By Jeff Hoover
Back about a couple of hundred of years ago, when men wore buckskin britches and shirts, we were a nation of rifleman. Some have continued in this life-preserving pursuit, while others have waned, only to surrender to the convenience of today’s soft lifestyle. For those choosing to embrace our forefathers’ ability and common sense approach to bearing arms, this tale may interest you.
Our forefathers had firearms for one essential reason — self-preservation. Be it from angry, dangerous four legged creatures such as bear, wolf, or coyote, as they were settling our rugged frontier, or the two legged type of creature, being scoundrel-like in nature, willing to kill or maim, to seize any of the bounty our forefathers worked so hard for, or to simply run them off the land. They also used their rifles to obtain food. If they wanted to eat meat, they had to stealthily track it down and shoot it.
To keep their front-stuffers loaded, our forefathers cast their own lead round balls. There was no mail order delivery system, or brown UPS trucks to hand deliver their needed wares. When they needed balls, they cast their own, which leads us up to this article.
Casting a bullet, or ball, is simply melting a lead alloy, pouring it into a mold of choice, and letting that liquid alloy harden as it cools, taking on the shape of the mold in which it was poured into. The process occurs faster than it took you to read that last sentence.
Bullets with powder coating added. You can get powder
coating from Harbor Freight, for instance.
Cast bullets lubed traditionally, with alox and PC and some of the raw material.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years. Most of us no longer need to hunt to eat, although many of us choose to. Those early muzzleloaders have evolved into self-contained brass cartridges, complete with a powder igniting primer, a dose of smokeless powder and a projectile of some sort. Our delivery system is our choice of rifle or handgun. Many have turned to handloading to keep their firearms fed. This allows fine-tuning precision loads, loading bulk ammo to expend at the range, or, for a warped few, a hobby providing hours of entertainment, satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s much cheaper to load your own, not to mention the convenience of going to your loading room and banging out 100 rounds to shoot tomorrow, when you realize you are out of that particular load.
I got into handloading for all the above reasons, and for once in my life, had the foresight to be able to load my own ammo, and cast my own bullets, in case access, or availability were ever a problem. Not that that could ever happen.
To start casting your own bullets, you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment. I started, like many, using a Coleman gas stove as my heat source, a discarded cast iron pot, some liberated old metal kitchen cooking spoons, a Lee mold, and I was off to the addicting behavior of those who choose to pour their own projectiles.
Common household items are handy when casting your own bullets.
Alox coated bullets are simply lubed by squirting warm alox
lube onto bullets and swirling them in a container.
Cast bullets in the tumbler awaiting powder powder coating.
Around 30 years ago, my day job as a young patrol officer offered me ample opportunity to salvage lead, gather muffin tins, small bread pans, or other potential kitchen items for ingot molds. Old discarded metal kitchen spoons were also useful. Solid spoons for scooping and pouring alloy into the molds, and strainer spoons for stirring alloy and removing the steel clips from wheelweights (WW), and other drudge, when melting lead for ingots are all handy. Yard sales and trash piles were goldmines to me. Service stations and tire centers were most generous in the early days of my lead accumulation. They were more than happy to have me haul away their junk for them. Scrap metal prices, and exaggerated environmental issues have made scrounging more difficult, but, with a little imagination, a friendly demeanor, an offering of a favorite bottle of booze — and free lead is still out there.
The first step for me, and a great introduction to casting, was the making of lead ingots from raw material. WW were abundant, and make a great alloy. As stated, I had a Coleman gas grill for a heat source, an old, rusty cast iron pot, some muffin tins, and some old kitchen spoons. All you need for some lead fun! I simply filled my pot about ¼ full of WW and waited for them to melt. As a shiny liquid appeared, I strained out the steel clips and added more WW. Melt, strain, and repeat. Before you know it, your cast iron pot is full of a bright, shiny, shimmery, silver alloy of liquid bullets.
It’s really cool to watch the transformation of a dirty, grimy, oily WW meltdown into a nice clean alloy ready to be transformed into the shape you choose in the near future. Using a ladle, pour your alloy into the muffin tins, or bread pans to make your ingots. These ingots are basically like casting bullets. This is easy to do, more art than science, although you can get pretty darn scientific about the properties of bullet alloy and lubricant. Have fun with it! If you mess up, you can always re-melt your alloy and start over. When the alloy cools enough to touch, dump your ingots out and do it again.
