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Bullet Casting ?


Dusty Boots
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I am going to start reloading again and want to start casting my own bullets which I have never done. I have bought a Lyman book on casting, and some used equipment (moulds, RCBS furnace).


I have never bought lead before so three questions:

1. Is buying ingots from an unknown individual something to avoid?

 

2. Is this a fair price ?

“The ingots are pure lead as well as I know without assaying them. They look and act like basic lead. I don't think there is any antimony or tin alloy. Cost is $3 / pound.” 


3. And is this more trouble than the savings is worth?
“Range lead is $1 / lb and is mostly lead fragment, copper jackets, lead dust and a small amount of floor dust-powder - paper fragments.”

 

Thanks in advance 

DB

 

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Posted (edited)

Casting can be as simple or as difficult as you want it to be.

We cast whatever lead we found...the 'gunk' burned off to the top.

We found a temp that worked for us (around 8) and cast.

When we started, we were not able to find bulletts at a good price...so it was worth the time.

I kept a stainless mixing bowl with water...I dropped my casts into it as I went.

Worked fine for us.

Everyone has their method...find wich works for you.

Edited by Singin' Sue 71615
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If I didn't aleady have all the equipment,  molds and lead,  I wouldn't cast. 

 

Starting now is difficult because everything is in very short supply.   Prices I've seen on stuff available (on ebay, etc) is 3x normal.  

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The spot price of lead right now is $1.09/pound, but people pay whatever the market commands. Personally, I would never pay $3.00/pound, even in the current panic. Around here, $2.00/pound is about the norm on Craigslist and other places. For what we do in Cowboy Action, most any lead alloy will be fine - I've used everything from pure lead to a BHN of 20+. For long range Buffalo rifle at 500+ yards, I'm a bit more careful. ;)

 

Sooner or later, someone will say, "Just stop by any tire shop and they'll give you all their old wheel weights"... yeah, that hasn't happened in 20 years or more, and a lot of wheel weights anymore are iron or zinc. The local recycle yard is paying only 45¢ - if you have a big scrapyard around, it would be worth a call. If you're close to the gulf coast, check out boatyards.

 

I worked at a lead smelter for 23 years, so casting bullets made sense, but the place has long since closed and I'm retired, so I buy most of my bullets and just cast some specialty ones that aren't generally available, like .58 cal Minié balls or .56-.50 bullets. Right now, a lot of the commercial casters have dropped their slower selling bullets to concentrate on the bigger sellers. I just made a bunch of 85 grain .25's for my two .25-20's about a week ago because I couldn't find any.

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I'd buy range lead and clean it up at $1.00/lb. It's not that hard to do. A turkey burner and an old pot work well and old muffin and bread tins. My wife got all new cookwear out of the deal.

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I would never pay more than 1.50/lb, even now. I feel pain if I pay more than 1.00/lb, but you have to be patient.

Never trust anyone who says they can tell alloy by looking at the lead, 'cause they can't. Most guys can't even tell lead from zinc.

Range lead is for guys who have the experience and tools to melt it down into usable ingots. I don't even do that anymore, not worth my time, but then I am not hurting for lead right now.

Craigslist is your friend. Even better, www.castboolits.gunloads.com

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MS: there's range lead and then there's range lead. Stuff that has hit a steel plate isn't too bad, just some dirt and stuff, but get a batch of fully copper encapsulated 45 bullets that have been shot into a dirt berm? No way.  I am not going to spend all day whacking them with a hammer or axe to break the jackets so the lead can melt out. Been there, never want to again. 

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38 minutes ago, Three Foot Johnson said:

Sooner or later, someone will say, "Just stop by any tire shop and they'll give you all their old wheel weights"... yeah, that hasn't happened in 20 years or more, and a lot of wheel weights anymore are iron or zinc.

 

Yeah,  I asked our tire shop manager and he said $30/bucket.  Looked like 5 gallon bucket but I don't know how full.  It looked like mostly zink.  I didn't need it that bad.

 

I bought lead pipe from local salvage yard for 60 cents/lb to cast into round balls for cap gun.  WhileI have lots of hard lead, I didn't have much pure lead.

