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Edjimucate me on casting bullets.

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by longrifleman, Dec 15, 2005.

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  1. longrifleman

    longrifleman Member

    Feb 11, 2004
    western Missouri
    I've been thinking about getting into casting my own, but don't want to sink a whole lot of cash into it at first. What is the minimum equipment necessary to do it right? I don't mind spending some extra time, but one bullet at a time over a box of matches might be a little too basic.

    To start, it would be for pistols, .357 and .45ACP. I need to practice. A lot. I would be interested in also doing some for rifle so setting gas checks would be necessary. I like the looks of the Lee sizer set-up that uses your existing press, but haven't heard anything about how they work.

    I played around with casting some years ago with a ladle and a hot-plate, and even that basic a deal worked ok. It was just slow.

    Any help would be appreciated.
  2. Murphster

    Murphster Member

    Jan 30, 2003
    I'll start and will probably leave some things out since it's been a few years since I've done it. I had: a Lyman furnace to melt the lead, a thermometer, face shield (very important), gloves, mold, mold handles, hammer handle to whack the mold open, flux agent for the lead mixture, I had spray mold release agent to help the bullets fall out easier (they were 525 grainers). Also had a small fan to blow the lead fumes away from me. I used wheel weights and a small amount of tin for the bullets. If I remember anything else, I'll edit this post and add them in.

    Also had a large wooden handle kitchen spoon to skim the crud off the lead mixture after fluxing. And a ladle for scooping/pouring the lead. Some of the lead furnaces have a spigot for pouring lead directly into the mold; the bullets I used were too big for that - had to ladle.

    Whoa, I forgot about sizing. Sizing/lubricator, sizing dies and lube. Maybe a heater for harder lubes.

    And finally, for what it's worth, I like reloading. I didn't like bullet casting. Never could figure out why. Turned out good bullets. I think it's because I can go in and reload for 45 minutes to an hour and quit. But with bullet casting, it was a much longer process and once I started, I pretty much had to keep going. Doggone attention deficit thing, I guess.
  3. Jim K

    Jim K Member

    Dec 31, 2002
    You will get plenty of advice on alloys, molds, furnaces and such from folks more expert than I. But I will try to give you what I consider the most important advice.

    Put your casting setup in an area that has good ventilation, even if that means going to a lean-to or using an outdoor picnic table. Lead is a heavy metal; it is poisonous and its fumes are poisonous. Casting in a closed room is just as lethal as putting a gun to your head, it just takes longer to die and is more painful.

    Keep your face well away from the lead fumes, don't be always looking into the pot. You can try a painter's mask, but I don't think it will do any good.

    Wear gloves while working with lead. Cheap latex gloves or inexpensive cotton gloves will do, and THROW THEM AWAY after one use. Lead will penetrate your skin if handled with the bare hands. If you must cast indoors, have a big fan to blow fumes OUT of the room into the open air, and a vent to bring fresh air in. If you cast in the winter, and it is cold due to the ventilation, remember a wool coat is more comfortable than a wooden one.

  4. Poodleshooter

    Poodleshooter Member

    Dec 30, 2002
    Mr. Jefferson's country
    A few questions you need to sort out first:
    Why do you want to cast? Is it for cheap bullets, better bullets, or just self reliance/for fun
    How much do you want to spend?
    Do you have a source of wheelweights for cheap lead? If not, then casting is going to be pricier than buying bullets pre-cast.

