Posts Tagged ‘Thompson Center’

Swaged bullets: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This is the second report in this series on swaged bullets. My initial purpose for testing these bullets was to see if I could make a swaged bullet that would shoot more accurately than patched round balls in the rifle barrel of my Nelson Lewis combination gun. While testing that gun, I blew out the nipple and had to repair the gun before it would shoot again. Thankfully, that’s all done now; but I decided, instead, to use a Thompson Center muzzleloader in .32 caliber as the testbed for this idea.

When I first tested the swaged bullets at 50 yards, I couldn’t get a shot on the paper; so this past Monday, I shortened the shooting distance to 25 yards, in hopes I would be on paper. Since I’m reporting this now, you know that I was successful.

One thing I thought might be causing a problem was using too much black powder for the swaged bullets, so I selected a 9mm Luger case as the new powder measure. But there were ignition problems, so that wasn’t the right thing to do. I then adjusted the powder measure back to its smallest measure and shot some patched balls as a control group. The first one was a hangfire that was delayed about 100-200 miliseconds. It sounded like I’d shot a flintlock with a slow lock time. But the second shot with the same load went off perfectly, so I put 4 more downrange after it. This gave a nice group that measured 1.504binches between centers. That’s not great for only 25 yards, but at least the group seemed to be centered on the bull, if a little low.

swaged bullet test 25 yards patched ball
Five patched balls went into 1.504 inches at 25 yards. The 6th shot that landed low was a bad hangfire.

I was exhausting a supply of 3F Goex powder that was at least 30 years old. I’d received it as a gift about 12 years ago, and I think the giver said it was about 20 years old then. So, black powder does hold up over time when properly stored.

One thing I did with the patched bullets was quit cleaning the bore between shots. I used a patch lubricated with saliva, which is recognized as the most accurate round ball lubricant. To do that, I put the patch into my mouth as I began the loading process; then it was wet when I laid it across the muzzle about 30 seconds later. You can only use spit patches if you’re shooting right away; because if the saliva dries, it won’t do anything. Plus, you can rust the bore where it sat. But after 6 rounds had been fired, the bore was still clean enough that I could seat the ball flush with the muzzle with thumb pressure. That told me the bore was not getting any dirtier as the shot count increased. With real black powder, the bore gets dirty on the first shot.

Then it was time for the swaged bullets. The bullets I swaged from .310 lead balls proved too small for success. They missed the target altogether. Then I switched to bullets swaged from .350 lead balls. These seemed perfect and went to the same point of aim as the patched balls. After 4 shots, I thought I had a winner; but shot 5 went almost 6 inches higher, opening the group to 6.25 inches. The first 4 shots measured 1.816 inches between centers — not that much bigger than the patched ball group.

swaged bullet test 25 small bullets with larger bullets
The larger bullet on the left was swaged from a .350 ball. The smaller one came from a .310 ball and didn’t shoot very well.

swaged bullet test 25 yards swaged bullet target1
The swaged bullets did okay until the last shot (upper right). The bore was getting too dirty to shoot well. Notice that at least 2 bullets hit the paper sideways.

This target held a clue to what was happening. Two of the 5 shots appear to have struck the paper sideways, indicating they’re tumbling in flight. Because the bullets are swaged into cylinders rather than spheres, this is very easy to see. Instead of round holes, you get rectangles. Obviously, these bullets aren’t stable in flight, which means they probably aren’t engaging the rifling. Either that or the rifle’s twist rate, which I believe is 1:48″, is too slow.

Some of the holes are perfectly round, however. This either means they were either tumbling and happened to strike the paper point-on, or they were actually stable and for some reason the other bullets weren’t. More work has to be done to sort this out. But let’s now look at the next discovery.

I told you I wasn’t cleaning the bore between shots this time. Well, that came back to bite me. The swaged bullet that had previously slid down the barrel easily was now just entering the bore and staying put. That’s the unmistakable evidence that powder residue is building up on the walls of the bore.

And the next 5 shots on a different target tell the story. Only 4 landed on the target paper and 2 of those went through sideways. The 5th shot landed below the target paper on the paper backer I was using for just this reason.

swaged bullet test 25 yards swaged bullet target2
On the final target, only 4 or 5 bullets hit the target paper. Two of them hit sideways. The 5th shot landed low, off the paper.

That target marked the end of this day at the range. In all, I shot about 25 rounds in about 45 minutes, which is moving right along for a muzzleloader. I tested two weights of swaged bullets with 2 different powder charges and determined that the heavier charge and heavier bullet were both needed. In fact, the next time I test this bullet, I’ll use an even heavier powder charge and try a heavier swaged bullet, to boot.

