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Am strongly considering casting--a few questions, please?

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by TexasSkyhawk, Jan 5, 2008.

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  1. TexasSkyhawk

    TexasSkyhawk Internet SEAL

    Dec 17, 2007
    Been reloading for a bit over twenty years now, Primarily handgun, but some long gun. Used to be heavy into competition shooting, so used a lot of lead rounds.

    I'm now strongly considering (and am just about fully committed) getting into casting my own bullets. I've heard from more than one handloader that "once you go casting, you'll never look back."

    I'm aware of the safety working environment concerns. I have a very well-ventilated workshop with cross-breeze windows, air-conditioning, celing fan, etc. Since I'm down here in Texas, I can also move a work table outside into the backyard easily since we have so much favorable weather.

    Already looked at the costs associated with getting started and am making a preliminary list. Won't bore you with the usual "what's best to buy" or "what do I need" questions. I also have an almost limitless supply of lead via pipe and wheel weights from a friend's business.

    But, what I would like to know is the following:

    1. How do you "clean" lead up when it is in the furnace? I also have a line on lead from the lead traps at a shooting range, but that is NASTY stuff. Is there a process in which you melt the lead and strain/sift the impurities? And what about chemical impurities like oil or grease--does that just "burn" off at the higher temperatures?

    2. What shape/style bullet molds are there? I've looked through the catalogues (and am waiting on the Lyman casting manual to come in), but haven't yet seen molds for straight wadcutters, and have only seen a few SWCs. Is there a good choice of molds for handgun bullets?

    3. Out of a typical 7 pound ingot of lead, approximately how many 148 LWC bullets or 158 LSWC bullets would that yield or produce? Ballpark numbers are fine--I'm just trying to get an idea of how many bullets I can get per pound/per ingot, etc.

    4. I've read a few posts here and there about folks who cast their own bullets developing "blends" or "mixtures" that give them exceedingly accurate rifle rounds, and with no leading! Seems incredible. Is it true, and if so, how do you do it?

    Appreciate any insight, tales, stories, good/bad/indifferent anyone can share.


  2. BruceB

    BruceB Member

    Jun 26, 2004
    THE site for the specialized information needed for bullet casting is:


    which is otherwise known as "CAST BOOLITS".

    All your questions will be answered there, by folks who make and use cast bullets by the thousands. The place has over four thousand casters in the membership, so pretty near anything in the cast-bullet sphere of operations is known to SOMEONE.

    It's a very friendly place, too, just like this one. Come on over for a visit, and stay awhile.
  3. bglz42

    bglz42 Member

    Feb 25, 2007
    Do it! It's a hoot! Just go slow and be careful. The satisfaction of casting then loading your own, and sending it downrange is undescribable!
  4. cracked butt

    cracked butt Member

    Jan 3, 2003
    SE Wisconsin
  5. armoredman

    armoredman Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    proud to be in AZ
    Good place, got me the info I needed to get started.
  6. DaveInFloweryBranchGA

    DaveInFloweryBranchGA Member

    Dec 7, 2005
    NE Georgia
    Cast bullets is definitely the next step in "rolling yer own" and cast boolits is the place to learn how. Also a good place for advanced loading techniques related to a specific rifle/caliber.


  7. John C

    John C Member

    Nov 17, 2004
    I agree with everyone else that you should check out the Cast Boolits site.

    To answer your questions:

    1) You clean the lead by melting it in the pot and fluxing it. Flux is something (can be candle wax, sawdust, or storebought) that you put into the molten lead that causes the impurities to float to the top. These impurities are called dross, and then you remove them with a spoon. Yes, grease and other flammable impurities will burn off. Yes, it can be nasty. One important point, since you're in Texas where I assume it's humid: be very careful about allowing any moisture into your melt. Water, when it comes in contact with lead, will immediately turn to steam. If the water is under the surface of the lead, you'll get what is known as a steam expolosion, and molten lead will be sprayed everywhere. The biggest danger comes from dropping solid lead into your melt to top it off while your casting. Any moisture or condensation (from humidity) can cause this. You can do a couple of things to avoid this: when starting, fill you pot with the solid lead so it heats up all at once, evaporating all the water; when adding lead, rest it on the edge of the post to preheat it, evaporating all water.

    2) Yes, there are molds for just about every kind of bullet. I have both Lee and Lyman. Both make full wadcutters. You'll see several on this page: http://www.leeprecision.com/cgi/catalog/browse.cgi?1199546798.182=/html/catalog/bullmol2.html

    3) There are 7000 grains to the to the pound, so 7 pounds equals 49,000 grains. 49,000 divided by 148 grains (wadcutters) equals 331 and some change. There are 310 158 SWCs.

