Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 – Hardness, Sizing & Lubing

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
These are a .38 caliber (.357) and a .45 caliber (.452) bullet made with Lee aluminum molds. As cast they are pretty close to what you will be shooting downrange, but you should test them to see how hard they are, and you may need to size them depending on your alloy.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
This is the Lee Lead Hardness Test Kit. It consists of a spring loaded die, a bullet holder that fits in your shellholder slot, and a 20x microscope with a measuring scale on it.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
The instructions say to file one side of the bullet, then press the steel ball into the flat side using the press.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
The instructions say to use a vise and a file, but I found that a wood rasp and pliers worked fine, and the rasp doesn’t fill up with material like a file does. Hold the bullet in the pliers.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
I used the Lee hand press instead of my bench reloading press. You hold the press so the plunger stem is flush with the top of the die. This is the exact measurement pressure, and you hold it for 30 seconds.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
After you make the dent, you look in the microscope to measure it.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
This is what the scale inside the microscope looks like.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
It corresponds to this chart, which gives you your max pressure that the alloy can handle.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
Quenching did not do what is claimed by the internet bullet casting mavens. The bottom one here is the original wheelweight alloy. It measured larger than the scale, and neither quenching nor heat treating made it any harder. The top two are a 92/6/2 percent mixture I purchased, and even that mixture only came up to a 14.3 from 12.5 unquenched on the Brinnell scale.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
We will cover several alloys for the next article. This one is very popular as a “hard cast” alloy, but not as hard as classic Linotype.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
If you are going to try quenching, make sure the water is far away from the lead pot. I used this towel with a hole in it to break the fall of the bullets so they wouldn’t dent each other.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
The Lee sizing kit comes with “Liquid Alox” and you just squirt it on the bullets and coat them completely. If you look closely at the first picture above, the .452 bullet has shallow grooves, specifically for this treatment. I have had no problem with regular groove bullets using this stuff though. It works great.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
The Lee lube and size kit comes with the sizing die, the pusher that goes in your shellholder slot, and the red case is a catcher for the bullets. You have to use lubed bullets.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
Unless you are using a very hard alloy most handgun bullets don’t need to be sized at all. You can try sizing to different diameters to experiment with accuracy results.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
I always use my hand press for this while watching TV. If you enlarge the photo you can see how it works. The bullet is on top of the pusher on its way up and through the die. The next one comes in behind it, pushing it up and into the red catcher.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
This is the more classic sizing machine, called a “Lubrisizer.” That orange stuff is a stick of hard Alox lube being put into the press. The aluminum plate between the press and the bench is a Lyman heater, to make the lube more soft. We will cover this at length down the road. Don’t worry about it for now.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
Lubrisizer dies are sold by diameter, like the Lee tools, and you need a top punch that matches the nose of your bullet.

Bullet Casting for Beginners Part 2 - Hardness, Sizing & Lubing
For now, if your bullets need to be sized at all, the Lee system works great.

Products from this article at Midsouth:
Lee Lead Hardness Tester Kit (low stock)
Lee Lube & Size Kit
RCBS Lube-a-Matic

Once you understand the basics of bullet casting, which we covered in Part One of this series, you are well on your way to a finished bullet you can actually shoot. The next two steps are sizing and lubing the bullet, which we will cover here. I will also go over the basics of “hardness,” which will determine how much pressure and velocity your finished bullet can handle. If you are already a handloader/re-loader, you should be able to load up your bullets after this installment. This is not rocket science as you will soon see, and a lot of the mythology of bullet casting you can pretty much ignore for simple range rounds. Remember we started this series with the concept of “free bullets for life.” The more you complicate anything the more expensive it becomes, so at first, let’s just keep it simple.

After you have cast your bullets, especially if you are using a variety of scrap lead mixtures, you should determine of the resulting alloy you have created. The cheapest way to do this is with the Lee Lead Hardness Testing Kit. It measures the “Brinnell” hardness of the alloy, which is simply a hardness scale relative to itself, and people have figured over the years how much pressure this hardness scale can correlate to. The kit comes with a die that you can put in any reloading press, and a bullet holder that you slip into the shellholder slot. The die has a steel ball at the end that is connected to a measured spring system. Press the ball into your cast bullet using the press so that the back is flush, and the ball will make a measureable dent in your bullet. You measure this dent with an included 20 powder microscope that has a scale inside it.

