How To Make Cast Lead Bullets

how-to-make-cast-lead-bulletsWhat are cast bullets and how are they used, and why would we do that?

Center fire ammo is composed of 4 elements. A bullet (the projectile), the primer, the powder and a brass (usually) casing that hold the other 3 components together. When you shoot a round of center fire ammo, you use the bullet, primer and the powder.  The brass case is left basically intact, and can be reloaded with the other 3 components quite a number of times to mitigate the cost of ammo as well as providing ammo that would be otherwise unavailable. Bullets can be bought, or you can make them yourself, with the right equipment and skills…

Guest Post: by TripodXL

This can’t be an encyclopedic instruction manual for making cast bullets, which will become obvious. There are 4 basic needs for bullet casting. You need lead, bullet molds, a lead furnace and casting tools, and sizing/lubricating equipment.

First, by further reading this information, the user AGREES that this information is used at the user’s own risk and the user accepts ALL RESPONSIBILITY for engaging in any activity related to this information. This information is given as general guidelines for the purpose of discussion and is in no way intend to be complete, all encompassing on the subject, and is not warranted to be accurate or applicable to all situations of its’ use. This activity deals with toxic substances, dangerous circumstances and potentially life threatening consequences. THE USER ACCEPTS ALL RESPONSIBILITY. There is no guarantee or warranty, either express or implied, of ANY suitability of this information for any purpose.

Lead is obtained a number of ways. You can buy lead from metal suppliers, and this is probably the most expensive way to obtain it, but may be the only way. You can go to your local tire center and ask if you can have their discarded wheel weights. You will usually still have to buy them and you will need to find out what a fair price is. There is a caveat, depending on where you live. They may have to turn them in to a recycler by law. If your state is that way you will have to determine how to get them, or you may just get them at the metal recycler to begin with and not have to drive around looking for them. This is actually the best way to get them. A third option is to find someone that does hospital/outpatient clinic construction and see if they have removed leaded drywall from any projects and offer to take it off their hands. Again there may be some environmental restrictions.

If you get wheel weights they are acceptable “as is” for bullet alloy. Most folks don’t realize that pure lead makes crappy bullets as it is too soft (except for muzzle loading) and will cause leading in firearms.  The lead actually builds up in the rifling of a barrel and causes a significant decrease in accuracy.  If you are lucky enough to have a few tons of leaded drywall around, it is pure lead and will have to be alloyed, but even wheel weights can benefit from having some other metals added to it. If you want complete Q/C over your alloy, it would be best to buy it and mix it or buy a standard alloy. If you are going to cast bullets, I would suggest that you get a Lyman “Cast Bullet Handbook”. The current edition is the 4th and is not as good as earlier editions. Look around and find earlier editions, as they are the gold standard on alloys, casting techniques and equipment.

Bullet molds are the next thing you need. You will have to decide, if you are going to shoot them from a handgun or a rifle, are they going to be hot magnum loads or more of a “standard” velocity for practice? I’m not trying to make this hard, but deciding on a bullet mold is like going to Baskin & Robbin’s.  There are two kinds of molds, aluminum and cast iron. Both have their place and you have to use both to learn the differences. Aluminum is cheaper, and easier to tear up, but it is easier to start casting good bullets with. Iron is more durable but it is a PITA to keep the temps right and cast good bullets with.  Lee makes aluminum molds that are cheap and are good starter molds and if you tear one up you don’t have $100+ invested in it. Learn on them before you buy higher quality, higher priced molds. RCBS, Lyman and other companies make great iron molds. NEI (North East Industrial) makes the best aluminum molds of a higher quality than any other I have tried. I have 6 and I like them. They are not like the Lee molds.  They are harder and more durable than Lee, so don’t use them as a guideline for not using aluminum molds.

You need one or two bullet designs and stick to them after you get your learning curve down. Buy “gang molds” where you cast 2,4,6 or more bullets with one pour. A four gang mold won’t cost much more than half again as a single cavity mold and quadruple your casting rate. If you are shooting, slow to moderate velocity handguns, straight wheel weights will be hard enough. For magnum speed handgun loads you will need a harder alloy, which will require some added tin and antimony (you’ll figure it out). Rifles and really high-speed loads will require the very hardest alloy with something called a gas check pressed onto the base of the bullet. The bullet is cast with a step at the base and a round copper “cup” is pressed onto the base (like a scraper) so that the higher speeds won’t lead the bore of the firearm. There are speed limitations of about 2200 fps for gas-checked lead rifle bullets. You can’t duplicate full speed rifle loads, and lead bullets should not be used in semi-automatic rifles.

You will need equipment to melt and alloy the lead. Electric furnaces that you can buy have heat controls on them, or you can find an old, HEAVY, IRON dutch oven and use a good propane burner and melt the lead/alloy that way. DON’T EVER USE THE DUTCH OVEN FOR FOOD. Make sure you have good ventilation if you are inside and using a furnace. If you are using the LP burner method, you can be under a roof, if high enough, BUT DON’T DO IT IN AN ENCLOSED SPACE. I recommend doing it under cover as molten lead and liquids don’t get along and while it might not rain a big gob of bird crap will cause quite an explosion (how do I know that). Regardless of which method you use (I use both, I use the dutch oven to feed my electric furnaces) you should have an accurate lead thermometer because the casting temp is crucial to getting good bullets.

You will need some special equipment for processing your bullets. Cast bullets are slightly oversized, so you have to “size” them by pressing them through a “sizer die”. You can buy a cheap little punch and a sizer die, and tap them through with a hammer. In the beginning, this is what I recommend for learning and it won’t cost much.  Then you need to lube the bullets to prevent leading. When I started, I would size them in my little cheap sizer, then put all my bullets in a flat pie tin and pour melted bullet lube into the pan up to the lube grooves of the bullets. After it hardened I would cut them out with a little tool called a “cake cutter” and have bullets ready to go. When you have decided that you want to do this at a higher level that is quicker and more efficient you can buy a “lubri-sizer” which is a press that pushes the bullets through a size die and lubes it at the same time and they fall out the bottom into your bullet bucket, as fast as you can put them in.

As you can see this isn’t just a cookbook type skill. Good bullet casting is more of an art, but not too hard to learn. I learned it out of a book and taught myself, forty years ago. I have taught it to many others so they didn’t have to learn it the hard way, but you can learn it yourself if there are no mentors around. It sounds complex to read about and watch the first few times, but so does cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, but most of us managed to learn it. Use the proper PPE (gloves, eye protection, shop apron, etc.) when working with any of this at any stage. Also, do not eat or drink while engaging in any of this activity.

As you can see this only popped the lid off this topic but bullet casting and reloading can save you money through sweat equity and allow you control over a lot of your ammo destiny. Be Well.



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