Melting Lead for the Meltdown, by Charles J.

As an avid competitor in IPSC and local pistol competitions, a number of years ago I decided to reload ammunition on my own.  I felt this would pay for itself over the long haul as well as allow me to work up loads that would have the correct power factor, accuracy, and excellent feeding for competitions, not to mention self-defense.  In addition, after the passing of the Brady Bill, I took on another task of casting my own bullets with the possible specter of either the government removal of ammunition from store shelves or some other legislative means of taking away guns via restrictions with powder, USEPA restrictions with lead and so on.  I wanted to be relatively self-sufficient and have an asset that might be marketable in light of a possible economic, social, or political meltdown.

T his discussion will specifically address bullet casting 185 grain semi-wadcutter bullets and 200 grain semi-wadcutter bullets for the .45 ACP or “melting lead for the meltdown.”

It helps to have a good source of lead and other metals for the “melt.”  The “melt” is what you have in your melting pot to pour bullets.  This comes from your source and supply of metal.  My brother initially supplied two 5 gallon buckets of discarded used wheel weights from the garage he worked at.  In addition, I have purchased on eBay “linotype” which makes a very good melt for cast bullets.   Wheel weights generally have an appropriate mix of lead, tin, and other metals that give a reasonable hardness with cast as bullets.  The ratio noted in the Lyman manual indicates the following alloy and the hardness factor for their own recipe called Lyman #2 alloy: 90% lead, 5% tin, and 5% antimony giving you a hardness factor of 15 (Brinell Hardness Number or BHN).  The linotype mentioned (which comes from the printer’s shop and generally available via eBay) has a hardness factor of 22 due to having more antimony and a bit less lead.  The wheel weights had to be sorted and melted into ingots and put aside until there was enough to start the casting process.  I also had to weed out any weights that smacked of zinc as this will be a negative factor in casting.

My bullet casting started with primal tools and has worked to a little bit more efficient tools.  I started with a cast iron pot, ladle, kitchen stove (really makes the wife happy) and a Lyman #2670460  200 grain semi-wad cutter mold with a four bullet capacity.  The handles are RCBS which work with the Lyman mold.  My second mold is from Magma Engineering which can be checked out at their web site, a 185 grain semi-wad cutter bullet with a two bullet cavity.  Again, I went with RCBS handles.  

Other tools of the trade include: a hickory handle to break what is known as the sprue, a stainless steel spoon for stirring into the melt either Brownells Flux or a pea size chunk of paraffin wax, a heavy duty kitchen glove or mitt, a heavy duty box to plop newly cast bullets into, and a small pan to place excess sprue into.     

Later, after learning some of the basics and wanting to speed up the casting process I graduated to a Lee Pro 20 Series melter.  There are numerous other melting pots on the market that you might check out at Midway USA or other outlets.  I also picked up Lyman melt thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the melt. But, wait, there’s more!  So, to get started with your melting, you need the following:

1. A 2 cavity or 4 cavity bullet mold (mine are the Lyman #2670460 4 cavity 200 gr. Semi-wad cutter and the Magma Engineering 2 cavity 185 grain semi wad cutter).
2. A pair of RCBS mold handles.
3. Lee Pro 20 Series Melter

4. Safety Equipment: Face shield, apron, long sleeve shirt, gloves, and leather boots
5. Miscellaneous: hickory handle, stainless steel spoon, flux/paraffin wax, kitchen glove, and container for bullets.

Those bullets have to be sized and lubed before they can be reloaded.  This is what I wanted to be able to do.  So, the additional tools you’ll need for the sizing and lubing from your manufacturer of choice, I picked a:

1.  Lyman 450 Bullet Sizer/Lubricator

2.  A Midway Lube Heater (which is mounted under the Sizer/Lubricator)

3.  Lube (Alox or Blue Angel — the latter needs the lube heater)

4.  Lyman top punch sizing die.  The sizing die and top punch size the bullet (in my case to .452 diameter) to the right diameter for the .45 ACP.

I might add it would be helpful to have a manual handy for the whole process such as the Lyman Reloading Handbook.  A handbook for bullet casting should also come with the bullet sizer/lubricator.  There may be something on YouTube as well; however, I have not checked it out.  In addition, I believe there are videos available to assist you.  I have never used or purchased a video but I think it would be helpful.