The diameter of your dent matches up with the table that comes with the kit for the Brinnell hardness number. It also gives you the maximum PSI (pounds per square inch), or pressure, that matches up with the hardness. You then compare that to handloading data for the powder you plan to use. Take a look at the pictures, because it is easier to see than explain. This is not anywhere near as complicated as it sounds. I use the reloading data from the Hodgdon website, because it covers not only Hodgdon powders, but also IMR and Winchester, and it has pressure numbers. The Alliant Powder website, makers of Bullseye, Red Dot, etc., does not have pressure information so is not useful for these tests.

The only thing that can be slightly confusing using the Hodgdon data, is that the term CUP, or “copper units of pressure” is often found side by side with PSI, “pounds per square inch.” In reality the two terms have nothing to do with each other, but in practical terms they are often used interchangeably. Chamber pressure used to be measured in CUPs, which was measured by crushing copper, , but since the piezoelectric pressure meter was developed, which correctly measures actual PSI, this method is almost universally used to test chamber pressure. When you see CUP and PSI side by side, as it is on the Hodgdon website in the reloading data, I assume that to mean that these were the methods used when this example was last measured. In practical terms, PSI is correlated to CUPS, and you should be able to use your LEE Lead Hardness Testing Kit data with either number.

You may be surprised to find that your alloy is technically too soft for the caliber for which you hope to load. But have no fear. Unless you had planned to shoot in a magnum caliber, it won’t hurt to try to see if your bullets work in your gun. As long as you don’t go with maximum loads and stick to well under maximums, the worst that can happen is that your barrel with retain some lead in the grooves of the rifling. A few jacketed bullets through the gun will clean this right out, and we are going to cover alloys next, so you will learn how to make your alloy hard enough to use.

One thing I do suggest, before you start casting, is to plan to drop your bullets from the hot mold into a bucket of water. It is called “quenching” and it can make them harder. Generally wheel weights are very soft, and any hardness boost will help. To do this you simply set up a bucket with water, and as you can see from the pictures, I cut a hole in a towel so I can break their fall as they drop from the mold. The only thing you have to understand about quenching is, you HAVE TO KEEP THE WATER WELL AWAY FROM THE LEAD POT. We didn’t put this tip in the first article exactly for this reason. Water, if it hits your melted lead, will instantly turn into a steam and create lead explosion, and it is about the most dangerous worst thing you can do while casting bullets. Nonetheless, millions of bullet casters have safely used this quenching technique to make their bullets harder for generations, perfectly safely, so just be careful.

“Geezer science” being what it is, we will probably get comments on this article that quenching always works, and that it never works. The problem with a lot of information about casting is that it is anecdotal, and written by individual writers who did one or two tests of what they had on hand. The best article I have found on this subject is on the LASC website, but I have not had anywhere near the results claimed in the article. I have had many alloys where it had no effect at all, including this wheelweight alloy with which we started this series. According to this and other articles I have read, you can also “heat treat” an alloy in the oven, then quench, but my results with this method have been a complete joke. I have never measured an increase in hardness, and I have melted a lot of bullets in the oven while experimenting, and had to make up for stinking up the house with poisonous lead fumes on more than one occasion.

I am quite sure that there is a basis in actual metalurgy for this quasi-science of both quenching and heat treating, but I have found no consistent formula in several attempts. Adding tin and antimony to free sources of lead is how you generally make alloys harder, and we will get to this in the next installment of this series, as well as some basic handloading information for cast bullets. If you want to get a jump on it, Rotometals seems to be a good source for inexpensive antimony and tin. They advertise on many of the cast bullet websites.

Lubrication and Sizing

Bullet lube is another one of those quasi-science areas of handloading. For our purposes we are going to stick to one family of lubes, called “Alox.” The Lee Lube & Size Kit, which we’ll get to, comes with a “Liquid Alox.” To give you an idea of how deeply into geezer science we are here, there is no Wikipedia on Alox, but the basic chemical is a petroleum product, and the bullet lube version is mixed with beeswax usually. The nice thing about the liquid stuff is that you just squirt it on and tumble it around with your bullets, coating them, and that’s it. You let them dry and they are ready for sizing or loading.

To size or not to size depends on what diameter your bullets shrink to when they cool. You probably already know that a .38 Special doesn’t have a diameter of .38. It is .357 inches, the same as a .357 Magnum. A .45 ACP is .452 inches. A .44 Special or Magnum is .429, and a 9mm is .355. The easiest sizing system I have found for handgun bullets is the Lee Sizer, as you’ll see in the pictures here. Like the hardness test kit, it comes with a die for any reloading press and a pusher that fits in your shellholder slot. You first lube your bullets then push them, one behind the other, through the sizing die.

