Wax bullet

Last updated

A wax bullet is a bullet made of wax, often paraffin wax or some mixture of waxes and other substances that produce the desired consistency. Wax bullets are typically used in a primed cartridge case, with no gunpowder. The primer provides all the necessary power to propel the wax bullet at low velocities. Wax bullets have been in use for over a century, providing a projectile for use in training, indoor shooting, and shooting competitions where a high velocity metal bullet would be needlessly hazardous. [1]

Bullet projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun

A bullet is a kinetic projectile and the component of firearm ammunition that is expelled from the gun barrel during shooting. The term is from Middle French and originated as the diminutive of the word boulle (boullet), which means "small ball". Bullets are made of a variety of materials such as copper, lead, steel, polymer, rubber and even wax. They are available either singly as in muzzleloading and cap and ball firearms or as a component of paper cartridges, but much more commonly in the form of metallic cartridges. Bullets are made in a large number of shapes and constructions depending on the intended applications, including specialized functions such as hunting, target shooting, training and combat.

Wax class of chemical compounds that are plastic (malleable) near ambient temperatures.

Waxes are a diverse class of organic compounds that are lipophilic, malleable solids near ambient temperatures. They include higher alkanes and lipids, typically with melting points above about 40 °C (104 °F), melting to give low viscosity liquids. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents. Natural waxes of different types are produced by plants and animals and occur in petroleum.

Paraffin wax chemical compound

Paraffin wax is a soft colourless solid, derived from petroleum, coal or shale oil, that consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon molecules containing between twenty and forty carbon atoms. It is solid at room temperature and begins to melt above approximately 37 °C (99 °F); its boiling point is >370 °C (698 °F). Common applications for paraffin wax include lubrication, electrical insulation, and candles; dyed paraffin wax can be made into crayons. It is distinct from kerosene and other petroleum products that are sometimes called paraffin.


Wax bullet cartridges do not provide enough force to cycle automatic firearms, so they are most commonly used in revolvers and other manually cycled firearms. Specially designed cartridges and conversion units can be combined to convert automatic firearms into wax bullet firing guns, and these are used for training police and military.

Automatic firearm firearm that will continue to fire so long as the trigger is pressed and held

An automatic firearm continuously fires rounds as long as the trigger is pressed or held and there is ammunition in the magazine/chamber. In contrast, a semi-automatic firearm fires one round with each individual trigger-pull.

Revolver handgun that has a cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel

A revolver is a repeating handgun that has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The revolver allows the user to fire multiple rounds without reloading after every shot, unlike older single shot firearms. After a round is fired the hammer is cocked and the next chamber in the cylinder is aligned with the barrel by the shooter either manually pulling the hammer back or by rearward movement of the trigger.

In the past, wax bullets were used by illusionists for illusions involving firearms, such as the Bullet Catch. This practice goes back at least as far as Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who used hollow wax bullets colored to resemble lead balls. When placed on a charge of gunpowder, the wax bullet would disintegrate upon firing. [2]

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin French magician

Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin was a French magician. He is widely considered the father of the modern style of conjuring.

Lead Chemical element with atomic number 82

Lead is a chemical element with symbol Pb and atomic number 82. It is a heavy metal that is denser than most common materials. Lead is soft and malleable, and also has a relatively low melting point. When freshly cut, lead is silvery with a hint of blue; it tarnishes to a dull gray color when exposed to air. Lead has the highest atomic number of any stable element and three of its isotopes are endpoints of major nuclear decay chains of heavier elements.

Safety issues

Wax bullets are not normally lethal, and will not penetrate sturdy walls, so they are safe to use indoors or in situations where live ammunition is dangerous. This is not to say that they are entirely safe, as velocities are around 500 feet per second (160 meters per second). This exceeds the velocities of paintballs, and serious damage could be done to sensitive areas, so suitable precautions should be taken when using them. [3]

Paintball sport

Paintball is a competitive team shooting sport in which players eliminate opponents from play by hitting them with spherical dye-filled gelatin capsules ("paintballs") that break upon impact. Paintballs are usually shot using a low-energy air weapon called a paintball marker that is powered by compressed air (nitrogen) or carbon dioxide and was originally designed for remotely marking trees and cattle.


