How to Make Homemade Ballistic Gelatin for Testing Bullet Impact

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- In the ever-continuing search for a better performing round, it is common to see ammunition being tested in ballistic gel.  This brick of “Jell-o” like goo approximates the same consistency of mammalian flesh, though not total composition which includes skin and bone.  Scientifically speaking, it provides a standardized medium in which to gauge penetration, expansion, temporary stretch cavities and permanent wound cavities.  Today I'll be covering how to make ballistic gelatin at home.  Soon, I'll follow up with calibrated gelatin to compare how close or far the homemade recipe gets us.

First, I want to cover the difference between homemade ballistic gelatin and calibrated ballistic gelatin.  The standardized gelatin is tested (and adjusted) to meet a specific density requirement, so all batches should theoretically be close enough for standardized results.  The stuff we make at home should be as close to the calibrated gelatin as we can make it.

Homemade ballistic gel gives us a fun visual test medium, aesthetically customizable targets (stock up on Halloween skulls) and the ability to modify the medium to satiate our curiosity.  We can do this by adding a layer of deer hide, soft body armor or beef ribs to see how the bullet's performance is affected.  Any modification to the standardized tests renders the results incompatible with bullet tests using the standardized methods, but that doesn't mean the information isn't useful.

ClearBallistics.com details the FBI standardized 10% gelatin they use:

“The FBI protocol we follow is firing a standard .177 caliber (4.5 mm) steel BB from an air gun over a chronograph at 590 feet per second (fps), plus or minus +/- 15 fps into the ballistic gelatin. The penetration of the steel BB must result in 8.5 centimeters (cm), plus or minus 1 cm, penetration (2.95 inches to 3.74 inches).”

The standard block is 6″x6″x16″.

Now that we've covered the difference between calibrated and “good enough for most of us” gelatin blocks, here's how you do it.

Supplies.

  • Gelatin
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Stock pot
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Target form, generally rectangular works best.  Small trash can, planter box, Square 4-gallon bucket etc.
Homemade ballistic gelatin
Homemade ballistic gelatin

I have bought both Knox gelatin powder and Great Value gelatin powder.  Online bulk and in-store at Walmart I've been able to find gelatin powder down to ~$.70/ounce.  We need 1 ounce of powder for every 8 ounces of water.  That's 4 oz powder per quart of water and 16 oz powder per 1 gallon of water.

Step 1: Mix water and gelatin

Heat the water, no need for boiling.  Hot, but cool enough to get your hands into.  Slowly pour the powder into the water, while whisking with a fork.  Once all the powder is in, use your hands to try and break up any chunks.  The light foam on top is no concern, most bubbles will pop on their own, while the rest will be taken care of later.

Homemade ballistic gelatin
Heat the water, no need for boiling.  Hot, but cool enough to get your hands into.
Homemade ballistic gelatin
A spoon with fine holes is great for scooping the final few chunks of undissolved powder

Tip: A spoon with fine holes is great for scooping the final few chunks of undissolved powder, and either discarding them or squishing them between the holes to break them down easily.

Step 2: Cool the mixture

A few hours in the fridge and the whole mix will be solid.

Step 3: Re-melt

The pot you used to mix the gelatin in should now be placed into a hot water bath.  I use my kitchen sink for my stock pot, plug it and fill the sink with hot tap water.  In time, the gelatin will re-melt and all air bubbles will be released.

Tip:  Use a fork to cut up the gelatin into smaller chunks and they will liquefy faster.

Step 4: Prep the objective

Whatever your target form is, spray the inside with vegetable oil, silicone spray or whatever non-stick coating you like.  I used Pam cooking spray.  This reduces the chance your gelatin brick will tear when you're taking it out of the mold.

Step 5: Pour and chill

Pour your liquid mixture into your target mold.  Put the target mold into the fridge.  I used a small garbage can, which netted a 12″ deep target.  Spoiler alert, not deep enough!

Homemade ballistic gelatin
Pour your liquid mixture into your target mold.  Put the target mold into the fridge.

