deadly improvised prison weapons and tools

Keeping up with inmate improvisation deadly  is an endless and thankless project. It seems nothing brings out the ingenuity in a person like an endless sea of days spent staring through bars and thinking about freedom.


Photographer Marc Steinmetz must have understood this when he set out to create the fantastic photo essay we’ve printed below, showing some of the most cunning and creative improvised weapons and tools built by inmates in his home country of Germany.

Whatever the hell THIS is

What’s worse than finding yourself in a notoriously violent German prison? Being whipped by a loose bundle of razor blades in a notoriously violent German prison, that’s what. A couple of entries in this list have pointed to the (often violent and tragically misplaced) ingenuity shown by prisoners when they invent ways to do what they want in a highly restricted environment. This entry is proof of the opposite—violent prisoners are often stupid as hell.

It seems likely that, very much like any flail-like weapon in the hands of anyone except a trained medieval Knight, this weapon is just as likely to cause serious harm to the user as it would the enemy. It’d take a long, deep hit on your toothpaste- tube-crack-pipe to numb the pain caused by your prison-made razor whip…what a weird sentence.

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Agricultural Flamethrower

If you thought the war scythe was the most deadly weapon improvised using farming equipment, you’re wrong. From the infancy of the previous centrury, the Irish Republican Army was engaged in a brutal guerrilla war against the British state and, much like the Viet Kong’s use of bamboo spikes, whipping vines and poisonous snakes as improvised weapons in the jungle war with the US, the IRA decided to make use of their surroundings—the sprawling farmlands of Ulster.

In 1992, the IRA attacked a British Military watchtower in Crossmaglen, County Armagh. Did they use they’re stolen guns, or their illegally shipped arms from Libya, their Armalite rifles and Soviet-era RPGs? Nope. This time they took their inspiration from their surroundings—they modified an agricultural manure spreader, towed by a tractor, but instead of flinging faeces on a field, the IRA flung arcs of burning fuel at the Brits. The four soldiers manning the tower narrowly escaped the nine-meter high fireball that consumed the structure, fleeing to a nearby armoured vehicle. In an odd reversal, perhaps indirect inspiration, farmers in the US now employ a similar device to get rid of weeds. Full circle.[

Catapults and Trebuchets in the Syrian Civil War

Perhaps we can understand why the soldiers of the Great War reverted to the tactics and weaponry of a previous age; they were engaged in the first war of the modern era. The civil war in Syria, however, is well into the modern era. I mean, it’s still going on, isn’t it? (Thanks Covid, BLM and Hong Kong, I know of nothing else now). The rebel faction fighting against Assad and his government forces have really upped their game with regard to improvising weapons. There’s no sending a fence post to the blacksmith here, oh no. They’re making machines reminiscent of medieval sieges and Roman battlefields.

The French Nail

Ready for a hot take? The First World War was a brutal affair. If we move beyond the unprecedented death count (until the next world war came along), the huge leap in weapon technology and the creep of the battlefield to the home front, we can conversely note a technological regression amongst the rank and file soldiers manning the trenches. Clubs, spades, hunting knives and bayonets were often preferred to the fancy guns provided by the army when soldiers were tasked with conducting a trench raid.

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Zimbabwean Poachers’ Guns

Here’s another way that the illegal hunting of endangered big game can blow up in your face; make your own gun. Much like the EOKA pistol, these examples of confiscated hunting rifles in Zimbabwe don’t exactly match up to the craftsmanship of Holland&Holland, Beretta or VO Vapen. The main difference is that these poachers’ guns are ‘designed’ to put big holes in big animals which, if some catastrophic misfire occurs, will blow a big chunk out of the user instead.

Marble Guns from Southeast Asia

Did you ever get a potato gun as a kid? Maybe you had a BB gun if you had cool/negligent parents? Well, in parts of Southeast Asia, you can just bodge up a marble gun yourself. Sounds fun doesn’t it? A little pop gun that fires those cool, age-old kids playthings; marbles. Yay! Yeah, these guns are actually pretty brutal.

This sort of marble/ball bearing-firing zip guns use gas pressure from ignited denatured alcohol. They’re cheap and easy to make and useful for people who live in mountainous or jungle terrain; when they need food, they need to hunt. There are often no shops close by, neither supermarkets nor gun stores, and even if there were a whole bunch of Walmarts dotted around the Mekong Delta or the mountains of Laos, there isn’t a lot of cash floating around, rendering the purchase of guns a luxury that’s out of reach to your average resident in such areas.