    Anyway, once you get those sorted out, here's how I started:
    Lee molds. If you're doing handguns, and are buying new molds,buy multi-cavity molds. Anything else will drive you insane due to the time it takes to cast. I prefer Lee for starting out due to their cost relative to performance. Lyman, RCBS, Saeco,etc are all wonderful molds, but they cost at least $50 for even single cavities. That's a budget blower if cost saving is your initial goal. That's my opinion only,and probably the vast majority will disagree.
    For heat, a grill with a hot burner,and an old cast iron pot works fairly well,but may not sit well with the wife. For a bit more-$30-40, Lee makes several casting furnaces that work with ladles or simply pour from the bottom.
    As for sizing, I find that the Lee system of simple bottom pressed swaging dies+ liquid alox is FAR cheaper than the heater/luber/sizer arrangement provided you're buying new. It's also far simpler.
    For my revolvers, I don't even bother sizing since the bullets come out pretty consistently for some reason. For my .45, I've found it absolutely necessary for proper function. IME, the bigger the bullet, the more likely that it won't cast to proper diameter. This has more to do with cooling that the molds themselves.
    Bare bones kit:
    -Lee 2 or 6 cavity mold- $18- $47 (includes handles if 6 cavity die)
    -cast iron pot
    -propane/gas stove or other heat source capable of temperatures up to 800degrees
    -ladle: The Lee ladle works ok and is cheap, the RCBS is superior in some respects. A spoon also works better for straining,but isn't as good for pouring.
    - cheap lighter (for smoking molds to help the bullets release)
    - -heavy leather gloves (NOT SYNTHETIC!)
    - shop glasses
    -Lee sizing die (needed for .45 but not for .38 IMHO) $11 (includes alox bullet lube)
    -wet towel or bucket of water to dump bullets in/on
    -long pliers for adding metal to the pot

    Anyway, for speed, I highly recommend the Lee 6 cavity molds. They're much faster,especially if you have a pour pot.
  5. swifter

    swifter Member

    Jan 14, 2003
    Southern CA mountains
    Well, I'm no fan of Lee products in general... Their Bullet casting equipment is pretty damn good, IMHO:D

    Pick a furnace, bottom pour is best. Their molds run from the 2-cavity with handles included to the 6-holer gang mold with handles extra.
    I like aluminum molds, personally. You can warm 'em by sticking a corner in the lead, and no excess sticks!

    The sizer is great, it runs the bullet thru nose first, a real plus.

    you'll also need: A stainless steel spoon to skim the dross;
    A lead thermometer, DO NOT TRUST the dial on the furnace! Run it @ 650--725*. Above 750 you start to get toxic lead fumes:uhoh:
    A bit of marvelux for fluxing, an ingot mold and a Lyman book on cast bullets for info. The Lee Tumble-lube works well, too!

    Good luck,

  6. Cloudpeak

    Cloudpeak Member

    Apr 18, 2005
    North Central Wyoming
    I use a Coleman stove, 7" wide by 5" tall cast iron pot with wood handle, skimmer from wall mart for wheel weight clips, old laddle and a Lee 6 cavity mold which are considered much better than Lee's other molds.

    A great resource for bullet casters is:


  7. Sharps Shooter

    Sharps Shooter Member

    Apr 5, 2005
    Southeast Idaho
    I’m sure the best I can do is to tell you some of the things I personally have found helpful when it comes to casting bullets. From your post, you apparently already have an idea of the basic equipment you’ll need to get started – mold(s), some means of sizing and lubing the bullets, some way to melt the alloy, and a way to get the melted alloy into the mold(s).
    I like to use two, or sometimes even three molds during a casting session. I fill one mold and set it down. Then I fill the second mold and set it down. By that time the alloy in the first mold has hardened and I can pick that mold back up and knock the bullet out of it onto an old, folded up wool blanket. Then I refill that mold and set it down. That way I have a steady rhythm going, I’m not wasting time waiting for the spew to cool and my molds don’t get too hot causing “frosty” bullets. My molds are for .30, .32, .357,44, and .45 caliber bullets and for the most part, they’re 2-cavity. A couple of the handgun-caliber bullets I cast are gas-check type, but generally I don’t have much use for gas-checked bullets in handguns. I’ve found if I cast the bullets to the proper hardness (and that doesn’t mean TOO hard) for the pressures I’m putting behind them, they won’t lead up my barrels. Besides, I can be pretty darned fumble-fingered with those tiny, little copper cups and they add another penny apiece to my bullets.
    My sizer-luber is an old Lachmeyer. I don’t think Lachmeyer builds sizer-lubers anymore but I heard RCBS picked up the patent on them. I know the RCBS sizer-lubers look just like my Lachmeyer and RCBS bullet sizer-dies work fine in it. In catalogs I’ve seen the Lee bullet sizers that work with a regular press, but have no experience with them. You must have to lube the bullets by hand or something with them, right?
    I have a Lee Production pot now, but I used a cast iron pot on a Coleman stove for years. I built my own pot with a large lip on one side where I can set a mold so that it heats as the alloy in the pot melts. I can’t really say I prefer the Lee electric job to the Coleman stove. Sure, the Lee has the bottom-pour spout and regulating the temperature is a little easier. But I think dipping the alloy out with a ladle keeps it blended better and it’s not all that hard regulate the temperature with the Coleman stove. It could be that it’s just what I’ve gotten use to.
    I use an old hammer handle for knocking the spew off spew off my molds. I wear leather gauntlet gloves, long pants of course and ankle high boots while casting. I wear safety glasses all the time, but safety goggles and/or a face shield might not be a bad idea. Mostly, I cast bullets in our unfinished basement with a window open and a fan going.
  8. JackOfAllTradesMasterAtNone

