After The Lead Cools

By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

After you have a pile of freshly cast handgun bullets what comes next? For competition cast bullet rifle shooters it’s generally inspecting and weighing each one. Except for formal bullseye competition, handgun cast bullet shooters can forget that.

Someone is saying, “What no inspection?” Nope. Here’s why. Minute wrinkles and flaws in handgun bullets to be fired say, to 50 yards, are of no importance. And I’ve checked my notion several times with machine rest testing. We’re not talking about bullet bases here. They should be checked when the sprue plate is opened. If rounded they should go back into the lead furnace.

Much more important is bullet size. In days gone by the diameters of handgun bullets made in off-the-shelf molds could be all over the map. Almost always they were oversize on the notion big ones could be sized down but bumping up smaller ones was vastly more difficult. I’ve bought mass produced molds dropping bullets as large as .004″ over their marked size.

Most bullet molds nowadays are darn close to their advertised dimension as long as the alloy used is what the molds were rated for. Lyman rates their cast bullet weights for their old #2 formula. RCBS rates theirs for a 1-10 tin to lead blend for standard handgun bullets, but for their “cowboy” line the mix is 1-20 tin to lead.


Lubes can be a confusing item for the newbie to choose.
There are hard, soft and liquid types to pick from. The s
hooter needs to judge his choice by his type of shooting.

Sizing Things Up

There are certain “suggested” cast bullet sizing diameters. For instance Lyman gives .358 for .38 Special, .429 for .44 Special/Magnum, and .451 for post war .45 Colt SAA’s. Don’t let “suggested” translate to “mandatory” in your mind. Again relying on a machine rest for more definitive testing, I’ve gotten better post-war Colt SAA .45 groups with 0.454″ bullets but with my Smith & Wesson Model 23 Outdoorsman .38-44, best groups have come with 0.356″ bullets. Likewise 0.355″ is often recommended for 9mm Luger cast bullets but I have had far better shooting with 0.357″ ones. Keep in mind, however, all my 9mm Luger shooting is with military handguns with generously sized chambers. Bullets sized to 0.357″ may not chamber in commercial 9mm handguns.

While mentioning Colt, here’s another little known dimensional difference. At least until the 1970’s Colt’s spec for .38 Special/.357 Magnum barrel groove diameters was only 0.354″. I didn’t believe it at first so I slugged my 1969 vintage Colt SAA .357 Magnum and most certainly it was 0.354″. The bottom line is when deciding on cast bullet sizing diameters, do some research, perhaps slug your handguns’ barrels or at least get some advice from someone knowledgeable.


Much to Duke’s surprise bullets sized to 0.356″ gave the best
12-shot group from his S&W Model 23 (aka Outdoorsman) .38 Special.
He had always used the recommended 0.358″ diameter previously.

A Lube Smeared Mess?

Now we come to bullet lubricants and this is a tricky area. If bullets are precise to the size required they can be tumble-lubed with Lee’s Alox lube. It works fine. Conversely for use in lube/sizing machines there are two ways to go — hard or soft. I’m a member of the soft lube school because my two lube/sizing machines also lube bullets for black powder use. Soft lubes work better there.

For hard lubes a heater must be adapted under the lube/sizing machine in order to soften it enough to flow. My feeling is hard lubes are best for bullets intended for shipping. Jumble them together in a box and some of the lube will flake off but most will stay in bullet grooves. Ship soft lubed bullets like that and they will be a lube-smeared mess upon arrival.

There’s one last step in cast handgun bullet preparation. If your lube/sizing machine causes some lube to adhere to the base of the bullets, wipe it off by rubbing the bullet base on a cotton cloth impregnated with a solvent. I use lighter fluid. Otherwise when the loaded rounds are put nose down in storage boxes powder will mix with the lube. That could result in squib loads where the bullet barely makes it out of the barrel, or worse yet — only makes it partway down the barrel or completely misfires. Oops.

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