The thing is, in most cases, you won’t need to size your bullets at all. When your bullets cool, they make shrink to exactly the size you need. In my experience with Lee molds, both the two cavity and six cavity, this is almost always the case. The only exception was when I was casting an alloy called Linotype, which you will hear in the casting world a lot. Linotype used to be available free everywhere, because it was used in printing presses to make newspapers. They lined up lead alloy letters to print the papers, then generally threw them away, or sold them for scrap. Linotype is very hard, and when you cast it into bullets it tends to cast big once it cools. Measure your own bullets to see, but 9 times out of 10, your bullets won’t need to be sized. Just lube them, load them, and shoot them.

For rifle bullets, like that big .45-70 bullet you see here in the pictures, sometimes you do need to size, and that is sometimes done with a “Lubrisizer.” The machine you see in the pictures here is an RCBS Lubrisizer called the Lube-a-Matic. You mount it on your bench and load it with a hard stick of lube, then squeeze the lube into the grooves of your bullet while you force it through a sizing die for the diameter you want. Besides the purchase of the Lubrisizer itself, you need to buy a tie for each diameter you wish to size to, and a top punch that matches the nose of your bullet. When you look up most rifle bullet molds they will tell you which number top punch to use when sizing.

Again, not even all rifle bullets have to be sized. There are conflicting opinions all over the web and throughout the history of printed bullet casting literature as to what the best diameter is in relation to the diameter of your bore. You can read opinions that say one or two thousandths over bore diameter is best, and that actual bore diameter is best, and that even three of four thousandths over bore diameter is best. You can even get a special chamber casting alloy called “Cerrosafe” that you can use to measure your actual chamber and barrel dimensions.

How deep you want to go with bullet casting is up to you. There are so many factors, between alloys and lube and diameter and pressure, you can drive yourself nuts trying to come up with the best formula for your particular firearm. The bottom line on bullet casting is that it can save you real money, and the better you get at it, the more closely your inexpensive cast bullets will perform to jacketed rounds. People hunt with cast bullets, and with a little copper cup called a gas check, cast bullets can be pushed to pressures close to jacketed rounds as well. Shooting is a rich hobby, and casting your own bullets not only saves you money, it adds another layer of richness to our interesting and engaging pastime. By now you should have enough to get shooting, with handgun bullets anyway, and we’ll be back with alloys and handloading tips next.

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  • Marcel Welleman January 17, 2020, 5:00 am

    Lee have now ( 2020 ) the Lee App pres to sizing in a verry fast way.
    i like te inventions from Lee

  • Jim October 29, 2019, 10:14 am

    Is there a part 3 with alloys and hand loading?

  • Perry G.Byron Sr June 11, 2018, 9:39 am

    How can I get a copy of part 1?

  • Kevin Weaverling February 19, 2017, 10:37 am

    What does a zinc wheel weight look like compaired to a lead one? Im new at this.

    • mike swindle February 4, 2018, 12:59 am

      Wheel weights arent just lead. They are an alloy. They generally hit a hardness of between 12 and 15. Its a great alloy for nearly everything. If its not hard enough for, say your rifle rounds, no fear. Get a pound of lead free solder. Its usually a 92 tin 8 antimony mix. It can harden your alloy up pretty fast. There are calculators online to tell you ball park of what you have when you add “x” to “y” alloy or pure lead. A half pound roll can add a pretty good bit of hardness. I use it because its available. You can also order from rotometals but you have to pay shipping usually.

    • mike swindle February 4, 2018, 1:01 am

      apology. I didnt see the zinc mentioned.
      They usually have VERY square edges. the best test is to put a knife blade to one. If it cuts easily, lead. It its too hard and sounds “metallic”, zinc.
      Dont mix the two. zinc will toast your alloy AND your pot. Also, some are using zinc as bullets. They are hard but lighter.
      They will also kill a pot. I think its an interaction between the pot and the zinc. The pot WILL fail and youll have a lap full of melted zinc. Bad day.

  • Randy G Flynn December 15, 2015, 12:14 pm

    To All:I work in the telephone industry worked around lead on an off all my life.Talked to a few people about the lead used for phone cable & sleeves,that cable splicer use. They say it’s way to soft to much would have to be added for hardness. is that true. If anyone sees a phone company bucket truck thats usually a splicer, thay might have some,but its a dieing breed.

    Thanks R.G.F.

  • Mike October 4, 2015, 11:24 pm

    I cold water quench every bullet I cast. Found out the hard way about water, lead and explosion. Fortunately on small burn scars. Great article. I loved it thanks

  • Lathalweapon March 4, 2015, 8:17 pm

    Wowza. Iam very educated now. Thank you for your time.