    JackOfAllTradesMasterAtNone Member

    Feb 12, 2005
    Lynden, WA
    All good information in these previous posts...

    I melted lead years ago, then went to nearly 100% jacketed stuff, then inherited boxes of commercial lead match bullets. Now I've run out of the 45acp stuff and am low on the .358... So, since I'm also getting into some Bullseye shooting, I've taken up casting for the .45 just recently.

    A fellow THR member recently pointed me to CastBoolits dot com. There I have found some very knowledgable and generous people. A used/rebuilt Lyman 450 lube sizer for dirt cheap. Sizer die and top punch. And a nice Lyman 4 cavity mold. Just what I needed. Because I'm making the next step (I consider it a step up), from aluminum molds. Hmmm...? I might have a couple of double cavity Lee molds you might be interested in. Now the Lyman isn't a Hensley and Gibbs mold, but I'd say it's in between that and the Lee stuff. That said, I've poured some very accurate bullets with my Lee molds. And the aluminum molds are a breeze to turn out quantities. But my Lyman mold turned out some of it's first bullets by me, that shot me a 91 slow fire score with my Kimber yesterday. I haven't had a chance to get them through that pistol in a Ransom rest yet. Soon. I need to drop the powder charge a few grains, and I think I can get more accuracy from the 200grn SWC.

    There's a couple threads here and on the other site, refering to Lube/Sizers. Most rate the Star, Saeco, RCBS, Lyman (There's the Lyman 4500, 450 and Ideal/Lyman 45), in that order. With these, you get what you pay for. But many will tout the RCBS warranty.

    I use a Lee bottom pour melting pot. There's no comparison to using a ladel. You won't regret the extra money spent on a bottom pour pot. Just don't force feed the mold.

    Here's some rough new prices.

    Lee molds- 2cav $22 4cav $45 plus handles
    Lyman molds- 4cav $80 plus handles
    Lyman 4500 lube sizer- $110
    Lee bottom pour melting pot- $75
    Lyman/RCBS sizer die- $10
    Lyman/RCBS top punch- $7

    You can cut these costs by 30% or so if you get used stuff here, CastBoolits or Ebay.

    There's a Lyman casting starter kit at Cabellas that's a pretty good buy.

    I highly suggest reading the "Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook". Tons of information in there.

  9. ReloaderFred

    ReloaderFred Member

    Apr 28, 2005
    Oregon Coast
    You've been given some pretty good advice on the equipment you need and some of the precautions to take, but also some myths that keep popping up about handling lead. Lead is a naturally occuring element and is all around us. Handling lead isn't going to kill you, if you take a few very simple precautions. Always wash your hands after handling lead, even if it's just a single bullet or lead sinker used for fishing. Also wash your hands after firing any firearm, since the primary ingredient of primers is lead styphanate, and will settle on your hands, etc. Don't smoke, eat, pick your nose, etc. until you've washed your hands.

    First of all, the advice about setting up your melting apparatus where there is good ventilation flowing away from you is good advice. You should also wear eye and/or face protection and gloves. The gloves are to protect your hands from the heat, not the lead. Lead is ingested or inhaled, either in solid form or airborne particles, but Not, and I repeat, NOT absorbed through the skin. It is NOT epidermally absorbed by the human body. I have had long conversations on this very subject with Ed Guster III, the EPA's expert on lead management for shooting ranges, and Richard Patterson, NSSF's expert on lead management, and author of several books on the subject, all related to the shooting sports. They both tell me that lead is not epidermally absorbed and that it has been proven so in scientific testing.