As time progressed, and my obsession increased, more equipment was obtained for convenience, and speed of bullet production. A bottom pour electric casting furnace makes sense, as will multi-cavity molds of different styles and calibers as you begin casting bullets for all of your guns. These basic additions will increase production, so more time can be spent shooting, rather than making bullets, or loading them. Sometimes casting and hand loading is the only option for feeding guns of old, or obsolete calibers.
Bullets coated after tumbling.
PC bullets in basket ready for a shake-up.
Excess powder from shake-up.
Bare Bones Casting
All you need is a heat source, alloy pot, alloy, a ladle or spoon and a mold. Lee makes the most inexpensive molds. They are not cheap, and there’s a difference. A 2-cavity mold, complete with handles can be purchased for about $15 from various internet sites. As stated, casting is simply pouring a liquid lead alloy into a mold that takes on the shape of that mold as it cools, and solidifies. Nothing to it. Once the desired number of bullets are obtained, some sort of lube will be necessary to prevent leading in the barrel of the gun, and to help keep pressures in check.
There are three basic ways to do this. One of the easiest is the Lee liquid alox method. You basically place a pile of bullets in a plastic bowl, squirt some liquid alox onto the bullets, swirl them around until completely coated, and let dry for a day or two. I have used this method a lot with great results, specifically when shooting mass quantities of bullets. Sometimes, keeping production up with demand, can be, well — demanding.
The second method is traditional lube/sizing of cast bullets. Another piece of equipment will be necessary, along with sizing dies of the proper size, and bullet lube. Here, each bullet is individually sized and lubed as it’s run through the sizing die, housed inside the sizer. Soft solid lube is forced through the sizing die by a large pressure screw/plunger system. I have used this system almost exclusively for years, until I discovered the last method described, powder coating (PC).
Coated bullets ready for bake.
Finished powder coated bullets. You can make them many different
colors to help keep track of particular loads or bullet weights.
Powder Coating (PC) is nothing more than applying a dry coating in powder form electrostatically to an object and then curing that coating with heat, to allow it to flow evenly and produce a tough, hard finish. I first heard of PC about a year ago and was skeptical. I was completely satisfied with my home brewed cast beauties I either sized/lubed, or used LEE liquid alox on. After much consideration and thinking, I came up with a way to PC bullets by the hundreds in a fast, easy, lazy way I really enjoy and get great results with.
For Spartan-like PC, all that’s needed is a plastic Tupperware container, some Harbor Freight PC, and your plain, DRY cast bullets. As mentioned, PC sticks by the use of static electricity. This is produced by the swirling of the cast bullets, inside the plastic Tupperware container with a dose of PC added. Usually 3-5 minutes is sufficient for 40-50 bullets. A much faster way, and the easiest is to simply dump 4-500 cast bullets into your empty brass tumbler, add 2 teaspoons full of PC, and tumble your bullets for 20 minutes, while you make and eat a sandwich. When the bullets are sufficiently coated, dump them into a fish fry basket sitting on top of some newspaper. Now shake for 20-30 seconds vigorously, knocking any excess powder of the cast bullets. Now dump them onto a baking pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil, dull side down. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, remove, and let cool. You now have PC bullets.
I believe PC coat bullets are the biggest innovation to the cast bullet since the humble gas check. I have yet to find any negative consequences to shooting them. Accuracy seems to improve, as does velocity, with no leading or smoke while shooting, while loading these jewels keeps your hands and equipment clean. There is no lube to melt, or dry up, or oxidation of lead bullets during long-term storage. Different colors of PC can be used to identify different loads by bullet color. The list of positives is endless.
Hand, or ladle pouring cast bullets.
Using a bottom pour cast bullet furnace is much more convenient
than pouring by ladle.
Now Do It
So there you have it, an easy way to make your own projectiles, with three different ways to lube them. As time progresses, you will accumulate more equipment to expedite your production. Yet, I still have most of my old kitchen tools, and muffin/bread tins I use for ingots, as a reminder of the good old days of when I started this journey to independence. Crude as they are, they work, much like the lead projectiles our forefathers cast and used proficiently.
Back when we were a Nation of riflemen.