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Designing Your Own Bullet Molds

Retyped with the permission of Shotgun News
Original Story by Mike Venturino
Shotgun News December 2000

Far from being the exclusive province of technospeaking engineering
types, designing a custom bullet mold can be easy, cost effective, and time rewarding.
If you know some tricks of the trade.

Over the years I have received numberous phone calls and letter from readers looking for a specific bullet mold that is no longer in production.

It seems like someone who wants to shoot an antique gun or oddball caliber will spend a considerable amount of time and money looking for the proper mold. (I've done it myself.) Take my word for it: Having a custom mold is far easier and it really isn't that expensive. And you can't beat the convenience of having a mold at hand when you need it.

Before getting into the details about designing a bullet mold, however, let me give one bit of information. There are two ways to cut bullet molds. They can be "cherry" cut or lathe bored. The former method is when a cutter is made so that when inserted between two mold block halves, it makes a cavity in the shape of the bullit desired. This method is mostly used for production - type bullet molds when the same design will be produced over and over again. This is how RCBS, Lyman, Redding/SAECO, NEI, and others make their bullet molds.

Mold maker Steve Brooks copied the shape of a 260-grain jacketed .40~82 bullet, cut the base to take gaschecks, and put a crimping groove where the cennelure is located.

Lathe - bored molds are cut one at a time. The operator has a variety of cutters for nose shapes, driving bands, grease grooves, etc. he then custom cuts a bullet mold to the customer's specifications. This method requires a good bit of expertise on the operator's part. Made incorrectly, the bullet mold will drop projectiles that are oversize, undersize, out of round, or otherwise defective.

There are many custom bullet mold makers in the United States. The two with whom I have delt personally are Dave Farmer (Hoch Bullet Molds, Box 3777, Dept. SGN, Milan, NM 87021) and Steve Brooks (Box 105, Dept. SGN, Big Timber, Mt. 59011). I've visited both of their shops and I've seen how they make their molds. I've owned dozens of their bullet molds and have done quite well in competition shooting using them.

Hoch rifle molds are all nose pour - meaning they must have at least a small flat nose. Hoch hangun molds, however, can be of any shape. I should also mention that Hoch molds can be ordered in multiple-cavity versions. For instance, for my BPCR Silhouette rifles, I have single-cavity Hoch molds, while I use a double-cavity one for my .348 Winchester and a four-cavity gang mold for my .44 Russian revolvers.

Steve Brooks makes only base pour single-cavity bullet molds. Though his primary customer base is BPCR Silhouette shooter, he can make almost any shape of bullet for both rifle and handgun. For instance, when I needed a slightly oversize bullet for my .40~82 Model 1886 Winchester, he cut it. As I write this, he is working on one for my Winchester Model 1910 .401 Self Loading.

To the inexperienced, designing one's own bullet mold sounds like a very technical operation. It would seem that the designer must at least have a grasp of mechanical drawing. That's not correct. The first bullet mold I had custom made was by Dave Farmer, and it was intended for the .40~70 Sharps cartridge. Since I was having good luck with Lyman's No. 457125 .400 inch nose and .409 body. I said I wanted four grease grooves about one-tenth inch wide each and an overall bullet length of 1.10 to 1.25 inches. I was figuring on a bullet weighing between 370 and 380 grains with a 1/20 tin to alloy. When the Hoch mold arrived, the bullet cast from it weighed 375 grains from such an alloy and would shoot two minutes of angle at 200 yards from my Shilo Sharps rifle. Later on, I wanted a 400 to 410-grain version of the same bullet so I sent a sample back and asked that is be duplicated-but with five grease grooves. When that mold arrived, bullets from it weighed 408-grains and shot even better than the lighter version.

The very first group test-fired with bullets cast from the new Brooks mold in the author's Winchester Model 1886 .40~82 printed a 1.3/8th - inch group at 100 yards.

About a year ago, I was having trouble making a .40~82 Winchester Model 1886 shoot decent groups with a .407-inch bullet from a factory produced mold. About six-inch clusters at 100 yards was all I could get despite the rifle's nice bore. I slugged the barrel and discovered it measured .409 inch in its grooves instead of teh .406 inch it was supose to be. Since Steve Brooks lives nearby, I took some sample .40~82 jacket bullets to him.

"Make me a mold to drop a bullet shaped like this and put the crimping groove where this bullet's knurled cannelure is," I said. "While your at it, cut the base to take Lyman .41 magnum gas checks. Make the bullet come from the mold at .410 inch with 1/20 tin to lead alloy,"

The author's ideas for custom bullets for Old West arms have resulted in several custom-made molds produced by Dave Farmer of Hoch Bullet Molds and Steve Brooks.

Within days Brooks called to say my mold was ready. It dropped perfectly shaped bullets for feeding in a .40~82 lever gun, and to my pleasant surprise, the very first 100-yard group with this new bullet was a mere 1.3/8 inches.

By far the easiest way to have a custom mold maker produce a bullet for an obsolete caliber is to supply him with a sample of the bullet you want. A few years bac a friend had the long-discontinued Lyman No. 429478 mold for a 200-grain roundnose meant for .44 Russian reloading. We were amazed at how accurately the bullet shot from several vintage Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolvers. My friend lost his mold. Luckily, I stillhad a few of the raw bullets cast from it. I sent them to Dave Farmer. A short time later, I received a four-cavity Hoch mold whose 200-grain roundnose bullets cannot be discerned from those dropped by the original Lyman version.

Not all of my self-designed bullet molds have produced tack-driving projectiles. All in all, however, my success rate has been darn good. And I've managed to get molds and start casting in much less time than I would have spent searching about for an out-of-production ones.

Text and Pictures Copyright 1998 - 2000 by The Montanan All rights reserved.