  • Dalton May 27, 2014, 8:54 am

    Just like part 1, this was very informative and well thought out. Really enjoy the way you try to take a lot of the fear and dread out of casting and reloading. I really am wanting to try it. Fixing to retire and love to shoot my Mosin. so will have plenty of time for things now.

  • Donny F October 23, 2013, 12:41 am

    Thank you for the great articles. I’ve been wanting to reload if I could cast my own. This gives me the confidence to go for it. I found a great supply of lead to sweeten the pot.

  • Mark June 27, 2013, 4:36 pm

    Great article. I started casting in 1992 when assigned to an unfunded service shooting team. Read that to mean, we shot for the Wing, but traveled on “unfunded” orders. I fired 600-1000 wad cutter a week so I cast and loaded the same…every week. In those pre-Internet days geezer knowledge was precious. I did crazy things like correspond with Lyman and Lee by mail. With that murky history in mind, I really appreciate your article and us old geezers can sit quietly and nod. Your article goes a long way towards winning new people to the practice of “pouring your own”, a practice that separates the interested from the invested. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Dave April 28, 2013, 3:18 pm

    Morgan-The problem I had is how to identify pewter. No one around here really knows how and the internet isn’t much help. There is a lot of look alike metals and most of them contain quite a bit of zinc. I also had a plate that I thought was pewter and it may have been but I decided not to risk using it. I have 100 lbs of what I consider to be pure plumbers lead and am looking for a way to harden it up

  • mike August 6, 2012, 8:32 pm

    When you drop bullets from the mold into water they are harder than air dropped bullets but as they age the lead softens some. If you air drop bullets from the mold they tend to harden more as they age. So if you are casting bullets in large quantities for use over a long period of time you should take note of this fact. I believe I saw this on the LASC web site but it might have at http://www.theantimonyman.com.

  • Morgan April 26, 2012, 5:23 am

    Great to see these articles. I’d like to give some tips that I hope will help. I’ve been casting for over 30 years and try to find materials where ever posible. People think I’m nuts when I pick up wheel weights off the ground whenever I see them. I just saw an ad on Craigs list with a guy that has over a ton of lead for sale, check there. If you can find pewter, it is usually around 90 some percent tin and a bit of antimony. I once found a pewter plate in a dumpster that weighed around 3 pounds. Goodwill and thrift shops can be a good supply of pewter. Gun shows are always a good prospect for many casting supplies. My dentist gives me all the tiny lead foil pieces that cover the x-ray film they use. If there is a place that many people go to shoot, there could be a good supply of lead there. If you want to harden your bullets but only have a tin/lead alloy, you can add up to 10% of magnum shot like #9 for antimony. Be aware that it also contains arsenic so use good ventilation. In order to get the hardness, you will need to water drop them. Remember, tin helps the lead flow better to fill out the mold, antimony will help harden bullets when water dropped. A good book that really gets into it is Jacketed Performance With Cast Bullets by Veral Smith, he custom makes LBT bullet moulds. His e-mail is [email protected]. He also sells some of the best bullet lube around. Another good source of info is theantimonyman.com, he has good tips and info and sells bullet metals and supplies. Using the right combination of metals, I’ve been able to achieve around 28 on the hardness scale and shot those out of my 308 at around 2500 fps without any problems. Normally, regular pistol plinking and practice rounds don’t have to be any where near that hard and usually 20 to 1 (20lbs lead to 1lb tin) will be good enough. Semi auto should be a bit harder so it won’t deform when going into the barrel. That Lee hardness tester is great but you might want to find a way to lock it in place and put the bullet on a gob of clay or something to get a good reading. I took a brass tube and built a stand for it so I could slide the microscope up and down to focus it and a gob of modeling clay to hold the bullet still. If you’ve ever tried to hold a 20 power scope still enough to read that tiny scale inside, you’ll know what I mean! I hope I’ve provided more help than confusion and happy casting!

  • Rob Greskowiak April 15, 2012, 10:46 pm

    On reloading is there a way to make the shot less
    Noisy ?

    • Administrator April 16, 2012, 1:08 am

      Less powder will be quieter. The more powder that burns outside the barrel the bigger the bang.

  • JosephK April 14, 2012, 4:17 pm

    In my experience:
    Depending on the cast material various content metals with a higher heat sometimes helps. But over temperature corrupts the material.
    I have found several solutions to non-filleted molds.
    Pre-heat the mold, make sure there are air chimneys in the mold, use a flux in the pot or dust the mold. The end piece may require a bit more trimming but it really makes a nice casting.

