WARNING: Lead is very toxic. When working with it, you must do so in a well ventilated space and minimise your skin contact with the metal. Always wash your hands after handling lead. Mount Barker Sporting Shooters accepts no responsibility if you poison yourself with lead, always take care!
If you have an unusual calibre (e.g. I have a .455 Webley) that you can not get precast bullets / projectiles for or just like the idea of making your own, then you can launch into the exciting world of casting. You will be needing a fair bit of kit for this… but there is something very satisfying about getting that first perfectly formed and shiny bullet from your mould that just makes you want to make more!
In order to start casting, you will be needing:
- Protective equipment
- Lead / lead ingots
- A lead smelter
- A lead casting thermometer
- Bullet mould handles
- Bullet moulds
- Size die and bullet lube
WARNING: Molten lead is very very hot. It will seriously damage you if it comes into contact with any bare flesh and then poison you to boot. Before casting, make sure you have personal protective equipment.
- Leather casting / welding apron
- Leather welding gloves
- Eye protection
E-bay is a good source for all these items except for ventilation which is best provided by doing your casting outdoors. Working with lead in your kitchen is a recipe for poisoning yourself and the family, just don’t do it.
In order to cast you will be needing lead. Sources of lead are lead wheel weights from the tyre shop (but these are rapidly being replaced by other materials), lead ballast used in boats from a boatyard, lead from scrap dealers or from metal merchants, from used diving weights and sinkers.
Pure lead will also need to be mixed with tin or pewter to make it a bit harder or your handgun barrel will “lead up” very quickly and it will be a painful and long cleaning session to get it clean again. Alternatively you can collect “range scrap” or you could even melt down existing precast projectiles (but this seems a bit of an expensive way to go to me). See my article here all about recovering range scrap.
Lead should be cast into ingots for ease of use later.
Once you have your source of lead, you will need to melt it down. As lead has a low melting point, you could use a hot plate or even a gas stove, but realistically it is worth getting a lead smelter kit such as the Lyman Big Dipper which gives you the smelter, ingot moulds and dipper for around $150. If you are really intending full scale production, then looking into a bottom pouring smelter will make things faster as you do not need to use a dipper to ladle the lead from the smelter into the mould.
Lead Casting Thermometer
Having melted your lead, you will need to check its temperature. Lead that is too cold will result in poor or half-formed projectiles. This is not the dream. The only way to check the lead temperature is either by having a fancy lead smelter that will allow you to set the temperature you want, or just with a casting thermometer such as the Lyman Casting Thermometer (see here). Lead needs to be around 350 to 400oC in order to cast right, but as every mould is different you have to experiment to see what temperature works best with your mould.
Bullet Mould Handles
In order to hold your bullet mould without setting yourself on fire, it is well advised to purchase some bullet mould handles. The most common of these is the Lee 6-Cavity mould handle which tends to suit a range of moulds.
Bullet / Projectile Moulds
There are almost an endless range of moulds out there, from ones that cast just a single bullet at a time to those that can cast a half a dozen. Lee makes a huge range of aluminium based moulds (cheap, light and they heat up quickly; see here) or if you want the royal deal have a look at the brass moulds by MP Moulds (see here) which hold casting temperature better (plus one mould often is adjustable to make different types and / or weights of bullets).
Whatever mould you get, you need to carbon the mould using a candle flame to prevent the lead from sticking to the mould and sending you mad. This is simply a matter of holding the surface of the mould that has the bullet moulds in over the top of the flame until it all turns black. Repeat this every few casting sessions to make your life a joy.
The actual process of casting bullets is just a matter of getting lead (at the right temperature) into the mould. The top of the mould has a hinged plate called a sprue plate that is used to cut the excess lead off the top of the bullet when it is cast. The trick I have found it getting a good casting cadence going, as you do not want to mould to cool down too much as you cast. Youtube has lots of videos on casting bullets that you can watch for more advice.
Once you have the lead into the mould, you tap the sprue plate open to break off the excess lead and then tap the bullets into a tub of water to cool them down.
WARNING: Water and your smelter full of hot molten lead DO NOT MIX. If you splash water into your smelter, expect an explosion of molten lead as the water instantly vaporises into steam. NEVER add wet lead into your smelter. Make sure that when dropping your bullets into water that the location of the water is away from the smelter (best if you have to turn and drop).
Sizing and Lubing
Once you have mastered casting your bullets, you may then need to size them and definitely lube them. Resizing is not as critical as most moulds will cast bullets that are the correct size; with revolvers it is less of an issue as basically if you can chamber the round in a revolver then it is OK, however with automatics if your bullets fail to chamber you will get jams or possible injury. If you feel you need to resize your bullets, then lee makes a bullet sizer kit you can get (see here).
Lubing is critical to make sure the bullet travels safely down the barrel, reduces barrel leading and make the bullet more stable when the powder charge is ignited.
The most basic way to lube bullets is with a commercial or hand-made lube which is melted down and then you stand your bullets in a tray and tip in the lube until it covers the lube grooves. Wait for it to set and then push out the bullets. This is called pan lubing and again there are lots of videos on YouTube to see how this is done.
Method two is easier and uses a liquid coating that either air dries or is oven baked onto your bullets. Hi Tek is the coating of choice for this role and was developed here in Australia by Joe Ban. His contact details are
02 65569004 and email firstname.lastname@example.org (there was a recent article in Australian Shooter about Hi Tek if you go looking). There is also Lee Liquid Alox which is possibly the easiest solution as it air dries, but your bullets always feel a bit sticky.
Lastly there is the latest craze in lubing which is using a powder coating method. There is an excellent article here on how to do this if you are interested.
The advantages of powder coating your bullets are many over the old pan lube and it is well worth your time to use this way to finish off your creations. Plus it comes in lots of colours and makes your bullets look the very best.