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Getting Started Casting Lead Boolits
Old 04-03-2010, 01:40 PM
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gitano gitano is offline
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Default Getting Started Casting Lead Boolits

First, there is an abundance of experience regarding this subject here at THL. There is a subsite devoted to it here: http://thehunterslife.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=56. However, there is nothing like a list of people to contact. Here is a list of the people I can think of, but there are certainly more. The above link is an excellent place to ask questions.

Ranger Rick

Casting 'boolits', (I'm told that's the "correct" spelling of cast lead firearms projectiles ), requires only minimal equipment and common sense. Common sense like don't test the temperature of your melted lead with your lips. In addition to all of the safety issues associated with hot fires and handling molten metal, there are a couple of casting-specific points of safety.

1) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS melt lead in a space with ADEQUATE ventilation. It is no joke that casting lead in a poorly ventilated space can cause lead poisoning. It isn't a rare occurrance. We have a member of THL that got lead poisoned casting lead soldiers as a kid. My personal stardards are that I do not cast in my house, and I do not let my not-yet-reproductive children near the area in which I cast boolits. I also make them wash their hands after handling cast boolits or ammo loaded with cast boolits. This isn't a matter to take lightly.

2) Don't get water near your melting pot. To the uninitiated, this may seem an odd "rule", but it's really not. LOTS of people drop their boolits from the moulds into pans of water to quench them. That puts water 'in the vicinity' of your melting pot. If you intend to water-quench, be careful to keep the quenching pan far enough away from the melting pot that a drop of water splashed out of the water pan when a bullet is dropped into it won't fly over and land in the melting pot. The reason is simple:

Lead melts at about 621 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 400 degrees above the vaporization temperature of water. That means that if a drop of water gets into the molten lead, it will vaporize instantly. When it does, it will expand a great deal, AND also instantly, essentially making a small water "bomb" in the molten lead pot. That 'bomb' will blow molten lead all over the place, including you. Even if it doesn't get in your eyes, it's gonna burn the Dickens outta you. If it does get in your eye, it will likely blind you.

While wearing eye protection is a basic rule associated with handling any molten metal, I will still reiterate it here. The greatest barrel-maker in the world - Harry Pope - lost the use of one of his eyes late in life as a result of some caustic bluing material splashing into one of his eyes. This occurred early in the 20th century, before the use of protective glasses was fully appreciated.

Finally, to the 'good' stuff.

It's very easy to get started casting boolits. You need:

1) Some lead or lead alloy. A good starting source is wheel weights. Scrounge around your local tire stores. They will often give you what they have on hand so they don't have to haul it to the dump and pay the haz-mat fees. If that isn't available to you, MidWayUSA sells casting lead.

2) A bullet mould (mold). Can't make bullets without a mould. They range from the inexpensive Lee moulds ($20 to $30) to some rediculous moulds well in excess of $100. If you're a "Cadilac" kinda guy you'll likely want the expensive ones. However, lots of people kill lots of animals with boolits made with "cheap" Lee moulds. If you go with the expensive ones, you'll also have to buy the handles separately, to the tune of at least $30 each. (More than the price of a Lee mould with handles included.)

A Lee 8mm double cavity mould - open.

Three Lee moulds - a six-cavity mould, a double cavity mould closed but the sprue plate "open", and a double cavity mould on its side.

A couple of Italian brass moulds. The handles on these get VERY hot!

3) A "pot". Again, this can be anything from one of your wife's throw-aways, to a "nice" Lee "production" pot. Actually, you'll probably want both. I'll come back to why later.

Here's my 5" cast iron pot with about 7 or eight pounds of molten lead in it.

Here's my Lee "Production Pot" that dispenses molten lead from the bottom.

4) A source of "heat". This can be anything from an electric hotplate to a camping stove to a self-heating pot made specifically for casting bullets.

Here's my potful of lead weights on the hot plate.

5) A stick. This is used to knock the sprue plate on the mould open. The mould, including the sprue plate, is going to be VERY hot. You cannot open the sprue plate with your hand, you have to knock it open with something. The best thing is a piece of wood. Knocking on the sprue plate or mould with wood won't damage them. A 3/4" wooden dowel about a foot long is cheap and works just fine.

6) A "spoon". You need something with which to skim the dross, (waste material that floats on top of the denser lead), off the top of the molten lead.

Here's a "typical" casting ladle, and the spoon I actually use.

7) A dipper/ladle. If you do not get a pot with the ability to dispense lead from teh bottom directly into the mould, you will need a ladle to dip lead out of the pot and pour into the mould. Obviously this item is optional if you get a bottom-dispensing pot. (See picture above of dipper/ladle.)

8) Flux. Flux is a compound used to facilitate mixing alloy and removing dross. You can buy flux from most places that sell casting supplies or you can use wax. Beeswax works well but "regular" ol' candle wax works just fine.

That's about it for the basic equipment needs. Like all "hobby" endeavors, you can stay "lean" or you can get "stuff". That's your call.

Here's my personal list of hardware:

1) About 1100 lbs of wheel weights I got from my friend that runs a tire store. About 50 lbs of pure lead I had to pay "retail" for.