  • Cecil Dame April 8, 2012, 10:17 am

    Thank You for a great article and blog. I look forward to part 3.

  • Wayne April 5, 2012, 10:58 pm

    Thanks for the comments on the importance of proper sizing and especially the problem with improper throat diameter.. A tight revolver cylinder can swage down and undersize a bullet before it gets to the barrel of a revolver. This allows hot gas blow by and gas cutting. It can cause severe leading in the first inch or two of a barrel. I learned this from reading Ross Seyfreid at a time when severe leading in my .357 was confusing me as well as why one I was getting 1 flier out of every 6 shots from a used revolver I had just bought. One cylinder throat was undersized and was easily fixed with grinding and polishing compounds to make all cylinders the same. Fliers and leading problem vanished. Sometimes too hard a lead in a light load can also prevent bullets from slugging up during firing and also cause gas blow by if the bullets are at all on the small size. I found casting and sizing bullets to .358 worked much better for my .357 than did .357 bullets.

  • Rob April 4, 2012, 10:20 am

    I really enjoy this article and have one question.
    The one question I have is how can you test the hardness of a quenched bullet when your filing down the bullet to make the test?

    • Administrator April 4, 2012, 11:15 am

      You file the side so the steel ball of the test kit can line up straight.

      • Scott Mayer April 4, 2012, 11:40 am

        Admin, I think what he’s getting at is that filing the flat effectively work softens the lead, so you won’t get an accurate reading on what the quenched bullet would have been before the filing. I’ve never used the Lee tester. Can you use the base of the bullet instead of filing a flat?

        • Administrator April 4, 2012, 5:28 pm

          No but you can test the sprue

  • Leadslinger April 3, 2012, 9:17 pm

    I read your articles and enjoyed them quite a bit. I have been reloading for 30+ years and casting for 3 and you are pretty much right on the money. As others have stated, ‘stick-on’ wheel weights are more or less pure lead, the composition of ‘wheel weights’ (the ones with the metal clip) varies quite a bit, and now bullet casters must be careful NOT to get Zinc in their mix. Lead wheel weights are being phased out rather quickly in favor of ‘green’ alternatives like Zinc or Steel. The addition of even one Zinc weight in a pot of otherwise good weights will ruin the entire batch, so a half ounce wheel weight in a 10lb pot will completely ruin the batch. Zinc contamination makes it difficult if not impossible to cast useful bullets. On the plus side, Zinc melts about 50 to 75 degrees lower than good alloy, so careful smelting will weed out the junk Zinc before it ruins your bullet lead.

    Also a note on quenching bullets to harden them, the alloy must have at least a trace amount of Arsenic in it to take full advantage of the quenching technique. “Arsenic is a catalyst to heat treating Pb/Sb alloys and only a trace is required…” “With a trace of arsenic a much higher BHN can be achieved” (Source* http://www.lasc.us/CastBulletAlloy.htm) Excellent article and a must read for anyone looking to get into casting.

    BTW, I use some of the ‘stick-ons’ to make Lyman #2 alloy (90/5/5) (Pb/Sb/Sn) for casting my bullets; the rest of the otherwise unusable pure lead I use for slugs! Lyman and Lee both make excellent “sabot” slug molds, and at an ounce or more each (12ga.), they use up a lot of lead.

    • Scott Mayer April 4, 2012, 11:38 am

      Right on about that zinc, Leadslinger! You know when one gets in when your melt turns to the consistency of chewing gum and there is nothing you can do about it.

  • Roderick April 3, 2012, 4:21 am

    Thanks for the great article,

    I live in the Netherlands an do reload for my TC contender, but am new to casting my own bullets.
    I shoot 45-70 (16″ contender) and want to start makin my own bullets for it since prices get abnormally high now… (45-70 is not very common here)

    One thing in the article makes me wonder though, the writers states :
    the worst that can happen is that your barrel with retain some lead in the grooves of the rifling. A few jacketed bullets through the gun will clean this right out….

    I sometimes use the Colt .22 conversion set in my AR15 for fun… The gunsmith over here warned me for doing that because hes says it is dangerous to fire jacketed (.223 rem.) bullets through a lead fouled barrel (coming from soft lead .22 LR). The lead (fouling) would not be scraped out but pressed into the barrel wall resulting in high pressure and barrel damage. Going from.22 to .223 you would need to thoroughly clean the barrel first… (I know the gas tube can foul from shooting soft.22’s but thats another thing)

    So my question :

    Is it safe to “clean out” a “lead fouled barrel” by sending a “few jacketed bullets through the gun” ??!?