 

 

 

 

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I use Lee Precision tumble-lube dies.  Just cast and tumble lube.  No sizing.  With 777 or APP , I skip the lube step.

Casting is a self-cleaning process.  Lead has a low melt point of 621F.  Impurities like dirt, copper, zinc and sulphur rise to the top and are removed as dross.  Wax, lube and plastic burn off.  No matter what goes in, if you control the temp, the lead is purified.

I pick up lead for free.  I provide copy paper at work in exchange for new battery terminals.  Craigslist can be a good source for window weights, decoy ballasts and fishing weights.  I do not use battery lead due to a high content of sulphuric acid.

20200322_175018.jpg

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Posted (edited)

Another source I found is a local stained glass artist/conservator who has thirty to fifty pounds or so of scrap dead-soft pure lead wire every month she takes to the salvage yard... until I happened to meet her there one time when I ran the state recycling program, and said I'd give her double what the scrapyard does, and even come and get it. :) It's remnants and random lengths of H section lead stock used to hold the glass panels in stained glass windows and sculptures. Sometimes there are a lot of long pieces like this when she's restoring something.

LeadWire.jpg

Edited by Three Foot Johnson
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Posted (edited)

Generally, a novice should buy lead of the alloy that they want to cast from.  The most common casting alloy is 6% antimony, 2% tin and rest lead.   But, that is more expensive than soft lead, and it's harder than what you really need.  So, beginners can buy ingots of 6-2 lead alloy, sometimes labeled Hardball alloy, from a reputable source.  Then visit a larger junk yard and try to get "soft lead" pipe,  plumbers lead or sheet lead.  Mix that 10 pounds of soft and 10 pounds of hardball alloy and you have a wonderful cowboy casting bullet.   And add 3 ounces of tin solder and it will cast even more beautifully.

 

A commercial source many casting cowboys use for small quantities is Missouri Bullet Company -

https://missouribullet.com/results.php?category=12

 

BUT unless you are shooting over 1000 bullets a month, you probably won't make your equipment pay off for quite a while.  All depends upon how good you are at dealing with scrap yard hands (they are very profit minded).   And how good you are at working carefully around molten metal.  

 

ALWAYS wear eye and face protection when melting down metal you have not worked over yet.  A little dampness if the lead item is added to a molten pot will explode the metal as a spray, as the steam escapes the melting pot. 

 

Don't use your casting furnace as a raw metal melter.  Get an old cast iron or steel pot and heat it over a turkey fryer burner.

 

Don't ever add an unknown metal item to your casting lead.  You can quickly ruin $50 of good metal adding a 6 ounce chunk of wrong kind of crap.

 

Don't tear apart car batteries, truck batteries, or golf cart batteries to try to recover lead.  You get maybe a couple pounds of somewhat useful lead, but have 58 pounds of toxic materials that cannot legally be disposed of in garbage.  And that will poison your yard or garden if the contents spill there.  Even the battery terminals now are made of a lead-calcium alloy, which is hard to cast with since the calcium raises the melting point of the lead alloy too much for common use.

 

Avoid ALL zinc - whether wheelweights, die cast parts, or even zinc bullets from the range.   In fact, as a novice, trying to use takeoff wheelweights will result in disappointment unless you RAPIDLY become expert at telling lead from aluminum from zinc and then the alloys of Al and Zn.. 

 

So, based on high prices, lots of other desperate shooters trying to cast, dwindling scrap lead sources, and money-hungry scrap and recycled lead dealers ((Rotocast is one), casting is no longer an automatic win.  But, if you like DIY, you have a large work yard, you don't have neighbors who will try to suspend your backyard operations, you have lots of time to learn various parts of the hobby and how to deal with difficult folks, it can be satisfying to make your own, even if you are not really saving any money.  

 

I haven't bought a commercial lead bullet for well over 15 years.   But I,m a metallurgist by training and have cast for 45 years and I have a large stock of lead alloy ingots I've bought BEFORE the panic buying started.  For me, it's even a savings - if my retirement time is worth $0 an hour.

 

:lol:

 

If you still want to pursue this, the cheap and easy way to do it is become friends with an older fellow at your gun club who casts, and then, after learning from him, offer to buy out some or all of his hobby material.

