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Bullet Swaging: (Pronounced "Sway-jing", like "Gaging" or "Paging")...

To "Swage" is to form projectiles (bullets, not loaded cartridges) using high pressure (instead of heat) which flows the materials at room temperature to take the shape of the cavity in a closed high-strength die.

Swage is pronounced like "wage" or "stage". It is not "swag" like "rag" or "bag", which is fabric draped in a loop, or the items stolen by a thief, similar to the booty taken by pirates.

Swaging is the opposite of drawing. When you DRAW a bullet or jacket, you push it through an open ring die that reduces the size. When you SWAGE a bullet, you expand it to a slightly larger size in a pressure-sealed die. You can draw down, but you always swage up.

Pressure in the 10,000 to 50,000 psi range is applied with a powerful high precision press. The pressure is applied through hardened, high strength punches which compress the material inside the diamond-lapped die. This causes expansion in diameter to the exact shape and size of the die cavity and punch ends, transferring the precision finish of the die and punch to the bullet.

The process can be used to make lead or jacketed bullets, even lead-free bullets, in virtually any caliber and shape. Pellets, shotgun slugs, pistol and rifle bullets, round balls for muzzle loaders -- nearly any kind of bullet -- can be swaged in one or more steps, depending on the design. For more than 40 years, Corbin has been the world's foremost manufacturer of bullet swaging equipment, supplies, and information.

Bullets are either made of one material such as solid lead, copper or a powdered metal mixture, or they are "jacketed", meaning the core material is covered by a "skin" normally made of relatively thin copper or brass alloy. The "jacket" can be purchased from Corbin, or made at home from copper tubing or from flat copper strip, with Corbin jacket-making tools. Jackets protect the core material from excess friction, deformation from gas pressure in the barrel, and control performance on impact. They also protect the bore from fouling or melting of the core material from friction and heat. Both jacketed and non-jacketed bullets can be swaged easily with Corbin tools.

Design page Bullets are the part of a cartridge which are propelled through the air to the target. They are not the entire cartridge, which consists of a bullet, a cartridge case or casing, gun powder, and a primer to ignite the powder. It is very important to use the right terminology and to understand that although many people say "bullet" when they mean "cartridge" or "Loaded round", the bullet is ONLY the inert piece of metal which becomes a projectile when the gun is fired.

There are three ways to make bullets:

  1. Casting
    is the oldest method, as well as the one that most hobby reloaders use. Casting uses a lead furnace to melt the bullet alloys, mould handles, a mould for each weight, shape, and caliber of bullet, then a sizer and lubricator device to correct the diameter and apply a thick bullet lubricant.

  2. Machining
    from solid materials requires a large investment in precision machine tools but is more precise than casting. It is slow, and subject to tool wear, chatter, and machine variables and is used only by a few custom bullet firms, or sometimes to build a prototype bullet.

  3. Swaging
    uses room-temperature materials that can include solid, jacketed, or lead, plastic and powdered metals. The tools are a high pressure press that can flow the bullet materials without melting them, and diamond-lapped, high precision dies with matching punches that instantly give the materials their final dimensions (shape, caliber and even internal constructions) with no further processing, lubricating, or sizing.

Both casting and swaging are simple processes. Swaging is the most precise method of making a bullet. It is extremely fast, easy to learn, and has many additional advantages over casting.

Five Problems with Casting

The problems with castings are:

  1. The process itself involves extremely hot molten metal, which is viewed by some as a toxic process even though it probably is less dangerous to health than breathing the fumes from automobiles in the typical city street. But the main danger is from burns and lead pot explosions: a drop of water, a fly or moth that suddenly drops into the pot, can cause the entire content to fly into the air with an explosive force. Wearing a face mask and other burn protective clothing is not only sensible, it can save your vision and your good looks! With children around, casting bears certain risks that are not present with the cold metal forming technology of swaging.

  2. There is little flexibility for those who like to experiment with bullet shapes because each shape, caliber, or weight requires an investment in a new mould, and the only way you can get custom shapes is to pay for a custom shaped mould. In contrast, swaging offers almost unlimited weights and dozens of styles in a single swage die, based on technique alone. As you add more punches and dies, the possibilities multiply, since you can combine steps on a single bullet to produce shapes none of the parts would have made by themselves.

  3. The time for melting lead, heating the moulds, casting, inspecting, rejecting, sorting, sizing and lubricating, cooling and cleaning up makes it difficult to try a few bullets on a moments notice, whereas swaging can be done in seconds starting with a roll of lead wire and a swage die. The finished bullet pops out of the die ready to shoot, no sizing, lubricating, or other time-consuming operation is necessary for a vast majority of designs, certainly all those which are similar to the cast bullet.

  4. The basic design of any cast bullet is a frozen piece of lead, eliminating the possibility of jackets, partitions, shot-filled cups, multi-part bullets, bonded cores, hollow-base/hollow point combos, and thousands of other innovative designs, whereas swaging allows all of these exciting designs and more.

  5. Inaccuracies can easily result as trapped air or other gases cause unwanted internal bubbles that lead to variations in weight and balance. (The split mould exposed on the open sides to room temperature air with four or five times hotter metal on the other side of the cavity makes it virtually impossible to cast a truely round bullet; high temperature molten lead goes to room temperature on every bullet cast, so that thermal size variation is a built-in factor that is extremely difficult to eliminate.) In contrast, swaging works with precise round holes that are not split down the middle and do not have to be heated and cooled for every bullet. The pressures used are usually 2000 times that which is placed on molten lead when it is poured, eliminating all voids and trapped air inside the bullet core.

