What follows is what I’ve done and why I did what I did. As they say, “At least have the sense of an old cow; eat the hay, and leave the sticks.” I hope there is some hay herein. I have links to vendors/manufacturers/forums/whatever, which I have found to be useful/interesting.
Precious Metals: Sb – Sn – Pb aka 51, 52, and 82. These are the atomic “names” and numbers on the Periodic Table for Antimony, Tin, and Lead, respectively. Most people think of AG and AU, 47 and 79 on the Periodic Table, Gold and Silver respectively, as precious metals. If you are into “cast boolits,” as cast bullets are affectionately known, then “Red-Neck Gold” is lead, aka Galena. The silver stream which makes bullets. I’m not going to get into the details of lead and lead alloys other than to make a few observations.
For some reason when I think of lead bullets, I think of Mel Gibson’s character in the great movie, The Patriot, crouched over a fire, melting down lead toy soldiers and casting musket balls with a simple hand mold, in his furious effort to exterminate as many Red Coats as possible. Lead casting can be that simple.
Lead melts at 621 degrees F. Tin melts at 450 degrees F. Antimony melts at 1,167 degrees F. Fortunately, you can “dissolve” small bits of antimony into lead, so you don’t need some super-hot foundry, just a small electric melter. Regardless, antimony is toxic and a pain to deal with so most casters start with a lead alloy already containing antimony. Bottom line, you want about 2% tin to get your bullet mold to fill out nicely and to make the lead harder and more malleable. Also, varying amounts of antimony, depending on how hard you want your lead alloy to be. A tiny amount of arsenic can be a benefit, but again, a dangerous substance to alloy. These three elements combine to make a fantastic and useful alloy. The lead bullet can expand/mushroom in a target and give the maximum energy dump, or be hard enough to shoot through most any target.
There are free sources of lead alloys in the form of Clip-On Wheel Weights (“COWW”) and Stick-On Wheel Weights (“SOWW”). Scrap yards sell linotype, monotype, plumbers lead, roofing lead, etc. at decent/great prices. If you can find a tire shop which will give wheel weights away, you will have a free source of a lead antimony alloy which just needs a dash of tin to make great bullets. You can also “mine” for lead bullets at shooting ranges, both indoor and outdoor, smelt the lead cores, and sell the copper jackets for scrap and make a potential profit.
For the average person, you will probably have to purchase your lead/alloy unless you have access to a free source. As a commodity, lead is currently selling for about a dollar a pound (Presently, $.95 per pound.) Tin is far more expensive at around $17 per pound. The tin price would normally include shipping from a reputable source like RotoMetals. Lead alloys will cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00 per pound delivered. You can buy pewter from thrift stores which has a high percentage of tin and alloy with that, but for me it has too many other “ingredients” so that I would rather just get some pure tin. But you can save some money by using pewter. Also keep an eye out for tin solder which can save you some $$$.
The following is the short version of how I accumulated 500 plus pounds of lead alloy for around $700 including about 20 pounds of tin: I just got 50 lbs of COWW for $57.00 – that is a great deal from a great vendor. I traded an old reloading press and other items that I was not using for about 60 lbs (50/50) of “soft” lead and COWW. The lead/alloy was worth around $75.00. I found a local scrap yard that had some lead and got 160 pounds of various types of lead/alloy: fishing sinkers, a large chunk of lead, wheel weights, etc., and best of all, 50 lbs of “Magnum Shot” with 5% antimony and some arsenic. The two 25 pound bags of shot were worth $100.00. I paid $80.00 for the whole 160 pound lot. A great source for “Hardball” (92% lead, 2% tin and 6% antimony) is Missouri Bullets, www.missouribullet.com where you can get 66 pounds delivered for around $150.00. This is certified foundry alloy and a good deal. I got 66 pounds of the Missouri “Magic Alloy” as they call it. I also purchased three 25 pound boxes of COWW for $1.50 per pound delivered from another vendor. I have three more coming. Smelting costs for the lead/alloy into ingots for future use in your melter can run anywhere from around $.03 per pound to around $.08 depending on the efficiency of your propane burner. Casting energy cost is approximately $.27 per thousand bullets using 700 watt melting pot. Cost can be zero using wood/coal to smelt/cast. It is much harder to control your pot temperature using wood/coal/propane for casting as opposed to smelting where the temperature is not as critical. Casting/smelting can be low tech as it gets, perfect for hard and crazy times.
Realistically, I will not make a lot of money on my stash of lead/alloy short of TEOTWAWKI, but I will not lose money in a stable societal environment. I could sell it all within a week and get my money back, and then some. But the real value is in the ability to cast my own bullets exactly as I want them. Using a 150 grain bullet as an example, each pound consisting of 7,000 grains of lead will produce 45 plus bullets. So 45 x 500 = 22,500 150 grain bullets. That is about $.03 per bullet. That is sweetness. The end result of my smelting will be 96% PB 2% SN 3% SB. I’ll get more into the costs below.
