In many Hollywood movies and other media such as comic books you can see someone pull out a knife and carve an X into the end of their bullets to turn make them like dum-dum bullets.

Is this possible in reality with a knife and will it have the intended effect that regular dum-dum bullets have of inflicting more sever pain? Or is this just something made up?

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    This is one of the best questions to be send to mythbusters. It has everything that a good episode needs. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 5:51
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    It is most definitely possible to carve an "X" shaped mark into many kinds of unfired rounds (The amount of force it will require will vary, though. It might require a metal file to make a significant mark on a full-metal-jacket bullet). What effect it will have on impact remains to be seen. I think I remember a site that tested this at some point. Met me see if I can find it.
    – Fake Name
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 6:17
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    Somebody tried it on the "shooting range": theboxotruth.com/docs/bot32.htm not really scientific, but a start.
    – cularis
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 6:38
  • @cularis - Aaargh. You commented while I was writing my answer. Dammit, Beat.
    – Fake Name
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 10:19
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    For those of us who apparently watch the wrong movies and read the wrong comics, can anyone cite some examples of the claim?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


The rather entertaining "Box O' Truth" website did a pretty thorough test of this.

Their conclusion:

Lessons learned:

  1. Cutting "x"s in bullets is harder than you might imagine.

  2. It might make them slightly more effective than Ball, but not nearly as effective as modern Jacketed Hollow Points.

  3. The .45 ACP did not expand at all. This is probably the result of a much thicker jacket than the 9mm.

  4. The lead .38 Special shed its petals, but didn't expand at all.

  5. Cutting the end off a rifle Ball cartridge will definitely make the bullet expand or break up. Would this make it more lethal? Probably. But not as much as a modern JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) bullet.

  6. Reversing a [rifle] Ball bullet will cause it to expand and break up. Old Elmer said that it killed game just fine. But Elmer didn't have access to modern JSP ammo. If he had, I'm sure he would have preferred it.

I added the bold (and the second rifle note), as it's a critical distinction (rifle vs handgun). The only times I have seen this in hollywood is on handgun ammunition, which behaves very different from rifle ammunition.

It's not bulletproof (ha ha), but it is informative.

  • One can assume it really depends on the alloy of lead the bullet is made of, what the results will be, does water represent human flesh accurately? interesting site, +1
    – Moab
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 3:41

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