Wax bullets can be easily constructed by using a cartridge case to punch a cylinder out of a sheet of paraffin wax, and then priming the cartridge using normal handloading equipment. The optional addition of beeswax and/or grease will produce a softer, more flexible bullet than pure paraffin. [3] [4] Higher velocities may be obtained using special cartridges drilled out to accept shotgun primers, which provide higher velocities, and some fast draw competitions allow the use of a small amount of black powder or black powder substitute to provide higher velocities for certain events. Commercially produced wax bullets are also available, and may be required for competitions. These pre-formed bullets are simply pressed into the case mouth. [5]

Handloading or reloading is the process of loading firearm cartridges or shotgun shells by assembling the individual components, rather than purchasing completely assembled, factory-loaded ammunition. The term handloading is the more general term, as it refers to assembly of ammunition using components from any source. Reloading refers more specifically to the assembly of ammunition re-using cases or shells from previously fired ammunition. The terms are often used interchangeably, as the techniques are largely the same whether using new or previously fired components. The differences lie in the preparation of the cases or shells; new components are generally ready to load, while previously fired components often need cleaning, removal of expended primers, and possibly other preparation to make them ready to load.

Beeswax chemical compound

Beeswax is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. The wax is formed into scales by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, which discard it in or at the hive. The hive workers collect and use it to form cells for honey storage and larval and pupal protection within the beehive. Chemically, beeswax consists mainly of esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols.

Grease is a semisolid lubricant. Grease generally consists of a soap emulsified with mineral or vegetable oil. The characteristic feature of greases is that they possess a high initial viscosity, which upon the application of shear, drops to give the effect of an oil-lubricated bearing of approximately the same viscosity as the base oil used in the grease. This change in viscosity is called shear thinning. Grease is sometimes used to describe lubricating materials that are simply soft solids or high viscosity liquids, but these materials do not exhibit the shear-thinning properties characteristic of the classical grease. For example, petroleum jellies such as Vaseline are not generally classified as greases.

Sporting use

Fast draw and trick shooters often use wax bullets for safety reasons, so that if they shoot themselves in the foot or leg when drawing from their holsters, they are not seriously injured. The World Fast Draw Association uses wax bullets in many of their competitions, along with special "balloon popping" blanks that fire coarsely ground gunpowder. Bullets used in World Fast Draw Association and other similar competitions must be commercially manufactured, and there are a number of manufacturers who produce wax bullets for this purpose. [1] [6]

Gunpowder explosive most commonly used as propellant in firearms

Gunpowder, also known as black powder to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder, is the earliest known chemical explosive. It consists of a mixture of sulfur (S), charcoal (C), and potassium nitrate (saltpeter, KNO3). The sulfur and charcoal act as fuels while the saltpeter is an oxidizer. Because of its incendiary properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rockets, and fireworks, and as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road building.


"A duelist protected against wax bullets, Lebouttellier, winner of the International Revolver Championship. -- J Rodoconachi (France) Winning the International Pistol Championship -- Almost as harmless as Duels in France: Wax bullets in mimic combats at Olympia. 1908 Olympics wax duel portrait.png
"A duelist protected against wax bullets, Lebouttellier, winner of the International Revolver Championship. -- J Rodoconachi (France) Winning the International Pistol Championship -- Almost as harmless as Duels in France: Wax bullets in mimic combats at Olympia.

During the early 20th century, there was some interest in mock dueling with pistols loaded with wax bullets. The sport first gained popularity in France, and heavy canvas clothing was worn to protect the body, a metal helmet with a thick glass plate protected the head and face, and the pistols were often equipped with guards on the front of the trigger guard that extended outwards to protect the shooter's hand. [7] For a brief time it was popular. It was featured as an associate (non-medal) event during the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. [8] [9]

Inexpensive practice

There are a number of other low velocity, low mass projectiles available to shooters. Rubber or plastic bullets designed for short range target shooting with primed cases can also be purchased; these are generally reusable if a proper bullet trap is used, but are prone to ricochet. With wax bullets, a simple sheet of plywood is sufficient to stop the bullet—upon impact the wax deforms and sticks to the wood, where it can later be scraped off and reused. The cost per round of wax bullets is low as primers can be purchased for under US$ 2.00 per 100 in case lots and as the wax itself can be reused. Reloading is very quick, and requires minimal equipment: a decapper tool to knock out the used primer and a priming tool. With these, loading 50 rounds of wax bullets will take under ten minutes. Wax bullets are normally used only in revolvers and single shot pistols for short range target practice. Magazine fed firearms can use wax bullets, but they may need to be fed individually. [1]

Use in training

US Marines use Simunitions during urban warfare training. Marines with Simunitions.jpg
US Marines use Simunitions during urban warfare training.

