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Thread: Advice on casting bullets

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    Default Advice on casting bullets

    I am looking for some insight and guidance on casting bullets. I have reloaded for close to 30 years for my hunting rifles (basically found one or two loads in my loads books that grouped cosistently) and I am now wanting to start playing with some other parts. I have a lot of wheel weight lead that someone told me would be good bullet lead. Is this okay to use or do you have to worry about contaminants in the lead i.e. dirt and grime. Also wondering about places to find lead moulds and what would be better for certain calibers. I have thought about loading for my old 94 30-30 and my 95 Win in .405. Any thoughts or pointers that you could give me would be very helpful. Thanks in Advance

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    I used to use a lot of wheelweights for handgun bullets. Basically melt them, flux the molten lead, ladle off whatever is floating on top and cast with what remains.

    Right or wrong, I never used them for hunting loads in my rifles. Fine for plinkers with gas checks and velocities below 1800 as I recall. I did take a number of deer with Lyman #2 alloy I mixed myself and gas checks. Nice expansion at closer ranges, but basically just some nose deformation out past 100 as I recall. Been a long time. I had a 215 grain 30 cal mold and those were stone killers out of the 30-30 and 30-40 Krag. I've shot more game with 35 cal 200 grain gas checked FPs from an RCBS mold. Almost any gun I tried them in fell in love. They were dandy game bullets. No experience with casting for he 405, but friends do it with high praise.

    I'm betting wheel weights will be fine at somewhat higher velocities if you use gas checks. Without the gas checks, it's going to take a pretty smooth bore to avoid leading if you top about 1400 in my experience.

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    The post before mine is spot on. But since you seem new at it, you might not know what the word 'flux' meant and what not. I'm nearly as new as you but have already asked most of those questions and have been reading quite a lot.

    First, I'd recommend as a first purchase the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook. It will take a little bit to read it, but read it you must if you want to learn about what lead or lead alloys to use, be able to dispel myths propagated on the web (God forbid HERE!), and to answer your questions on how to go about using those wheel weights of yours.

    First is smelting equipment:

    1. You need a sturdy stove that can carry 40# without risk of collapsing, melting from heat reflecting back into it, or falling over. I use a King Kooker 350kbtu propane stove that's designed to boil 10 to 15 gallons of water at once ...but this is overkill. I bought a small pizza pan, cut a hole in the middle for heat to get to the pot (the pot is too small to fit the King Kooker without risk of falling over), and then some slots to hold a dutch oven trivet (heavy steel wire). This works well for getting the heat focused on the melting pot while fully supporting it so it won't fall over. There is room next to the melt pot to set an ingot mold that I can ladle into.

    2. You need some kind of slotted spoon for scooping/straining junk out of the melted lead.

    3. You need a melt thermometer so you can keep the melt in the 650-675 F range ...too hot and you might melt zinc ...some wheel weights are made of zinc and it's 'poison' for bullet lead, although I've never seen a zinc wheel weight. Don't buy a Lyman thermometer ...Chinese junk that fails and is inaccurate. Buy the RCBS version for a little more money.

    4. You need a melt pot. I'm getting started with a mini-dutch oven that I got from Sportsman's. According to my volume measurements, it can carry up to 17# of lead ...much better than the RCBS melt pot which is a 10# capacity pot, but not as good as a 20# pot. Too large and you have to melt a LOT of lead to get it deep enough to scoop the junk out. Look for cast iron. The mini dutch oven was $12.

    5. You need one or more ingot molds. The RCBS mold produces 4 one-pound ingots (guessing here ...I never weighed them). Lyman's ingot mold makes 2 of the one-pounders and 2 of the 1/2-pounders. You can use anything made of cast iron (cornbread pans, etc) I like the stackability of the RCBS ingots. You can make your own from angle iron as well.

    6. A lead pouring ladle. The ladle part is really pretty small and the ladle resembles a ball with a partially open top and a spout on the bottom.

    Buy the stuff above and you're in business for making ingots that you can put away.