    4) Well, this is the nut of the whole casting proposition. The explanation is really too long for this post, but I firmly believe that case bullets will shoot every bit as well as jacketed bullets. The difference is that jacketed bullets, being harder, will have more consistent behavior between guns.

    To answer your question in a nutshell, for optimal accuracy, you will need to match the hardness of your alloy to the pressure you will be shooting it. Higher pressure rounds (full house .44 mag or rifles) require harder alloy. The issue is that too soft an alloy at high speeds will cause the bullet to strip lead in the grooves of the rifling. There is a formula for determining the minimum hardess for a specific pressure (velocity). Bullet fit is the other critical aspect of highly accurate shooting.

    Don't let the above paragraph spook you. It's really actually quite easy to figure out.

    Good luck!

  8. NuJudge

    NuJudge Member

    May 20, 2006
    SE Michigan
    I would suggest you clean your lead in a furnace other than the one you cast from. Many of us melt wheelweights, pipe, spent bullets, etc in a Dutch Oven on top of a Turkey Fryer, cast it in ingot molds, then remelt later in a large electric furnace to cast from.

    Be aware that there are now a lot of Zinc wheelweights entering the scrap market. If the wheelweight has Zn on it, or the markings of a foreign car maker, it is probably Zinc. Small amounts of Zinc causes a precipitate which will make a pot of Lead resemble wet sand.

    The shape of the bullet you want depends largely on the firearm you will use, and the use you will put it to. For revolvers I like SWC or WC designs, and occasionally RN bullets for situations where I have to reload quickly and surely. For Semi-auto pistols, I like SWC designs for .45 acp and a TC design for everything else. For rifle, I like a Flat Nose for Lever Actions, a flattened RN design for bolt-action rifles that will feed them, and a somewhat rounded point for rifles that demand them.

    There are certain bullets that are classics for a particular caliber. For the .357 and .38 Special, the Lyman 358156 gas check designed by a guy named Thompson. For the .44 Magnum, the Lyman 4294421 designed by Kieth or 429244 by Thompson. For the .45 acp, the Hensley & Gibbs #68 in either 185 or 200 grain weights. As stated above, each pistol and rifle is more a rule unto itself with cast bullets than with jacketed.

    Bullet sizing is much more important with Lead than it is with jacketed, and casting technique can vary this. Bullet hardness may be important also, and it can be increased by alloying and by either water dropping or heat treating.

    Read a lot before starting.
  9. TexasSkyhawk

    TexasSkyhawk Internet SEAL

    Dec 17, 2007
    John, NuJudge,

    Thank you VERY much for the great information and detailed explanations! And trust me, I will be reading a lot before I even purchase my equipment. I've ordered the Lyman book and will be studying it hard before starting.

    I very much like the idea of having a separate cleaning operation--that makes just plain good sense. That'll be a done deal. Also appreciate the heads-up on zinc in wheel weights.

    To everyone that recommened joining Cast Boolits, thanks--great, great advice. Joined early this morning and already have a "contribution" in the mail to them to help support the site.

    The knowledge and experience that is over there is truly humbling.

    For me, I like the whole "self-sufficiency" idea of being able to cast my own bullets. I read, with interest, the thread about making one's own primers. Quite frankly, I'd just as soon play Spin The Bottle with a family of rattlesnakes as to play around with some of those materials. I stockpile primers anyway and have done so for years.

    Again, thanks all for the great advice.

  10. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Member

    Sep 15, 2007
    S.E. Minnesota
    I melt my scrap lead in a 2 quart (maybe it's 1.5 quart) Revereware saucepan and lid on an electric hotplate. All the crap (like steel wheel clips, bullet jackets) floats to the top. I skim it off, stir in a tiny bit of used motor oil, skim again, then pour into 2-ounce stainless steel condiment cups. They each hold about 20 ounces of lead.

    The motor oil burns and it stinks, but it also reduces some of the lead, tin, and antimony oxides back to metal, as well as fluxing the melt. If the lead was *really* badly oxidized, I'll stir in some sawdust, put on the lid, and let it cook for half an hour or so.

    I use a 20# Lee bottom-pour furnace for actual casting.
  11. fireflyfather

    fireflyfather Member

    Oct 22, 2006
    I'll tackle these too (new caster myself, so lots of these questions and answers are fresh in my mind).

    1. If you watch your smelting temperature, anything organic (oil, grease, plastics, etc) will burn off. Smelt outside or in a WELL ventilated area, because it stinks and isn't good for you. Solid contaminants are for the most part heavier than lead and melt at higher temperatures. In other words, they will float to the top (steel, zinc, etc). Once your pot starts melting pretty good, anything that floats you simply skim off. Keep the temp below about 700 and you will not melt any zinc into your alloy. You can use a metal thermometer, or if you are broke like me, just use a low powered flame to melt your metal. If it's just barely hot enough to liquefy your lead, there's NO WAY you can melt zinc into it.

