The equipment required to swage bullets can range from mild to wild. Part of my strategy for swaging bullets includes doing it in a reasonably cost effective manner. I will pay for quality when the task requires a quality tool to achieve the best outcome (i.e. my choice of dies). On the other hand, if a simple / cheap tool is effective, I’ll usually pick that as opposed to a more expensive, but only marginally more effective alternative (i.e. my choice of annealing tools). There are many choices to be made, and in some cases, ‘better’ equipment is available. As with the rest of this site, this section reflects the decisions I made (your mileage may vary).
- Swaging dies: This is the most obvious set of equipment, and the most expensive. It’s also the place where one has choices between (relatively) cheap and (perhaps) unjustifiably expensive. As noted in the introductory page, I chose BT Sniper swaging dies. You’ll see the rationale in that decision spread through the rest of this material, but in my opinion, the BT Sniper dies represent a very good balance between the very best quality, price and use. The BT Sniper die set includes a bullet mold, a derim die, a core swage die, a core seating die, a point forming die and an ejection system (purpose built for specific reloading presses).
- Wet tumbler: An important part of producing quality bullets requires the raw materials to be as clean as possible. Wet tumbling, using both stainless steel pins and citric acid (‘Lemishine’) (for initial cleaning and intermediate cleaning before the final bullet is formed) and ceramic media (for the final cleaning) is the only reasonable method. Dry tumbling (using a vibratory tumbler and crushed walnut or corn cob) has its place in reloading, but wet tumbling is (IMHO) unequalled.
- Reloading press: A good, strong, single-stage reloading press is required (or, alternatively, a dedicated ‘swaging press’). In my case, although I have an RCBS RockChucker, I wanted to dedicate a press for swaging. I chose to follow Brian Thurner’s recommendation and purchased a Lee Classic Cast press. The ‘good & strong’ requirement means an “O” style press; a lot of stress is put on the press during the derimming operation. The press must be solidly mounted.
- Heat source for annealing: In their native form, .22LR brass is too hard for bullet jackets. Annealing softens the brass, and ensures that it will swage to a point without folding & creasing. The softer brass is also more suitable for engraving by the rifling of the barrel when it’s fired. There are a number of ways to anneal the brass; I chose a low-tech method which repurposes my propane burner used for bullet casting. This propane burner, combined with a toaster oven pan, aluminum foil and a thermometer, allows me to anneal effectively. A page is dedicated to annealing for more information.
- Scale: I use a balance for most reloading tasks; for swaging, I use a small electronic scale. I’ve found electronic scales somewhat finicky an (perhaps) inaccurate compared to a balance, making them questionable (IMHO) for weighting smokeless powder. However, for this task (weighing jackets and cores) a small electronic scale is ideal.
Part of the point in bullet making / swaging is to create a projectile of a specific weight (i.e. 55 grains). To achieve this weight, the weight of jackets is combined with the weight of the cores, and specific core weights are achieved through adjustment of the core swage die.
- Other swaging accessories: These are the other focus of this site. In my case, I’m developing my own set of accessories that solve specific problems related to swaging. Regardless, a bullet swager will find there are a number of small aides and accessories that are useful to organize, improve efficiency / productivity or just assist in performing simple tasks. The most obvious swaging accessories I found necessary include a container to capture derimmed .22LR brass as they pass out through the top of the die, a tray to catch swaged cores and point formed bullets as they each fall free from their dies and a ‘bleed tray’ to catch the extruded lead wire that comes out the side of the core swage die when they are squeezed down to a specific weight. Undoubtedly, empty containers of many shapes & sizes are also something the swager will find necessary to hold different components before, during and after batch processing in each step. In my case, the containers for .224 bullets that I find perfectly suited to the task are semi-cylindrical plastic containers with lids from Crystal Light tea. Since I drink about a gallon of Crystal Light a day, I have plenty of these containers.