This is the second and final part of a series based on casting your own bullet projectiles for reloading. The first portion indicated what’s necessary to have on hand to get started. Please note, casting projectiles can be dangerous due to fume exposure via lead and also heat (burns, fires, etc if not done properly). As such, neither this website nor author is responsible for the actions you take regarding proceeding information.
Step 1: Preparing the bullet mold (AKA: Smoking the Mold):
What you’ll need:
Bullet mold, lighter or matches, rag, gun cleaning oil (think Hoppes No 9 or something similar) and some beeswax or other lubricant.
When you buy and receive a new mold, it is usually covered in some type of oil and before your first use, you need to remove it. Using Hoppes No. 9 and an old rag or even paper towel is a good way to clean that off.
Next, you need to “smoke the mold” by depositing carbon via holding a lighter or match under the shiny new metal part until it is thoroughly covered in soot. This is important as it helps the mold release the casted projectiles.
The next step is to lubricate the hinges and sprue plate screw. This is to make sure the mold stays good for quite a while and doesn’t lock up or become difficult to open, release, etc. Once you’ve done this and the mold looks like the pic right below this, you are ready for the next step.
Step 2: Preparing the melter/lead for casting
What you’ll need:
Lead, something to melt lead (a Lee Precision bottom-pour pot is shown and used here), quenching container to dump the hot castings in to cool, safety equipment such as gloves, mask, glasses, etc. This is one of the most important steps as it is preparing you to melt metal; which requires very high temperatures compared to what most people are accustomed to being around. You should also bring a mallet or something to use to cut the sprue after you pour the lead into the mold. It should be either all wood or a rubber mallet works well (with hits that aren’t too hard).
You’ll need to find a good place outside. This is important as lead fumes are detrimental for young ones and not really great for us, either. Awesome ventilation is a definite requirement. Some people do cast in their garage but have a fan on them to draw the fumes away from them. Go with what you are comfortable concerning the risks.
Make sure you find a good, stable table that does not wobble and is safe. You might have to use an extension cord (check your manual as some companies advise against this so go with what they indicate). Don’t plug it in yet but do position it so you have room to work without knocking it off and also some clearance in case you spill some lead. Actually, odds are, you will indeed either spill some lead or cut a sprue and have it fly off and land somewhere so keep flammables away. DO NOT DO THIS at your reloading station near Smokeless Powder and/or Primers (or completed ammo).
Gather the lead you are going to use, the mold, gloves, safety gear and your quenching bucket or container and set them in a place that is convenient and safe. You’ll need to get a good idea of how you want to do this as it is important to keep safe and not burned.
Once it is all setup the way you want (and safe), go ahead and plug in the melter (with lead in it) and wait for it to melt. For the Lee melter, having it a little over “6” seems to product good results for me but you will have to get a feel for it. Also, now is a good time to heat up the mold as it needs to be at a fairly hot temperature to avoid defects in your bullets. I usually rest mine as in the picture above but be CAREFUL! Sometimes if you do not place it right, it could fall and burn you, start a fire, etc. Some people buy a separate burner to keep the mold hot whereas other people do a few pours and throw the castings back in the pot to get it up to temperature. Determine what you feel the most comfortable with and use that method.
Step 3: Casting your first projectiles
What you’ll need:
Patience, confidence, safety gear on and ready, everything you setup in the previous step and the bullet mold. Make sure you have some water in the quenching container with some paper towels or a spare rag in the bottom to avoid deforming any bullets as they cool. The paper towel or rag in the water will keep the castings from hitting the bottom too hard and messing them up.
Once your gloves, safety glasses, mask and such are on, the lead is melted and the mold is smoked and prepared, you are ready to start. Make sure you have the mold closed with the sprue plate in the correct position (with the hole or holes lined up over the cavities in the block; as shown via the picture above with the mold heating).
Next, position the hole on the outer edge directly under the spout. Once that is squared away, you need to slowly push up on the lever to start the lead flowing. Once the lead fills the first cavity and rises above the sprue plate, you will need to immediately move the mold to position the second hole under the spout and pour into it as well. Here is what the spout looks like on this model:
Once this is accomplished, very slowly move the mold towards the quenching container. At this point, you should notice the lead starting to change from more of a shiny and viscous consistency to more of a matte and hard looking finish. This is because the lead is cooling. You will also notice that the mold might seem to suck in some of the lead from the top of the sprue. That is perfectly normal and why you need to fill the cavity just over the sprue plate (that and to be able to “cut the sprue”).
When you are over the quenching container, you need to turn the mold about 45 degrees with the top pointed towards the container and then grab your rubber mallet. You should then hit the sprue plate (the black plate that moves back and forth above the fill point) hard enough to cut off the top of the overflow. BE CAREFUL! Even though the lead has hardened quite a bit, it is still intensely hot and will indeed burn you and/or start a fire if it goes shooting off somewhere it should not. Due to the aforementioned reasons, it is paramount that gloves (leather, silicone or other heat resistant material) are worn and I also recommend jeans and shoes.
The excess lead from cutting the sprue off should fall into the quenching container (save this for later and re-melt it but DO NOT put it back in when wet as it will be bad…steam, lead popping out, nothing good will occur so save it for the next time you cast). Now, open the mold and usually the casted projectiles will fall into the water with a satisfying “hissss” from cooling down rapidly. If they do not fall out when you open it you might have to give it a slight tap…slight…on the bolt attached to the handle. We do not want to hit the mold as we could damage it but tapping the bolt on the handles with a rubber mallet or wood piece always gets them to drop.