    Here's how you smelt lead and make ingots:

    1. Don't try to clean your lead other than culling out garbage, rubber, junk that's not a wheel weight. Make sure all the lead you will be melting on a particular day is bone dry. I dump it on my heated slab in the garage for a day since wheel weights around here most often have snow, ice, and water on them.

    2. Add several small wheel weights, lead side down, to your melt pot and get them melted ...then add more wheel weights. This hurry's up the melt. Melt about 10-15 pounds of lead at once. When it is melted, do NOT skim the scum off the top.

    3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the floating metal clips (everything is less dense than lead) and what not ...draining as much lead back into the pot as you can. The scum on top contains a lot of tin and you don't want to remove it ...just the clips and junk.

    4. "Flux" the melt. This means you add bits of old candles or paraffin from the craft store. The goal is to get a thin layer of the melted flux material (wax) on top of the lead. Ignite the smoke with a lighter and it'll quit smoking. "Fluxing" means "removal of impurities" and fluxing only occurs at the boundary between the flux material and the lead ...and the flux material (wax) does not mix into the lead ...it floats out. Now use a ladle, held upside down to trap air, and stir the lead so you force air into the lead and encourage lead to flow to the top of the mixture where it can be exposed to the wax. As the dirt and junk come out, the tin stuff floating on top combines with the lead to make a true solution ...and the dirt and junk stays floating on top. After fluxing well, scoop the flux and dirt junk off the lead until the melted lead is bright and clean.

    5. Ladle (spoon for ingots is fine) lead into your ingot molds and drop the ingots out onto some plywood after it hardens up (doesn't take long).

    Later on, when making bullets, you will flux the lead again and will likely use a bottom-pour electic pot that'll make it easier to pour bullets from nice clean lead or lead alloy. I'm at the stage where I'm making ingots ...I'll get a mold or two and an electric pot (etc) later. For now, I am buying Ranger Rick's bullets (Homer, AK: http://www.lsstuff.com/ranger-rick ).

    Also, see the following web site for more information on casting and what not:

    http://castboolits.gunloads.com (the forums also list Ranger Rick's prices)

    Brian

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    Brian and BrownBear,
    Thanks for the starter info. I have some questions concerning the bullets when I do get them poured. Is there some starter data out with the moulds as to what works best with each bullet or does one just start doing trial and error and do you have any preference for mould manufacturers.

    Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question but I have always just read out of my books and really have no clue as to where to start working loads up with bullets that I have never used.

    Thanks again for any input you provide. Something about doing the bullet moulding makes me think that it will provide an even higher sense of accomplishment at the range looking at holes tight together.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sigi Byron View Post
    Brian and BrownBear,
    Thanks for the starter info. I have some questions concerning the bullets when I do get them poured. Is there some starter data out with the moulds as to what works best with each bullet or does one just start doing trial and error and do you have any preference for mould manufacturers.

    Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question but I have always just read out of my books and really have no clue as to where to start working loads up with bullets that I have never used.

    Thanks again for any input you provide. Something about doing the bullet moulding makes me think that it will provide an even higher sense of accomplishment at the range looking at holes tight together.
    Like Bryan said, get the Lyman cast bullet manual. There's data in there for their bullets and weights and a wide range of calibers. For other brands of bullets I just use Lyman's starting data for similar weights. I'd check the manufacturer's site for other brands of molds for data, but I don't recall seeing any at RCBS, for example.

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    As for which bullet and mold work best for your guns and calibers, that'll take some research. I don't think any of them will be bad, but once in awhile you read about one that works extra well ...like the LEE 440gr bullet for the 500 S&W. People all seem to agree that it's a good and accurate shooter. You'll also need to balance range versus performance as well, because that'll help you choose a bullet design and/or an alloy ...which means straight wheel weights, Lyman #2, or fancier hard-cast alloys. List your guns and ask questions at the Cast Boolits forums too ...I'm betting that someone there will have 'been there and done that.' The only downside to casting your own is that each time you want to try another bullet design, you have to buy another mold! This is why you want to poke around a bit before you decide. Oh yeah, like I mentioned above, there are many different bullet casters out there selling bullets in various designs that you can buy samples of and try out. Mountain Molds has an online wizard-driven system that lets you design your own bullets too (enter caliber, weight, style, then adjust parameters if you think you need to.) As for which molds are best ...there are lists published in the Cast Boolits forums. In my quest for my 500, I've got 370 grain Precision Cast, 440 gr WFNGCs and 535gr Keith's from Ranger Rick to try out. It's all fun and it's all good!