The US military uses 5.56 mm non-lethal marking rounds in training. The bullet has two primers. The forward primer propels a wax-filled projectile that marks with colored wax upon contact. The wax washes out with normal laundry procedures.

Simunitions (for "simulated munitions") are special cartridges that fire colored paint-filled plastic projectiles which are used to mark targets much like paintballs. Simunitions are designed to cycle the actions in specially modified semiautomatic rifles and handguns. The paint-filled plastic projectiles are more durable and accurate than paintballs, and it is safe to be shot by them when wearing protective clothing. Simunitions are used by police and military forces for realistic training. Unlike normal wax bullets, simunitions are not an inexpensive substitute for live ammunition—costs for simunitions cartridges are as much as three times the cost of live ammunition.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Firearm weapon that launches a projectile at high velocity through the confined burning of a propellant

A firearm is a portable gun that inflicts damage on targets by launching one or more projectiles driven by rapidly expanding high-pressure gas produced chemically by exothermic combustion (deflagration) of propellant within an ammunition cartridge. If gas pressurization is achieved through mechanical gas compression rather than through chemical propellant combustion, then the gun is technically an air gun, not a firearm.

Cartridge (firearms) type of ammunition packaging a bullet or shot, a propellant substance, and a primer within a metallic, paper, or plastic case

A cartridge is a type of pre-assembled firearm ammunition packaging a projectile, a propellant substance and an ignition device (primer) within a metallic, paper or plastic case that is precisely made to fit within the barrel chamber of a breechloading gun, for the practical purpose of convenient transportation and handling during shooting. Although in popular usage the term "bullet" is often used to refer to a complete cartridge, it is correctly used only to refer to the projectile.

Muzzleloader class of gun which is loaded from the muzzle

A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the projectile and usually the propellant charge is loaded from the muzzle of the gun. This is distinct from the more popular modern designs of breech-loading firearms. The term "muzzleloader" applies to both rifled and smoothbore type muzzleloaders, and may also refer to the marksman who specializes in the shooting of such firearms. The firing methods, paraphernalia and mechanism further divide both categories as do caliber.

Rubber bullet rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns

Rubber bullets are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns. They are intended to be a non-lethal alternative to metal projectiles. Like other similar projectiles made from plastic, wax, and wood, rubber bullets may be used for short range practice and animal control, but are most commonly associated with use in riot control and to disperse protests. These types of projectiles are sometimes called baton rounds. Rubber projectiles have largely been replaced by other materials as rubber tends to bounce uncontrollably.

Muzzle velocity is the speed of a projectile at the moment it leaves the end of a firearm. Muzzle velocities range from approximately 120 m/s (390 ft/s) to 370 m/s (1,200 ft/s) in black powder muskets, to more than 1,200 m/s (3,900 ft/s) in modern rifles with high-performance cartridges such as the .220 Swift and .204 Ruger, all the way to 1,700 m/s (5,600 ft/s) for tank guns firing kinetic energy penetrator ammunition. To simulate orbital debris impacts on spacecraft, NASA launches projectiles through light-gas guns at speeds up to 8,500 m/s (28,000 ft/s).

Centerfire ammunition

A centerfire cartridge is a cartridge with a primer located in the center of the cartridge case head. Unlike rimfire cartridges, the primer is a separate and replaceable component. Centerfire cartridges have supplanted the rimfire variety in all but the smallest cartridge sizes. With the exception of a few .17 caliber, .20 caliber, and .22 caliber pistol and rifle cartridges, small-bore shotgun cartridges, and a handful of antique, mostly obsolete cartridges, almost all pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition used today is centerfire.

.357 Magnum cartridge

The .357 S&W Magnum (9×33mmR), or simply .357 Magnum, is a revolver cartridge with a .357-inch (9.07 mm) bullet diameter. It was created by Elmer Keith, Phillip B. Sharpe, and D. B. Wesson of firearms manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Winchester.

Rimfire ammunition type of firearm cartridge where the firing pin crushes the rim of the cartridge to fire it

Rimfire ammunition refers to a type of metallic firearm cartridges. It is called rimfire because the firing pin of a gun strikes and crushes the base's rim to ignite the primer. Invented in 1845, by Louis-Nicolas Flobert, the first rimfire metallic cartridge was the .22 BB Cap cartridge, which consisted of a percussion cap with a bullet attached to the top. While many other different cartridge priming methods have been tried since the 19th century, only rimfire technology and centerfire technology survive today. The rimfire .22 Long Rifle cartridge, introduced in 1887, is by far the most common ammunition in the world today in terms of units sold.