If you want to learn about bullet casting you can read the articles in this link from the Los Angeles Silhouette Club including the fantastic free e-book “From Ingot to Target: A cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners” by Glen E. Fryxell / Robert L. Applegate. http://www.lasc.us/CastBulletNotes.htm There are many great articles on the LASC site. Also, there is Lyman’s Cast Bullet Handbook, 4th Edition which I highly recommend. I also recommend Beartooth Bullets’ web site http://beartoothbullets.com/ with much good information, resources, calculators, and articles. Finally, I would strongly recommend spending many, many hours on the Cast Boolits web site. There is much to study and learn in the “sticky” threads and the various forums. One serendipity, is the fact that both Beartooth and Cast Boolits sites/forums are owned and operated by Christians, and both have Christian sub-forums, “Cross-Wire” and “The Chapel,” so there is much prayer, in response to prayer requests, going on, along with cast bullet/firearms talk.
Here is a recipe for 100 plus pounds of 96/2/3 lead alloy that would serve you well: Lead Pig Ingot 52-55 Pounds-99.9% with Free Freight $112.00 from RotoMetals plus two 25 pound bags of Magnum shot from Zip Metals with 5% antimony for $98.98 delivered www.zipmetals.com/ and two pounds of tin from RotoMetals at $17.49 per pound, $34.98 delivered for a total cost of $245.96. We will call it $2.50 a pound for top of the line alloy with no fuss or scrounging and you get 4,666 150 grain bullets for approximately $.054 per bullet, around a nickel a bullet. That is sweet. If you want a harder alloy, 93/5/2, use 100 pounds of magnum shot and two pounds of tin for about the same cost. But there is really no need as you can heat treat or water quench the “softer alloy” and get it as hard as any sane person could want.
Now I personally enjoy the entire process, sourcing the lead/alloy, smelting, casting, lubing, sizing, and reloading, as much as the shooting, and I am not alone. I also feel the independence is invaluable. But setting all that aside, I can save a bundle by reloading.
I recollect an article on SurvivalBlog regarding the economics of reloading and the conclusion was that the savings were minimal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s compare apples to apples. From Midway USA www.midwayusa.com Remington HTP “High Terminal Performance” 158 grain .38 Special +P Lead SWC HP $29.99 for a box of 50. That is a time proven round. Also under consideration is the same style of bullet from Buffalo Bore in standard pressure which has similar ballistics to the Remington HTP. According to Buffalo Bore their version “…utilizes a 158gr. very soft lead cast, SWC-HC gas checked bullet … designed to expand and then penetrate quite deep. (Approx. 14 inches) This bullet is gas checked and will NOT lead your barrel.” Again, that is a time proven effective round which costs $24.99 for a box of 20. Buffalo Bore has been reviewed repeatedly on SurvivalBlog and for good reason. BTW, If you have the money, don’t cast or reload, spend it on Buffalo Bore, or Underwood, or Cor-Bon ammunition. Underwood seems to have come out of no-where to make a splash, and manufactures incredible ammunition. But I digress, you can spend $.60 per round for the Remington or $1.25 per round for the premium Buffalo Bore, or roll your own for about a dime, or less if you get free lead/brass, that is every bit as good or even better than ammunition costing 8 to 10, or 25 times as much. I have not included shipping costs/taxes for the store/internet bought ammunition which can be crazy. About a dime a round for ammunition is sweetness.
There are a number of reloading cost calculators out there, including this one from the Beartooth Bullets’ site under the Ballistician’s Corner. I will start with “Hazmat” shipping fee, around $27.00, for 1,000 primers and 8 lbs of powder. That will be less than $.01 per round, but we will go with that. Clean once fired brass (nothing wrong with that, many vendor sources) figure $.01 ( $.10 per case with 10 plus reload life expectancy) powder $.015 and primer $.025 and gas check (deluxe add-on) $.02 and bullet/lube $.05, using for total cost of $.12 per bullet. Add $.01 in energy cost for smelting/casting cost per bullet and we are at $.13 per “deluxe” projectile. That is sweetness. Better yet, that bullet is sized exactly for my gun and has the exact lube I want, the exact bullet shape I want, the exact hollow point/meplat I want, the exact ballistics I want…It is exactly what I want for far, far less money.
