Bullet swaging is a process or system used to produce projectiles of many types. Swaging is a system in which all of the various parts; the dies, press, core cutters, jackets (if used), lubricant, and other tools all work together to produce the bullet.
The Hammer Swage or pound die is the earliest type of die. A piece of steel has a cavity machined into it. A lead slug is placed in the die, a base punch is inserted into the die, and the punch is hit with a heavy hammer or mallet. The lead slug is “pounded” into a bullet. The die is then turned over and banged against a solid object until the bullet is jarred out of the die. A more modern approach uses an ejection punch to push the bullet out of the die. Making bullets in this manner is very slow and not especially precise.
Reloading presses have been used to swage small caliber bullets almost since the invention of the loading press but such dies are not a very good way to make bullets. One problem with using a loading press is that the linkage, pins, and toggle of the press are too light for the task. The swaging dies usually don’t have any automatic ejection system so that a mallet must be used to knock the bullet out of the die. Attempting to swage rifle bullets much over .30 caliber or pistol bullets over .45 caliber puts far too much load on the press and can damage it. More importantly the typical loading press has a long stroke that greatly limits the amount of pressure the press can develop. This means that it is difficult to swage larger caliber bullets, especially in rifle calibers. The press also does not have a long enough “throat" so that it is not possible to use special tooling in it. Bullets can be made using a reloading press but the process is tedious, tiring, and limits what can be done.
RCE, LLC™ no longer makes any reloading press swages.
A Lead Bullet Dieis used to make semi-wadcutter (SWC) or wadcutter (WC) bullets. The lead bullet die has two punches that form the nose and base of the bullet. The punches can be changed to make different style bullets but the bullet diameter is set by the die and cannot be changed. A small hole in the side of the bleeds off excess lead to control the bullet weight. The bullet will always have a small step or shoulder where the bullet nose and bearing meet. A Keith type of bullet is one example of the SWC bullet.
A Two Die Set is used to make lead bullets that do not have the step between the nose and bearing. The first die is a Core Swage Die. The core swage die takes a rough cast or cut lead core, bleeds off excess lead, and makes the core into a dense, uniform flat-ended slug. Then the core is swaged in a Point Forming Die. The point form die brings the bullet to the correct diameter and gives the bullet its shape. The bullet is now ready to be lubricated and used. A dip lube is used as the swaged bullets cannot be grooved.
Lead bullets for rifles are made in a similar manner as lead pistol bullets. A semi-wadcutter bullet can be using the lead bullet die. Usually a longer ogive is used. A long round nose, round nose flat point, and even some short spitzer ogives are common. Most often the bullet base will be a cup base or a flat base.
A Smooth Ogive Bullet, one that does not have the step, is better for longer ranges. Like the lead pistol bullet the smooth ogive rifle bullet is made using a core swage and a point-forming die. The two-die set produces a very accurate and uniform bullet each time.
The Combination Dieis used when speed of production is more important than the best in accuracy. This die combines the core swage and point form into one die. Each press stroke produces a finished bullet. This type of die is popular with custom bullet makers where time is money.
A Dual Diameter Bullet can be made in different ways. The dual diameter or bore rider bullet has some of the forward bearing reduced in diameter to rest on top of the rifling and guide the bullet into the barrel. It is a very effective bullet and far superior to the tapered bearing bullet. The best way to make the bullet is to first use the two-die set to make a straight-sided bullet. The straight-sided bullet is then swaged in a Dual Diameter Sizer Die, which converts the bullet into a bore rider type.
The Tapered Bearing Bulletis an old, obsolete design that was once popular in Schutzen rifles but it is not as good of a design as the dual diameter bullet. RCE, LLC™ no longer will make dies for this type of bullet.
For more information about making lead bullets see “Richard’s Swaging Book”, chapter three.
Paper patched or paper jacketed bullets have been used since the middle 1800s. Military, target, and hunting bullets were often paper patched. The swaged, patched bullet is much better than a cast bullet for replica and original blackpowder era rifles. The patched bullet also is of use with modern smokeless cartridges.
Paper patching is simple to do although getting the best out of a rifle may require trying different things and making several trips to the range. The dies for paper-patched bullets are the same as for ordinary lead bullets. The most critical thing when making this type of bullet is to match the patched bullet to the rifle.
For more information on paper patched bullets see “Richard’s Swaging Book”, chapter four.
The various types of bullet bases are pretty well understood although the cup base and hollow base are often confused. A cup base is a shallow, usually rounded, depression in the base of the bullet. Much as if a bearing ball had been pressed into the bullet base. A hollow base has a conical or rounded shape that is relatively deep in the bullet. The hollow base insures the bullet will expand to fit the rifling grooves when light loads are used or allows an undersize bullet to be loaded into a muzzleloading rifle.
Bullet ogives are somewhat more confusing. When talking about SWC bullets the ogive is often called the bullet nose. Common handgun ogives are the Keith style, conical, truncated conical, H&G 68, and various round noses.
Round nose ogives are specified by how long the ogive is. A 1/2S or 1/2E ogive is 1/2 caliber long. A 1E round nose is one caliber long. Short ogives such as the 3/4E are popular in handgun bullets. The 1/2E is used in both handguns and for large African close range bullets. Longer round nose bullets such as a 1E or 1 1/4E are used for rifle bullets.
Truncated conical (TC)ogives are usually pistol bullets however longer TC ogives can give good results in rifles. It should be noted that there is no "standard" TC ogive. It can be whatever the bullet maker wants but there are some common designs that are well proven.
A spitzer ogive is usually used with rifle bullets but some high performance handguns use short spitzers. The spitzer ogive is described by a number and the letter S. The number is the radius of the ogive in calibers. A .30 caliber bullet could have an 8S radius, a 4S radius, a 10S radius, or nearly anything else. A .308 8S spitzer would have a radius of 8 times .308" or 2.464". All spitzer ogives are tangent ogives meaning that the radius will blend smoothly into the bearing of the bullet.
Another ogive is the spire point. A spire point is like a sharp pencil. It has a straight angle and the angle can be whatever is wanted. If a pistol bullet is made the angle is rather wide making a short ogive. Pistol spire points are called conical ogives.
An ogive that is common in military bullets is the secant ogive. Like the other ogives there is no one standard secant ogive. The ogive looks similar to a tangent or spitzer ogive but there is a noticeable sharp break where the ogive and bearing meet. The secant ogive lets the bullet designer use a sharper ogive while keeping the bullet length within requirements.
The VLD or Very Low Drag ogive, sometimes called a ULD or Ultra Low Drag ogive is usually a secant ogive that has a very long point. In this case the object is to stretch the bullet out as much as possible to try to improve down-range ballistics. Once again there is no one standard design. Everyone making a VLD has their own idea of what is best. VLD is a sort of hopeful name as Very Low Drag doesn't mean anything unless it is compared to some other bullet. A VLD design would be better than a round nose but often a long spitzer will outshoot a VLD bullet.
Please go to the on-line book, "Richard's Swaging Book" for additional information.