Step 6: Transport and shoot

You can take the gelatin brick to the range while still in the mold, or pop it out at home and give it a cling wrap jacket.  Either way, transporting it in a pre-chilled, iceless cooler is best.  Out in the sun gelatin will (eventually) start to liquefy, so keep it chilled as long as possible.  Contact with ice or similarly cold substances will affect gelatin density.  While I set up my range equipment, I left a reusable shopping bag on the gelatin brick to keep the sun off it.  Worked great.

The three rounds shot into the gel in the video were:

Norma monolithic hollow point
108gr Norma Monolithic Hollow Point 9mm- 9.25″ penetration
sig sauer v crown
Sig Sauer 147 gr Elite V-Crown 9mm- 12+ penetration (through the block)
federal train and protect
Federal 115gr Train and Protect 9mm- 11.25″ penetration.

When I get calibrated gelatin in, I'll test and compare the results, as well as upgrading my slow-motion video from 60fps to 240fps.

Set up your brick, and shoot away!  Best paired with a chronograph to get impact velocity and a camera with slow-motion.  Ballistic gelatin can be reused, just start back at step 3 and remove any foreign debris.

Have you made ballistic gelatin at home?  Sound off in the comments and share your experience with other shooters who may be considering it.


About Rex NanorumJens Hammer

Rex Nanorum is an Alaskan Expatriate living in Oregon with his wife and kids. Growing up on commercial fishing vessels, he found his next adventure with the 2nd Bn, 75th Ranger Regt. After 5 tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, he adventured about the west coast becoming a commercial fisheries and salvage SCUBA diver, rated helicopter pilot instructor (CFII) and personal trainer, before becoming a gear reviewer and writer.” –Rex Nanorum, @Rexnanorum

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Eric Ericx
Member

I’ve been using 20-24+/- oz gelatin to one gal water… hmmm… maybe I’ve been testing my loads for bodybuilders, LOL!
I’ll try 16gelo/gal-water & try the reheat for bubbles (why i went with 20+/oz per gal),,, sounds netter.

Duke
Member
Duke

$0.45/oz at bulkfoods.com (I am not affiliated with them, just found the cheaper price). That’s for buying 5 lb. which may be more than some people want.

Xaun Loc
Member
Xaun Loc

45¢/ounce is a much better price than mentioned in the article, but $36 bucks for a target that most people will destroy in a single range session is still a bit pricey for those of us who aren’t using Other People’s Money

Will Flatt
Member

The whole point in buying $36 worth of gelatin is that you get two substantially-sized blocks that you can accurately test your ammunition in. Loads offered commercially vary widely between brands, yielding a huge spectrum of results. This allows you to decide which ammo is right for your needs.

I would say that’s worth $36 to find out ahead of time; you don’t want to get surprised by underperformance of your ammo in the middle of a gunfight with some street urchin!!

Eric Ericx
Member

Xaun… great point but consider this medium can feasibly be used over and over if you melt (low temp), strain/filter and re-cast.
If you want to see what groups you shoot, use paper… if you want to see what damage your rounds actually do, use ballistics gel.

Green Mtn. Boy
Member
Green Mtn. Boy

A most useful article,Thanks

Lee
Member
Lee

Rex,
I would guess that the second melting and subsequent cooling are meant to achieve a more dense block. Please elaborate on the reason for the second melting.

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax

Lee, When you make it initially, the stirring makes air bubbles. The melt and re-solidify gets rid of the bubbles and ensures consistent density.

Lee
Member
Lee

Thanks. One more question if you will indulge me. How does the density of this compare to ballistic gel?

Xaun Loc
Member
Xaun Loc

Get a .177 BB gun that shoots close to 590fps and find out.

Will Flatt
Member

Pretty close but not exact. FBI standard gelatin is “calibrated”, FWIW.

Lee
Member
Lee

Thanks. Pretty close is good enough for my purposes.

Valuable article. Good job.

Will Flatt
Member

He said in the article that this is to get the air bubbles out from the first cooling of the gelatin. Air bubbles, however small, will skew your results! The object is to get a CONSISTENT medium in which to test ammo.