"Typical" bucket of wheel weights.

2) A whole herd of Lee moulds, and a few "expensive" ones I got from friends or bought off of eBay.

3) I have a Lee Production Pot for actual casting, (see above picture), and a couple of cast iron pans I use for cleaning the wheel weight lead alloy up and making "clean" ingots.

5" cast iron pan for cleaning wheel weights and casting ingots.

8" cast iron corn bread muffin pan produces 8 ingots of about a pound and a half each, and a Lee ingot mould. It produces 2 1lb ingots and 2 half-pound ingots.

4) The Production pot is one souce of heat I have, but I also have a "hot plate" I use when "rendering" the wheel weights. (See picture above.) Once the wheel weights are melted and the dross removed, the lead is poured into ingot moulds. By the way, wheel weights are lead ALLOY, not pure lead.

5)I have a stick from my cutoff bin about an 1"x2" and about a foot long that I use as the stick to knock the sprue plate open. I've also used a broken hammer handle.

6) A regular ol' kitchen soup spoon. I got mine at "Good Will" for a dime. (See above picture of ladle and spoon.)

In addition, I have:
1) Leather gloves. The cheap ones with the leather palms, cloth backs and stiff cuffs. They cost about $2.50 a pair. Notice the leather gloves and spoon in the picture below of RJ's home-made ingot moulds.
Here are the gloves I use.

2) A thermometer. I got it in hopes it would help me cast better bullets. So far, it hasn't. They run about $35. If it breaks, I won't replace it.

3) Ingot moulds. These are cheap but you can make your own out of just about anything that won't melt when molten lead is poured into it. Many find cast iron muffin pans good choices. I went ahead and bought some Lee ingot moulds. They are cheap. (I don't remember how much, but I do remember that the price didn't deter me.)

Recoil Junky's home-made ingot mould, gloves, and spoon.

Bucket full of ingots produced by RJ's home-made mould.

Another set up - Ranger Rick's.

Notice various components of basic casting in this picture: Pot on burner - ladle - cornbread "ingot" mould - cheap leather gloves.

4) I use an empty tuna can to hold the water for quenching my boolits. It's small, so the likelihood of splashing into the melting pot is low. So far, no problems. (Actually, since I live in Alaska, I usually fill it with snow in the winter. Snow doesn't "splash" and quenches 'just fine'.) Another choice is a 2.5 lb (or larger) coffe can. If only filled half way, the splashes of boolits dropping from moulds won't top the sides of the can.(

Empty tuna can in lower right-hand corner of picture.

5) Flux. Flux is a compound used to facilitate mixing alloy and removing dross. You can buy flux from most places that sell casting supplies or you can use wax. Beeswax works well but "regular" ol' candle wax works just fine.You can pick it up cheap/free from stores that sell candles. Ask if they have any broken pieces they would be willing to part with. I buy a block of parafin used for sealing canning jars. You don't have to have this flux to get started casting, but if you use the "free stuff", it's worth doing during the clean-up process. If you're going to make alloys other than wheel weight, you will need to use some kind of flux to get a good mix with whatever additives you choose.

Actually, when I'm making "hard" boolits, I use a trick Drinksgin told me about. It saves a LOT of hassle including eliminating fluxing. I add "chilled" shot. It has all the other metals already added to make "hard" lead, it's VERY easy to measure in fine increments 'cause I use #9 shot, and more to the point here, I don't need to add flux because the tin and antimony are already alloyed - and fluxed - with the lead shot.


You're in a well-ventilated space, right?

I'll start with nasty, dirty wheel weights. Notice all the 'garbage' that is not lead in this picture of RJ's bocket o' wheel weights. All that "not lead" has got to go. You CAN melt wheelweights directly in your "good" pot and skim the dross off there or you can do it in a separate place that is more 'dross-removal-friendly' and won't foul up your production pot. I prefer the latter.

What I, and many others, do is throw 5 to 10 lbs of wheel weights (be sure they're the "old" lead ones, and not the new zinc ones) in a cast iron "frying pan" big enough to hold that amount of lead safely.

Alboy's stove, pot and ladle.

(DON'T get too big of a pan! It will be unwieldy when the lead is molten, and that spells danger.) The pan is set over your heat source, be that a camp stove or a hotplate or in some cases, a coal fire. As the wheel weights melt, all the lighter-weight 'stuff' like the clips and the dirt will float on top of the denser molten lead.

Using the "spoon", scoop up the clips and 'dirt' (all of which is technically called "dross") and toss it in something (I use an empty tuna can) to cool. Later it can be thrown away.

Here's where one might use flux. Tossing a piece of candle wax (about two cubic centimeters or so - about the size of a regular grape) in the molten lead will help bring the dross to the surface where it can be removed. This will generate a great deal of smoke - another reason not to do this in your house, or at least do it where there is good ventilation.


