Bullet Casting A basic introduction on how to cast lead bullets Introduction This document is brought to you by The Flint and Musket, a black powder gun shop in Brits. Feel free to contact us for any supplies you might need with regards to black powder related tools, accessories and casting requirements. Mail orders welcome. Our shop is located at: S 25 38.031 E027 46.619 12 Murray avenue Brits 0250 Contact Santie at 0783328195, or Michiel at 0836009616 Fax number is 0866255493 Safety First!!! • Only cast in a VERY well ventilated area. • Always wear protective clothing • Keep food and drinks far away from molten lead. • Never mix molten lead and alcohol. • Keep animals and children away from the casting area. • Never leave the furnace unattended. • Don’t cast bullets when you are tired. • Use clean, dry bullet molds. • Working with molten lead is no more dangerous than other power tools, like grinders and drills, if common sense is applied Safety First!!! • Never let the lead temperature reach 500 degrees Celsius. This will cause lead to fume. • Fuming Lead vapor is colorless, and odorless. • A spoonful of water coming into contact with molten lead will turn the water instantly into steam, causing an explosion and scattering molten lead all over the working area. • ALWAYS use safety glasses when casting to prevent a small piece of lead from causing blindness. Equipment • Thick leather welding gloves. – Protects fingers and hands from lead splatter and heat • Lead Ladle or casting dipper – Used to stir the molten lead alloy – Skims off dross which accumulates on top of the molten lead – Used to manually pour lead into mold Equipment • Benzene, Turpentine or Thinners – Completely removes oil from the mold • Wooden mallet – Removes stuck bullet from mold – Moves sprue plate to cut sprue • Furnace – Needed to melt the lead. – Use the biggest unit you can afford. This will ensure a reasonably constant temperature when adding fresh lead to keep the furnace topped up with lead. Equipment • Thick spongy cotton cloth – This is where the soft fresh bullets will fall onto in order to cool down and protect them while they are still soft • Bullet mold – The bullet mold of your choice Equipment • Candle – Used to “Flux” the lead alloy which causes impurities to surface. • Thermometer – Used to measure the temperature of the molten alloy • Lighter – Used to light the smoke from the candle wax during the fluxing process. • Butane Torch – Used to carefully heat up the mold in order to cast good quality bullets from the first throw Hard or soft lead? • Soft lead – Only pure, soft lead should be used for casting conical bullets. – Using hard lead, or lead mixed with tin, antimony or arsenic is not recommended as the bullet might load with great difficulty, or even get stuck inside the barrel before sitting snugly on the black powder charge. – A minie bullet should also use soft lead, otherwise the skirt of the bullet will not open up to seal and center the bullet during firing. – Round balls designed for cap and ball revolvers should use soft lead. This is because the ball needs to be slightly bigger than the roll and the ball is resized when forces into the roll. Round balls cast with hard lead used in revolvers will load with great difficulty, and could even damage the loading rod located underneath the barrel. • Hard lead – Most round balls designed for use in single shot pistols and rifles and muskets can use hard lead for round balls. This is because a lubricated cotton patch totally envelops the round ball during the loading process. – Paper patched conicals sometimes work better with an alloy which is just slightly harder than pure lead. These bullets are usually designed for long range shooting. Keep in mind that bullets cast using soft lead will weigh slightly more than the equivalent bullet cast with hard lead, because the impurities in hard lead are less dense than the lead itself. Sources of lead • Wheel weights – Stick-on wheel weights are made from soft lead – Crimp-on weights are hard. Soft Hard • Scrap metal dealers – You might be lucky to find some “cable” lead. This is made from very pure, soft lead. – Most o the time you find lead in some form of alloy, which will be hard. – As a general rule, if you can make an indent in the lead by scratching it with your nail, it’s soft. If however you simply remove the oxidation layer on the lead when scratching it with your nail with no apparent damage to the lead ingot, then it’s hard. • New lead – Buying new soft lead is expensive, but the quality and pureness of the lead is not in question. Starting up the furnace • Switch on the electric furnace, and wait for the lead alloy to melt. • Melting 10Kg of lead will take about 15 minutes. Cleaning your lead alloy • Use the lead ladle to stir the molten alloy, and skim off the dross