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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I didn't know where to post about this so since I have c&b pistols I figured I'd do it here.
I might have a little extra money soon , and I'd like to invest in being able to cast my own balls for my pistols. I want to get the LEE double cavity mould that will cast a .380 dia. ball. I shoot .36 cal revolvers, and can barely even find .375 dia. in my area. I've never cast lead before so any advice is appreciated. It might even be a good idea that if someone has the basic info of how to "cast your own", that we make it a sticky so we all benefit.


Here are my questions...
1. Anyone have the LEE moulds, and how well do they work?
2. Are there common around the house type things to use for a smelting pot, and dipper? (Yes, I'm trying to be cheap.)
3. I plan to just have a small campfire for melting the lead. Does this work in real life, or only in the movies?
4. What about flux, and release agent for the mould?
5. Sources of lead?
I have a small shooting range at my house, and I was thinking about mining the backstop to get the lead out of it. There would be other types of bullets mixed in with the cap and ball lead. Shotgun slugs, .308 win., buckshot, and lots of.22LR. Plus whatever the previous owner left in it.
6. How do you know that the lead is soft enough?
7. How do you get antimony,zinc, or other alloys out of the lead so it is soft enough?
I'll stop here, and thanks in advance for your help.
 

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These are only my opinions, and I am willing to bet there are other better thoughts on the matter of casting soft bullets, but here goes.

(1) I love the Lee aluminum molds, and have long since replaced my steel molds with them. The upside of aluminum blocks are being able to dip a corner in the hot lead to preheat, and getting usable bullets far faster than with steel. I have found that once the first mold is getting hot enough to throw "frosty" bullets, start casting with a second mold, alternating the two. Just lay the mold you just filled to the side, and let it rest and cool, while you empty and fill the second one. They are also far cheaper than steel.

The down side is the fact they are fragile, and you have to treat them more gently than steel. That being said, I have been casting with Lee molds for about 25 years, without ruining one.

(2) You can use any cast iron container you have around, but I have never found anything around the house that works very well for a dipper, but lead dippers made for the job are not very expensive, nor are the ten pound melting pots. I have long ago started using an electric Lee bottom drop casting pot, but still use my lead pot to melt and preheat lead, which saves a lot of casting time.

(3) Any heat scource will melt lead, but you should be able to have an efficient way to control the temperature. I used a Coleman pressure (white gas) camp stove when I casted with the dipper, and still use use one to premelt and heat. Without a thermometer, just use a splinter of wood (matchstick)dipped in your lead. When just the corners of the wood char in about two seconds, you have about the correct casting temp.

(4) A pea sized piece of bees wax or bullet lube, make good flux. (cast in the yard, or with good ventilation,as there will be plenty of smoke, not to mention lead fumes which will cause lead poisoning) You can cut down on smoke (but not lead fumes) by lighting the melted flux with a match, while you stir the mix.

(5) The dead soft lead which is needed is getting hard to come by, at least inexpensivly. Junk yards will no longer sell you scrap lead in Minnesota, and I suspect that has to do with some Federal law. There are places on line where you can purchase dead soft, but it isn't cheap.


Bullets from a trap or backstop are soft enough, unless there are a lot of hard cast centerfire rifle and pistol bullets included. Jacketed bullets contain soft lead, and the jackets float to the top to be skimmed off.

(6) Any lead you can cut a shallow mark with your fingernail is soft enough for black powder bullets.

(7) Antimony is a bad thing to have in bullets for black powder use. It makes the bullets far too hard. I reserve the leads (Wheelweights, priter type, etc.) that contain antimony for casting centerfire bullets. On the other hand, lead that contains 3 to 5 percent tin in the mix makes for smooth bullets, and does not make black powder bullets too hard. Both will float on top of the molten lead (the dull surface on the molten lead), and can be skimmed off with an old spoon. Getting antimony out would be a tedious task I suspect.

When you have soft lead (or even casting hard bullets), the dull surface on the top of the bullet metal tells you it is time to flux, to get the tin (or antimony), stirred back into the lead.

Now you know what little I know.
 