Here's what the pot looks like after the "big stuff" is spooned off:

But there's still "schmutz" on top. Here's what it looks like "clean":

Once all the dross is cleared off the molten lead, the lead can be poured into ingot moulds. These moulds can be "factory" ingot moulds, usually forming 1 lb ingots, or they can be home-made moulds or they can be something like a cast iron muffin pan.

"Factory" ingots

That look like

Some cautionary note is appropriate here. Pouring molten metal is a matter that should be done with all due caution. If the pan is too heavy or too hot to handle safely, dip the molten lead out of the pan until you can pour the lead from the pan safely. If you get a pan that can hold more lead than you can handle safely, don't fill it too full. Just put an amount in it that you can handle safely. You may find it easiest and safest to ladle from the pot into your ingots. Pouring molten metal is risky. Do it carefully or ladle it.

Once you have enough lead cleaned up to cast the number of boolits you want, you can load your casting pot. I have a Lee pot that dispenses lead from the bottom directly into the mould.

Here's mine with three lbs of ingots in it "warmin' up".

I HIGHLY recommend this kind of pot. However, you can dip the lead out with a dipper made specifically for that purpose, and pour from the dipper into your mould. You should not consider trying to pour from "the pot" into your bullet moulds. It doesn't work.

Assuming you bought new moulds, regardless of the manufacturer you should probably clean the mould of all the manufacturing fluids/residue. You don't HAVE to do this, but you'll get better boolits faster if you do. Plain ol' rubbing alcohol and q-tips work just fine.

After cleaning the mould, you can "smoke" the mould with a candle or a match, or you can spray it with "Pam". Or you can do nothing. I have tried all three methods, (smoke, Pam, nothing), and I see no difference in the boollits produced.

One thing I DO do is lube the sprue plate screw and washer. I don't think this makes better boolits, but it keeps the sprue plate from galling the top of the mould. Purely cosmetic, but still...

Finally, you should heat the mould before casting boolits - or not. (Notice in above picture of pot on Colemanstove a mould sitting in the pot being preheated.) If you do preheat, you will get mould "fillout" faster, and you will get good boolits faster. But... in the end, time is time - time spent pre-heating or time spent casting "seconds" is still "time". What I do is simply start filling the mould. If the boolits don't fill the mould because it is cold, I put the "second" back in the pot and continue to do so until I get the boolit I want. To me, you can either spend the time pre-heating, or spend the time heating-by-casting. It's all the same amount of time in the end.

Once you have molten lead in your casting pot, you can fill your mould.

Here's a mould being filled form the bottom of the pot.

Here's the mould after filling showing "normal" overflow. The sprue plate will cut the "sprues" off when it is knocked open.

Here's the mould with the sprue plate knocked open, but the mould still closed.

Notice carefully the cavity on the left. Note how it is not "filled out".

Here are some "bad" boolits. The first ones out of a cold mould. Notice all the wrinkles and rounded edges.

Here is a series of bullets from "bad" to "good". On the left, is a "frosted" bullet. I intentionally overheated the mould so it would throw a frosted bullet. You can wipe the "frost" off, and I've been told by many that there's absolutely nothing wrong with "frosted" bullets. You can decide for yourself. Next, are bullets from a progressively warmer mould. However, note that there are still wrinkles and incomplete fillout. Finally, there are two "good" bullets on the right. They aren't frosted and they are completely filled out. (Actually, long, narrow bullets like these require a pretty hot mould to get consistent good fillout.)

As I said above, the mould can be preheated or you can simply start casting knowing that the first few are not going to be "good" and simply used for heating the mould. Once the mould is hot enough, the lead will flow into every nook and cranny, completely "filling out" the mould. This is what you want. At that point, you are "making boolits".

When the mould is too cold, you'll get bullets with wrinkles and voids because the lead cools faster than it can fill out the mould. As the mold warms up you'll get better and better fill out. The place you need to pay attention to is the edges of the lube grooves. Often it will look like the mould has filled out, but close inspection of the lube grooves shows rounded edges. Put those 'seconds' back in the pot and keep heating the mould up.

Once you get to "crankin' 'em out", the mould can get too hot. When that happens, the bullets will come out with a "frosted" look. From what I've read, this has absolutely no effect on the bullet's performance. The "frost" can even be wiped off with a cloth. You'll have to decide for yourself if "frosted" bullets are for you.

Even with the mould 'hot', the lead will harden almost instantly. You can drop the boolit almost as soon as you can pick up the stick and knock the sprue plate open. If you are quenching your boolits in water, (that makes them harder), you can simply open the mould over your water pan. BE SURE TO SET THINGS UP SO THAT YOU DO NOT SPLASH WATER INTO THE MELTING POT. If you are not quenching them, you'll want to have a "soft landing" for them to drop from the mould onto. An old t-shirt in the bottom of a coffee can works for me.

By the way... if you buy Lee moulds, you will get an excellent tutorial on the basics of casting, included in the box with the mould, and you won't have to copy this dwn and take it to where you are casting.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." ~ C.S. Lewis.

Do not confuse technical skill for wisdom and do not confuse strength for skill. Paul Skvorc

Last edited by gitano; 03-03-2015 at 12:29 PM..

boolit, casting, hand cast, lead

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