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Friday, April 10, 2015

Guest Article: An Old Man’s Guide to Bullet Casting

by Ray Davies

(This article is an entrant in the 2nd Annual BCP Writing Contest.)

Folks cast their own bullets for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being cost. You can spend ten cents on a cast bullet at a gun show, or make your own for about two. (After you have the equipment of course, but then you’re set for life. I still have and use the molds I bought from Herter’s back in the late 1960s. Buy good equipment, take care of it, and it will last damned near forever.)

As a personal note before I get into this tome, I have to acknowledge my bullet casting and reloading mentor, Harold Payne from Bentonville, AR. He taught me a lot more than he ever realized. Rest in peace, old friend.

What are we going to need to get started casting bullets?
  • Bullet Moulds
  • Bullet Metal
  • Lead Pot (of some kind)
  • Fluxing Material: Beeswax, Lard, Bullet Lube, or one of my favorites, Crisco
  • Lead Dipper for Pouring, stirring and skimming
  • Hardwood Stick or Mallet – for opening the mould cut off. (I prefer a heavy oak hammer handle)
  • A box to collect the spry or excess lead from the mould.
  • A box with a cloth pad in the bottom to catch the bullets. The pad helps prevent damage when you empty the mould, and if it’s damp so much the better.
  • Gloves- hot lead burns like a SOB, and if you’re casting a lot it prevents blisters.

Bullet Moulds
Bullet Moulds come in either steel or aluminum and there are only a few companies that make them. My experience is with Lyman (the daddy of moulds) and Lee Precision for the aluminum. Both work great and have a wide range of prices and features, and both go from single cavity to six cavity. Needless to say, a six cavity steel mould is damned heavy, but I actually like the casting characteristics (temperature control) better. A mould has to be hot, and stay hot, to produce good bullets.

Bullet Metal
OK, We've got lead, but what kind? About the best we can come up with is a mixture. Lyman recommends:
  • Five half-pound wheel weights
  • 1 pound 50/50 bar solder
  • 3.5 pounds pure lead
The wheel weights you can get from gas stations; the solder you can get from plumbers' supply; and the pure lead you can usually find at a salvage yard. If you are extremely lucky, you can get your hands on the bullet lead from an indoor range. That’s the best you can find (at least for pistols). For rifle bullets you’ll need more tin content to make them harder and probably need a copper base (gas check). We can get into this subject at a later time.

Lead Pot
My first lead pot was a discarded aluminum kitchen pot, but most folks use a small cast iron 10 pound production pot. If you’re using a 4 or 6-cavity mould, you might think about renting a plumber's pot, and really have a good time. That’s 30-40 pounds of molten lead, guys. If you want to spend the money there are a number of companies that make electric pots that have a dispenser at the bottom, Being cheap, I've never had one.

Add the metal until the pot is about ¾ full and let it melt, and then start skimming the slag off. Then add more material until the level gets fairly close to the top. And keep skimming. I use a can to put the slag in, and when it's cool I toss it in the garbage. My old home had probably 500 pounds of slag in the corner of the lot, but that was a long time ago.

Fluxing
When the metal is liquefied and free-flowing, it will be ready for fluxing (the process of mixing the metals). You should see a gray scum-like material above the bright shiny lead. This is tin -- it is lighter than lead and has a slightly lower melting point. It is also as important to bullets as the lead itself, as this is what gives the bullet its hardness.

Fluxing will recombine the lead and the tin. Flux is simply a drop or two of fat that will melt into the mix. It will start to smoke and stink, but have no fear;  just light a match and start stirring. When the lead and tin mix, the metal should be nice and mirror shiny.

Always flux the pot after adding more metal, or when it looks like it needs it (you can see the gray tin floating on top). Flux often! You can NEVER flux too often.

Lead Dipper
There are a couple different types of dippers on the market: the ladle, which is open and you can pour from; or the dipper, which is mostly enclosed and has a spout for the lead to pour through. I prefer the dipper myself -- it is less messy and you can put the spout into the pour hole of the mould.

Casting
  1. Fill the dipper about half full and tip it, and the mould, to the side and pour. 
  2. As the cavity fills, slowly turn the mould upright with the dipper still on top, (PRACTICE, Friends). 
  3. The extra metal (Sprue) will harden in a few seconds. Take your hammer handle and give it a sharp tap to break it.
  4. Open the mould and drop out the cast bullets. If the bullet does not fall freely, tap the hinge on the handle, not the mould or the bullet. 
    • If your mould is cold, the first few bullets will be malformed or wrinkled. 
    • If the mould is too hot, the bullets could look a bit frosty. 
    • The ones which are just right will probably be nice and shiny. 
  5. When you finish the pot, collect the sprues and imperfect bullets, add them to the pot, and start all over again.

CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE JUST CAST YOUR FIRST BULLETS!

Now that you have your cast bullets, you will have to lubricate and size them before reloading. We can go into that in another piece if the boss wants it. (I do. -- Erin)

Recommended for reloading and bullet making
Midway USA and Brownells. You can find almost everything you need from these folks. I have never had a problem with either of them.


The Fine Print


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