Ever think about casting your own lead bullets?
Maybe you’re already a member of our growing ranks of DIY bullet makers.
Here are my down and dirty tips for casting your own lead bullets.
So you have been bit by the ever increasing cost of bullets. Well, while I can’t help you out much with powder and primer costs I can give you my tips on casting lead bullets. I have been a shooter all of my life but more recently have become an avid lead bullet caster. One of my shooting mentors that has been at it for around six decades has been a great help along with everything I can find from legit sources on the matter. Vintage books along with great publications such as the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook are a must read. This is a subject you will never have too much knowledge about and will always learn throughout your casting years.
First off before we assemble any equipment I must address safety and protective gear. First off ALWAYS cast lead in a well ventilated area. Some casters even use a respirator but I will leave that up to you. I cast outside on a nice day. Problem solved and stay upwind of any smoke. Eye protection! A splat of molten lead can take your vision in a quick moment. Also wear decent gloves, long sleeves, pants and non-open toe shoes. Hot lead splatters just love to burn exposed skin. Don’t give it a chance, ever!
Your casting material is your next major item to look at. The rule of thumb generally is you want soft almost 100% pure lead for muzzleloader and shotgun projectiles. Cast up those Minie Balls, round balls and rifled shotgun slugs with pure lead such as plumbers lead, old lead flashings from roofs or other pure lead sources. When you are casting for higher velocities such as centerfire rifles and handguns harder lead is needed to avoid lead fouling problems. A mix of a hardening agent such as tin or antimony are a great recipe for these. When using mixes it pays to do some real serious research. Another great source of lead are the old school tire balance weights or range lead. Pick up the larger spent projectiles, wash them off and dry them extremely thoroughly. Any trapped water between a bullet jacket and the lead core might cause a catastrophic lead explosion. All of the molten lead will be ejected out of the furnace at high speed. Use caution and always keep water or any liquid away from your casting area. Side note: the jacket material and impurities will float to the surface of your melted pot. Skim and discard the dross. If you have full metal jacket clad projectiles that have no exposed lead you will need to cut them open or better yet just pass on the hassle of dealing with them.
What is the best way to melt your lead? Well personal preference comes in play here in a large degree. Back in the old days many frontiersmen cast their bullets over a hot campfire. I personally use a Lee 10 pound pot that has the bottom pour feature. This allows control of the pour easily. Of course there is also the ladle pour method that allows you to scoop from the top of your pot. While I like this method your housekeeping duty to keep the impurities skimmed off the top to a higher degree than bottom pouring does comes into play. I have been eyeing a Lee 20 pound pot just for ladle pouring in the future. Truly, any method of melting lead can be used for casting. This would include a camping stove in a jiffy.
My favorite set up is the Lee furnace sitting in a metal pan over a Lyman Ingot Mold. This allows any spilled or dribbled lead to be easily recycled back into the pot.
Here is a close up of the Lyman Ingot Mold. I find the size of the bars to fit perfectly in the furnace for melting. You can of course use old metal muffin molds or other containers to pour hot lead into to make small usable cakes.
What tools do you need? Well you certainly will need an old spoon to scoop the dross off of your lead. I added a longer wooden handle to one in an unconventional way. The small Lee Lead Ladle is great for sifting dross off and also scooping up a healthy amount of lead for casting.
A pair of old pliers are needed to carefully add lead ingots when needed. Remember: carefully add the new dry lead. No splashes!
Load up your furnace and turn it on. It will take a bit to fully melt your lead into a completely liquid state.
What bullet mold will you use? Well in this case I chose a Lee Bullet Mold for the mighty .45/70 caliber. This particular one I found recently at an antique store for $10. Now that is a bargain to watch for!
A close look at the box shows this mold will through a .457 diameter lead projectile that is 405 grains in weight. It is a single cavity mold and the projectile is a hollow point. Now that is a big game hammer!
Out of the box this Lee Mold is ready for some hard work. The aluminum construction allows for quicker heat up and cooling, along with a rustless design. I will be using range reclaimed lead from spend .45/70 projectiles that have a medium hardness. This is the ultimate in recycling right?
Let’s take a look at how our casting lead is doing. It is melting nicely. Turn up the heat a bit to fully melt quicker but back off the heat when a liquid state is achieved.
Now we’re talking. Look at that beautiful form of future lead projectiles! In tough times possibly better than gold right? Once fully melted add a tiny bit of beeswax and toss in a lit match to mitigate the smoke. Then stir the molten lead with a spoon from the bottom up. Skim any gunk and impurities off the top until the lead is a silver colored sheen. Your lead will now be ready like a blank canvas for a painter. Time to create.
Make sure to clean and smoke your bullet mold. There is plenty of cleaners casters use such as brake cleaner for the maintenance chores. I personally like using normal rubbing alcohol though and it evaporates with no residue. After the mold is thoroughly dried use a candle or a match to “smoke” the inside of the mold. The carbon build up will help when you start casting.
You will need a hard wooden handle or similar item to knock the sprue loose from the mold. Be careful what you pick as you don’t want to damage the mold. I use an old tomahawk handle. No steel hammers, ever!
When you drop the cast bullets from the molds they will still be a bit soft. I use a piece of leather in an old box to act as a catcher’s mitt for my little lead bundles of joy.
Finally time to cast! Either direct bottom pour or ladle enough lead into the mold to cause a bubble to form on the top when the mold is completely filled. Wait for that bubble to harden and use your wooden handle to smack the sprue door open. Open the mold and drop your new freedom seed into the padded box and repeat the process. It’s really that simple.
The first cast lead bullets will probably need to go back into the furnace. Until the mold heats up correctly you will notice defects. There is no waste with these though since you just recycle them. The cast lead bullets should come out shiny and fully formed.
With anything practice makes perfect. Casting lead bullets is a skill that will improve the more you do it. We are literally lifelong students of the cast until we finally turn off the furnace for eternity. The above cast .45/70 projectiles have a slight “frosting” on them. They do however shoot just fine and are true to diameter. With this mold I have found it occurs a great deal but is not present in other molds I use. Figure each mold has it’s own personality. Also, the lead you cast with will certainly play a major role along with melt temperature, mold temperature and the speed at which you are casting them at.
Lead bullet casting is quite a fun way to kick back and save a few dollars too. Nothing like seeing those shiny projectiles pile up ready for the range or the next hunt. Have fun casting and stay safe!
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