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Saturday, April 11, 2009
Praxis Request: Casting Bullets
Down here at the Shelby Ordnance Works (a wholly-owned subsidiary of NITMIL -- Necessity Is The Mother of Invention Laboratories) we have just secured a regular supply of used wheel weights at $25 for a five gallon bucket. Initial thoughts on calibers to be cast:
.30-30, .308, .30-06
Thoughts from Threepers solicited:
Best equipment for small-scale production?
Best equipment for medium-scale production?
Best equipment for large-scale production?
Best comprehensive reference for techniques and procedures?
Tips (per caliber) on casting, alloying, etc.?
Thanks in advance.
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Small scale a lead pot, dipper, and single cavity molds works as it has since revolutionary times.
For production work an electric furnace with bottom spout and either double or six cavity molds.
High end are the automated pour gang mold machines.
Absolute best alloy for casting is linotype metal as it was developed to fill casting cavities cleanly, but other lead/tin/antimony blends will work. Even straight wheel weights if you keep to mild loads. Heavy magnum loads will lead the barrel unless a gas check design is used.
Don't forget you need to size and lube each bullet. You can buy lube or make your own with a blend of lithium grease, paraffin, and beeswax.
I highly recommend the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook as your first best reference.
Two things to keep in mind: always cast in a well ventilated area to avoid breathing lead fumes and no matter how you cut it casting your own is a very labor intensive business that requires a good bit of patience and care.
$25 per 5 gallon bucket? That sounds awfully familiar.
We might have a common source.
Personally, I'm going to get started with .44 and .30-30 after I load up all the jacketed stuff I have.
I bought a box of 200gr .429 SWC style at a gun show that claimed to be hard.
Loaded over 24.5 grains of WW 296 they don't lead much and I'm not using a gas check.
Is there a reason you left .40 S&W off your list?
Mike: You left out 9mm Parabellum. [0.356 calibre (when cast in lead; 0.355 when jacketed), as opposed to the .358 cast lead dimensions of the.357/.38 bullets.]
Also .224 (for .223 applications).
Also consider .40 for the .40S&W and 10mm ACP applications.
Priority of acquisition:
Pistol: 9mm, .40S&W, .45 ACP, .38/.357;
Rifle: .224, .308
All other non-current military, police, self-defense calibres, such as the popular hunting calibres and older military (carbine, 30-06)).
Uncle Lar nails the basics.
For semi-auto pistol applications, particularly the government model, try to get a bullet shape that closely matches the configuration of your standard jacketed bullet. Many cast bullets are designed for target competition and have semi-wadcutter profiles - which do not feed reliably in standard guns. .45 ACP, 10mm ACP and .40 S&W are of particular concern.
Personally I have a LEE Pot from my muzzleloader shooting, 38,44,45,30 cal moulds. And by the grace of God, I found 100+ lbs of sheet lead and some free wheel weights. Need to do a little alloying in which I need some HELP in that area. All my cals I can load with Black Powder, Just need more primers to seal my capacity to reload.
There is a lot of information about casting bullets at Castboolits.com
The correct term for a cast projectile is "boolit".
I am in the process of getting started. I have the lead pot but no molds yet.
My only contribution is to warn you about the lower picture of what looks like a Lee Minie mould: don't use wheelweights to cast those if you want them to work as intended. The wheelweight alloy is too hard for the powder charge to upset the skirt and engage the rifling.
BTW, for a patched round ball in a muzzleloader, wheelweights are fine, as the rifling is engaged by the patch.
For modern rifles, you're gonna need a gas check if you intend on driving that bullet north of about 2200fps.
As for casting, I prefer the back yard over the garage, since doing so in the yard attracts a couple of the neighborhood kids. My last session involved 25 lbs of pure lead, of which I personally cast about a half-pound. I merely 'supervised' the rest. Heh. Ten and eleven year-old kids are old enough to follow directions carefully and aren't yet old enough to think they know something. And they work for burgers and pizza. Double heh!
I've been wondering about using an Outers Foul Out 3 to copper plate cast bullets at small scale, using copper plumbing and roofing scraps for the anode.
I've also been wondering about making 'ballistic tips' out of wood or plasic dowels with a pencil sharpener to turn truncated cone and semiwadcutter bullets into spitzer bullets.
A thought, non-jacketed bullets in gas operated weapons is not a good idea. Seems like the lead shaves off in the gas port.
Highly recc. using Lee tumble lube bullets, they have a TL at the end of the part number. Their aluminum molds do not rust, heat up quick, the six gang works excellent and if you do need to size, the Lee lubrisizer works well, no top and bottom parts, and it will crimp on the gas check for the hi velocity stuff. Lee has a post sizing die that will take the bulge out of semi auto rounds for feed reliability. Wheel weight will be plenty hard if you drop into cold water. Hope I have helped.
