Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wax Practice Bullets

 A valuable art is being lost today, I haven't seen a trace of it since around 1970 or so. That art is making wax bullets for close range practice.It was old in the late fifties when I first saw it when I was barely able to shoot a double action revolver without first cocking it.

 I had intended on providing pictures for this but. alas, my computer problems continue so I will have to make do with word pictures. Still, it ain't rocket surgery so, here goes:

 First of all, why wax bullets? Well, most folks can't shoot in the basement or hallways with real ammo, the holes through the house tend to offend the spouses. And those real bullets can punch through a lot of walls, even if they don't tear out the plumbing or the wiring they tend to drastically reduce the resale price of the house and, if you're a renter, boy, howdy, just think of the reference you'd get from your landlord.

 Back when holsters weren't all full of stuff to make it difficult for a bad guy to snatch the weapon* people used to actually practice the fast draw. There is a slight problem with practicing the fast draw, it takes thousands of repetitions and with live ammo that is very expensive. Not to mention that there is a real danger of being quick on the trigger and slow on the draw. Now that's bad enough with a strong side hip holster, back in the day there were quite a few would be gunmen with serious limps, especially those who were then just barely smart enough to become stable hands or whiskey drummers. It's even worse today with all those in the pants holsters.

 Anyhow, wax bullets are actually quite accurate up to around five or seven yards. The late Bill Jordan, after a career in the US Marine Corps and the Border Patrol back when that was a gun fighting outfit, became the Southwestern Rep of the NRA. Among other things did did shooting exhibitions. He was shown hitting aspirin tablets and then those little bitty saccharin tablets. In his shows he would pick a girl out of the audience and get her to hold one of those tin pie plates out and then, as he was talking he'd draw his S&W Model 19, fire and put a hole in the middle of the pie plate. Then, in his deep Louisiana drawl he'd say "Mam. you showed great courage there. Po' judgement but great courage."

 Anyhow, primer powered wax bullets are a great and inexpensive practice tool and they're things you can actually shoot in town without the SWAT people showing up. You can even shoot them in your house. If your neighbors are close and your walls thin, turn up the stereo!

 You will need some empty cartridge cases for your gun and a way to decap the spent cases. Now if you already handload ammo this is easy, you just decap them on your loading press. If you don't have a loading press you can go several ways, the cheapest is a block of wood, plastic or metal with a primer sized hole drilled through, Set the case with the primer over the hole and tap it out with a blunted nail through the flash hole. I used a Lee Loader for a couple of years, a Lee Loader is available in most handgun (and rifle) cartridges and, for less than thirty bucks most places. And they make serviceable ammunition, too, Hint: A Lee Loader, a one pound canister of powder, five hundred bullets and five hundred primers in a surplus military ammo can is a very comforting thing to have squirreled away, just in case.

 You will need to drill out the primer flash holes with a 1/8 drill bit. There is a long, drawn out technical reason for this but just trust me on it.I don't feel like typing it out. Anyhow, first you drill out the flash hole, right though it. Don't kill yourself trying to get the burr out, you drill from the outside in, right through the primer pocket.

 Now you need a box of primers. A thousand small pistol magnum primers for my .38s and .357s cost me about thirty buck last time I bought them, large pistols cost about the same. Primers are something you want to buy local, if possible, there is a twenty dollar HazMat fee for having them shipped. I'm not sure why, there didn't use to be and I haven't read of any gigantic explosions from powder and primers in trucks. Anyhow, a thousand primers is plenty to get started but you'd be surprised at how fast they can go.

 And you will need a couple boxes of canning wax. My supermarket had Gulf Wax, there are other brands and it doesn't matter which. There used to be inserts in some ammo boxes that had four plastic feet that you could cut off and then the cases were simply held by the rim. Those were great but I haven't seen them in a while. Any of the hard plastic inserts will work although you'll have to take a sanding belt or something to the bottom of them. Actually you won't die if you just do 'em one at a time but faster is better in most things.