 

So, 1 - buying ingots from some individual you don't know and trust?  Insist on an x-ray analysis of his ingots and buy only if they are what you understand them to be, and don't have more than  1/2 per cent of any Calcium, Zinc, Copper, Bismuth contamination.  Lead pipe or lead came from stained glass workers - will be soft lead that is safe to buy without an analysis, usually.

 

2 - $3 a pound for "pure lead" - a genuine rip off.  Like Slim said, $1.50/pound max.  Junk yards buy it all day at 30 to 50 cents a  pound from construction workers.  But they are sometimes eager to sell it to you if you offer $2 a pound.

 

3 - $1 a pound for "range lead" - also a rip off.   Especially if it has not yet been melted down and cleaned up.    Free or 25 cents a pound would get my attention, if I needed metal.  And any more, it is likely to have some Calcium, Zinc and even Bismuth in it.  Will certainly have a little copper that you can't prevent from dissolving in the alloy as you melt it down.

 

 

good luck, GJ

 

 

Edited by Garrison Joe, SASS #60708
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Casting can be very satisfying and provides reassurance against lack of bullets from other sources.  I have never paid $3 per lb., even for pure lead.

 

The only time you need pure lead is if you are casting projectiles for a cap and ball revolver.  Those projectiles need to be very soft for proper seating in the cylinder.

 

Projectiles for cartridges can be much harder than pure lead without a problem.  Old wheel weight lead worked just dandy. Even though current wheel weights do not play well in our guns, there is a lot of wheel weight lead out there.

 

I would let my fellow cowboys know that I am interested in buying old wheel weight lead.  Do some bartering and trading and get a few hundred pounds on hand.  A few pounds here, a few pounds there... enjoy the process.

 

If you need pure lead for cap and ball revolvers, bite the bullet (so to speak) and pay what you have to.  It's only money.

 

 

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58 minutes ago, Warden Callaway said:

 

Yeah,  I asked our tire shop manager and he said $30/bucket.  Looked like 5 gallon bucket but I don't know how full.  It looked like mostly zink.  I didn't need it that bad.

 

I bought lead pipe from local salvage yard for 60 cents/lb to cast into round balls for cap gun.  WhileI have lots of hard lead, I didn't have much pure lead.

 

 

 

 

My buckets were running about 50/50 lead to trash. A lot of sorting but it was worth having the lead.

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13 minutes ago, Michigan Slim said:

My buckets were running about 50/50 lead to trash. A lot of sorting but it was worth having the lead.

 

50/50 don't sound bad.   Will a scrap dealer buy the zink?  

 

They have a guy worked truck, heavy equipment and farm tires in a separate building.  The weights he had in his scrap bucket looked to average around a pound. Twinkle size or larger. 

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1 hour ago, Warden Callaway said:

 

50/50 don't sound bad.   Will a scrap dealer buy the zink?  

 

They have a guy worked truck, heavy equipment and farm tires in a separate building.  The weights he had in his scrap bucket looked to average around a pound. Twinkle size or larger. 

They buy them as scrap all the time.

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1 hour ago, Warden Callaway said:

 

50/50 don't sound bad.   Will a scrap dealer buy the zink?  

 

They have a guy worked truck, heavy equipment and farm tires in a separate building.  The weights he had in his scrap bucket looked to average around a pound. Twinkle size or larger. 

I get all giggly inside when I see those big weights. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Warden Callaway said:

Will a scrap dealer buy the zink?

No, usually zinc alloys have no value at the scrap yard.   However, you just might find a yard that wants to pay a little for it.  Around here, no way.

 

good luck, GJ

Edited by Garrison Joe, SASS #60708
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If you value your time at even cents per hour, it is cheaper to buy cast bullets from a local supplier. Freight may be a factor but Blue Bullets pays freight on large orders (3,000 or so, but it goes by what ships in one box. One problem now is that most venders are selling 9 mm and 45 acp as fast as they can cast and ship. If you try wheel weights you should use a lead pot and single burner propane camp stove to separate the junk from the alloy. I am not saying don't cast but when I was shooting an event every week there was no way I could keep up. Cast over the winter.

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If you read on castboolits, some are experimenting with casting zinc bullets. Dumping the zinc may be short sighted in today's world.

