The term "bullet" is often applied to the self-contained device inserted into the chamber of a firearm; the correct term for this is
'cartridge.' A cartridge is comprised of a cartridge case, powder, primer and bullet. Bullets comprise only one class of projectile.
Other projectile types include shot, sabots, slugs, ferret rounds, and missile warheads--among others. The collective term then for
cartridges and other small arms projectile delivery systems is 'ammunition,' the larger, more inclusive term covering all projectile
delivery systems being the term 'ordinance.'
Such distinctions may seem a bit stodgy to some, but it is important to revisit the more precise terminology from time to time to
insure the language does not inadvertantly drift to new, perhaps less precise meaning.
Bullets are perhaps the mostly widely used small arms projectiles among many in the shooting world. Although there are only two
basic means of producing bullets, an entire science, a unique technology and a vast industry have evolved in the effort to understand
and improve them. The external and internal ballistics of bullet technology have demanded their own unique formulae, for example,
and the industry continues to find ways to improve areodynamic performance, energy retention, weight retention and impact energy.
Bullets are produced commercially in several ways--extruding, lathing, molding and swaging. Of these, molding and swaging are the
most common means, as well as the only means available for most reloaders.
In the golden age of the musket and rifle, before the age of mass production, assembly lines and standardization, master gunsmiths
included two things of primary importance to the individual gun owner--a bullet mold and a cherry. The bullet mold was usually
manufactured using the cherry that accompanied the firearm. The cherry, essentially a hardened tool made to the exact dimensions
and shape of the nominal projectile for the firearm was used to make future molds for casting bullets should the need arise.
When a new bullet mold was needed for whatever reason, a competent blacksmith could take the cherry issued with the firearm and
turn it between two mold-blanks, producing a bullet mold 'tuned' to the precise diameter of the firearm's bore. In those days, almost
everyone 'poured his own.'
Today, even with a burgeoning ammunition industry, the shooter has the option of 'pouring his own.' Bullet molds are standard fare,
plentiful and easy to use. The shooter even has the option to have custom bullet molds made to his own specifications at a relatively
affordable price. (See links below or browse the Reloading Page)
Molding bullets is a simple process of melting lead or one of many lead alloys and pouring the molten lead into the mold. The softest
lead and usually the easiest to melt is what is known as 'wheel weight lead'--the kind of lead often used in wheel weights to balance
car tires. As some applications call for harder alloy, wheel weight lead is often mixed with tin and/or antimony to harden it. The
velocity ceiling for soft lead is around 1500-1800 feet per second. To increase the velocity and prevent bore leading it is necessary
to 'harden' lead. Lead with a Brinell Hardness approaching '20' can be pushed to 2000 fps+ without substantial leading and gas
In the end, the practical velocity ceiling for lead bullets, even with copper gas seals, is at or around 2000 fps. The need to go faster
essentially dictated other means of bullet production--enter, the art of 'swaging.'
Swaging bullets is not a new technology but it has been vastly improved in the last twenty years or so. There are several simple
processes by which bullets are swaged. One means is to pour powdered lead into a cup mold and use a swaging die to press it into
shape under high pressure. Another means is to use lead wire of the appropriate diameter, cut it to proper weight and length with a
cutting die and then force the wire into shape in a high pressure swaging die.
Most modern commercial bullets are manufactured using one form of swaging or another, the demand for speed necessitating
the use of guilding metal and requiring several new steps for a finished product. Most often there is a two part process comprised
of several steps: 1) a lead core is swaged to 'at or near' the desired density and shape; 2) the outer guilding, usually copper, is
pre-shaped either from sheet copper or copper tubing; 3) the core is pressed into the guilding cup; 4) the core is chemically bonded
to the copper cup; and 5) the bullet is 'final-formed' by compression in a high pressure swaging die.
Inspite of the rising complexities of proprietary commercial practice, the do-it-yourself crowd is still well-served by die makers
like Dave Corbin who provide dies and provide the materials necessary to swage your own bullets (see hot links below). One of the
unique features of do-it-yourself bullet making that should be of interest to many shooters is the prospect of using spent .22 Long
Rifle brass as bullet guilding. Corbin, as well as others, provided instructions and dies, lead wire, core molds and swaging dies for
.224 bullets along with many other bullet calibers. Furthermore, there is a burgeoning market for emerging die makers willing to
make custom dies to individual specifications, many for a very reasonable price.
Manufacturers of Swaging Equipment:
http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=bullet+swaging+dies (used dies/auction/purchase)
http://www.gunsgunsguns.com/a.r.bullets.htm (cached page, links)