    Thanks to anyone who can clear this up for me ! … no geezer science, just want to be safe ! 😉

    • Administrator April 3, 2012, 8:41 am

      Yes, everyone does that. It isn’t a barrel obstruction it is just residue.

    • Gord April 10, 2012, 7:37 pm

      If you are experiencing heavy leading in your barrel(s), you may want to try the “Lewis Lead Remover” from Brownells. This is a mechanical means of removing lead fouling not some snake oil chemical.
      I use this system for several handgun calibers and have had excellent results.

      • Gene Wilson September 29, 2014, 3:46 pm

        “FRONTIER METAL CLEANER” .( a material similar to your wife’s pot scrubber,) wrapped around a bronze brush of proper diameter, will remover lead from your barrel in 2 or 3 passes. Hope this helps

  • Frank S. April 3, 2012, 1:12 am

    A while ago, I cleaned out the backstop of our indoor range and melted down and cast a ton of 1 lb. ingots. We offered it to members for 1 dollar an ingot. I sold not a single one. Guess who now has a 35 gallon trash barrel full of one pound ingots.[their loss, my gain] This mix has a little antimony and some tin. I have good luck mixing 9 of these ingots with one pound of 50/50 solder.I haven’t tested the hardness, but they seem to work well for me.

    • Administrator April 3, 2012, 8:43 am

      See everyone there is opportunity out there for “free bullets for life” you just have to go find it.

      • George Bauernschmitt April 7, 2012, 6:19 am

        As a builder/remodeler I’ve come across a lot of lead window weights. Some, from old huge windows in the city, weigh 60# and better! The lead is soft and needs to be hardened but I have a lifetime supply. Once you have your bullets hard enough, the trick is to recycle them which I can do on my own range. Just make sure nobody else is shooting the same bullets. Know any builders?

  • Russ Truex April 2, 2012, 9:18 pm

    Hey, never mind, I found the link at the bottom of this page. Thanks again.

  • Russ Truex April 2, 2012, 9:16 pm

    I missed the first article. When was it sent out, and can I get a copy? Just thinking about starting casting for my 41 Mag and really enjoyed this article. Thanks!

  • JLA April 2, 2012, 8:58 pm

    Great article! I look forward to part 3. The only problem I’ve had with the whole ‘free bullets for life’ idea is finding lead to cast them from. I can buy it from many online sources of course, but I’m really beginning to think this whole free lead (or even cheap lead) is a myth!! In this area it is anyway; despite calls to dozens of tire dealers not one of them was even willing to SELL their used wheel weights, mush less give them away. Maybe one day I’ll get lucky & find someone tearing down a building with lead pipes, but it hasn’t happened yet. I guess I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed. Still, even with buying the alloy home cast bullets are considerably cheaper than buying them already cast! After figuring alloy prices online I’m figuring 3-7 cents a bullet for most handgun cartridges.

    • Administrator April 2, 2012, 9:04 pm

      yes, it is the same thing in south florida. People troll the streets on the first Thursday of the month looking for steel and aluminum that people leave out for trash. But there are still people living in middle class American that have it somewhat like the old days. I am looking into range splatter this week. That may be a source.

  • RedGreen April 2, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I have been casting for some time now and have worked up my own way of doing things from just hit and miss and a few well written articles (like this one). It is not rocket science, you can have serviceable bullets in the first session.

  • Shane April 2, 2012, 4:52 pm

    Excellent info. As for wheel weights I am fortunate to have access to a Fisher Ex-ray unit that will give a breakdown of material composition. In my experience older clamp on wheel weights consist of 94% lead, 4% antimony, and 1.5-2% tin. For me these will usually yield BHN 15-17 when water quenched. The newer stick on weights are 99% lead and remain dead soft.
    I have used the older alloy in my .44 mag and with max charges of 2400 with no leading. In my experience (and others such as Keith and Bowen) it is critical that the bullets be the properly sized to the gun. For instance I cast for a friends micro groove ( another myth that micro grooves won’t shoot cast ) 35 Remington and .359″ will lead badly but .360″ bullets with the same charge do not lead at all. In addition revolvers in particular must have properly sized throats to use lead bullets successfully. This is particularly true with magnum loads in the .44 and 45 colt. I typically have to ream 45 colts cylinders .4525 (Ruger’s tend to run tight). Typically most leading problems cease when this is done. The beauty of lead bullets is they are inexpensive and encourage us to learn more about the guns we use them in to recognize their full potential. It does take some time but isn’t that the great part? Rolling your own is that much more gratifying when you know why everything is working well. As for the Lee Products- I think they are great! They make excellent tools at a great price. The TL bullets work very well and save a lot of time. If they reproduced some of the 429421 Lyman profile or the RCBS 44-250K in a six cavity mold I would be in heaven. Great info and thanks for the article.

