In a post apocalyptic society (let's say northern Arizona or southern Colorado) or just outside of a city what would be Needed to practically 'farm' (produce) modern bullets? The idea is to be able to continue producing modern caliber rounds for maintained weapons ex .308 .223 .45 9mm etc with the least people, space, facilities, and resources possible?

Specifically what I'm looking for is the following:

  • About how much space is needed minimum? (square miles? yards? a cul-de-sac?)
  • Is this viable outside of a city or even within a city limit?
  • What facilities minimum are needed? E.g. a tree nursery, something to cast brass, bullet press? What would need to be built in order to gather gun powder, cast brass, acquire lead?
  • How skilled is the labor involved with 'farming' the bullets. I.e. can someone who has an idea of the process teach any old joe how to do it or do you need a cadre of experts?
  • How much of these facilities can be hand built and how much would most likely have to be salvaged? For example a water wheel could be made but something like a mine would have to be found.
  • Bonus Question: Hand grenades, mortars, and hornet's nest rounds would things like these involve different facilities or can they be produced in conjunction with our general bullet production?

(Less Important just an example) For background let's say it's only been fifty odd years since modern society collapsed and your minimalist survivors just crawled out of a tornado shelter to find their world without power and generally in disrepair. They've managed to build a functioning (if not Spartan) settlement and now want to start producing bullets as a way of both defending themselves as well as to use as trade.

[The above condition of the settlers is more of a loose hypothetical starting point. What I'm more concerned about is how the settlement can be made assuming minimum requirements met. Basically if a better starting point is needed feel free to apply it until the minimum is met. Ex: if they can't be tornado shelter society then what kind of starting point would they need?

  • $\begingroup$ The exact condition of the settlers is more of a loose hypothetical starting point. What I'm more concerned about is how the settlement can be made assuming minimum requirements met. Basically if a better starting point is needed feel free to apply it until the minimum is met. EX: if they cant be tornado shelter society then what kind of starting point would they need? $\endgroup$ – John V. Aug 10 '19 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ Adding how to make gunpowder is really a separate question. We only do one-question questions here and the gunpowder component makes your question too broad. My answer (written before your edit) focuses solely on making bullets. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 10 '19 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ Making smokeless modern powder is doable provided you have chemical resources to do so, but might be quite dangerous as shown during late XIX century, when many factories exploded. So maybe moving this part of the factory somewhere further away is a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Mranderson Aug 10 '19 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ This is not a good question because of how broad it is. One thing I can tell you is that there's a major hurdle your survivors can't easily clear. They need mercury for the primers on these modern bullets. They are unlikely to find much mercury anywhere these days. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Aug 11 '19 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ @ryan they don't necessarily need mercury, There are nitric acid based primers that will work, but you need the ability to purify an acidic potentially explosive liquid., but making the new primer container is some precision metalwork. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 11 '19 at 14:42

You don't "farm" bullets, you manufacture them. Or fabricate them. Or produce them. You want a factory.

That said, people would make their own bullets way back then. Melt metal in a mold and pop them out. In fact, many people still make them themselves. For cast-lead bullets, basically all you need is the raw materials, a campfire, and molds (slightly more complex, but only slightly).

It is among handgunners, however, that cast-lead bullets are most widely used. This is for several reasons, the most common being economy. With 10 pounds of scrap wheel weights, which can be found cheap or free at most tire and auto service shops, you can cast over four hundred 150-grain, .38-caliber bullets or nearly three hundred 240-grain bullets for your .44 Magnum.

You can add other metals to make alloys and the article recommends "a sizer-lubricator with sizing die(s)" for your casting equipment.

Another article has step by step instructions with pictures. You need molds, a melting pot, a mallet, safety equipment, metal. A special thermometer is a plus. This method also uses a flame to coat the inside of the molds with soot, something that would be quite time consuming in large production, but may not be necessary or could be done en masse (it appears it only needs doing once per session, not before each molding). They also lube the bullets after you've completely many. They take 1-3 days to dry.

This source gives instructions for turning scrap metal into pure ingots, ready to melt and cast.

How many bullets can you make in a session? It depends on the equipment you have, your skill level, and the size of the bullets. Assume ready to melt metal. A few answers are:

  • Just over two hours (plus setup/cleanup), 400-500 bullets (.45s) with 20 pounds of metal (one pot's worth).
  • 2 hours to cast one pot with 20 lbs of metal and a single 3-4 cavity mold.
  • 1000+ bullets in an hour by hand (2000 by machine).
  • 650 45s in 2 hours with a ladle pour into a 2 cavity mold.
  • 2.5 hours to make a couple thousand bullets using 2 6-cavity molds and a special heating pot.

How much space you need depends entirely on how much you need to produce in a given time. You want a secure outdoor space (for ventilation), a reliable heat source, and space to spread out the equipment, dry the lubed bullets, etc. Plus storage for the metal, fuel, and the finished product (with proper containers ready to put them in).

Let's assume you already have the equipment, including the specialty molds (in your story you can have them find someone's abandoned operation and move the equipment). The equipment lasts for a very long time and doesn't have a lot of parts that can break. We'll also assume you have the furnace area set up and have fuel for it. Campfire temperatures are just fine. You're not melting iron.

You need one production area (or dedicated days) for creating the ingots. Plus time to scavenge the raw metals you need.

A family of 4 could do this in an ordinary backyard or garage. You want two adults so someone is always around to secure the area (or make sales) while the other person is working. And a couple of other adults or teens or even older kids who can go to junkyards and old auto yards to get the necessary lead and other metals and to find fuel to burn. It depends a lot on the security of the area and how much competition there is for materials.

If you have a small community, this is a task that could be done by just a couple people. The time consuming part is getting raw materials. Leave that to the kids. Don't let anyone make the bullets or be close by unless they are an adult who can't get pregnant. I am not one who believes in gendering occupations but bullet maker should be for men (or elderly women) only.

You want modern bullets, you say? Well, cast iron alloy bullets work in modern guns and will do just fine for most applications.

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    $\begingroup$ Honestly I think asker wanted answer explaining process of making not only bullets but cases and propellants also but didn't specify it in the question. Still a splendid answer! $\endgroup$ – Mranderson Aug 10 '19 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Mranderson The OP also mentions mining in the question and growing trees, making the whole thing too broad for one single question. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Aug 10 '19 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @Mranderson - I'm sure there are entire books written on this process from start to finish. Or one could write a book. I had to focus on what I saw as the central part. I think making molds would take a lot more tech than is available under the circumstances, because they must be manufactured just so. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 10 '19 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Confoundedbybeigefish. Good Lord. I missed the tree farms (for fuel?) and the mining. Yeah, OP is talking about jump-starting civilization here. Not about how to make some bullets to secure a group of survivors as they work towards rebuilding civilization (something that will take generations). $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 10 '19 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Making the projectile is easy making the brass casing is way beyond a portable set up. you need real machining tools. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 11 '19 at 6:11

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