 And a way to prime the cases. There are cheap and slow ways to do this but the really best way is to use a hand held priming tool from RCBS, Lee or Hornady. I have used the Lee and the RCBS and have read good things about the Hornady. I have worn out a few Lee Priming tools and so now use the RCBS, their lifetime "we'll fix it or replace it" policy is comforting, and I've had to use it. Of course I wore it out back when I was shooting hundreds of rounds per week but still, for the price of postage it wasn't bad.

 So, let's make some practice ammo! Take your block of canning wax and warm it up a little. Note! If you are shooting a short cased round like the 9mm or .380 acp you will need to make a shallow box of some kind, line it with wax paper and melt the wax into a sheet thin enough to not be so thick the case won't go through. Revolver cases like the .38 Special and .357 Mag, .44 Sec and Mag, .45 Colt, etc are long enough to go through the block, you'll want that shallow box later, though.

 Now you have to warm the wax enough to make it a little soft. In the summer you could just sit it in the sun or give it a little time in the microwave, run it under the blow drier, in the winter set it over the heat register, just figure out a way to where you can push the cartridge case through. Here you see the advantage of having a block of cases going through at once. You can push fifty cases through in the same time you can push one case.

 Obviously the case has to go all the way through the wax, otherwise you have fifty cases stuck in a block of wax. Once you've done that take a new pencil or a dowel or something and push the wax bullet down in the case until it stops. Then prime the cases. You must prime the case last so the air in the case doesn't compress when you put the wax bullet in and then the compressed air pushes the bullet out. Wax bullet loads aren't crimped in nothing holds it in except friction. Friction will keep it in there through all kinds of normal, and some abnormal, activities. Now you're ready to shoot!

 The best thing to use as a backstop is a big piece of scrap carpet. Put a big piece of plastic underneath to catch the bullets when they fall. You can actually melt the used bullets in that shallow box, along with the scrap wax from making the bullets and use it over and over again. Line it with wax paper, take the sheet of wax out, peal the paper and, viola!

 Now the only downside is that these wax bullets strike the target low as there is no recoil lifting the muzzle. Take a large sheet of paper and put a target near the top, shoot a group carefully and then use two targets, one to aim at, one to record the hits. Of course for fast draw practice, if you care to do that, it doesn't matter, a situation where a fast draw matters the target is so close that there won't be much difference.

 As you can guess the wax bullets work better, or at least faster, in a revolver. They will work in an autoloader but they will have to be fed in, one at a time into the chamber and then they won't have the whatittakes to eject without racking the slide.  Still, after you prorate the gear, you can practice for less than a nickle a shot. At home.

 Now when using wax practice ammo in town it's very important to shoot it in a place where there is no :real: ammo. That piece of scrap carpet won't stop a service round. Check it twice, then check again. Cleaning the barrel and cylinder (if any) is essential after shooting a batch of these but is very easy. A patch or two with any normal solvent, a dry patch and then an oil patch followed by a dry patch and, you're done.then return the firearm to your preferred state of readiness.

 Try to avoid shooting yourself or your little brother. Those wax bullets raise one big bruise right through a pair of blue jeans.

 *Not that there is anything wrong with that.


innominatus said...

I used to do that when I was a teenager with my dad's Python. Haven't done it since, though. My dad's rockchucker was kinda slow, but a friend and I would take turns yanking the handle to see who could make 'em the fastest. We never drilled out the flash holes, though. Wonder how many fps that cost us? :)

pamibe said...

Excellent, thanks for this tutorial!

Erinyes said...

NEAT! Thanks, Pete.

scot said...

The reason you drill out the flash hole is to prevent the primers from setting back, and potentially locking up the cylinder of a revolver. When the primer detonates, the pressure in the primer pocket is high enough to push the primer back out, where it is stopped by the revolver's frame. Normally, the charge of powder igniting will push the case back as well, re-seating the primer. With no powder charge, this doesn't happen, and un-drilled cases will have the primer protruding a slight bit, which makes it hard to rotate the cylinder. By increasing the size of the flash hole, the pressure doesn't build up in the primer pocket, and the primer isn't pushed back.

Note that the primer setback applies to autos, as well, but isn't as big of an issue because the primer only has to slide a short distance along the slide (or none at all for a blowback or non-tilting barrel action) before the barrel is unlocked and the case is extracted. With a double action revolver, the trigger pull can get very heavy with a backed-out primer.