    The advice about long sleeved shirts and long pants is also good. I wear a shop apron in addition to those when casting.

    What hasn't been mentioned is the danger of water getting into molten lead. If water contacts the molten lead, it very rapidly turns to steam, which in turn causes a small explosion of hot lead and will burn you. You have to make sure there is no moisture anywhere near the lead pot when casting, including any scraps of lead you're adding to the mixture. The explosion is sudden and violent, depending on the amount of water introduced to the pot.

    Another thing to watch for is the scrap you add. It's common to have a few splatters around the area you're casting in. Some of those may hit the floor, and since we're all into recycling, we naturally want to reuse that lead. If a stray primer happens to also be on the floor and gets mixed with the scrap lead, you'll have another explosion. Explosions of molten lead are not pleasant experiences.

    Casting bullets can be fun, and it can sometimes be the only way to shoot a particular firearm. My 45-120 Sharps is a good example. There aren't many commercial bullets available for that gun, but I cast one that will put three of them into 2" at 200 yards.

    There really isn't any mystery about casting bullets, but there are a few tricks to the trade. Once you get into it, then you'll know what questions to ask and someone will have the answer for you.

    Hope this helps.

  10. BruceB

    BruceB Member

    Jun 26, 2004
    By far the most-active bullet-casting site I've found on the internet is


    There are usually dozens of posts each day, if not more, on a vast array of bullet-casting subjects. Queries tend to get responses VERY quickly.

    Go there and register, and all your questions should receive fast, friendly answers from folks who KNOW the subject. In this short thread here, there've already been a few mis-statements which could lead a new hand astray to one degree or another.
  11. BruceB

    BruceB Member

    Jun 26, 2004
    Dang it, I did NOT see the previous references to thr Castboolits site. Sorry.
  12. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

    Dec 30, 2002
    Deep in the Ozarks
    You can melt lead in an ordinary tin can over a charcoal brazier -- I've done it. Get a Lee mould and some Liquid Alox lube (from the same source.) Strike up an aquaintance with your local garage and get wheel weights from them. You can make very good bullets with this small cash outlay -- cast your bullets and drop them from the mould on a soft pad (a folded towel works fine) or drop them in a bucket of water if you want harder bullets.

    Put them in a plastic container (a cottage cheeze container works fine) and squirt in the Liquid Alox (a little goes a long way.) I like to fill the sink with hot water and float the Alox bottle in it to make it thinner and flow better.

    Dump a handfull of your new bullets in the container, put the lid on, and shake until golden brown. Spread them on wax paper and let them dry for 24 hours. Shoot them unsized.

    Now you can go on and get an electric furnace, mix your own alloys, size your bullets, put on gas checks and so on -- but the tin can and Liquid Alox approach will solve about 90% of your cast bullet problems.
  13. longrifleman

    longrifleman Member

    Feb 11, 2004
    western Missouri
    Thanks for the heads-up on the catboolits site. I've poked around there some and it looks like good info and good folks.

    Edit: I think Vern and I were typing at the same time! That was pretty much how I did the basic stuff I did years ago.
  14. snuffy

    snuffy Member

    Apr 4, 2004
    Oshkosh Wi

    Wow, if lead was as toxic as Jim here says it is, most of us would be dead, for damn sure I would be many years ago! Some simple precautions taken, lead casting is perfectly safe. Don't eat while casting, some ventilation, and wash hands thouroughly after you're done.

    Molten lead does have a small ammount of vapor assocciated with it. it will not however penetrate the skin!:rolleyes:

    Temperature control is crutial for good bullets. So is the alloy that you use., it must be kept mixed to control the alloy, thus the hardness and weight of the finished bullet. That means keeping the lead well fluxed, and not agitating it too much once you start casting. Best way to prevent agitation is to use a bottom pour pot. Agitation causes the tin and antimony to seperate out of the alloy

    A ladle is fine for sinkers or toy soldiers, or when using pure lead for black powder bullets or slugs.

