do with weight than it does with not having a stock to brace against your shoulder. A short-barreled, or sawed-off, shotgun doesn’t need to be stockless, however. That will increase the weapon’s concealability, but it’s not strictly necessary. 

Concealability

Before you try concealing a short-barreled shotgun under your jacket or coat, you should be aware that concealing a firearm of this type is not necessarily legal, even if you have a valid concealed carry permit. This depends on your state of residence and other local ordinances. 

Legality

If you were to cut down a shotgun in this manner without filing the proper ATF paperwork and paying the required tax, you would be committing a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine

Paperwork

If you’re asking how to saw off a shotgun, you’ll have to start by determining whether owning a short-barreled shotgun is legal in your state of residence. Assuming you live in an unrestricted state, you’ll need to file ATF Form 1 (Application to Make and Register a Firearm.) 

ATF Form 1

As part of the application, you’ll have to submit a payment of $200, passport photographs, and fingerprint cards. You’ll also need the signature of your chief law enforcement officer (CLEO), which could be your sheriff or chief of police. If you’re a so-called prohibited person, you can’t build or buy an NFA firearm.

The NFA process can take months, so you won’t be able to get to work immediately. 

How to Make a Sawed-Off Shotgun

The term “sawed-off shotgun” refers to either a weapon built from the ground up or a weapon made from a shotgun. In the latter sense, if you take a full-length hunting or tactical shotgun and use a hacksaw to shorten the barrel and/or remove the shoulder stock, you would be fabricating a short-barreled shotgun or sawed-off shotgun. 

The stereotypical sawed-off shotgun is a double-barreled break-action model, usually with its barrels side by side, although over-and-under weapons also receive this treatment. In some examples, the barrels are cut to be the same length, or slightly longer, than the wooden fore-end. In pump-action shotguns, the barrel is often cut to be flush with the magazine tube cap.

The process of building a short-barreled shotgun is relatively straightforward. You can use a hacksaw to cut the barrel down, although a band saw or chop saw would be a less labor-intensive option. 

Determine exactly where you want to cut the barrel and tape this part. Cut once or twice and rotate the barrel. Repeat this action until you have an even line encircling the barrel. This ensures the squareness of the barrel to prevent unevenness. You can use a metal file to remove the sharp edges and follow up with sandpaper or cloth. Alternatively, you can use a Dremel tool to clean up the edges.


Non-NFA Alternatives

If you don’t want to fill out the paperwork, pay the tax, and fabricate a sawed-off shotgun yourself, there are non-NFA shotguns that are also compact. 

The Mossberg 590 Shockwave and Remington Tac-14 offer short-barreled firepower in civilian-legal (non-NFA) shotguns designated firearms by the ATF. As these shotguns never had shoulder stocks and have an overall length exceeding the legal minimum of 26 inches, they are not considered short-barreled shotguns. 

However, while these shotguns may serve some of the same purposes, they can’t replicate the sense of satisfaction from learning how to saw off a shotgun yourself.

Sawed-off shotguns are just one of the many varieties of this firearm with different firepower but nevertheless it's a very effective for any purpose it is intended for.


Last Word

Sawed-off shotguns are legal to own, buy and build. You’ll need to file the proper paperwork, pay the fee, and then start work. These weapons can be effective tools, despite their short length.