The American Rifleman on casting bullets, part 2.
This is the second in a series of three articles published in the American Rifleman magazine on casting bullets from pigging out the alloy to reloading. Since we are commercial casters and consider ourselves experts at casting bullets we thought it would be a good place to throw our two cents in.
“My first casting set up consisted of an iron pot on a Coleman stove, a lead ladle and a couple of two-cavity moulds. At the time I had virtually no money, but a fair amount of time. It would take the better part of a couple of days to cast 500 bullets. Results were off and on, but as the casting sessions progressed my bullets finally achieved a degree of consistency. Toward the beginning, though, a lot of wrinkled and rounded-base bullet failures went back into the melt for another try.”[i]
The author, like many hand casters started in this fashion. In fact if you are on a budget it may still be the way to start especially if you have doubts that making your own cast bullets is for you. His mentality is great, he struggled through bad bullets to be able to produce high quality bullets that anyone would be proud to call their own. You will need to adopt his mentality and commitment to learning in order to succeed.
We agree completely with the use of electric furnaces as they make life a lot easier than camping stoves. If you choose to go this route your level of commitment may be your best guide to choosing a furnace. I think if you keep your eyes open you will be able to pick up some good, but hardly used equipment. Probably everything you need with the exception of the exact bullet mold you may want to start with. A good place to look would be at local gun shows or ask your corner gun shop if they know of anyone looking to sell their casting equipment.
He hits the nail on the head throughout the entire article but doesn’t mention that after you clean the molds with brake cleaner that you will still have to “cook” the oil out of them. It doesn’t matter how much brake cleaner you use the metal will still have oil in it. However if you do use the brake cleaner first you have less of it to deal with. It may take a few hundred bullets to get rid of the lingering effects of being oiled. New molds will drop bullets that look wrinkled even if the alloy is at the correct temperature until that oil is out of the metal. As a side note do not oil your molds when you are done casting unless you are putting them in long term storage. Proper mold storage requires an environment they will not rust in without being oiled. We store our molds in a gun safe with a heating (dry) rod that keeps the moisture level low.
We would narrow the flux down to bees wax and leave the other fluxes mentioned to someone else! Bees wax works for us and it will work for you. It has worked for decades and will continue to work for decades. One important item to mention is never ever put a cold spoon or ladle in hot lead. It will make moisture condense and you will have molten lead spewing from the pot. Same goes for your ingots, if they are really cold don’t put them in the pot until you warm them up. Get a heat lamp to hang over the ingots to warm them up and make sure there is no condensation when they are put into a pot full of molten lead.
I would also get an empty one quart paint can with the lid for dross storage. If you ever have a visit from those folks tasked with enforcing environmental laws you will want to be able to prove where that dross is. Telling them you threw it in the trash and it is at the landfill isn’t the right answer. Research and understand the law and the consequences of not following the law before you start casting or smelting scrap lead.
I would disagree with the weight limits that he sets if you are using scrap lead. It takes very little alloy variance to create .5 grains difference in cast bullets. In fact it may be impossible on large 400 grain cast bullets like those for the 45-70. Even using foundry alloys you can get that much variance. If you are using a two cavity mold you may have that much difference from cavity to cavity. I know as a commercial caster we look at a variance of several grains or more between bullets. We aren’t guaranteed any better from the guy cutting the mold. Using a single cavity mold with foundry alloy will be your best bet to achieve precise weights if that is important. However if this is practice or plinking ammo do you really want to weigh every cast bullet you make? I would suggest you make sure the bullet is cast from a proper alloy and carefully visually inspect them. If they pass load them up and shoot them!
At Central Plains Enterprises we are happy to see anyone especially someone with the credibility of the American Rifleman magazine advocate casting and shooting cast bullets. Casting is becoming a lost art and cast bullets have been demonized by too many in order to fatten up their own bottom line in my opinion. Cast bullets have been safely manufactured and shot for centuries and we hope they continue to exist to provide shooters with a cheaper alternative to jacketed bullets.