For the record, I weighed the powder from the measure and discovered it weighed 19.4 grains. This is a light load for a .32-caliber muzzleloader.

I figure the heavier powder charge will help swell the base of the bullet better to grab the rifling, and maybe the heavier bullet will add a little more resistance to help that along. I also plan to clean the bore after each shot, as I now know these swaged bullets require it.

There’s a whole lot more to explore with swaged bullets, but I’ll keep working with this swage set until I know what I’m doing.

Swaged bullets: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

This is the start of a long exploration into the use of swaged bullets in both firearms and airguns. I told blog reader Robert of Arcade 2 days ago that I was about to start this one because he was talking about wanting to use the larger smallbore calibers (.22 and .25 calibers) and smaller big bore calibers (.257 and .308) to hunt larger game. But to do that, we need bullets (and pellets) that are accurate.

This report has been nearly one entire year in development, but you’re just hearing about it for the first time today. It all began with my Nelson Lewis combination gun that I have written about many times. Back in the first part of that report, I showed you some original bullet swages that came with the gun. The problem I have with these swages is their design. The bullet is swaged into the die, but then has to be tapped back out of that one-piece die, which is very inconvenient. It would be easier to get out if the die had a separate nose punch that could be taken off the die and the bullet tapped on through.

Nelson Lewis gun swaging dies
These dies came with the Nelson Lewis combination gun I acquired.

Last year at the Roanoke Airgun Expo, I saw that airgunner Mike Reames was making swages for some of his big bore CO2 guns, and people were using them with great success. I talked to Mike at some length about these swages and decided that I wanted to try a swaged bullet in my Nelson Lewis gun. But I conducted a proof of concept test with the rifle — to see if I got the bullet size correct . Unfortunately, I shot what proved to be an overload in the gun. It was a 250-grain .379-caliber bullet, where the weight of the round ball I usually shoot is just 80 grains. The pressure created by the heavy bullet blew the percussion cap nipple off the rifle, and I had to get it repaired. That shut down the experiment for a long time.

Earlier this year, I was at the range with my Thompson Center .32 muzzleloader, and it struck me that I could use this rifle as a testbed for the Nelson Lewis gun. Get the Thompson Center rifle working with swaged bullets, then transfer that experience to the Nelson Lewis gun.

I know the barrel diameter of this rifle quite well, so I again started talking to Mike about a swage set. What I was after was a bullet that would slide over the tops of the lands of the rifling and easily slip into the bore. I reckoned that the force of the exploding black powder would expand the base to both seal it against gas loss and also take the rifling. The bullet I want to make is like a Minie ball that’s swaged instead of cast. If this is of interest to you, email Mike for more info.

What is swaging?
Swaging means to form something in a die by pressure alone. It sounds high-falutin’ but it’s as simple as hammering a nail. And it doesn’t take as much force to swage a small caliber bullet as it does to hammer a small, common 6-penny nail.

My swage set arrived and consists of 4 pieces: nose punch, die body, spacer and swage punch…which works on the other end of the bullet. I asked Mike for a swage to make bullets that measure 0.316 inches on the outside, and the two samples he sent with the swage set measure exactly that size. I was now in business to make swaged bullets!

Bullet swage set
Here are the 4 parts that came with my swage set. From the left, they are the swage die, swage punch, nose punch that goes in the small end of the swage die and the spacer.

bullet swage together
The swage is put together as it is used. I left out the spacer because I don’t use it. I control the swage by controlling the force of the one hammer blow used to make the bullet. The results turn out very uniform that way.

I started by swaging some of the 0.310-inch round balls I’ve been shooting as patched balls in the rifle. The rifle is .32 caliber and the lands are about 0.316 to 0.317 inches apart. The round balls weigh only 45 grains, so the bullet they make is very short. The swage puts a concave hollow into the base of the bullet, which helps the lead base expand when the black powder explodes. The nose is slightly rounded but still has a sharp shoulder to cut a nice hole on paper.

swaging .310 balls
The .310 lead balls in the center were put into the swage die, which was resting on the nose punch. Then, the swage punch was inserted in the die and struck one time. The strike was not as hard as hammering a common nail, yet produced uniform bullets. At the top and bottom, they’re standing up. The right one is laying on its side, and on the left one is standing on its nose to show all parts of the finished bullet.