    BTW, there is no reason that you cannot cast bullets for your high-powered rifles as well. The jury is in and they say that you'll lose 1/2 MOA or more in accuracy because your cast bullets will never be as good as the excellent quality jacketed (and solid) bullets that we are lucky enough to be able to buy nowadays ...but PLENTY accurate enough for 99.44% of the hunting you'll ever do.

    Brian

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    Quote Originally Posted by tananaBrian View Post
    As for which bullet and mold work best for your guns and calibers, that'll take some research. I don't think any of them will be bad, but once in awhile you read about one that works extra well ...like the LEE 440gr bullet for the 500 S&W. People all seem to agree that it's a good and accurate shooter. You'll also need to balance range versus performance as well, because that'll help you choose a bullet design and/or an alloy ...which means straight wheel weights, Lyman #2, or fancier hard-cast alloys. List your guns and ask questions at the Cast Boolits forums too ...I'm betting that someone there will have 'been there and done that.' The only downside to casting your own is that each time you want to try another bullet design, you have to buy another mold! This is why you want to poke around a bit before you decide. Oh yeah, like I mentioned above, there are many different bullet casters out there selling bullets in various designs that you can buy samples of and try out. Mountain Molds has an online wizard-driven system that lets you design your own bullets too (enter caliber, weight, style, then adjust parameters if you think you need to.) As for which molds are best ...there are lists published in the Cast Boolits forums. In my quest for my 500, I've got 370 grain Precision Cast, 440 gr WFNGCs and 535gr Keith's from Ranger Rick to try out. It's all fun and it's all good!

    BTW, there is no reason that you cannot cast bullets for your high-powered rifles as well. The jury is in and they say that you'll lose 1/2 MOA or more in accuracy because your cast bullets will never be as good as the excellent quality jacketed (and solid) bullets that we are lucky enough to be able to buy nowadays ...but PLENTY accurate enough for 99.44% of the hunting you'll ever do.

    Brian
    To take Brian's recommendations one step further, in my experience you shouldn't get swept too far into spitzer shapes for cast rifle bullets. I get better accuracy from RNs and FPs, plus the FPs kill a whole bunch more reliably, even if they don't shoot as flat.

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    Default bullet molds

    I have been casting for around 20 years and I have RCBS, Lyman and Lee molds. I like the Lee molds hands down over the other two makers.
    I order my molds from http://www.grafs.com/casting/
    I also would add that a mold lube will help you out a bunch, it comes in a can and it is like a graphite spray. The bullets almost fall out of the mold and the mold will not lead up with this stuff sprayed on, I know you can get it at http://www.midwayusa.com/eproductpag...758&t=11082005. For the 30-30 I use a Lee C309150F mold and get some good groups, 150gr. flat point.
    I have not sent them over the graph so I have no idea of the speed. I took the load right out of the Accurate book (26.0 of 27.0gr of AA2520) not sure of the exact load but they shoot about a 2" @100 with sand bags, with a mild recoil. I have never casted any .405's. Don't forget to size and lube the bullets before you load them, molds are oversized. I also use Lee sizing dies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sigi Byron View Post
    Brian and BrownBear,
    Thanks for the starter info. I have some questions concerning the bullets when I do get them poured. Is there some starter data out with the moulds as to what works best with each bullet or does one just start doing trial and error and do you have any preference for mould manufacturers.
    <snip>.
    There's an article in my 1998 version of the Lyman reloading manual that discusses bullet dimensions and attributes versus your gun, and gives a 5-point list of things to do for cast bullet accuracy. At Lead Bullet Technology (http://www.lbtmoulds.com), you can buy the book on getting jacketed bullet performance with cast bullets. The bottom line is that off-the-shelf moulds will give you acceptable performance most of the time, the majority of the time, but there are exceptions and they're on a per-gun basis (a "try it and see" situation.) Perhaps the best route if you want a one-time effort that'll give you joy, is to cast your chamber and to slug your barrel, read all the material above and then go to Mountain Molds (http://www.mountainmolds.com ) and get one custom made for your gun. You can call them and discuss things, then use their online wizard to design a mould for YOUR gun. In the mean time, you should buy an off-the-shelf mold and start getting experience ...paying special attention to what alloy (straight WW, WW plus 2% to 4% tin, heat treated or not, Lyman #2) you prefer and how it shrinks versus mold dimensions. That'll help you fine-tune your design at Mountain Molds. You should be able to get MOA accuracy out of high-powered rifles if you go down this route. For your handgun, all the extra effort isn't as important since the level of accuracy you will require is not as high ...unless hunting or shooting at extreme ranges for your particular hand gun.

