Back in the Carter Economy I had a choice, give up shooting or give up my apartment. No way was I going to stop shooting, but I didn’t want to be homeless either. So I found a third way. Today I am having trouble finding bullets, and so I find myself returning to that third way.
In those days I was into shooting Handgun Metallic Silhouette as well as PPC and I needed to cut costs, so I started making my own bullets. I suppose I have cast bullets to thank for not winding up homeless. Here is a little bit of what I have learned and a few suggestions on how to make your own bullets to get you through this economic mess.
I keep things pretty simple. Wheel weights can be found anyplace that sells tires and are perhaps the most available and inexpensive material for bullet casting. They rank 9-13 on the Brinell scale and about six on the Saeco hardness tester. That’s hard enough to work for most cast pistol bullets and for low-velocity rifle bullets.
Wheel weights do require a little extra attention. Any time a lead alloy is melted the metals will separate and must be fluxed and stirred to remix the alloy. When wheel weights are melted, all kinds of junk will float to the top, including the metal clips and lots of dirt and sand. Before skimming this off you must flux the melt to mix all the alloy metals back together. Otherwise you will skim off the tin and antimony that may be floating on top of the molten lead. The best product I have used for that is Marvelux from Brownells. It works great and produces much less smoke and smell than bullet lube or other “traditional” flux materials.
Flux the melted wheel weights two or three times and stir the pot well each time, making sure to scrape the sides to loosen any clinging dirt or debris. It goes without saying that you should be wearing heavy gloves, safety goggles and a long sleeve shirt. (I carry scars on my arms to this day as proof of that advice.) After you have fluxed several times, skim the dirt, dross and metal clips out of the pot. I put mine in an old coffee can to cool, and then throw them away. If the pot is still not full enough, put in some more wheel weights and repeat the process. Once you have a full pot of molten alloy, flux again, stir well and skim off any remaining dirt and dross. Plenty of fluxing and stirring will help to make sure that no dirt or sand remains suspended in the melted alloy.
They say all wheel weights are not the same and the alloy mix can vary, brand to brand, weight to weight, so it’s probably best now to pour the melt into ingot moulds. That way, when they are remelted you can mix the batches and add one more generation to the mix. The idea is that the more individual wheel weights used, the more diluted the differences in alloy. But, to be honest, once I have a full lead pot, I usually start casting bullets. Later, I’ll check the bullets to make sure they are the expected weight and hardness (using the Saeco tester) and if they are I assume the alloy mix from my wheel weights was fine.
These days I use a bottom-pour RCBS electric lead pot which is faster and easier than a pot and ladle. Either way, it’s important to keep the mould level as it’s filled. When the sprue puddle is hardened, use a hardwood mallet or rod to sharply hit the sprue plate tab. This will cleanly cut the sprue and swing the sprue plate off the top of the mould. Something that is round or oval works better than a mallet or hammer shape. I have used a broken hatchet handle for years. One end is so worn and tapered that I have had to switch ends. They sell commercial tools for this, but any piece of hardwood that’s close to round and heavy enough will work. The bullets may drop out after the mould is opened, but usually they require that you tap on the hinge of the mould handles gently to coax them out. Never hit the mould.
The bullets are still very hot and soft, so they must fall on something soft and heat resistant. I use a thick piece of foam covered with an old towel. The foam cushions the bullets while the towel keeps the hot bullets from melting into the foam. Be careful that the new bullets fall into a clear area and do not hit bullets already lying on the pad. When you start running out of clear area, raise one side of the towel to gently roll the cooling bullets so they pile up on the edge of the pad.
It’s a good idea to visually inspect the bullets after they have cooled. If you are really fussy, weigh them to sort out any that may be off the average. Then they should be run through a sizer/lubricator. This makes sure they are the correct diameter and injects lubricant into the grooves on the bullet. If a gas check is to be used it’s installed at this time.
Wipe the lube off the base of the bullets and load them. Casting bullets is fun, a lot cheaper than “store-bought” bullets and it might help keep a roof over your head in spite of Obama’s best efforts.
This article appeared in the August 31, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.