Let's Get Started Casting
[Basic equipment for casting - lead, pot, mold and flux. Fan keeps the lead fumes to a minimum]
Shooting can be an addiction. One gun leads to five, then a reloading press arrives followed by several kinds of powder and various other “have to have” tools and a second press and…. Sooner or later most of us get the urge to make our own bullets - “boolits” to a purist. Problem is, where to start? Let’s look at the basic equipment needed to start casting here.
I want to start with a disclaimer. Casting hot lead can be very dangerous. First, lead is a heavy metal and, given enough of it, the fumes can be toxic. Make sure you are casting outdoors or in a VERY WELL ventilated room. I do both. Second, lead melts at over 600*F. It WILL burn you. Use leather welding gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and long pants, and closed leather boots. Finally, lead and water do not mix. At 600*+, water flashes to seam and expands violently. It WILL empty a 20# lead pot quickly and violently. Keep water away from your casting area. Period.
All of that being said, what do you need to get started. The short list is: Lead (duh!), a pot to melt it in, a ladle to pour the liquid lead with, a proper size mold, flux for the lead, and a container to drop the hot bullets into. Yes, the bullets will, eventually need to be sized, lubed/coated and possibly have gas check attached before you can shoot them. That’s another article entirely. Right now, we’re casting.
Wheel weight used to be gold standard for lead. They are getting harder to find.
Lead. There are several sources for lead, some of them free. One is your local shooting range. Mine allows me to mine the berm, so long as I don’t actually dig into it. Fairly easy to get a coffee can full in about half an hour. Another source are local tire shops. I have one that throws used wheel weights into a bucket. When its full, they call. Some shops charge a fee and all weights have to be sorted, as manufactures are now using zinc, steel and rubber for weights. Still another source is non-casting friends. One member here sends me “care packages” occasionally. It’s good to share the wealth by sharing your bullets. (Just don’t sell them. Uncle Sam lists them as “ammunition”)
Pots. The Cheapest way to start here is with a cast iron plumbing pot. These can be found cheap or even free in thrift shops and second hand stores. The work fine, but do require a secondary heat source. Another option is an electric or heated pot from Lee, RCBS, or Lyman. These come as top ladle and bottom pour. I prefer the bottom pour because it is the fastest way to get a lot of bullets quickly. The ladle method id slower, but produces more uniform bullets for precision shooters. Don’t be afraid to buy used pots, either. I recently bought a 20# bottom pour from a member here for less than half the price of new. It works just fine.
Plumber's pot and burner. Cheap way to start.
Molds. Molds are made by Lee, RCBS, Lyman, NOE…. They come in aluminum, brass and steel. Anyone who casts has a preference. Mine is the aluminum 6 cavity made by Lee. They are inexpensive, come in every caliber I need, and cast better than I can shoot. My suggestion to first timers is to start cheap. Buy a $20.00, 2 cavity Lee mold, cast some bullets, see if this is for you. If it is, you’ll buy more molds. (I have no clue how many I have right now) If it isn’t, sell the mold and move on.
Ladles. No matter what pot you use, you still need a ladle. Even if you don’t use it to pour, you’ll need it to skim the dross off your lead and stir in the flux. Ladles can be anything from a tablespoon (put a wooden handle on it and don’t tell SWMBO!) to one purpose made for casting. If you are going to use it for pouring bullets, get a purpose made ladle with a spout from Lyman or RCBS.
Flux. Flux is used to clean the lead of impurities before and during casting. Many casters use paraffin wax from the canning section of the grocery store. Cheapskates, like me, use candle stubs, broken candles, and beeswax. A small bead of wax is dropped into the molten lead and stirred in. Be careful, it will smoke and often flame up. It will also bring any unwanted materials to the surface to be skimmed off. Flux often - I do it about every ¼ pot.
So, there you have it. The bare basics to get started. Did I say this is addictive? There is no known cure. Before long you’ll me mixing alloys, buying special tools, building coating racks for the oven, and getting giddy when you find a wheel weight in the parking lot. Don’t blame me!