Steel armor is a widely used and cost-effective form of body armor, however some users are not aware of the danger from bullet spalling and fragmentation, or the difference between the two.

When steel body armor is struck by projectiles it produces two potentially dangerous effects, spall and fragmentation.

We will explore the differences between spall and fragmentation, the dangers they pose, and the techniques used to mitigate these risks.

bullet fragmentation on steel palte
Steel plate without full frag build up coating

What is Spall?

Spall refers to the flakes or fragments of material that break away from the back face of a steel armor plate when it is struck by a projectile such as a bullet.

The high speed impact of the bullet creates a shockwave that travels through the steel body armor causing the steel on the opposite side of the impact to break away in small, sharp fragments.

These fragments can then be propelled into the protected area behind the armor, posing a risk to the person wearing the armor.

The sharp fragments carry with them the possibility of severe injury to the soft mushy torso behind the armor.

What is Fragmentation?

Fragmentation refers to the pieces of a projectile that break apart upon impact with a steel armor plate.

As the projectile strikes the steel body armor, the high-speed collision and subsequent deformation of the bullet causes it to shatter into multiple smaller fragments. These fragments can then ricochet off the body armor and strike an unprotected area of the wearer, posing a threat to the wearer and nearby individuals.

The main concern is the eyes, face, and neck area, all of which are directly above the plate itself and can result in blindness or a severed artery. The groin is also of concern because… well do you want sharp, hot, metal fragments there?

Frag is not unique to only steel armor, ceramic plates are capable of ceramic fragments being ejected from a plate upon impact. Due to the nature of these impacts this is generally contained within the plate carrier.

On a serious note, I didn’t really put much consideration into bullet frag for a long time. I was out at the range working on pistol techniques and someone in our group was struck by frag from the steel target after it was shot from a 9mm. He is fine, however from 12 yards away the fragmentation sliced his skin pretty well.

How To Prevent Spall and Fragmentation?

As discussed, when steel armor is impacted by bullets, two potentially hazardous effects can occur – spall and fragmentation. Let’s now review the strategies used to reduce these dangers. We will examine three forms of prevention, anti-spall coating, spall liners, and a do it yourself (DIY) spall coating approach. Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is essential to make an educated decision when deciding which form of protection is suitable for you.

Anti-Spall Coatings

frag build up coat
Build up vs bare steel

The primary method for mitigating the risks of fragmentation and spall is an anti-spall coating.

These coatings, often made from materials such as polyurea or specialized rubber compounds, are applied to the surface of the steel armor plate.

The coating serves as an additional barrier that traps fragmentation and spall fragments, reducing the likelihood of injury and collateral damage.

This comes standard on all Tacticon steel plates, we don’t believe in charging extra for something that should be standard.

Frag coating being sprayed onto steel plate
Spray on frag coating

Spall Liners

Another common method for reducing the risk of spall in steel armor is a specialized spall liner. Spall liners are typically made from materials such as Kevlar or polyethylene which are capable of absorbing frag and spall fragments.

These liners are installed over the plate providing an additional layer of protection that can capture and contain spall fragments, reducing the risk of injury and collateral damage.

This is essential if you have an inferior plate without advanced spall coating.

DIY Spall Coating

I have to mention this because it’s asked a lot, ‘How do I make DIY spall coating?’

I have seen people do all sorts of crazy things to steel armor plates including duct tape, and flexible sealant.

Please don’t do this. Do NOT redneck equipment that is supposed to save your life!

Frag will most likely rip through duct tape, plus to be effective, you will need so much duct tape you might as well buy new plates because that’s how much you’ll spend in duct tape.

Frag coating is specialized coating engineered to stop frag, why trust your life to duct tape, or a company where the coating is an expensive upcharge? 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it is clear that bullet spalling and fragmentation are two very dangerous phenomena that can occur when bullets are fired into steel body armor. Understanding the differences between the two is important, as they require different methods of prevention. Anti-spall coatings and spall liners are viable options for preventing bullet spall and fragmentation – NOT DIY spall coating. Ultimately, it is important to understand the risks associated with bullet spall and fragmentation and take necessary precautions to ensure safety. 

Of course, it should also be noted that any type of gun ownership carries certain risks, so exercising caution and responsibility at all times is essential. Taking the proper steps to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you is always the best option when handling firearms.

Curious how Tacticon makes the best body armor? Find out below.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.