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I'll second the time issue. 

The day I melted all the scrap in the picture above I started about noon and got done around five. Figure I had another hour in sorting out the zinc and steel trash before I started melting. 

As for casting, I use a Lee 4-20 bottom pour pot (because I'm cheap!) and it gives me good service for the money. I recommend them highly for someone to start with. Upgrade later if they like casting, which I do. In another six hours I can pour 2-3000 bullets. I use liquid alox for lube so they all get lubed that day. Ready to load the next day. 

 

One days work. Four different calibers.

 

IMG_20190616_200258380.jpg

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Love those Lee 6 cavity molds!   Makes a lot of bullets fast.  I used a Lyman 2 cavity iron mold a while back and it seemed like I was worn out before I had a cup full.

 

Then there is having a place to cast.  I live out on the farm and can melt lead on a wood fire and not bother anyone.   Cast bullets on the back porch.  

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Casting here down -under is well worth it as commercial bullets are top dollar to buy.. I have a Magma caster with 43 assorted molds, I was buying Bullet alloy ignots but that  became cost prohibitve, now I purchase lead from a local recycler at $2.70 per kg which is around $1.10 a lb, I use pure lead for BP & smokeless.

Cartainly worth it &  I enjoy casting for myself & sell  some  to pards.

Zinc in  lead is your worst enemy..just sayin '...!!

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Watch out for range lead.

I found a range that asked me to clean out the lead. I could keep lead for free.

Thought it was a great idea. I'm all for free anything.

Unfortunately it had wood with creosote, ie railroad ties mixed in.

Causes cancer.

That wasn't bad enough once I was melting a bunch of the range lead, I was across the shop doing something else and I heard BANG, PING! Live round mixed in.

I called the range 5 minutes later and let them know that was my last pick up.

I went through the rest of the buckets I had found 2 more live .22s.

I kept them, of course.

 

Waimea

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4 minutes ago, Waimea said:

Watch out for range lead.

I found a range that asked me to clean out the lead. I could keep lead for free.

Thought it was a great idea. I'm all for free anything.

Unfortunately it had wood with creosote, ie railroad ties mixed in.

Causes cancer.

That wasn't bad enough once I was melting a bunch of the range lead, I was across the shop doing something else and I heard BANG, PING! Live round mixed in.

I called the range 5 minutes later and let them know that was my last pick up.

I went through the rest of the buckets I had found 2 more live .22s.

I kept them, of course.

 

Waimea

 

Dump it out on a big surface and spread out.  Take a hose and wash out most of the lighter stuff. Make sure to let it dry before putting it in the pot to melt.

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53 minutes ago, Warden Callaway said:

 

Dump it out on a big surface and spread out.  Take a hose and wash out most of the lighter stuff. Make sure to let it dry before putting it in the pot to melt.

Tried that.

Never seemed to dry.

In any case time it wasn't cost effective. 

Free sometimes really isn't free.

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If you put the damp lead in a cold pot and bring it up to temperature normally, the tinsel fairy won't ever escape. It's when damp lead is dumped into a hot pot with melted lead that steam is generated and the tinsel fairy escapes.

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I started casting bullets when I started shooting real black powder.  After a couple of rounds of melting the lube out of commercial bullets then pan lubing them with crisco/beeswax, I figured that it was easier to do it from scratch...& it is...kinda.

 

The larger quantities of bullets that I make are "big lube" bullets using Dick Dastardly's molds (38 Snakebite, 44 Mav Dutchman & 200 gr 45s) & they are used strictly for black powder ammo.  We also have 38 revolvers & (2) 32-20 rifles, but I can't find suitable molds for them.  For those bullets (120 gn 38 & 105 gn 32) I made deals with cowboy bullet vendors to get large quantities of unsized unlubed bullets, then I lube/size them with our homemade lube.  We now have molds for every bullet that we use, but I only cast for BP.  For all of our smokeless ammo needs, I buy commercial bullets.

 

Like someone mentioned above, melting wheel weights from tire stores is now an iffy proposition.  Zinc will melt & if it gets in your lead, it can ruin the batch.  I have bought lead from eBay more than once & had good luck with it each time.  You can also buy linotype to mix in if your mix is too soft.