    2. There are LOTS of shapes. Lee Precision has at least one kind of full wadcutter for .38 special. At least two kinds of semi-wadcutters. I use their TL-358-SWC design (tumble lube). Works fine for me.

    3. A good shorthand for those 150-160gr bullets is about 45 bullets per pound of alloy. Another cool thing is that any bad bullets you cast or odd bits of dripping metal/spillage/sprues, you simply dump back in the pot when you are done, and remelt it next time. No waste involved. Hell, I even had to pull a few bullets recently....guess where they are sitting now (in my pot for next melt).

    4. You can get as deep into this as you like, or just follow some simple rules: Stick on weights are for muzzle loaders. Harden those up a bit for black powder cartridges. Clip on wheel weights are for non-magnum pistols or gallery loads in rifles. Magnum pistol rounds and medium powered rifle rounds you want a gas check on there. For high powered rifle rounds you want Linotype or equivalent with a gas check. Pretty simple, really. Just realize that high powered rifle rounds in CB are NOT going to get to the same velocity that you can push a jacketed bullet to. There is a limit to how fast/hard you can push even linotype. Don't expect more than 2200-2400fps from a CB even with all things in your favor. Jacketed bullets will go way higher than that. If you are going to cast your own CB, you need to get the Lyman cast bullet book, and the Lee 2nd edition of modern reloading.

    Good luck.
  12. HankB

    HankB Member

    Mar 29, 2003
    Central Texas
    You may find any alloy you mix from these sources is a bit shy of tin, which aids "castability." Adding a little 50/50 or 60/40 solder may help.
  13. scrat

    scrat Member

    Jan 27, 2007
    Monrovia, CA
    Becarefull when buying lead core solder. Most lead solder now adays contains. zinc. Zinc will also not really allow the lead to form well in you mold. Lee is a good way to check out. A lot of experienced caster use the lee sizing and lubing method. i used and rcbs for a long time however i really got tired of how long it took to size the bullets. With the lee in about an hour or less you could size 1000 bullets easy.

    When learning how to cast you should always start out with a single or double cavity mold. Lateron you will be craving a 6 gang mold. Once you get the experience 6 gang molds are the best. You can cast about 7-800 bullets an hour easy. During the summer i would dedicate at least one weekend a month to casting and sizing. Now during the winter months im fully stocked up on most of my bullets. I need to cast more REAL bullets for black powder. Im telling you though when you learn how to cast it really opens you up. sort of like the first time you fired your own made bullets. check out this link on casting.

  14. xsquidgator

    xsquidgator Member

    Jan 14, 2007
    I've been reloading for not quite a year, and casting only for about the last 2 months. Once you get the feeling that you've read about all you can handle, go ahead and buy some moulds and equipment, and give 'er a shot. Once I tried it some I understood what I was reading better, and I'm still learning. Casting rocks, you'll be glad you got into it I'm sure, if you like reloading. Can't put my finger on why but I think I actually enjoy casting even more than reloading and shooting, perhaps it's the self-sufficiency angle on things.

    I went and bought some 2 cavity moulds for 45ACP (230LRN), some 125 LRN for 9mm, and 158 LSWC for 38/357. You only need a melting pot, ladle, and sizing die/lube and you've got the bare minimum to do it. If you have an extra $80 get a lead thermometer and hardness tester, I did and like these extras but they're not strictly necessary. Go to town on this, you'll be glad you did!
  15. hawkeye1

    hawkeye1 Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    I melt all my scrap wheelweights in a pot on a coleman stove. That way, I end up with nice clean usable ingots for making bullets in my Lee melting pot. This way I keep the dirty stuff out of my good pot. Also, do this outside or at least with alot of ventilation. Lead is definitely bad for you, and future generations you might have later. The junk and dirt and metal clips will float to the top. At this point add a bit of wax and stir your melted mixture. then with a spoon, skim off the dirt and impurities out of your pot. this will leave a clean lead mixture ready for pouring into ingot molds. These are much easier to use in your Lead Pot later to make your bullets.

    I like a SWC. Semi Wad Cutter. They pour well, load easy, and make a nice clean hole in your target. Good all around bullet. Also, is a good bullet for hunting with your handgun.

    As for alloys, I have had great luck with straight wheel weights. As long as your lube is up to the pressure and velocity you should not have any leading problems. I shoot the Lee 310 grain LWFN cast from straight wheel weights in my Ruger 454 Casull. Full house loads with H110 and NO leading problems. If you need a harder bullet, you could drop them out of the mold into a bucket of water to harden them, or you could add some antimony or linotype. Either of these will harden the bullet sufficiently.

    ANyway, welcome to casting and good shooting.
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