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How do you swage bullets?

Bullet swaging is a method of using pressure to form a bullet, which is the inert metal portion of the cartridge (which becomes a projectile when fired) by using pressure to flow the materials at room temperature.

Unlike casting, no heat or molten metal is used. The high pressure is applied with a special, powerful press (either hand or hydraulic powered) designed to hold a precision, diamond-lapped die (the vessel that holds the pressure and controls the bullet diameter) and both an internal (inside the ram) punch and an external (in the press head) punch.

The punches press against the material inside the die from both ends, and cause it to flow, filling the die and taking on the exact shape and finish of the die and punch ends. Safety, speed, precision, versatility, and low cost for the number of weights are some of the benefits of swaging.

These are the basic variations in bullets that require different sets or combinations of the swage dies:

  • LSWC (lead, SWC-nose style, any base including GC and BG) - Uses a Corbin LSWC-1 swage die, where bullet nose and base are formed against punch ends.
  • OGIVAL LEAD (smooth curve nose to shank, all lead, any base) - Uses a Corbin CSW-1 core swage for exact weight, and then a PF-1 point form die for bullet nose shape and sizing. The ogive is formed against the interior die wall so there is not a nose punch for this style of die, there is an ejection pin instead that assists in the bullets ejection from the die as the press handle is returned to its stationary position.
  • JSWC (jacketed shank, swc-nose style, any base) - Uses the JSWC-2 die set, which consists of a Corbin CSW-1 core swage and a Corbin CS-1 core seat die, to swage an exact weight core and then assemble it into a jacket, which will also form the base and nose against the punch ends.
  • FJFB (full jacket, flat base open tip, any ogive shape) - Uses the FJFB-3 die set, which consists of the CSW-1 core swage, the CS-1 core seater, and the PF-1 point former. The core is swaged to weight in the CSW-1 core swage, then placed inside a jacket. The jacket and core are expanded and any hollow cavity or cup base shape applied during core seating in the CS-1 die. The ogive or nose curve is formed in the PF-1 point forming die.
  • LTFB (full jacket, flat base lead tip, any ogive shape) - Uses the LTFB-4 die set, which consists of the FJFB-3 plus a LT-1 lead tip finishing die. The bullet is made exactly like the previous item, except that enough lead is put into the jacket so it protrudes from the tip. The LT-1 lead tip die is used to clean up and reshape this extra lead so it forms a perfect lead tip against a punch in the LT-1 die. (The same LT-1 die can be used for many different shapes in the same caliber, by using different internal punches).
  • RBTO (full jacket, rebated boattail, open tip,any ogive shape) - Uses the RBTO-4 Rebated Boattail, Open tip die set which consists of a CSW-1 core swage to adjust core weight, a BT-1 boattail preforming die which substitutes for the core seater and starts the angled base on the jacket as the core is pressed into the jacket, a BT-2 boattail finishing die which finishes the base with a sharp rebate, and a PF-1 die with a base punch that matches the rebated boattail angle and depth.
  • RBTL (full jacket, rebated boattail, lead tip, any ogive shape) - Uses the RBTL-5 die set, which is just the RBTO-4 described above plus the LT-1 die to finish the lead tip, exactly as with a flat base lead tip bullet.Note that there is also a FRBL-6 die set, which merely adds the flat base capability so you can make both RBT and FB bullets, open or lead tip.

Briefly, here are the steps in making a lead tip, flat base rifle bullet:

1. Cut the coreUse Corbin LW-10 lead wire and PCS-1 core cutter, ...or...cast the core with the Corbin CM-4 core mould and your scrap lead

2. Swage the coreUse CSW-1 core swage to get exact weight. Just put the core into the die, and adjust the external punch holder so the press always goes to the top of the stroke so you leave a consistent volume in the die. Equal volume equals equal weight left: the rest of the lead bleeds out three holes in the side of the die.

3. Seat the corePut core in jacket, press together in CS-1 core swage. Use a little CSL-2 Corbin Swage Lube on your fingers, and give the jacket a slight roll to spread the lube on it as you drop it into the die. Just press gently, to make sure the jacket expands.

4. Form the pointShape the ogive in the PF-1 point form die. Depending on how much lead you used for a given length of jacket, you can have an open tip or a lead tip at this point. The open tip is finished.

5. Finish the tipFor sharper lead tips, reshape in LT-1 lead tip die. This die has a punch that is the right shape to match the point form ogive curve, and just gently finishes the lead tip to perfection.

And here are the steps to make a paper patched rifle bullet, or a hollow base wadcutter pistol bullet, or any similar all-lead bullet regardless of the nose and base shape:

1. Cut the core

  • Use Corbin LW-10 lead wire and PCS-1 core cutter ...or...cast the core with the Corbin CM-4 core mould and your scrap lead

2. Swage the bullet

  • Use LSWC-1 lead swage die with desired nose and base punch, to form any lead bullet with a small shoulder (punch edge forms this...eliminating it means using a point form die instead).

Obviously, there are thousands upon thousands of other variations of bullets you can swage, but all of them simply add a hollow point punch or a boattail base, or serrate the jacket, or put teeth on the end of the bullet by pushing it against a special punch...it's not brain surgery!

Once you know how to make a couple of basic styles, you know enough to make almost any bullet. Some special shapes may take a special tool, such as the perfect round ball. But by and large, the instructions that come with the dies are more than sufficient to teach a person who is capable of making handloads how to swage bullets.

Sometimes the sheer size of our web site and the wealth of tools we offer scares off people who don't take the time to look closer, and see that any given bullet only uses a tiny bit of all this equipment. We make nearly everything that has been made, for swaging, because we've been dedicated to developing the technology for over 30 years. But you don't need ALL of it! You don't even need very much of it...just the items that make the bullets you are most interested in building.

By taking the time to look over the design, terminology, and swaging instructions step by step, you'll soon come to realize that it is very basic, simple technology: you just press metal into shape within dies, expanding the diameter as you shorten the length slightly in each step. What makes it unusual, and the reason fewer people swage than cast bullets, is the high precision required to build the swage dies that can handle enough pressure to actually expand and shape solid, room-temperature metal. Making the dies isn't that easy. But using them is easier than reloading.

Because you are in total control over the materials and technique used to make your own bullets, you have an opportunity to build far better bullets for your own purpose than the mass producers will ever have. They must make millions of the same bullet to sell to tens of thousands of average shooters...so naturally, they can't be blamed for building an average product. It must be that way, by definition of mass marketing. You, on the other hand, are one person, and if you have read this far, you are not an average shooter. You may benefit by using an above average bullet, made the way you want it, in the exact weight, shape, style, and construction you've always wanted for a given purpose but couldn't buy from a high volume mass production supplier. They can't afford to make you a box of bullets, just the way you want them. But you can do it easily.

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How to Swage Bullets