.22 Long Rifle ammunition

The .22 Long Rifle or simply .22 LR is a long-established variety of .22 caliber rimfire ammunition, and in terms of units sold is still by far the most common ammunition in the world today. It is used in a wide range of rifles, pistols, revolvers, smoothbore shotguns, and even submachine guns.

Internal ballistics, a subfield of ballistics, is the study of the propulsion of a projectile.

Blank (cartridge) type of cartridge for a firearm that contains gunpowder but no bullet or shot

A blank is a type of firearm cartridge that contains gunpowder but no projectile, and instead uses paper or plastic wadding to seal the propellant into the casing. When fired, the blank makes a flash and an explosive sound (report), and the firearm's action cycles from the recoil, but the wadding propelled from the barrel quickly loses kinetic energy and is incapable of inflicting any damage beyond an immediate distance. Blanks are often used for shooting simulations that demand light and sound, combat training, for signaling, and cowboy mounted shooting. Blank cartridges differ from the inert dummy cartridges, which contain no primer or gunpowder and are used for "cold" training or function-testing firearm actions.

Wildcat cartridge cartridge

A wildcat cartridge, often shortened to wildcat, is a custom cartridge for which ammunition and/or firearms are not mass-produced. These cartridges are often created in order to optimize a certain performance characteristic of an existing commercial cartridge.

The following are terms related to firearms and ammunition topics.

Paper cartridge various types of small arms ammunition used before the advent of the metallic cartridge

A paper cartridge is one of various types of small arms ammunition used before the advent of the metallic cartridge. These cartridges consisted of a paper cylinder or cone containing the bullet, gunpowder, and, in some cases, a primer or a lubricating and anti-fouling agent. Combustible cartridges are paper cartridges that use paper treated with oxidizers to allow them to burn completely upon ignition.

Ammunition General term for a wide range of weapon items such as bombs, missiles, mines and projectiles

Ammunition is the material fired, scattered, dropped or detonated from any weapon. Ammunition is both expendable weapons and the component parts of other weapons that create the effect on a target. Nearly all mechanical weapons require some form of ammunition to operate.

Cast bullet

A cast bullet is made by allowing molten metal to solidify in a mold. Most cast bullets are made of lead alloyed with tin and antimony; but zinc alloys have been used when lead is scarce, and may be used again in response to concerns about lead toxicity. Most commercial bullet manufacturers use swaging in preference to casting, but bullet casting remains popular with handloaders.

FN 5.7×28mm cartridge

The FN 5.7×28mm (designated as the 5.7 × 28 by the C.I.P.) is a small-caliber, high-velocity, smokeless powder, rebated rim, bottlenecked, centerfire handgun and rifle cartridge designed and manufactured by FN Herstal in Belgium. It is similar in length to the .22 WMR (5.7×27mm)and to some degree similar also to .22 Hornet or .22 K-Hornet. Unlike many new cartridges, it has no parent case; the complete package was developed from scratch by FN. The 5.7×28mm was developed in conjunction with the FN P90 personal defense weapon (PDW) and FN Five-seven pistol, in response to NATO requests for a replacement for the 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge. In 2002 and 2003, NATO conducted a series of tests with the intention of standardizing a PDW cartridge as a replacement for the 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge. The tests compared the relative merits of the 5.7×28mm cartridge and the 4.6×30mm cartridge, which was created by Heckler & Koch as a competitor to the 5.7×28mm. The NATO group subsequently recommended the 5.7×28mm cartridge, citing superior performance in testing, but the German delegation objected and the standardization process was indefinitely halted.

In firearms and artillery, the primer is the chemical and/or device responsible for initiating the propellant combustion that will push the projectiles out of the gun barrel.


  1. 1 2 3 Nonte, Jr., George C. (1978). Basic Handloading. New York: Outdoor Life. LCCN   77026482.
  3. 1 2 Jeff Hartman. "How to Make and Reload Wax Bullets". National Rifle Association.
  4. Dick Kirkpatrick (November 1962). "Armchair Target Shooting". Popular Mechanics. 118 (5): 143.
  5. CFDA Gunslinger's Guidelines 6th edition (PDF). Cowboy Fast Draw Association. 2010.
  6. "Fast Draw Equipment". WFDA.
  7. "Odds and Ends". The Wide World Magazine. XVIII: 519. 1907.
  8. Popular Mechanics. 10: 765. 1908.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality (No. 808 Vol LXIII, Sixpence ed.). Ingram brothers. 1908-07-22. p. 41.