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A little addition about lead vapor, unless your lead is heated to red or boils, you won't have lead vapor. I was an ER tech in the USAF for several years and saw a few cases of lead poisoning. You have a greater chance of lead poisoning from handling the dirty lead and touching your mouth or nose. There are also more dangerous items in WW's; arsenic is one as well as brake residue. Good ventilation and thorough hand washing before eating is essential. I've also used Lee molds for over 20 years and still have my first one. You only need to smoke a new mold, usually only once, the fine carbon residue is an excellent releaser, also if you drop your bullets in water; quenching, they'll be tempered hard, even pure lead will temper. To resoften place in the oven at 360 and heat for 1 hr. then allow to cool overnight in the oven, that'll remove the temper. Quenching is the fastest way to cast alot of bullets and avoid dings from impacting the hot, soft bullet dropping onto the cooled ones. Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the replies, if I get the money I'm expecting I'll get the LEE mould, and keep gathering tools and info as I go. Sounds pretty simple to do. A cheap source of soft lead seems to be the biggest challenge. I'll definetly only do this outside. Thanks again.
 

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Here are my questions...
1. Anyone have the LEE moulds, and how well do they work?

They work very well. Follow the directions and smoke them first, and they'll work great.

2. Are there common around the house type things to use for a smelting pot, and dipper? (Yes, I'm trying to be cheap.)

Look for a small cast-iron pot at thrift stores, although that sort of things has become harder to find because people have awakened to its excellence for cooking, and also use it for decorating. Do NOT use cast aluminum! Aluminum will soften over the heat source, and the lead will punch through the weakness and spray molten lead all over.
Similarly, never allow any kind of water (sweat, rain, sprinkler, drink, etc.) anywhere near the open pot of molten lead. A drop of water hits the molten lead, goes just under the surface, turns to steam, and blows molten lead all over. Trust me, you don't want the heat of the molten lead traveling up the strainer's shaft and melting your plastic handle. I hear tell a certain ol' desert cat once did that. ::)

Asian grocery stores are good places to find large, slotted spoons with wooden handles. Make sure the spoon is stout and at least 14 inches long.

For a dipper, purchase a cheap metal vegetable strainer. Buy one with a wooden handle, or remove the plastic handle and replace it with a wooden handle or tree limb. Make sure it's securely affixed; use two bolts.

3. I plan to just have a small campfire for melting the lead. Does this work in real life, or only in the movies?

That's movie stuff, based on fact, but take it from one who has tried casting from campfires: roasted knuckles smell like burning hair! Even with gloves, you hands will get too hot. It's a real pain to cast bullets in a fire. Use a stout propane stove. It needs to be stout to support the weight of the cast iron pot and its lead. I used a camp stove a few years ago. The stove's grill got red hot over the flame (duh), weakened and sagged down from the weight of the pot and lead. Scratch one stove.

4. What about flux, and release agent for the mould?

Bullet lburicant, tallow or even candle wax work as flux.
Mould release is not needed with Lee moulds, if you smoke them as directed.

5. Sources of lead?
I have a small shooting range at my house, and I was thinking about mining the backstop to get the lead out of it. There would be other types of bullets mixed in with the cap and ball lead. Shotgun slugs, .308 win., buckshot, and lots of.22LR. Plus whatever the previous owner left in it.

Shotgun slugs are nearly pure lead. So are .22 bullets. Either will be good. Buckshot is typically hardened with antimony. If you can dent it with your fingernail, however, it will be fine. The core of most jacketed bullets is pure lead, to aid expansion. Or, it's so close to pure that It may be considered as such.

6. How do you know that the lead is soft enough?

If you can dent it with your fingernail, it's soft enough.

7. How do you get antimony,zinc, or other alloys out of the lead so it is soft enough?

There is no way to remove the other ingredients/elments from lead once it is alloyed. At least, that is my understanding. Perhaps some will rise to the surface, to allow skimming, but I suspect most of it would remain in suspension. But go ahead and cast a dozen balls with what you have, and try it. You may find that you're worrying about nothing.
 

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Another source for pure lead is "lead came" used in making stained glass windows. You can find it in some hobby shops or look for a stained glass maker in your area....might have some scrap ends or pieces that have been ruined in one way or another or discarded from repair jobs. Might want to look quick...everybody seems to be going to the "no lead" in everything.
WARNING: if you cast bullets outside (or inside for that matter) one drop of water in your lead pot and you'll have hot lead flying everywhere. Use eye protection. I learned this at a very young age while watching my plumber uncle using a lead pot. 'Bout got my butt whipped for getting the garden hose even halfway near his pot of melted lead. Learned it again not too long ago when I was casting under the open garage door with a fan going to blow the fumes out. A drop came off the overhead door (didn't think about that!) and landed in my pot. I hadn't started and wasn't standing too close, but there was little globs of lead all over about a 6 foot radius from my pot. I was lucky.
 
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