which will float at the top of the liquid. • This dross can be discarded. Fluxing the alloy Fluxing will not be necessary for clean lead, but lead from any other source will need more cleaning than can be done by just stirring and skimming off. That is done by fluxing, which brings dirt to the surface where it can be skimmed off. All sorts of expensive products are offered for fluxing, but ordinary candle wax works as well as all of them. Drop a 25mm piece of cheap candle into the melt and stir it in. After a few seconds it should flame. If it doesn't you can ignite it with a lighter. Stir the melt while it is flaming to bring the crud to the surface. This is where you need a welding glove to protect your hand from the flames. It takes a few minutes for the flames to subside. If it is done right you will have dross in the form of a fine black ash on the surface. Preparing the bullet mold • The bullet mold must be free of oil, grease or any other foreign lubricating material. • The best way to properly clean a bullet mold is to use an ear bud and benzene, turpentine or thinners. • If the oil is not removed, it will cause a sticky tar-like substance which is extremely difficult to remove. This will also cause irregularities to form in the cast bullet and reduce the accuracy. • Bullets cast from a cold mold will be full of wrinkles. This bullet is cast using a cold mold. Preparing the bullet mold • The bullet mold needs to heat up in order to cast good bullets. If you simply keep on casting bullets into the cold mold, the mold will heat up from the heat being transferred from the molten lead. This can take up to 40 rejected bullets when using a cast-iron mold, and about 20 when using an aluminum mold. • To speed up the process, use a propane torch to heat the mold. • The mold must be constantly rotated in the flame to prevent the mold from warping. In essence, the mold must not become too hot on one side, and still be cold on the other side. • A cast iron mold takes a lot longer to heat up than an Aluminum one. • Be careful not to overheat the mold. • Dipping one corner into the lead alloy will also work, but care should be taken not overhear one side of the mold Casting with bottom pour feature • Once the mold is hot, align the bottom pour nozzle of the furnace with the hole in the sprue plate of the mold, and open up the valve which starts the flow of molten lead. • Only stop the flow of lead when there is a sufficient quantity of lead overflowing from the hole in the sprue plate, in order to compensate for the shrinking of lead once the lead starts to solidify. • If the lead runs off the mold with the consistency of water, then the mold is too hot. Casting using a ladle • Collect some molten lead with the ladle, and pour it directly into the mold. Hold the mold over the furnace while pouring in the lead. • In most cases, casting using the lead ladle instead of the bottom pour feature, creates a much better formed bullet, and can also prevent bubbles and cavities which tend to plague the “bottom poured” bullet. • This method is more time consuming, but generally produces better bullets, and as a result, less rejects. Casting • Remove the mold from the furnace and wait for the lead on the sprue plate to solidify. • Once the molten lead has solidified, use the wooden mallet to rotate the sprue plate 90 degrees. • The small amount of solidified lead on the sprue plate can now be removed by holding the mold upside-down, and hitting the hinge point of the handles with the wooden mallet. Casting • Carefully open up the mold over a soft cotton cloth, and allow the bullet to fall. • A damp cloth will prevent scorching. • To release a stuck bullet in the mold, gently tap the hinge point between the two handles with a wooden mallet. • Never tap directly on the mold. • Rejected bullets and sprue cuttings can be thrown back into the furnace. • Remember to keep the furnace topped up with fresh lead. Hints for the perfect bullet • Don’t become depressed if you do not get it right the first time. • Remember that all rejected bullets can be recycled back into the furnace. • Give the mold some time to heat up. • If your bullet starts to become frosty or turns a nice shade of blue, then the lead alloy is too hot. Lead which is too hot will oxidize quickly, thereby releasing dangerous gasses. • Pure soft lead starts to flow at a higher temperature than hard lead alloy. • Try to keep the mold and lead alloy at a constant temperature. Credits • This document was compiled by M. D. Meyer, co-owner of The Flint and Musket, Brits • A Special thanks goes to the following : – Richard Boothroyd, bullet casting expert. – Mike Neumann, manufacturer of fine, custom bullet molds. – Lee products, for making bullet casting affordable. – Lyman, for providing the casting community with great products.