Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smelting

If you're a cast bullet shooter, sooner or later you're going to want to cast your own bullets.  Like everyone else, I've purchased store-bought bullets, both cast and jacketed, but part of the allure of shooting cast bullets is taking common scrap and making your own bullets.  The first thing we need to do is find scrap lead, and cast bullet guys are always looking for scrap lead.  I'm not sure who said it, but one of the old gun writers was famously quoted as saying, "If it's plumbous, I'm liable to make bullets from it."

For many years, the most common lead scrap was lead wheelweights.  These things could be had at any tire shop for simply hauling them away.   Many is  the time that I've walked into a tire shop, bantered with the service manager for a few minutes, and walked out with a five-gallon bucket of wheelweights.  Those days are no more.  Lead has residual value, and the shops know that.  The national scrap price of lead wheelweights is 50 cents per pound.  This stuff isn't inexpensive.  Still, there is a lot of lead out there that people don't want to deal with and a savvy scrounger can still get lead for little or nothing.

Recenctly, I came into possession of a small box of wheelweights, and some discarded roof jacks.  Around here, roof jacks are pure, soft lead, and if you can find a roofer willing to save the lead, they are a great source of soft lead.

In all things that require high heat, it's best to do this outside.  In my case, I set a fish cooker on the ground outside my shed, with a lead pot, ladle, and some ingot molds.

There's my hasic set-up.  On the right, you see a lead pot, then next are two molds.  One, an old corn-stick pan, is used specifically for wheelweight metal.  the little Lee ingot mold is used for pure lead.  When you start casting bullets, it's convenient to keep your lead ingots segregated.  I like almost pure lead for pistol bullets that won't be traveling any faster than 1200 fps.  Wheelweight metal is reserved for harder bullets, those that will travel over 1200 fps, but under 1600 fps.  Those rifle bullets that will travel over 1600 fps get a linotype alloy and I have another ingot mold for them.  With my system, I can see immediately what type ingot I'm using, even months after smelting the raw lead into ingots.  That cardboard box you see on the far left of the photo is used for lead dross.  Dirt and crud gets on scrap lead and you want to skim that off before you make ingots.

One note.  Never introduce water into a lead pot.  Lead melts at 630F and water boils at 212F.  If so much as one drop of sweat gets into the molten lead, it will immediately flash to steam and  I've seen molten lead jump two feet out of a pot, splattering lead everywhere.  Seriously, don't let water get into your  lead pot.  That's bad juju.  One other caution.  Once an implement is  used for lead, it can never be used again for food products.  You simply don't want lead in your foodstuffs, so dedicate a pot and ladle to lead use.

So, after an hour of smelting this morning, I finished with over 10 lbs of good clean wheelweight metal and about 30 lbs of soft lead from roof jacks.

I'll let everything cool, put it all away, and I'll be ready when the urge strikes me to crank up the bullet pot.  Total cost to me?  About an hour of sweating and about two hours of scrounging.  Now, time to start scrounging again.

5 comments:

jon spencer said...

Looks like, no more corn on the cob cornbread.

Pawpaw said...

That's right, Jon. That pan stuck the cornbread anyway, and I paid less than a dollar for it at a garage sale. Most of my lead melting implements were picked up at garage sales. Make my cornbread in a round, black, iron skillet, please.

Gerry N. said...

I had the no more food in a pan used to melt lead or lead alloys on a shooting website. Half the guys there jumped all over me for being full of bovine excretia. So I told 'em to go ahead, wash out the pans and make cornbread, corn fritters, fry whatever they wanted in the skillets, and cook whatever in the cast iron pans they were using for lead. What business is it of mine if your kids end up with IQ's too low to measure? The admin of the site banned me. No loss there.

JoeMama said...

I enjoy painting my "ingots" with cheap gold spray paint.

I gave a gentleman who did a fabulous job for me one of the ingots and told him "You ARE the gold standard."

I think it was worth $20 to him. It was a lot of fun for me.

Rivrdog said...

Not a lot of lead roof jacks on roofs anymore. Those seem to have gone the way of iron water pipe.

There Is one source of lead still widely available, auto batteries. They are a pain to deal with, but there is a minimum of 20# and as much as 60# of lead in each one. Even if you had to buy them, the dead ones bring $10 core charge each, hich orks out to cheap lead.

Do your own internet research on smelting a stack of them over a prepared packed sand or clay site so the lead runs into dug channels for recovery. Just be aware that your smelter will create very toxic smoke.

I'd link the site with the knowhow, but doing so is probably a felony these days.