    I used the 8 pound bottom pour lee pot for many years. I just got one of the lee pro 4-20 pots. It has a straight shot valve with a mold guide, that doesn't leak like the old 8 pounder did. i'm real happy with it, because once it's up to temp with it full, you can cast a lot of bullets before running out of lead. I also use a lot of lee molds, I've got 3 of their 6 cavity molds for 44 and 45 bullets. I hav yet to wear out a lee mold.
  15. cracked butt

    cracked butt Member

    Jan 3, 2003
    SE Wisconsin
    A lot of good advice, and a lot of weird advice here.

    -Wear long pants, long sleeved shirt, a brimmed hat, goggles, and welding gloves when starting out. The brimmed hat will keep the burning hot lead from landing on top of your head if any moisture gets in your pot. Be sure to tie up your boots or shoes tight and have your pant cuffs cover them. Nothing like having a hot droplet of lead go down the front of your shoe.:(
    -Ventilation- use a fan to blow fumes away from you. Contrary to some beliefs, casting pots do not get hot enough to vaporize lead, but the fumes from flux, tire stems, and dog pee aren't good for you. Its safe to cast cleaned up lead alloy in your house, especially next to a window, but you do not want to render wheel weights inside your house.
    -Lead absorbtion through skin- oxidized lead will absorb though skin, fresh unoxidized lead will not.
    -Keep water away from lead. It instantaneously expands to 1000x its volume when it comes in contact with molten lead- 1 drop of water in a casting pot = molten lead sprayed everywhere. While melting your lead, preheat your casting gadgets by setting in the pot to drive off any moisture.

    A coffee can on a hotplate or camp stove will work just fine for ladle casting. I use this arrangement for rendering wheelweights. I use a Lee Production Pot IV for casting. I paid about $45 for mine.

    Make sure your moulds are very clean and dry- clean them with detergent and a toothbrush before the first use- a tiny bit of oil in a mould will continuously frustrate you with wrinkled bullets.

    Lee makes decent fuctionable moulds for very cheap. However, you get what you pay for- Most of my moulds make good bullets, but I have 1 that casts too small for the caliber = useless. Bullets tend to stick in lee moulds due to Lees less attention to detail in making the moulds.
    A double cavity costs less than $20. For pistol bullets, I'd go with a 6 cavity, the Lee 6 cavity moulds are far better made than their single and double cavity moulds.

    Buy a stick of 50/50 alox bullet lube for about $2. You'll want to use this to lube the sprueplate on your moulds. If you don't lube, the sprue palte will eventually carve a gouge on the top of your mould, ruining it. Don't use Lee Liquid Alox for this, it will burn onto the the mould and gum it up.

    Lee Pushthrough sizers are excellent for sizing and only cost about $10. Lee liquid Alox is a very good bullet lube. This will work for pistol bullets in standard sizes very well and will be much faster than using a RCBS or Lyman Lubrisizer.

    Some people add a little tin to their melt to get the moulds to fill out better. I've tried it and it helps, but tin is very expensive (about $5 per 1 lb bar of 50/50 tin/lead solder). I prefer to run my melt as hot as I can, it fills the moulds out just as well. Use a damp towel to cool the sprue plate when it gets too hot.

    Flux- a handful of sawdust works well. A chunk of candle works well. Marvellux works better than either and gives off a lot less smoke and fumes. (caution) marvellux is hygroscopic and will gather moisture if left exposed to air, my one and only lead explosion occured when I fluxed a pot using a spoon with marvellux residue on it from a flux done 15 minutes earlier.
  16. Winger Ed.

    Winger Ed. Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    North Cent. Texas
    Looks like its all been pretty well covered. One thing I do that I didn't notice to speed up my production is to turn the mold blocks around backwards in your handles.

    Wearing big heavy, gaunlet looking welding gloves, holding the handles in my right hand, I just grab the sprue plate and rotate (counter clockwise)it with my left hand while turning the mold over to catch it, and toss it quickly onto the bench.

    I do this standing up also. As I am cutting/catching the sprue, I rotate about 150 or so degrees, opening the mold, and dropping the new bullets into a 5 gallon bucket of cold water with a bunch of cheap kitchen sponges floating on top to minimize the splash and keep any splashing water way away from the lead pot.

    With a little practice you can get pretty fast at cranking them out.
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