    Brian

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    Quote Originally Posted by BrownBear View Post
    To take Brian's recommendations one step further, in my experience you shouldn't get swept too far into spitzer shapes for cast rifle bullets. I get better accuracy from RNs and FPs, plus the FPs kill a whole bunch more reliably, even if they don't shoot as flat.
    The article that I mentioned in the 1998 Lyman reloading book explains why this is true ...in general, spitzers cast in lead are not as good ...and according to Bill Caldwell (famous in the '70s), soft spitzers become somewhat 'round nose-like' out of high-powered rifles anyway ...down range performance is not going to be significantly different than a spitzer shaped bullet except for possible accuracy loss due to dimensional match-up in the throat of your barrel. I'll type in the summary statement from that article tonight ...gotta go to work right now.

    Brian

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    I don’t know beans about the 405, but do a bunch of casting for the 30/30. I have moulds from Lee RCBS and Lyman, but must respectfully disagree with Bou Hunter in mould preference. In my opinion bullet casting moulds are much like every other piece of equipment, in that you get what you pay for…………. That said, I find for the 30/30 that the RCBS 150 gr & 180 gr flat point gas check moulds work very well out of both my Savage 25 and Winchester 94 trapper. Accuracy is very good and leading is very light to nil using soft 50/50 NRA Lube. One problem that I have encountered with my wheel weight + 2-4% tin alloy is in the lubing and sizing operation as I have older Lyman lubrasizers and they tend to “smoosh” or bend the 30 caliber bullets in this soft alloy. My answer to that was two fold, first and most simple is to drop the bullets out of the hot mould into cold water, this is commonly referred to as “quenching” and will harden the bullets considerably. If you cast really hot, say in the neighborhood of 900 to 1000 deg F and then quench, you can get the hardness up to around 30 brinnel! That my friend is darn hard for a lead bullet and would be suitable for plinking only, but they do shoot good. The important safety caveat is to make sure you cold water quench bucket is far enough away from you pot of molten lead that there is no possibility of splashing water reaching that pot! The “better” answer was to buy some certified linotype from Midway USA and mix up a slightly harder alloy. If I remember correctly I mixed 5 lbs Wheel Weights to 3 pounds Linotype + 2% tin and ended up around 18 brinell for hardness. These may actually be suitable to hunting bullets, but I could not say for sure as I have not used them on game. Of course you could also buy the lee lube machine that pushes the bullets up thru a die and is supposedly far less likely to smoosh or deform the bullets than the other brands of lubrisizers.

    I will give you one more piece of advice to help you on your way and save you considerable time: If using steel or iron moulds you can pre-heat them with a small propane torch even though the manufactures strictly forbid this activity, I have found that if done with common sense and without overheating the mould that it works great and save a bunch of time and crappy bullets while casting to heat up the mould.

    As a side note, I push the 150 grain bullets to about 2100 fps out of the Savage and the 16” tube on the Trapper will get them to about 1950 fps. I push the 180 gr bullets to about 1900 and 1800 respectively. I have found Winchester 748 and 760 powders, with Winchester primers and brass to work nicely.