So what are the downsides of Leadcentric Survival? First off lead is crazy heavy. A Small Flat Rate Box weighs 25 pounds when full of lead, and a Medium Small Flat Rate Box can weigh 60 + pounds. Such a good deal for shipping lead via priority mail at around $6.00 and $13.00 respectively. When a “box” arrives at my mail place, the staff is all-a-twitter about my “boxes.” There was even speculation that I was receiving gold, I wish. I opened up a couple boxes just to prove to them it was Redneck Gold. Now until you actually handle a 25 pound SFRB of lead, you have no conception of the density. Heavier by a bit than a box of gold, for my friends at my place information. It is surreal. One plus to the density; a few hundred pounds of lead takes up little space. Be careful, one fellow had so much lead in his garage that he cracked his slab. And for sure don’t drop a box on your foot.
Another, and more pernicious threat, is governmental regulation. The last lead ore smelter in the U.S. was recently forced out of business by EPA regulations. Lead COWWs are outlawed in California and New York so the supply of lead wheel weights is diminishing as the two big gorillas in the room have affected the market. If you a business making wheel weights, why manufacture different wheel weights for different states? California, a cauldron of many stupid laws and regulations, has just outlawed lead bullets for hunting. But lead is a long, long, way from dead. The only reasonable substitute is copper which is three times as much money per pound and is less dense.
Lead is toxic, so wash your hands whenever you touch it. Most harmful lead exposure for shooters is from primer fumes emitted by shooting in enclosed spaces/ranges. Smelting/melting lead emits fumes which are to be avoided. Lead fumes are to be avoided period as that is the most dangerous form when inhaled. Proper hygiene/ventilation will eliminate any threat of lead accumulation in your body. So don’t fear having lead around, just use common sense and it is absolutely no problem
At higher velocities, say north of 2,500 fps, jacketed bullets, aka “J-words” are a better choice. But for most every purpose nothing beats lead. It is far easier on you gun’s bore, and uses less gun powder, and due to lower friction, functions at lower pressures. The Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) of the lead/alloy needs to be adjusted to the velocity/pressure of your particular round. Lead is around 6 BHN and lead alloy can be heat treated way north of 20 BHN which will cover you up to 50k psi loads. This description from the Beartooth Bullets web site FAQs gives one an idea of what can be done:
“This brings us to the reason that we use a 3% Antimony alloy at Beartooth Bullets. Although we too heat-treat our bullets to a BHN 21-22 hardness, this low antimony alloy retains the ductile toughness of the un-heat-treated alloy. This alloy, is hard, and tough, not brittle and prone to breaking or shattering like the alloys containing twice to four times the antimony content of our alloy. Our bullets have proven themselves on moose, grizzly bear, Asiatic water buffalo, African cape buffalo, elk, nilgai, zebra, wild boar, moose, eland and multitudes of other heavy boned game animals the world over… usually with complete penetration, and what few bullets have been recovered, most are near perfectly intact, retaining 90-100% of their original weight when fired at handgun velocities and retaining 70-100% original weight when fired at rifle velocities.”
The joy of independence/insulation from bullet/ammunition shortages, and making the exact ammunition you want/need is priceless. Go to the “BuyMart” store right now and try and get ammunition in .22 LR or 9mm or .308 or whatever. Not a whole lot of choices, if any. The ability of being able to manufacture ammunition for barter in a time of chaos is invaluable and could save your life. Shoot it, sell it or trade it in TEOTWAWKI situations. Be aware of the fact that merely manufacturing bullets for sale/trade, as opposed to personal use, requires a 06 FFL and paying the yearly ITAR fee of $2,500.00. Not only shootable ammunition, just the projectile alone. Rest assured the Feds will be more than happy to prosecute.
I have settled on five calibers: 9mm and .38/.357 and .223/5.56 and .308/7.62 x 54 and 12 gauge. Why, because they are the most popular calibers and will have the most demand under any circumstance. Further, they cover all ranges and applications from zero to 1000 yards and any threat. I have everything I need for these five calibers; Four types of primers, SP, SR, LR, and 209. I have four powders that cover the whole range as well, Unique, Blue Dot, RL7 and RL 15. I have various bullet molds, smelting and casting equipment, reloading equipment and components (even some J-words aka jacketed/copper bullets) to reload tens-of thousands of rounds of ammunition.
I’ve settled on 94% lead and 3% tin and 3% antimony as my favorite alloy, but most/many would say anything more than 1 to 2% tin is a waste. I like tin, and it will hold a softer lead bullet together better upon impact and subsequent expansion. If you don’t want to cast your own bullets, then there are many cast bullet manufacturers out there including Beartooth Bullets. It took me about a year to accumulate all the accoutrements for lead/alloy smelting and bullet casting and reloading. You are never really done accumulating “stuff.” I would encourage anyone prepping to consider casting their own bullets and will recommend leadcentric survival to all interest persons as a means to self-defense, self-reliance, and as a means of barter/income when there is a societal breakdown.
May God Bless you all richly.