Because I control the weight of the bullet I make by what I put into the swage, I also swaged some .32-caliber lead bullets that weigh 88 grains. They make a much longer bullet that may be more useful for hunting game up to the size of javelina and coyote. The smaller bullets would be okay for squirrels and up to turkeys. Of course, this all comes down to how accurate these bullets are, so I’ll need a good day on the range to find that out. I’m looking for faster, easier loading than patched balls and better accuracy. That’s hoping for a lot, but that’s what this is all about.

swaging 88-grain bullets
The .32-caliber lead bullet (bottom center) was swaged into these three bullets. At the right, the bullet is laying down. On top, the bullet is standing up. On the left, the bullet is standing on its nose.

Why swage a perfectly good lead bullet?
Looking at the last picture you have to ask why I would bother to swage a perfectly good lead bullet like that. Why not just shoot it as it is? Well, the answer is that it’s not a good bullet for the rifle I’m shooting. It has a body diameter of 0.314 inches, which is too small for the bore. The swage enlarges it to 0.316 inches. The finished bullet looks just as long as the one that was unswaged. The concave base of the swaged bullet is where the lead came from to make the cylindrical bullet longer.

I actually went to the range last week for the first test, but I’d used the swage die backwards and got bullets that are far too large for the gun. The swage die is made like a funnel, where fat bullets enter the top and 0.316-inch bullets come out the bottom. That is, if you use it the right way. Since I turned the swaging die around, what I got turned out to be bullets that are far too big for the bore of the rifle.

Swaging mistake
This is what happens when you swage the bullet in the wrong end of the die. The entrance to the die is shaped like a funnel to admit slightly larger chunks of lead to be swaged into smaller bullets. So, the bullet is tapered like this and far too large to enter the bore.

I emailed Mike, telling him I got the dimensions wrong and we started planning what to do about it. That’s when I looked closer at the bullets I’d made and discovered my mistake. I quickly swaged a couple more bullets with the die in the correct direction, and they all turned out exactly 0.316 inches in diameter. Mike was glad, I was happy and I had yet another story to share of how not to do something. The good news is that I can run all the big bullets through the die a second time, and they’ll come out right.

The bullets made the right way will slide down the clean barrel of my muzzleloader in about a second. Right now that seems good to me, but it’ll take a successful range test to know if I’m right.

How difficult is it to swage a bullet?
If you can hammer a nail, you can swage a lead bullet with a die set like this. This is the way accurate rifle bullets have been made for more than 150 years, and it’s dirt-simple. There are no copper jackets to swage the lead cores into, so I’m not talking about a process that requires hundreds of dollars worth of dies and a special press. All you need is a hammer and some lead of the appropriate size. If you wanted to make a .22 pellet by swaging, for example, you could use a 15.43-grain Gamo round lead ball. The weight would be right for a .22 pellet as would the diameter of the ball. What you would be doing is changing the shape of the projectile from spherical to an elongated cylinder.

What you cannot do is use more than one piece of lead to make a bullet. If you do, the pieces will all conform to each other inside the die and fall apart the moment they are out. So, forget any ideas of adding pieces of lead to increase bullet weight.

Mike will make a set like the one seen here for $85. If you aren’t a machinist, this is well worth the price.

The best bullet
Every caliber bullet has a range of weights that will work. Too little lead, and the bullet is shorter than it is wide and subject to be unstable. Too much lead, and it becomes too long — again, subject to being unstable. The faster it’s driven (velocity), the faster it spins (rifling twist rate), which stabilizes longer bullets (to a point). Part of the test I’m doing is to determine what length bullet works best in my rifle. Since length also means weight, we talk about a certain caliber bullet by its weight more often than its length.

Of course, accuracy means a lot in what I’m doing. I’ll be looking for the most accurate bullet I can make. I may have to balance the bullet weight against the powder charge, for reasons of stability explained above.

The goal
I’m doing this to see if there’s any future to it. If there is, then I want to make an accurate bullet for the Nelson Lewis combination gun. That was always the goal. But now that I’ve listened to Robert from Arcade, I think this needs to be tried for airguns, as well. I’m thinking a very powerful airgun and a pellet/bullet that I can make myself.

Lookalike airguns: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

In Part 1, we saw seven airguns that copy firearms. Let’s look at some others, plus I’ll give you an appraisal of how one of them functions as a firearm.

This is such a fascinating part of airguns, and the time has never been better for collecting airguns that look like firearms. But lookalikes have been with us a lot longer than many suppose.

