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So, there's a WW2-1950's-ish era in my world, and currently I'm designing a couple of firearms. As far as I've read most weapons at that time mostly uses stamped metal and wood, and only a very minuscule of them uses synthetic materials.

The weapons I'm designing is a little bit of a mish-mash of the WW2-era and the Cold war-era firearms, which the latter already uses a lot of synthetic or plastic materials to make firearms. Is it possible for the military at around that time to adopt them as a more common firearm material? (Say to replace wooden stocks, pistol grips, handguard, etc)

And does producing synthetic materials at that time more or less time/money consuming than wood in relation to firearms manufacturing?

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    $\begingroup$ The question is like "Could we have jet fighters/nuclear weapons during WW2?" Plastics were a novelty around the time of WW2. We didn't know too many of them and didn't know how to produce them effectively. Wood was the material of choice in places where plastics are used now. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 22 '18 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ What about synthetic materials, I've read that the Nazis uses Bakelite for their MP-40s handguard? Would plastic and synthetic materials be more common in the 1950-1960 time range? $\endgroup$ – WestbrookAD Jan 22 '18 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps yes. Take a look at Timeline of plastic development, and make sure to check details for every plastic type, because it often took years or even decades between plastic's discovery and establishing an efficient industrial process for its manufacturing. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 23 '18 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Please take a moment to visit the tour and help center $\endgroup$ – Burki Jan 23 '18 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ ask yourself, is the use of plastic essential? could steel, or wood, rubber, ceramic, mica, seashell, leather, hemp (etc) be substituted? $\endgroup$ – Jasen Jan 23 '18 at 10:04
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Yes, but you can't replace wood completely yet

Bakelite, an early plastic, was widely used in firearms development by WW2. While occasionally used for complex structures (such as the grip assembly of the MP40), the most common application was grips, such as on the Webley revolvers, Walther P38, and MG42.

While some firearms were produced using plastics for a buttstock, mostly German weapons such as the aforementioned MG42, these designs used very short and heavily reinforced stocks of a profile substantially different from a traditional rifle stock. At this point in weapons design history, plastics were too brittle and weak against shearing forces to withstand high stress across thin areas the way wood can.

Firearms designed for expedient production in this era, particularly submachine guns, generally didn't use either plastic or wood for a stock. They often used metal stocks of the sliding or folding styles, which are unpleasant to shoot, but allow maximum compactness and are cheap and easy to make. Even in the modern era, rifles optimized for compactness (usually for specialists, like paratroopers) sometimes use this style of stock arrangement.

Rifles intended for front-line infantry, though, used fixed wooden stocks until the development of better plastics, starting in the late-1960s with the M16 (which did have durability issues with its plastic stock- the technology wasn't quite ready). It was really in the mid-1970s that plastic furniture came into vogue with the G3A3 and Commonwealth-production FALs, after the era you specified.

To summarize: Yes, firearms were developed with plastics in lieu of wood, but wood was still preferable as a stock material until the 1970s. If wood is unavailable or undesirable, plastics can substitute for low-stress ergonomic parts, while stocks will be constructed from metal.

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Yes, it could.

Bakelite, for instance, seems to have been already used for gun parts during WWII, exactly in the way the OP describes.

Other available materials were

  1. Ebonite, a hard rubber;
  2. PVC;
  3. PE;
  4. Teflon, discovered in 1938, and used after WWII to coat bullets;
  5. Neoprene, this one for improving the grip of handles.

I could not find evidence that these plastics they were used for weaponry production during WWII, but nothing seems to forbid it.

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It's your world. It's also technically possible. So I guess the answer is yes.

What do you need for it to happen?

Most plastics, even today, are derived from mineral oil. Which is a shame, really, because there are other sources perfectly suitable that would cause a lot less problems, but I digress.

So you want a thriving petrochemical industry, and you want a need that accelerates the development of plastics for use in weapons manufacturing.

For the need, all you have to do is pick a country, and someone who decides it might be a good idea.

Machining wood to provide stocks and grips is perfectly feasible, but pressure casting of molten plastic should be more efficient. So assuming your weapons manufacturer simply found that using plastic would be cheaper, given the tall orders he got from the government, it's all a question of wanting to do it. Let it happen in germany, for their derire for the most advanced stuff you could think of. You could also use the US, for their large oil reserves at the time.

The rest should move along just fine.

Add into the story the fact that wooden stocks and grips need more maintenance (especially in wet conditions which you get at times in a battle) than plastic does, and you should be fine.

But in the end it really just boils down to:
- Is it possible? Yes. See above.
- Do I want it? Yes. Otherwise you wouldn't have asked the question.
- Can I make it credible? Yes. See above, if you really have to, or just ignore it. After all, it's your world!

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