I have a Lyman Cowboy mold that I use to cast conicals for my .45-70 BP handloads. .45-70 Gov. is ridiculously expensive. The 'cowboy' loads with smokeless just doesn't give enough power for ultra-long range practice, the uber-loads from Buffalo Bore are just so damn powerful I don't even want to try it.
And then I found out that loading my own allows me to duplicate EXACTLY the same specs and power as the 19th century buffalo loads. And also, the brass can be used many times afterwards, just make sure they are re-sized when necessary.
Mike, if you want to use all lead loads in semi-auto pistols, word of caution here: Although I am not that familiar with semis, I am a revolver guy, but you might want to be cautious of leading and feeding issues that may occur in semis that are built to chamber round nosed copper jacketed slugs. I am not sure if my statement is accurate here, but something about the chamber throat, leading, and soft bullets kind of put me on 'caution' mode here. Maybe someone else can help clarify better.
Other than that, casting and reloading your own is another great form of self-reliance in case of TSHTF. I watched clips of 'Jericho' on youtube and discovered the sheer importance of being able to run on your own fuel.
I see some of your commenters have already posted most of the well-circulated fallacies about cast boolits. I urge you to goto castboolits.com and ascertain the truth from those who KNOW.
P.S. For casting bullets I only use Lee equipment: 20 lb bottom pour furnace, aluminum molds, resizer/gas check crimp and tumble lube. It works perfectly and only costs a fraction of what what other companies are charging for their high end stuff. I cast straight from wheel weights. If I reload ammo that goes beyond 800-900 fps I use gas checks and have very little barrel fouling. For example I reload .454 Casull with 300 grain bullets to 1,800 fps and have almost no barrel leading after 100 rounds.
HABCAN: I'd bet that anyone who takes your dare, will be rewarded, eventually. PF
There's the old canard about polygonal rifling - I've been told many times unjacketed bullets and glocks are a bad mix...
I'm jealous of your guaranteed supply - guess I'll have to find a source like that.
You probably want to first cast the WWs into ingots, and thereby get the crud out. You should first try to sort out the zinc and/or steel WWs. Once you've done that, put the WWs in a cast iron pot and heat them up to around 500 degrees F. The lead will begin to turn into a slurry, but the zinc or steel ones (in case any made it through your sorting process) will float on top. Skim of with a steel or iron tool, along with the steel clips on the WWs. Flux heavily, and scrape (carefully, as with anything involving lots of hot metal) the side and bottom, then skim off any other garbage. This will purify your mix prior to ingot pouring. End of Step 1.
THEN use a bottom-pour electric furnace. No sense in gunking up the thing with all of the crap you just got rid of in Step 1.
By the way, here is a site with some loads for lead rifle bullets: http://milsurpafterhours.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=4714
Ditto on the Cast Boolits site - it is excellent, and a few hours of reading there will teach you more than anything other than standing next to an experienced caster.
RCBS and Lyman 20LB lead melting pots (bottom pour) work very well for all casting.
The Lee 10LB (bottom pour) pot works well for light weight 4,2,1 cavity molds. But the larger bullets in 4 and 6 cavity molds tend draw so much lead that the post gets cool inhibiting the speed of molding.
With any pot return any cut off spru or bad bullets to the pot as soon as possible preserving heat in the lead, enabling faster casting.
I only use 4 cavity or larger molds for greater volume in less time. Steel molds work very well be require, preheating and seasoning(use) to get the best bullets. Aluminum molds work reasonably well, and warm up quickly. Aluminum naturally do not wear as well as steel. But you can help the wear process by keeping the spru cutter lubed to slow wear on aluminum(not necessary for steel).
Casting to fast with steel molds will build to much heat in the mold and produce poor quality bullets. So establishing the right pace. Using a heat sync can help cool the mold for a fast pace. Aluminum mold almost cannot be over heated, the only exception is that the bullets may still be somewhat liquid (slow down).
WARNING: NEVER allow liquid of any kind in the casting area, a stray drop of moisture becomes a molten lead bomb when contacting liquid lead.
WARNING: Vent your casting area well lead fumes are a danger. Be careful to not overheat the lead in the pot (fumes and molding issues). Just hot enough for complete mold filling, if you see straw or blue colors the lead may be to hot. Frosted bullets are another indication of to much heat in the lead.
Smearing of lead on the under side of the spru cutoff plate or the top of the mold indicates lead to hot, not enough cool time in the mold, to fast of a pace or all of the above.
Startup and shutdown times are significant. Lead and molds must reach temperature for fully formed bullets, so I usually devote a complete day when casting.
While the pot and molds are warming up get everything needed and place it close to the casting area. Because once your molds are the correct temperature you do not want to slow your pace so that they cool down.
I always have a pair of plyers for handling hot lead to be placed in the pot. Feed the pot continuously in 1 lb or less increments so the pot does not cool down and stop flowing.
Pre melting, cleaning and casting into ingots for scrap lead is recommended. I use a plumbers gas furnace and cast iron pot and cast iron mold for that. If you do not have the RCBS or Lyman ingot mold, you wife's cast iron cornbread stick molds work really well. Dirt, grit and impurities are removed as they float to the top during stirring here rather than in you expensive electric pot.
