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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
June - July 2003
Volume 38, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 223
On the cover...
The stainless steel Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun is chambered for the .44 magnum and features a 4-inch barrel with adjustable sights. The Springfield Armory XD-357 is chambered for the .357 Sig with a ported barrel. Alaskan Brown bear photo by Ron Spomer.
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The “Magic Mould”

 I, perhaps unreasonably, showed you a picture of my magic mould in the Handloader (No. 220) story about paper patched bullets. Since then many of you have written, asking where I got it and what it is, really. Here is an explanation and pictures to help your machinist.

I made the mould, and no, I do not make them for sale. It is not my idea but one taken from the grand days of Lyman when it made all sorts of weird and wonderful moulds and equipment. The Lyman concept cross-breeds with some old British moulds. Lyman used cylindrical moulds for patched bullets that were adjustable for weight. The adjustment was made by screwing the “nose punch” in and out. Most of the non-split British moulds were very simple and made only one weight.

Essentially, the time-consuming part of making a bullet mould is in the body, sprue plate, etc. With this mould I only have to do this once. Then, the turned inserts are cut with individual cavities. These are cylindrical with a flange at the top that locates the insert precisely under the sprue plate. By design the bullets must be smooth-sided; no grooves allowed!

The bullets come out of the mould because the metal shrinks as it solidifies and cools a little. They “pour” out in about 10 seconds. That is where the “magic” came from. The bullets act as if they are stuck forever and then gently float out onto the bench.

The actual dimensions of the mould are not critical, regarding the total size of the main body, or the inserts. However, the relationship between the insert and carrier is very important. Each insert must go in the carrier so its top is perfectly level with the top of the carrier and the bottom of the sprue plate. Thus the thickness of the flange on top of the inserts is the most critical dimension and must match its recess in the main body.

The mould body is aluminum and inserts are either aluminum or brass. Both work equally well, but the brass is much heavier. The sprue plate is 5/16-inch mild steel.

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Hardened Bullets from the Old Days

Q: I am positive I read somewhere a statement by an old hunter, like Gordon Cumming, that he either hardened his roundballs with zinc, or used zinc roundballs on elephant. Are you aware of any of the old hunters who used this metal?


A: I would have said yes to your question, as I also thought I recalled the use of zinc. However, I cannot, nor can the best African-hunting historian I know, turn up any specific reference to zinc. Where I think I was confused is the reference to using pewter, which I may have thought contained zinc. Actually it is about 90 percent tin, with a little copper and the rest antimony. The old hunters used this to harden lead, and it would have worked quite well but would not have produced “hard” bullets as we know them today.

There were other and even more bizarre metals used. Tin was the most common and was employed up to 10 percent. This may be one of the reasons the old-timers had difficulty making the brain shot on African elephants. Their “hard” bullets were not very hard and were likely to be defeated by bones. The wildest metal alloy I know was made with mercury. Yes, mercury, the liquid metal. There are many references to this, and apparently it made a hard end result. It does work in tooth-fillings (without lead). However, I have not tried it. One day, just in the interest of science, I will make a 10-percent mercury alloy to see what happens. Yes, I know mercury is very poisonous and will use correct safety procedures.

* * *

Blackhorn Powder
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