    P.S.- Adam- if you are looking for additional casting info try reading Modern Reloading by Mr. Lee. His work is very good and supports the information in this article.

  • JKH April 2, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Man I type slow! there were NO responses about wheel weight alloys before I typed and posted mine, please disregard except for encouraging more shooters to engage in the hobby.

    Good shooting.


  • JKH April 2, 2012, 4:31 pm


    Wheel weights are not all created equal, if you are using “stick on” wheel weights they are essentially pure lead, or nearly so, and as such they are extremeley soft (you can bend them with your fingers fairly easy). Clip on wheel weights (with steel clips which must be hammered onto the tire rim) are much harder and have a higher content of tin and antimony, typically they produce as cast bullets in the 16 to 18 brinnel hardenss range (soft lead is way down to 10 and under, the exact figure escapes me at the moment). So yes, water quenching soft lead “stick on” wheel weights will accomplish very little whereas quenching harder clip on weights will give you numbers akin to what Shooter Supply is experiencing.

    Casting lead bullets can be as simple (using a campfire if need be) or as complicated as you wish but alloy type and application does make a big difference, any sub-sonic pistol bullets can use basically any scrap alloy you can scrounge up with proper loads and lubrication, but above the speed of sound things are much different and much more compolicated.

    I have loaded ammunition for 30 years but only started casting and studying its fundamentals within the past 5 years, I have to say that casting bullets and getting into the extraneous such as making my own gas checks, etc. has become nearly as fun and fulfilling as shooting (not always though!), I would strongly urge beginners to check out LEE products, they are great and can get you into casting for a very small sum, and then you save money while getting to shoot a great deal more, who could ask for more :^ )

  • Adam April 2, 2012, 3:42 pm

    This is a great article and very timely for me. I have wanted to cast my own bullets for years, and this has given me the encouragement to make that jump. Thanks so much!

    Now, are there any other good books or sources I should refer to?

    • Administrator April 2, 2012, 3:49 pm

      Just read the first article.

  • Shooter Supply April 2, 2012, 1:36 pm

    I have been casting for several years and do commercially and use only Lee 6 cavity molds. This article is dead on and is the process I use. Wheel weights are not as soft as indicated and I get a hardness of 22-24 but they must be quinched in cold water. There is nothing wrong with the bullet in the last photo, it is not the prettiest I have seen but will shoot just fine. As far as being accurate, I have a customer that uses .45 230 TC for competition and he says they are the most accurate he has ever shot. If you want to shoot a lot get into casting if not call me and I will do it for you.

    • Administrator April 2, 2012, 1:43 pm

      See, that is a classic example of one person having great success with quenching and another not. Most likely the alloy in the old style wheel weights is harder than these new stick-on type. Hopefully we can score some for the next article.

      • Scott Mayer April 2, 2012, 2:27 pm

        I’ve had good luck with quenching, but there are some conditions I’ve learned. The late Dennis Marshall was a close industry friend and a professional metallurgist specializing in lead and here is some of what I learned from him.

        You must use an alloy with some antimony in it, and it does not have to be a lot. To quench harden, the alloy has to be hot enough to throw evenly frosted bullets. Quenching from the mold results in “precipitation hardening,” which causes the antimony in the alloy to precipitate out of solution with the lead and form fine, evenly distributed crystals that block movement within the lead’s grain structure to strengthen the alloy.

        Lead “work softens,” so sizing a bullet hardened by quenching immediately softens it. When quenching, you have to be sure to use an alloy that shrinks to the desired diameter and hand lube the bullets. Lead alloy also age hardens (spontaneous hardening), so you can cast them, size and wait, but you will not reach heat-treating hardness. Aged bullets reach their full hardness after about nine days.

        • Administrator April 2, 2012, 2:52 pm

          Thanks Scott you rock. This is great info.

          • Scott Mayer April 2, 2012, 3:11 pm

            Any time. I’m glad to see bullet casting articles!

