Body Armor and Ballistic Plates should be standard PPE (In accordance to MOPP Standards) for your team. The presence of hostile elements in all disasters (man-made or natural) is an eternal truth. Having access to these plates will make the difference between life and death. Ideally, you want standalone ballistic plates that can be used in conjunction with a plate carrier instead of a bulletproof vest. The most basic and user-friendly way to achieve this is with heavy steel plates that have been improved.
Typically, people tend to ‘make’ stand-alone steel ballistic plates that are nothing more than a 10″ x 12″ x .25″ piece of steel. While these steel plates are capable of stopping .223/5.56 ammunition, they are very heavy. A .25″ steel ballistic plate’s average weight is 8 lbs.
Ballistic plates can vary from what size round you intend it to withstand and how much weight you can carry. Most ballistic plate carriers hold four plates; front plate that protects vital organs, rear plate that protects your spine and vital organs, and two side plates. There are several different options in ballistic plate ranging from polyethylene, ceramic and steel which I will be covering in future articles.
How to make Level III Ballistic Plates
A Level III Plate refers to rifle protection. For a ballistic plate to be considered Level III it must be properly tested. Test your plates in the field by firing 6+ rounds of 306 FMJ and NATO 7.62 x 51 mm. If there is no penetration by these rounds you have a standard Level III Plate. Testing is vital, zero penetration is the goal.
First of all you will need a ballistic plate carrier and the measurements on the pouch that holds your plates. You can usually find good deals on Amazon for Ballistic Plate Carriers. A common size for a standard plate carrier is between a 10″ and 12″ plate. If you choose to take an alternate route and use a modified tactical plate carrier with your own custom sized pouches then make sure to take measurements of the size plate you will need.
To effectively make an efficient plate you will need some source of heat to bend and temper your plate i.e. torch. Also I prefer a wet saw for cutting your plate to size, and you will need welding gloves or clamps to hold your material i.e. used motor oil.
Before I begin the process of making your ballistic plates I would recommend using at least a 3/8″ plate which can withstand most 7.62 rounds.
After you have the correct size of your plate and cut your material to size you will need to heat your plate. Using a torch you want heat your material evenly till you see your plate glowing red-hot. Do Not hold your torch in one place too long or you will burn a hole through the plate. Once you have your plate heated I suggest clamping it to a work bench to add a slight curve to the plate. If done correctly your plate should sit level on a table and your highest point in the center should only be about 3/16″ high.
Now Its time to temper your plate which is also referred to as hardening steel and this is where the used motor oil comes in to play. Take your used motor oil and pour it into a bucket preferably metal so you don’t burn holes through a plastic one unless you have steady hands. You will need enough oil to completely submerge your plate. Once again you will need that heating source. Heat your plate evenly till it glows, then submerge your hot plate into the motor oil. The reason behind using used motor oil is the carbon deposits in used motor oil. As most know, metal expands under heat due to the molecules separating when submerged into motor oil. The carbon deposits fill in the spaces that the heat caused, making hardened steel.
Now you can clean off your plates and place them in the pouch of your vest, but as I said earlier this will stop small arm and most 7.62 rounds. However, there are a couple drawbacks to using this method. Fragmentation is one possible draw back. When the round strikes a steel plate carrier it can fragment and send the debris into soft-tissue. Also if a polymer tipped round strikes it will not fragment but will send the kinetic energy to the place it strikes. So my suggestion is to have an additional layer of protection between the plate and your body. One option is a layer of Kevlar or polyethylene both in front of your plate and behind this will absorb any kinetic energy or fragments that the round causes.
Physical Considerations for Body Armor
Due to the weight of ballistic plates your joints and ligaments will take a beating, especially if you’re not physically trained. This added weight forces your muscles to work harder.In addition, back injury is likely if your body is not properly trained to carry the additional weight in the correct manner. To correct this include the use of ballistic plates in your combat and survival training.
Addition From User Comment on Kevlar Plates
To me, it makes more sense to use several thinner layers of steel and UHMW polyethylene and a kevlar wrap. Hardening and tempering 2 layers of 1/8in cold roll steel sandwiched like this:
6 layers Kevlar
6 layers Kevlar;
should provide a high level of penetration resistance, energy absorption and spalling protection.
The used motor oil provides 2 important parts to the hardening/tempering process. One, it provides additional carbon to the surface of the steel. Two, it slows the cooling process allowing more time for carbon penetration. Yes, this is similar to case hardening but, due to the slower cooling, the carbon goes deeper than case hardening compound. The red-hot quench JDawg speaks of in “forging” is an initial hardening process that aligns the molecules and creates tighter bonds within the metal’s grain. The red-hot quench also equalizes stresses within the metal. The blue heat-quench JDawg speaks of is a stress relieving step, better known as tempering, which adds flexibility to the metal by relieving the surface tension of the work piece.
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