Why Major Ammo Makers Swage Their Bullets

The newer method, and the one used by the major ammunition companies, benchrest bullet makers, and virtually everyone who is interested in making the most accurate bullet possible, is swaging, or pressure-forming. Unlike casting, swaging does not involve heating molten metal, so it simply doesn't have the same toxicity or danger of burns or fire. Moreover, swaging is a very flexible process, allowing one to make multiple variations on a theme with a single set of dies. A single swage die is equivalent to thousands of moulds, since it can make virtually any weight of bullet in many styles. You can even make your own jackets from common materials such as copper tubing, copper strip, or fired .22 cases, and produce bullets that outshoot anything you could buy off the shelf (since you can control the bullet weight, shape, and style precisely for the best result in your particular firearm).

Swaging is much better suited to high-volume manufacturing with virtually no variation from bullet to bullet. Notice that everyone from Blount to Winchester makes their bullets using the swaging method. Recent Speer ads make our point clearly by specifically pointing out precision swaging as the method of production. Of course, swaging has long been the only viable choice for anyone in the commercial jacketed bullet field, with the exception of electro-plated lead bullets (and many of them are first swaged from lead, plated, and then re-swaged in Corbin dies to regain their precision diameter and finish).

Corbin Swage Tools Work For You,Too!

For years, many hand loaders have been under the impression that swaging was too expensive or complicated for them. The myth has been repeated over and over, sometimes by those who would prefer that you do NOT know the truth (since then, you would know that you could make the same product that you now feel you must pay them to produce for you!).

In the years just after the Second World War, right up until the mid-1970's, there was in fact some truth to this. Bullet swaging equipment was, at one time, only built for the benchrest shooter by a few dedicated die-makers, who had to charge the equivalent of several thousand of today's dollars for their painstaking work. World records were set by bullets swaged in these dies. A few firms tried to offer low cost versions but the result was typically very poor, and nearly all of them went out of business eventually.

Partly because of the people who tried to cut corners and make cheap swaging tools, swaging got an undeserved bad reputation among shooters who had never tried it, or had only tried the cheaper tools. (The same is true today: a handful of low-end producers do in fact make cheaper versions of Corbin tools, even copying the nomenclature and catalog numbering system. But it has always been easier to copy terminology than quality.)

Corbin die Works, photo

The Source Behind the Scenes

For decades, Corbin Manufacturing has been quietly supplying high-quality equipment for the world's top custom bullet makers. Prices compare favorably to casting, especially when you consider that a single set of swage dies can make an almost unlimited variety of bullet weights and styles, and when you are finished pulling the handle of the press, you are DONE! No further sizing, lubricating, inspecting, rejects... only perfectly swaged bullets of precision diameter and weight, every time!

Carefully hand-built dies and individually machined swage presses made in the Corbin die-works represent the highest standard for professional or hobby bullet swaging. Since the beginning, handloaders and experimenters, businesses and defense agencies have lined up to get their names on the delivery list for Corbin dies. Demand has been so great that delivery took two to three years! (Today, from our new die-works, only about 10 percent of "standard" tools take longer than 90 days to build, and most custom tools are shipped within six months or less, depending on the current number and complexity of pending jobs.)

Corbin has become the world's leading source for bullet swaging partly because: (1) Corbin developed the semi-custom production method for swaging equipment, making it possible to offer every caliber from .142 to 1-inch projectiles both in custom designs and off the shelf, without having to design every swage set from scratch, and thus greatly reduced the cost of high quality tooling, and (2) Corbin offers a virtual one-stop shop for everything associated with bullet swaging, including more information (including eight books) and design software than had ever been assembled previously (or since) from any other source.

Corbin makes a wide range of presses and dies, starting with die sets you can use with an existing cartridge reloading press, right on up to floor-standing hydraulic swage presses that can form the most exotic hard lead or jacketed bullets, ranging from .14 caliber, 20-grain varmint wreckers right on up to .700 caliber, 1200-grain elephant stoppers and 1-inch cannon projectiles! Airgun pellets, fragmenting pistol bullets, or shotgun slugs -- virtually every bullet design you can imagine, is being made on Corbin equipment right now!

Corbin is the Professional's Choice

Corbin has spent years developing and producing the finest quality swaged bullet manufacturing tools for the custom bullet maker. From A Square to Trophy Bonded, there are literally hundreds of custom bullet makers who use Corbin equipment. Their results -- and the results of those who shoot and hunt with their bullets -- speak for themselves. Nearly all custom bullet firms in business today either use Corbin equipment or got their start with it! Armament laboratories and defense contractors around the world use Corbin presses and dies for their prototype development work and short runs of special projectiles. Corbin sets the standard for professional bullet making equipment of the highest precision and quality.

Thousands more bullet makers and competition shooters who enjoy making bullets for just themselves or a small circle of friends. They know that using Corbin swaging equipment means success -- success in terms of tighter groups, better stopping power, and saving (and making) money! At Corbin our motto is "We Manufacture Success." Whether your interest is in loading the most match-accurate bullets that can be made or in becoming a top-quality custom ammo maker, Corbin can help you achieve success.

Everything You Need

Corbin Handbook on CD-ROM Not only do we offer presses, dies, and a full line of accessories, we also have the most complete information available, including eight books about bullet swaging and computer software to design bullets and run a custom bullet business. Start with the Corbin Handbook of Swaging, or the more comprehensive Bullet Swaging Library (seven books about bullet making) for a solid understanding of the field and the tools available. We furnish supplies such as jackets, jacket-making metals, lead wire, lubricants, bullet polishing kits, and bonding chemicals, and we can help you develop a custom bullet business from start-up concept through marketing.

You can count on Corbin for everything you need in bullet swaging.

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