Hakim
The Egyptian Hakim 8mm battle rifle was an adaptation of the Swedish Ljungman 6.5mm rifle. It’s a gas-operated semiautomatic that has close-fitted parts (the Swedish heritage) and an adjustable gas port to adapt the rifle to different ammunition. It’s been called the “poor man’s Garand” and the “Egyptian Garand,” but its operational history tells us it was anything but. Where the Garand operated well in a dirty environment, the Hakim jammed quickly when sand was introduced into the mechanism. Not a gun for use in the desert!

In 1954, Egypt contracted with both Anschütz and Beretta to make a number of training rifles. Anchütz made .22-caliber air rifles, and Beretta made a 10-shot .22 LR semiauto. Navy Arms wound up buying most of the air rifles and importing them to the U.S. in the 1970s. They ranged from a few that had apparently seen little use to the majority that looked like they had been stored in a sewage ditch.

I acquired a Hakim air rifle through a newspaper ad. After discovering what it was, I went on a buying spree that netted me more than a dozen rifles over the next few years. I’ve cleaned and rebuilt them exactly as they came from Egypt, and I’ve also seen a couple that others have cleaned up and tuned. The least I’ve paid for one was $60 and the most was about $150, but the price has risen considerably since those days a decade ago. Today, a good shooting specimen should sell for about $250-300, while a nice one will command considerably more. But beware of the ones that have been reworked, because they’re out there. I see one on Gun Broker that has parts missing, and the starting price is about twice what it’s worth, in my opinion.


The Hakim pellet rifle was made by Anscütz in 1954.

The 8mm Hakim battle rifle is closely fitted and not suited to a dirty battlefield.

The Hakim action is based on the Falke 90 air rifle that I showed you last year. And the Falke 90 is based on the BSA Airsporter. The rifle is an underlever spring-piston action that’s loaded through a tap. And like the Falke, the Hakim is doing very well to make it into the mid-500s with medium-weight, .22-caliber pellets. They can be tuned to shoot faster, but in doing so you lose the calm demeanor the rifle was designed to have and get a bucking, snorting headache machine in return. It isn’t worth it, in my opinion.

Because it’s a taploader, the Hakim will do best with oversized pellets and with those that have thin skirts. I’ve always found RWS Superpoints to be the most accurate in my rifles.

As far as accuracy goes, I had no problem putting 5 shots into a dime at 10 meters. I never really shot the rifle at longer distances, but I think the accuracy would hold together out to 25 yards or so.

Ruger Mark II — Crosman Mark I
I don’t know very much about airguns, but I’ve been shooting and collecting them long enough that, to a newcomer, I can sometimes sound knowledgeable. Several times each year, I’m asked why no one has ever thought about copying the Ruger Mark I and II target pistols. Well, the fact is, they have! But not recently.

You have to go back to 1966 to see the first Crosman Mark I (.22 caliber) and Mark II (.177 and BB caliber) target pistols. They were single-shots and had the lines of the Ruger pistols down pat, as you can see in the photo. Both airguns were powered by CO2 and had remarkable triggers–but also high-quality, rifled barrels. With modern pellets, these guns can hold their own with a firearm Mark I or II out to 20 yards with no problem.


Ruger Mark II above the Crosman Mark I Target pistol. Both are wonderful target sidearms.

My own Mark I air pistol is a delight to shoot; and until I tested it against a Crosman 2240 a couple years ago for a Shotgun News article, I thought it was just about the most accurate pellet pistol I owned — other than an outright competition model. But the 2240 beat it fair and square, so I have to concede that.

Of course, many readers own the Ruger pistol and can tell you what a joy it is to shoot. For less than half what some .22 target pistols cost, the Ruger will keep up with all but the specialty Olympic models. In fact, I’ve gotten rid of Colt Woodsman and High Standard Victor pistols because my Mark II Ruger is everything I need.

Desert Eagle
Several years ago, I got the Magnum Research Desert Eagle .177 pellet pistol to test and ultimately kept it. I was impressed with the accuracy and the blowback action, though this air pistol does use a lot of gas when it shoots. But the thing that impressed me the most was the huge grip. I wondered for years what the actual firearm would be like.

Edith joined me in this curiosity, because she could see how large the grip is. It’s incredibly long front to back, so even though the magazine (of the firearm) is a single-stack design, the grip is still very large.


The Magnum Research Desert Eagle pellet pistol (top) is larger but lighter than the .357 Magnum Research Desert Eagle. The air pistol copies the current Mark XIX pistol, but my .357 is the earlier Mark VII, which accounts for the lack of accessory rails.

