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Silver vs. Lead – Which Metal Makes a Better Bullet? Part 3

Continuing with our examination on the refining properties of silver and its efficacy as bullet-making material, we’re going to get into metal hardness – which affects bullets in multiple important ways.

The hardness of a metal (not to be confused with density) is a major determining factor for how well a bullet performs. The reason is because bullets are subjected to various forces and pressure changes when they are forged, loaded, fired, and even when they impact a target. Changing the hardness of a bullet changes how it works. Compared to each other, pure silver is almost five times harder than lead – which can present a number of problems.

First, there is the pressure from the reloading press – which packs gun powder into the bullet and passes it through a sizing die. Lead is soft enough to reshape itself in a reloading press. But with silver, there is no room for error. A millimeter or two off, and the silver’s hardness can actually break the die or the press.

Secondly, there are the multiple pressure forces that act on a bullet when it’s fired. When the trigger is pulled, the bottom is ruptured and the resulting explosive force seals the bullet against the bore of the gun. This seal against the bore (aka obturation) is critical for accuracy. The bore of a gun is engraved with rifling, which etches into the bullet – giving it a controlled spiral as it leaves the gun. This spiraling motion is what makes the bullet accurate. Because silver is so hard, it leaves the barrel un-etched with less spiral and less control. Additionally, if the bullet isn’t a perfect fit, power is also affected. If the bullet is even one-thousandth of an inch too big, it will generate extra friction as it travels through the barrel – slowing it down. Lastly, when a bullet hits a target, the pressure of the impact flattens it and slows it down. Because of its hardness, silver bullets are very resistant to this.

Lead bullets have an easier time adapting to all of variables because they are softer. For our next blog post, we’ll wrap things up with a look at the actual ballistic performance of silver bullets when all of these physical properties are taken into account.

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