Good safety gear to use glasses, gloves, long sleeves and pants, and a hat. Hot lead hurts when it contacts skin, even a thin layer of cloth helps. Hairy arms and legs with out cloth make for difficult hot lead removal and severe burns. Remember you are working with 700 to 800 degree liquid that reverts to a solid quickly.
RCBS, Lyman and Star all are excellent sizer lubers. The Star is the most expensive and the fastest. But all work well. Size the bullets to the exact bore diameter of the firearm. Always use the correct bellet nose punch or you will deform the nose of the bullet during sizing. The molding dies and the nose punch must match.
As for lube I have always preferred Mirror Lube, but my supply is nearing an end and I cannot find it. Excellent stability, no leading, shiny bores, although when cold it is stiff, so sizing, lubing best done at 70+F degrees. If you know where to find it, I would certainly like to know.
I am sure that there are other quality lubes available I just have not had any experience with them.
I find casting, sizing and lubing to be less dollar savings than cartridge reloading, it is still worthy of your time.
The skills are easily self learned by using common sense and a little reading.
I wish you the best with your casting.
Anyone who casts should become familiar with paper patches.
Lymans Cast Bullet Handbook has this info, and it looks like Castbolits has a ton of the same info.
I'm glad that there are so many lead heads out there. The more, the merrier.
If you're looking for the cheapest route, you have answered your own question. The picture you posted is that of bullets cast from the Lee TL452-230-2R, "tumble lubed". In order to produce a pile such as the one pictured, you would need:
* A pot (I suggest a Lee 20 pounder if you want low cost, and I prefer ladle casting--up to you);
* a suitable alloy, but you already have that part covered;
* a Lee 90346 two-holer mold;
* a casting ladle, if ladle-casting--don't scrimp here, get the RCBS or the Lyman;
* a bottle of Lee tumble lube, or some other brand containing Alox 606;
* a Lee ingot mold;
* cotton clothes (no synthetics!), thick leather gloves and eye protection;
* matches or something else to smoke the mold;
* a chunk of wood to use as a mould mallet;
* wax or some other non-volatile hydrocarbon to use as a flux;
* a lead thermometer;
* a plastic bucket to tumble the bullets
You can get smaller lead pots, but you just don't get far, especially with bullets on the heavier side--like 230 grains, for example. This is the optimal cheapskate combination, in my opinion. You don't have to size Lee TL designs, as long as your gun(s) don't have an unusually tight chambers. When you're done casting, and after the bullets cool, you put them in the bucket, pour some Alox 606-55 on them, and swish them around. Alox 606 is cut with mineral spirits, and when it evaporates, it leaves a "hard calcium soap" that withstands gas erosion fairly well, and also protects metal surfaces from oxidation.
Forewarned is forearmed: There are special considerations for loading oversize lead bullets.
Wheel weights need tin to lower surface tension of the melt. Pick up some 50/50 or 60/40 solder just in case. Or just get some tin bars. One percent is plenty for mold fill-out.
Here's a handy formula to match alloy to loads: Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) x 1440
Clip-on WW are BHN 11-12, air cooled. That's a shade over 17,000 psi for good bullet base obturation. Aside from proper size, pressure is the next consideration for reduced lead fouling. Clip-ons are a bit hard for standard pressure 38 Especiale, but if they're sized right, they probably won't foul. You can do 357, 9mm and 44 Mag with that alloy, but near maximum pressure, gas cutting will probably be bad.
Clip-on WW is a good general use alloy, and I simulate its composition for my 45 ACP bullets. It is THE 45 alloy, as far as I'm concered.
Rifles? Clip-ons have arsenic in them. If you water drop them right out of the mold, you may get 18 BHN peak hardness after a couple weeks. Maybe. Great for Thutty-thutty, .308 and .30-06. Don't attempt jacketed bullet pressures or charges, though; i.e. jacketed and lead load data are not interchangeable. Stick to heavier bullets, slower powders and reduced pressure. I work up from about 1,900 fps. The top end is generally agreed to be 2,400-2,500 feet-per. No guarantee you'll get there before lead fouling becomes a problem. (Got a chronograph?)
For rifle cartridges, all the modern bullet styles have a gas check shank. Don't forget to buy 30 cal gas checks.
Anything beyond Lee TL bullets will require a sizer and bullet "lube".
I strongly encourage small scale experimentation before large production. Every firearm is an individual.
For mass production, I would suggest getting a Corbin hydraulic swage press, and a gang mold to turn that lead into uniform slugs for swaging.
If you insist on 100% casting, you want a Magma brand auto-caster.
I buy cast bullets and want to address Wretched Dog and Qi Ji Guang's concerns about feeding. My Springfield 1911 would not feed cast bullets worth a damn until I replaced the standard recoil spring with a 24-pound spring. This solved the problem almost completely. I think excess overall length is also an issue.
Daniel K Day
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