Casting Lead Bullets

Reloading your own ammunition is a fun and simple way to save money, but do you have what it takes to move your production to the next level?  If so, bullet casting may be for you!

People have been casting their own bullets for hundreds of years, and while it’s true the technology has certainly improved, the basic premise behind it has remained virtually identical; molten lead is poured into a mould, then extracted after hardening.  In this article we’ll take a look at exactly what’s needed to break into the ‘dark art’ of bullet-casting, and how the process is done.

First off you’re going to need a few things:

  1. Melting Pot
  2. Spoon
  3. Mould
  4. Wax/Candle
  5. Thick leather gloves
  6. Respirator
  7. Quenching bucket (optional)

A number of different manufacturers produce quality lead melting pots; I’m partial to Lee Precision’s bottom-pour models, however Lyman and RCBS produce well built offerings as well.  Few local gun stores will carry these in stock so you’ll likely need to purchase yours online, or by special order.

Bullet moulds are available in all different shapes and sizes from literally dozens of different manufacturers.  Once again, Lee Precision, Lyman, and RCBS are the most popular.  As with melting pots, you’re unlikely to find many gun stores that keep them in stock, so make sure to figure out what all you’ll be purchasing at the same time to save on shipping in the event you decide to buy online.

The spoon and candle should be fairly simple to acquire; while the leather gloves and respirator can be sourced from any hardware or building supply store.

Once you’ve got all the pieces together, it’s time to get cracking.  On a clear day with no chance of rain, begin by selecting a level area away from open windows or any place used for eating or growing food.  I’m sure this goes without saying, but lead is both poisonous and carcinogenic, so exercise some common sense when working with it.  With the work area prepped, load your melting pot with lead ingots and set the heat to high.  This is also a good time to place your mould on top of the pot in order to get it up to temperature, which will help with achieving fully formed bullets.

Once the alloy is sufficiently melted, you’ll likely notice a thin layer of dross has formed, similar to that seen when smelting wheel weights into ingots. In order to remove the dross as well as help keep the alloy well mixed, break a small piece of wax off and drop it into the pot.  Within seconds you’ll see the wax melt and spread out over the surface of the alloy (it’ll also smoke quite a bit, which is normal).  Using the spoon, stir the mix for a second or too, then skim the dross from the surface and discard it.  This process is called ‘fluxing’, and should performed every time the mix starts to look ‘dirty’.

Now that the pot has been properly fluxed, it’s time to begin pouring.  Remove the mould from the top of the melting pot and line the pour holes up with the spout.  The trick to getting properly formed bullets is to move quickly, and fluidly.  Once each cavity has been filled, examine the excess lead left on top, this is called the ‘sprue’.  When the sprue has fully hardened and turned a dull grey color, the bullets beneath should likewise be ready to cast.  Using the handle affixed to the sprue plate (for Lee 6-Cavity moulds), or a mallet/stick to strike the end (most standard moulds), break the sprue plate free and open the mould.  The bullets can now be released into a bucket of water to quench them (to gain additional hardness) or on a soft cloth if you prefer to let them air-cool (for softer bullets).

Bullet-casting isn’t a difficult skill to master, but it does take practice.  It’s quite common for the first few casts in a session to yield wrinkled or poorly formed bullets, so don’t get discouraged if this happens to you.  There are many subtle factors in obtaining a quality cast bullet including alloy, properly-fluxed lead, and technique, but the most important by far is undoubtedly temperature.  Wrinkled or half formed bullets almost always indicate low temperatures with the mould or alloy; be patient, and adjust your temperature as necessary.

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