Now, you should resist the urge to check them out right away as we need to get/keep the mold up at the right temperature and you have to get a rhythm going on and can’t stop to check each casting. Odds are, they will look like this (and should be re-melted the next time when they are dry):
Next, close the mold, move the sprue plate back to the correct position (NOT WITH YOUR HANDS) with the mallet or whatever you are using to cut the sprue. All metal parts of the mold get ridiculously hot and we want to avoid all burns. Once the mold is back in the right position, you need to repeat the previous steps until you are satisfied with the number you’ve casted, run out of lead or are too tired to go on…it’s usually a combination with me. Make sure you UNPLUG the melter and let it cool down completely…This will take an hour or two at least. Be safe here.
***Some important tips ***
1. Make sure you keep a close eye on the lead and how long it is taking to start hardening. It should take between 4 and 5 seconds after you pour for it to be hard enough to cut the sprue. If it isn’t hard enough and is still moving around after 5 seconds, turn down the heat as you will get sloppy bases or tips (depending on molds) or you may burn yourself or the house down (neither are appealing outcomes).
2. Make sure you avoid the sprue plate and never reposition it with your bare hand or even gloved one.
3. Do not hit the sprue plate too hard or lead can go flying.
4. Keep up a good pace but be careful and slow enough to be steady and safe.
5. Do NOT set the hot mold down on anything flammable or anything that can melt. Some people rest it on the top of the pot when they turn if off to allow it to cool. If you do this, make sure it will not fall.
6. If you have a double cavity mold and want to get 50 projectiles, I would cast 75 to make sure you get 50 good ones. You will get better at this (it does take practice and patience) and in future castings you will know much more about yourself and how you do and more importantly, how you should adjust.
7. Don’t eat, drink or touch your face while casting. This is to avoid exposure to lead.
You’ll notice I don’t have any pictures of me cutting the sprue and such and that is for a pretty good reason. I was trying to position the camera to get said pictures and since I was distracted, I accidentally touched the hot mold to my forearm. It indeed hurt/hurts and sadly, this is the second time I’ve done that. Mistakes are easy to make and everyone I know makes some…just make sure you don’t do anything to jeopardize yourself.
Step 4: Reaping the rewards and separating the good, bad and plain ol’ ugly:
What you’ll need:
Castings (cooled) in the quench container, dry towel or paper towels (you don’t want to reuse any towel from this step unless it’s for the same thing due to the lead), calipers and a scale.
Take the casted projectiles out of the quenching container as well as the tops you cutoff and place them on either some paper towels or cloth towel to dry. You will want to take the dried pieces of lead that were cut via the sprue plate and set them with your lead stash to be re-melted. Waste-not, want-not, right?
Next, take the boolits (remember, casted lead projectiles are affectionately referred to as “boolits” to distinguish them from their jacketed brethren) and start to inspect them. You will want to make 2 piles. A “re-melt” pile and a “good” pile (or for a first timer, a “good enough” one). Now you need to start looking for ones that obviously will not work.
Check out the picture above showing 6 casted projectiles. I casted some big ones for a .577 Snider (black powder) because the defects and characteristics would be more predominant. The one on the far left is “frosted”. This boolit is still good but it just shows that it was casted at too high of a temperature. If all of yours look like this, I would dial the temp down a bit next time.
The second one from the left shows it has part of the base missing. This one needs to be re-melted as it will impact accuracy. We are going for “sub-MOA” and not “Minute of Barn Door” accuracy.
The third from the right shows wrinkles and this is from the mold not being up to temperature (it’s too cold) or from starting and stopping a pour; or not filling the cavity quickly enough. This was the most frustrating for me early on. Have patience and practice.
The best advice I can give for a new person doing this step is to re-melt anything that has too many wrinkles, is missing parts or has anything wrong with the base. The base is very, very important and it should be casted right to get the accuracy increase we want to see. Sort these into the piles until you have done all of them.
Now, get out your calipers as it is time to measure!
I casted some 8mm Mauser for some 8×57 rounds I wanted to load. The specs I needed were for the boolits to be around .323 or .324”. You usually get the best accuracy increase from casting .001” larger than your bore diameter. You need to slug your bore to get that (that’s another article).
Take each boolit and measure it with your calipers…You will want to measure near the base but if it has a boat tail, I usually measure the first and largest part above the lube ring. You’ll need to do this for all of them. As you can see, mine dropped where I wanted them to be. If yours did not, you may need to size them or re-melt them. I’ll do a write-up on sizing as well in the near future.
Once you have checked all of the good ones for sizes, I like to weigh them in order to get my powder information. We need to take out the scale, weigh them and group them if they deviate a good bit (some people do this and some do not, it’s up to you).
After that is finished, pat yourself on the back as you are now a “boolit caster”. You should be proud that you had the resolve to tackle what most mere mortals don’t have the desire or maybe ability to do. This is not the most difficult thing to do but it does take patience, guts, attention to detail and a willingness to work around some really hot metal and possibly/probably be burned once or twice. That said, you can save a LOT of money by casting your own projectiles; especially if you get lead or can find lead for free. Some people shrink the cost per round by around 50% or more in some cases and it also gives you the ability to cast for your exact and specific barrel to give you the best accuracy. Commercial ammo makes the best ammo for most people at the cheapest production cost. You are making this for yourself and I (among many others) believe this is a great, rewarding activity that has a multitude of benefits. It’s also a great skill to have should there ever be an ammunition drought. It’s something that can and should be passed down from generation to generation.
Get out there, do some research and be safe!! Have fun but above all, don’t put yourself at undue risk but DO reap the rewards from casting.
***Again, this is just for informational purposes only. Neither this website nor the author is responsible for your choices and/or actions or any adverse issues arising from using this information. It is advisable that you seek information from a multitude of sources and not rely on a singular source.***