One Does It All? Hardly.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Whether big or small, fired slow or fast, lead alloy handgun bullets must have lubrication. Some bullet lubes work great at high speeds, others work better at slow speeds, some are proper for smokeless powders while others are optimum for black powder. Now get this: No bullet lube is great for all alloys, at all speed and with all powders.
First understand why lead alloy bullets need lubrication. It’s because without it they will leave significant remnants of themselves in gun barrels. It’s aptly called leading. And let’s also get this point straight. Lubricants are not insurance against handgun barrel leading. There are too many other factors involved — barrel quality, bullet temper, bullet size and more. But there is one universal fact: without lubricant, lead alloy bullets are hopeless.
For a couple decades now commercial bullet casting companies have been using hard lubricants on their bullets. Its smell brings back childhood memories of Crayons and in fact comes in a variety of colors. Hard lubes were developed so bullet lube doesn’t smear all over other bullets when jumbled together in boxes. To put hard lubes on home cast bullets a special heater must be mounted under the lube/sizing machine to soften it for application.
Liquid alox as sold by Lee Precision is unique in its application as
far as bullet lubes go.A squirt of alox in a bullet box, a vigorous
shake, and the balls are ready for loading.
At the other end of the spectrum are soft lubes — mostly intended for black powder cartridge bullets. You see, the duty of a black powder lubricant is extended past just handling barrel leading. It must also serve to keep black powder fouling soft by mixing with it. Otherwise barrels become so hard-fouled bullets are too damaged to fly true. Take note of old bullet designs from the pre-1900 era. They have large deep grease grooves. More modern designed bullets tend to have pencil thin grease grooves because keeping powder fouling soft is not a consideration with smokeless propellants.
The downside to soft bullet lubricants is in hot climates they are apt to melt right out of the lube/sizing machines. Furthermore, if ammunition using soft lubed bullets is left in direct sunlight some lubricants will melt out of the bullet grooves and contaminate the powder.
In those pre-1900 days bullet lubes consisted of natural ingredients. The Sharps Rifle Company recommended a half and half mixture of sperm whale oil with Japan wax. Nowadays many bullet lubes contain petroleum-based ingredients. Alox is one such. It first appeared in the 1960’s and took the cast bullet world by storm. Its lubricating properties were such that experts said to use it only in one groove of multi-groove bullets.
Duke keeps two lube/sizing machines permanently set up. This .45 ACP
bullet has been sized and a soft lube applied. The two bullets at left
contain hard lube in their grooves.
Make A Decision
And that brings us to applying bullet lubricants. Almost all cast bullet shooters use one sort or another of lube/sizing machines. Their dies not only size to a specific diameter but will true up any bullet out of roundness while squeezing lubricant into the bullet’s grooves. I keep two such machines mounted. With lube/sizers it is no problem to size and lube several hundred bullets per hour.
A variation of this theme is Lee Precision’s Liquid Alox. If bullets do not need sizing this type of alox can be applied quickly. You simply put the bullets in a plastic container (empty bullet box) give it a squirt of Lee Liquid Alox and shake vigorously for a few seconds. You then have ready-to-load lead bullets. I’ve found this method especially handy if a limited number of special purpose bullets are required. For instance, when I load pure lead round balls in .45 Colts they are lubed this way.
Starting in 1966 I’ve used up many hundreds of sticks of bullet lube. I won’t even begin to try telling readers exactly what they need. There are too many choices out there. Lyman sells five types, Redding sells three and RCBS catalogs two. You’ll need to pick according to your shooting purposes but at least you’ll likely find one that works just fine.