 

I have harvested a good bit of range lead & it really depends on the source as to what you are getting.  Our range at Chipley is only used for cowboy action, so all the lead there is lead.  I can get a pretty good harvest there in a couple of hours. 

 

Casting bullets is fun, but it is a bit tedious at times.  A couple of things I have learned in 7 years:

 

  • Always use 6 cavity molds for any quantity of bullets over 25.  Trying to do a big batch of 38s with a 2 cavity mold is about like picking it with the chickens.
  • Use a bottom pour pot.  Dipping & pouring is not a good production option.
  • Get a big fan & put it right behind the pot, blowing away from you.  The smoke that comes out of the pot ain't healthy.
  • If you are melting range lead, pour the bucket contents into an empty pot.  Dirt holds moisture which will flash to steam instantly when it hits molten lead.  I won't say how I know this is fact, but it's true.
  • Don't pan lube - get a luber-sizer.  The Lyman luber-sizer is a good machine, but it ain't fast & makes you handle the bullet twice when sizing.  Knowing what I know now, I would have invested in a Star luber-sizer.
  • Wear shoes, not flip-flops, when casting bullets.  If a sprue falls between your toes, it's damn HOT.  As an aside, my dad used to do welding in shorts & flip-flops, so the one-legged hot foot dance is apparently hereditary.
  • If you melt range lead, use mini muffin pans (yes, the ones for baking muffins) to make your ingots.  They are not overly expensive & the ingots weigh about half a pound each.  Dropping one of them in the pot doesn't reduce the temperature too much, so you don't have to wait for it to heat back up.
  • Rotate your molds so they don't get too hot.  When you see your bullets coming out with a hazy finish, the mold is too hot.  For instance, I usually cast 44s & 45s in the same session.  When 1 mold gets hot, I set it aside & grab the other one & usually I remember to switch catch pans so I don't mix up the bullets.

 

Your mileage may vary.

 

Holler

 

 

 

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Zinc bullets are not a new idea.  Right after WW II, target shooters went through a phase of casting and shooting zinc slugs rather than lead wadcutters.    They gave it up after a few years.  Hard on sizing machines!  Never quite as reliably accurate as lead.  They can be cast in the same iron/steel molds as lead alloys.  

 

BUT - zinc is running $1.30 and up a pound, lead is $1.00 a pound (bulk metal exchange pricing).  Not much cost savings to be had.  And at the risk of ruining the lead in shooting range berms by adding more zinc contamination to the scrap in the berm.

 

Just a horrible idea, and illegal for SASS shooting anyway.  GJ

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Posted (edited)

Dusty, go to your local scrap yards and buy sheet lead.  You’ll always know there is no zinc in it.  Sheet lead comes in 3 different grades and the lead content ranges from 96 to 98 pure lead.  Prices will vary but will be 2 bucks per lb or lower.  Plus no shipping cost :D

Also, here’s some excellent reading material on the subject ...  http://www.lasc.us/CastBulletNotes.htm

 

 

Edited by John Boy
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What is sheet lead used for? Someone said roofing?????

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1 hour ago, Rebel Bill said:

What is sheet lead used for? Someone said roofing?????

It was also used as a tub and shower lining on tile bathrooms.

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Posted (edited)

Radiation shielding in x ray rooms.  Lots of dentist offices need it, and replace it with any remodeling.   Cut up to make roof jacks (pipe penetration seals).  Acid tanks.  Drain traps in chemistry labs.  Plating shops tanks.

 

Quote

Sheet lead comes in 3 different grades

 

Not that I've ever heard of.  Most of it is 99% lead with very minimal impurities.   Always suitable for casting cap and ball and muzzleloader rifle bullets.

 

The solder used to join sheet lead is alloyed with some tin to make sure the solder will flow without losing the solidity of the lead sheets being joined.

 

good luck, GJ

Edited by Garrison Joe, SASS #60708
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I have melted sheet lead from roofing and sheet lead used to line X-Ray rooms, and they are a totally different animal, purity wise. The X-Ray lead melts with very little dross coming to the top, while roofing lead looks like someone shoveled rusty iron and dirt into it, maybe 10% of the total volume. Both make great mostly pure lead ingots when done.

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