    If you buy the little “load book” pamphlet for re-loading the 30/30 it will have all the load data for RCBS and Lyman included.
    “You’ve gotten soft. You’re like one of those police dogs who’s released in to the wild and gets eaten by a deer or something.” Bill McNeal of News Radio

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    These guys have given you great suggestions and are right on based upon my experience.

    I too like Lee molds and use their 30 cal in my '06. My load is 21 to 24 gr. 4198. I do not size my bullets and get very good accuracy; routinely 1" at 100 yards over sand bags. Many times my cast bullets with shoot twice as well as jacketed bullets but maybe recoil has something to do with it (doubt it but maybe).

    Make sure you cast in a well ventilated area and don't get any liquid in contact with the molten lead- there will be an explosion with hot lead flying all over the place!! Guess how I know. WEAR EYE PROTECTION WHEN CASTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Enjoy. J.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OldRgr View Post
    <snip>I too like Lee molds and use their 30 cal in my '06. My load is 21 to 24 gr. 4198. I do not size my bullets and get very good accuracy; routinely 1" at 100 yards over sand bags. Many times my cast bullets with shoot twice as well as jacketed bullets but maybe recoil has something to do with it (doubt it but maybe).<snip>
    Which Lee mold are you using for your '06?

    According to the Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook (circa 1998), the following 5 points lead to good accuracy (I don't have my "Jacketed Performance" book yet):

    1. Lube: Plenty, including towards the forward end. Higher velocities can result in lube loss by the end of the barrel and leading. You want enough lube to make sure the bullet is lubed all the way out.

    2. Nose bearing diameter: Assuming a bullet designed for the nose to more or less ride on the rifling flats and the skirts to ride in the grooves, the nose bearing diameter (forward end) should be the diameter of the lands plus about a thousandth. You can slug your gun to find out what YOUR gun measures. Getting this right aids the bullet in naturally aligning with the bore.

    3. Driving band length: The base of the bullet should not extend into the case further than the neck of the cartridge. Accuracy is reduced if you do. Therefore the driving band length should be similar to the neck length or a tad shorter (or don't seat so deep.) Too deep may (and it's their guess) experience distortion in the lowest driving band if it's not entirely contained in the neck.

    4. Nose diameter: This is the aft diameter of the nose ...make the nose diameter the same as the maximum diameter in the forcing cone area, the "ball seat" diameter, plus 0.0015". This should perform slightly better than making the nose the diameter of the lands (plus 0.001"). Hope I'm not confusing "nose diameter" and "nose bearing diameter" ...someone correct me if I am. You can cast your chamber and throat area to determine these diameters.

    5. Taper from major to minor nose diameter: Should match the taper of the forcing cone area. By following #2 and #4 above, then designing the bullet to taper between these two diameters, the bullet will naturally align with the bore better.

    Given a bullet like that above, the next thing would be to experiment with seating depth, then powder, then primers etc. Note that I've never loaded cast bullet one yet, so this is all coming from my reading and my understanding of my reading ...I'd love to hear corrections along the way too. I'm looking forward to doing all this stuff myself soon.

    Brian

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    Pick up or borrow a copy of Lee's handloading book. There is a great couple of chapters where Lee states and demonstrates his theory on the relationship between cast bullet hardness, load pressure and accuracy. Roughly, the accuracy of a cast bullet load is greatest when the pressure of the load is just under the pressure it takes to deform the bullet. He has a chart in the book listing Brinnell hardness to pressure in psi. Very interesting approach.

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    Quote Originally Posted by .338-06 View Post
    Pick up or borrow a copy of Lee's handloading book. There is a great couple of chapters where Lee states and demonstrates his theory on the relationship between cast bullet hardness, load pressure and accuracy. Roughly, the accuracy of a cast bullet load is greatest when the pressure of the load is just under the pressure it takes to deform the bullet. He has a chart in the book listing Brinnell hardness to pressure in psi. Very interesting approach.
    I think I'll do that too... Pick up the Lee book that is.

    bd

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