      • sum-rifle April 2, 2012, 3:41 pm

        My understanding is that the stick on weights are pretty much pure lead and very soft which is good for cowboy type stuff at slower velocities. Wheel weights (clamp on) are much harder and better for higher velocities. I have used traditional wheel weights to make shot for years. The stick on weights do just fine for that also.

    • Jack Shooter May 22, 2014, 5:02 pm

      I use Alox and it is a mess! It’s fast, but a mess to deal with! Useing a Dillon 550 and sizing all my bullets with a Lee sizer after the first coat of Aloz lube I find even after cleaning my Dillon completely that after about 30 to 50 cartages compleated that the Alox is transfering to the cases about 1/3rd down the case and falling into the tray and there they start contamanating all the others, making a mess of Alox on the finished cartages. Loading theses into the magazines with out cleaning each one with a towel, first just gums up everything. I have tried letting the Alox dry longer times and even a low bake cycle does no good, it is still a stickey mess. I have tried even useing past wax as a last coat before loading, but it does not seem to help. What do you do when loading about the mess? What tips have you come up with to fix this flawed product. Note , I am not new to loading or useing Alox, been doing this for a long time, and I can’t believe that there is not something better to use that does not mess up your press and gum up your mag’s without the labor to clean each bullet by hand!

      • MarkRB July 7, 2014, 2:47 pm

        Jack, I feel your pain. Love how easy Alox is to use, but it is messy. Read some articles about mixing it with paste wax and a dab of mineral spirits…I think that’s the 45/45/10 people talk about…and USE ONLY ENOUGH TO LIGHTLY COAT THE BULLET. That’s the key. Good luck!

      • MarkRB July 7, 2014, 2:54 pm

        Jack, I feel your pain. Love how easy Alox is to use, but it is messy. Read some articles about mixing it with paste wax and a dab of mineral spirits…I think that’s the 45/45/10 people talk about…and USE ONLY ENOUGH TO LIGHTLY COAT THE BULLET. That’s the key. Good luck!

      • Jim T February 17, 2018, 11:56 pm

        It’s a bit labor intensive but what I’ve found that works for me is to get a small alligator clip (one with the wide jaws). The teeth are quite sharp and will grip a bullet quite securely. I thin the alox down quite thin with mineral spirits, put it in a small container and gripping the bullet by the nose, I dip it in the alox just up to the crimp groove, and set on a piece of paper towel to dry overnight. The next morning I wipe the base of the bullet on a fresh paper towel. It’s easier to not get it where you don’t want it, than it is to have to clean it off. No mess in the press. A bit time consuming, but no more so than running it through a conventional lube/sizer.

  • JWL April 2, 2012, 8:17 am

    A timely article for me, as I just cast another 2500 bullets yesterday. Cooked up 45/45/10 lube for the first time and am hoping for good results. I have experienced a lot of leading with the Lee tumble lube bullets with pure wheel weights, in .45 and .40S&W, with the Lee tumble lube. It has been a nuisance, but not enough to give up on the 6 cavity moulds and return to my RCBS 2 cavity mould and Lyman 450 lubrusizer. Some fool allows his boys to shoot 40’s and 45’s like 22’s and it would be too time consuming to cast with 2 cavity moulds. As far as the last photo, that bullet is fine for plinking and probably would exibit fine accuracy within a normal 50′ range.
    I always differentiate between range bullets and match, casting perfect bullets isn’t necessary for everything, and even ugly bullets take bowling pins down at 25′, Stalin said, “the best is the enemy of good enough”, and we should let these words serve as a persperation to all of us, especially during these penny pinching times! Thanks for a great article, I always learn something new, even after 38 years of casting a bazillion 45’s and wearing out several pistols.

  • cas April 2, 2012, 5:15 am

    You would really use that .357 boolit seen in the last photo?? really?? there isn’t a sharp edge on it and I don’t think i would take advice on casting by a guy who would.

    • Dan April 2, 2012, 11:04 am

      What, to your knowledge is wrong with the bullet shown in the picture portraying the Lee sizing system? You have an opportunity to help those of us 1) reading this column, and 2) entering (or considering entry into) the world of bullet casting. Leaving vague criticisms isn’t helping anyone.

      • Administrator April 2, 2012, 11:15 am

        He is talking ab out the ripples in it. With soft alloys the mold doesn’t fill out well, even with the mix is really hot. We’ll cover some of this in the next article. In my experience the ripples make zero difference, as other commenter have said, in short range handgun shooting. That guy is just parroting geezer science, which is the biggest frustration when you deal with all of this stuff. The same couple hundred guys have been parroting the same stuff over and over again their whole lives and half of it is wrong, or at best confusing and inconsistent.

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