So, in a well-ventilated workspace, let’s fire up the Lee Pro 20 melter.  I take the ingots that I have made from the wheel weights and/or the linotype and place them in the melter.  There is a gauge on the melter for the approximate temperature and as you become better experienced you will likely be able to drop the melt thermometer.  You want at least 650 degrees and you want a small fan or a vent hood to dispel any lead fumes.  As the ingots slowly melt, add a teaspoon of flux or the pea size piece of paraffin wax to draw the dross to the top of the melt.  Skim off the dross with your stainless steel spoon (and duct tape the handle end to prevent burns) and discard in something non-flammable. While the ingots are in the pot melting, you will want to heat your bullet mold.  I just set mine on the edge of the melter and rotate it to try to heat it with some uniformity.  When the melt has reached temperature, place your mold under the valve or spigot where the melter will allow the melt to flow out and lift the handle to allow the flow of the melt.  As you fill each cavity let an additional amount pour to have a good break when the sprue plate is popped open.  At the top of the bullet cavity is the sprue plate which has to be hit to shear off the excess melt providing a nice flat base on the bullet.  Once the sprue plate is knocked back with your hickory handle, break the mold open, gently tap if needed, and drop the bullets into a non-flammable container. 

Use your spoon to scoop up one of the bullets to see if it is well formed.  Generally, it takes me maybe 4-to-5 pourings to get nicely formed bullets.  This is due largely to the molds having to get up to temperature. When the bullets are coming out well formed then continue the process of pouring, breaking the sprue plate open, dropping the newly molded bullets, and so on.  If you notice your bullets coming out looking “frosty” then you will need to back off on your temperature or let your mold cool off a few minutes. When a bullet “frosts” it becomes brittle and that isn’t good while moving down your gun barrel at 850 fps.  Keep constant check for that.  50 pourings with a four cavity mold will give you 200 bullets.  You can get this in maybe an hour or more depending on your skills and experience.  As you  consume the melt, you will have to put in more ingots.  This will take a few minutes to melt and come to temperature.  I like to size and lube during these breaks  while my ingots are initially starting to melt.  I try to finish up my bullet casting when the depth of the melt in the melter is about an inch deep (measured by my spoon) and after I have gone thru enough melt to cast 400-500 bullets.  Time to unplug the melter and let the remainder cool down. 

With free wheel weights a good bit of money has been saved.  The equipment will pay for itself.  The time is well used and for me a bit therapeutic.  I like seeing things come out right that I actually had a part in.  A box of 500 bullets is now close to $50.  When I was competing regularly I was going thru 300 bullets per week which isn’t a lot.  I still was knocking at the door of A class in IPSC with the 300 rounds per week in practice.  So, for me, buying 300 rounds a week at Wal-Mart was not going to work.  Casting and reloading my own ammo has worked out well.

Now, we’re not quite finished yet since the cooled bullets have to be sized and lubed.  Generally speaking, you would want to “slug” your barrel to confirm the size you need to get your bullets to.  I didn’t do that and never have had a problem.  I just made sure I had the .452″ top punch/sizer.  I am assuming you have your sizer/lubricator and heater mounted at this time so I am dispensing with further instructions.  If you use Lyman Alox or other lubes that don’t need heating then don’t plug the lube heater in.  If you go with “Blue Angel” hard lube then you will need to crank up the heater, place your lube in the lubricator and run a bullet thru.  You will likely have to adjust the sizer/lubricator to ensure the bullet is being completely sized and that the bullet lube fills the lube groove on the bullet fully.  You can crank out the sized and lubed bullets and place them into whatever container you’d like.  I have used Betty Crocker icing containers, small boxes suitable for holding 300-500 bullets, and a large plastic canister that held psyllium husks from NOW foods.  These bullets are ready for reloading, storage,  packaging to sell or barter. 
In conclusion, this has been a basic how to to melt for the meltdown.  You will have to experiment as you go along.  Talk with others who cast bullets as well and you will get tips and pointers that will be helpful.  I can’t leave without leaving a couple thoughts as to a spiritual side of bullet casting.  One is that when the lead ingots melt, there is a tremendous heat and I actually ponder a place called ‘hell.’  I cannot imagine being there and as a child asked Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sin and trusted Him as my Savior.  Thankfully, I will never have to face an eternity as hot or hotter than the melted lead in my melter.  Second, as a believer, Proverbs talks about the “fining pot and the furnace.”  It can apply to the lives of Christians who are going thru the “heat” of trials in this life.  After you skim off the dross from the melt, the melt is mirror-like when you look down into it.  You can actually see your reflection.  It makes me think that when the “heat” is on in my life, the Lord wants to skim off the dross and see a reflection of Himself as He looks on.  And, He wants the world to see His reflection as well.  God bless you and keep you safe.  May he give us all the wisdom we need in the event of a “meltdown.”