Then we happened to see not one but three Desert Eagles in a local pawn shop about six months ago. Edith got to hold the .357 (the other two were .44s), which was the only one I thought we might be interested in, and the salesman was surprised to see her one-hand the gun. Unfortunately, the price was too high and although we made an offer, they declined to accept.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago. We happened to stop by the same pawn shop and looked around, but saw nothing. When the salesman asked if we had found what we were looking for, I told him we were looking for a Desert Eagle but none were in the case. He asked us to wait a moment and brought out the very .357 that Edith had looked at previously. Someone had started buying it and didn’t finish paying for it, so it was for sale again.

This information gave us a tremendous bargaining position, because the gun had already earned the store some money. So I lowered my offer from several months earlier (they didn’t remember it) and stood firm. We got this gun!

Now, we have the firearm to compare to the airgun. This is the third firearm we’ve bought on the basis of seeing the airguns first. There was the Walther PPK/S BB pistol that turned into a .22 LR pistol and the Walther Lever Action rifle that became a Winchester 1894 .30-30.

Now that we had the .357 Magnum, I had the opportunity to dispel a rumor that’s very common — namely that a Desert Eagle pistol soaks up so much recoil because of its gas operation and its weight that shooting a .44 Magnum feels just like shooting a .45 ACP. Bull! Our .357 Magnum, which has considerably less recoil than a .44 Magnum, still has at least twice the recoil of a .45 ACP in a 1911 pistol! It’s true that it recoils less than any other .357 Magnum I’ve fired, but that’s not the point. The point is that the gun still kicks hard, and shooters need to know that going in. I did find it very pleasant to shoot about 30 rounds of full-power magnum ammo, which usually starts me flinching if I do the same in a revolver.

As for accuracy, that’ll have to wait for another day. The ammo I was shooting was not what is recommended for the firearm, and the best I could do was an 8-inch group at 50 yards. I know I can do much better than that when the gun does its part. We’ll have to return to this sometime in the future.

Cleaning firearms
I don’t have any place else to put this, so I’m adding it in to today’s post. If you dislike firearms talk, now is the time to stop reading.

For decades, I’ve stayed away from shooting genuine black powder because of the mess involved in cleanup afterwards. Just this past week, as I was reading Ned Robert’s The Muzzle-loading Cap Lock Rifle for the umpteenth time, I happened to pay attention to how he said to clean a rifle that’s been shot with black powder.

When you return home from shooting, boil water and remove the nipple of your rifle. If you have a patent breech, remove the barrel from the stock and stand it in a pail. Pour two quarts of boiling water down the muzzle while holding the barrel with a towel wrapped around it. It does get very hot! You will see particles of black soot coming out of the nipple hole.

Then, let the rifle stand until the barrel cools down to just warm. When it is cool enough to hold, run an oil-soaked swab down the bore several times. I used Ballistol on a wool mop, and it worked perfectly.

This entire process took about 10 minutes start to finish. The next day, I ran a dry patch down the bore and removed the excess Ballistol. No dirt came out! The rifle is sparkling clean. I even looked down the bore with a tactical flashlight, and all I see is clean rifling.

This process won’t work as well for a flintlock because of the small flash hole not draining water fast enough. But with a cap lock, this is the easiest way I’ve even seer to clean a rifle. My centerfire rifles take longer and are messier and more involved than this charcoal burner, which is a .32-caliber by Thompson Center! I’m going to stop shooting black powder substitutes and return to the genuine product, now that I know how to clean my gun so fast.

Marinate the barrel
The black powder process reminded me of another great cleaning tip I learned. If you don’t want to clean your gun right away, coat the bore liberally with Ballistol and let it sit and “marinate” for several days. Using this process, Mac and I have cleaned dozens of guns that hadn’t been cleaned in many years. Ballistol softens the residue and makes it come out with minimal effort when you finally get around to cleaning.

Get the rust out
Earlier this year, Mac acquired a Ruger Mini-30, which is a Mini-14 chambered for 7.62×39. The rifle appeared to be in excellent condition until you looked down the barrel. It was coated with red rust that even repeated soakings of Ballistol could not remove. What happened is that an owner unknowingly shot military surplus ammo in his rifle without appreciating that it is corrosive. It then rusts the bore within a couple of days.

So, I fired three rounds through the gun and then cleaned it. The bore came out sparkling — with no trace of pitting or frosting from the rust. When I finished cleaning the gun this time, you could not tell that it had ever been abused.

The reason I knew this would work is that I used to encounter a lot of GI 1911A1 guns back in the 1960s that had the same problem. Uncle Sam used some corrosive pistol primers in WWII, and that ammo was still available in quantity in the 1960s. The guns that shot it often had rusted bores. But shoot a couple rounds of FMJ through them, and they cleaned up just like it never happened.

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