How to Save Money by Casting Your Own Bullets

By

DIY Tips: Making Your Own Ammunition

The best way to improve any skill is to practice. That holds particularly true for shooting sports. There is no substitute for putting in range time. But shooting gets expensive. Ammo isn’t cheap these days. Reloading your own helps to save quite a bit, but you can take it a step farther and save even more by casting your own bullets.

Besides the cost savings, casting your own allows you to work up custom bullet styles and weights that might not be available over the counter. Molded lead bullets are perfect for most handgun and even moderate-pressure rifle loads. Modern bullet molds allow you to customize the weight and shape of your bullets to fit your shooting style and purpose. Even hollow-point bullets can be cast with the appropriate molds.

[Editor's note: Please check out Michael Pendley's click-through photo gallery on "How to Save Money by Casting Your Own Bullets."]

Hollow-Point Bullets

Image 1 of 8

Image 1 of 8

1 | Hollow-Point Bullets

Even hollow-point bullets for hunting or self-defense are possible with the correct molds.

(Brad Pendley photo)

Safety Equipment

Image 2 of 8

Image 2 of 8

2 | Safety Equipment

Proper safety equipment for bullet casting includes eye protection, a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, closed-toed shoes and adequate ventilation.

Before we begin to get into the details of cast-bullet making, we first need to talk about safety. Molten lead is hot, around 600-700 degrees. Leather gloves, eye protection, jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and closed-toed shoes are a must.

Lead fumes are nothing to take lightly. Cast your bullets in a well-ventilated area, and use a fan if there isn’t a natural air flow. A fire extinguisher can be a lifesaver if an open-flame heat source is in use.

Maybe most importantly, keep all water sources away from your molten lead. Water vaporizes instantly when it contacts the 650-degree lead, and the resulting expulsion of steam can send melted lead droplets in every direction.

(Michael Pendley photo)

 

Pour Spout

Image 3 of 8

Image 3 of 8

3 | Pour Spout

An electric pot from Lee or Lyman makes melting lead quick and easy, with the added benefit of a pour spout to make filling the molds more efficient.

Safety lecture aside, as long as care is taken, casting bullets is a fun and safe hobby. Potroast, my 13-year-old, loves to pour round balls to shoot from the flintlock he built. You will need:

1. A heat source: a gas stove or a hot plate can serve this purpose.

2. A cast iron or stainless-steel pot to melt the lead in.

3. A bullet mold.

4. A stainless-steel, side-pour dipper.

5. A wooden dowel or similar-sized piece of hardwood that can be used to tap the sprue cutter and release the molded bullets.

Most longtime bullet casters prefer to use bottom-pour electric lead melting pots, like those manufactured by Lee or Lyman, for their lead melting needs. These pots have the benefits of easily replicable heat levels, are much safer than dipping into a molten pot of lead, and most have a wide enough shelf area to hold and preheat molds while the lead is melting.

(Brad Pendley photo)

Wheel Weights

Image 4 of 8

Image 4 of 8

4 | Wheel Weights

Wheel weights make an excellent lead source for casting bullets because they are an alloy of lead, tin and antimony, providing the additional hardness necessary for higher-pressure loads.

Lead for bullet molding is available online, at many recycling centers, and in plumbing supply houses. By far the most popular source for casting lead is the local tire store. Most tire retailers and mechanic shops have buckets of old wheel weights sitting around. Many will sell, and a few even give, these old weights to anyone who asks. Many of today's wheel weights are made of zinc and those need to be sorted from the older lead-style weights and discarded. Zinc weights often have ZN stamped on them. If you aren’t sure, simply cut the weight with a pair of side cutters. If the weight cuts cleanly, it is lead. If you can’t cut through with substantial pressure, it’s most likely zinc. Since zinc melts at a much higher temperature than lead, if a zinc weight should make it to your pot, you will see it float on the molten lead. Simply scoop it off and discard. Older and more rural tire shops and garages will have more of the old lead-style weights.

Wheel weights often have the added benefit of added tin and antimony. These additions increase the hardness factor, measured on the Brinnell Hardness Number scale (BHN), of pure lead to a level suitable for use in bullets. Pure lead without these additions is too soft for all but the lowest-pressure firearms. If you aren’t using wheel weights, both tin and antimony are available from many online sources for customizing the hardness of your bullets. The general rule is, the faster the bullet, the harder it needs to be to prevent it from shedding lead down the gun barrel. Most wheel weights measure around 12 BHN, perfect for most standard handgun loads. Hardness level requirements and mixing instructions are available from many print and online sources.

One of the most informative sites for casting mixes and techniques is found here.

(Michael Pendley photo)

 

Bullet Molds

Image 5 of 8

Image 5 of 8

5 | Bullet Molds

Bullet molds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes ranging from a single hole to as many as eight bullets per mold. 

Begin the casting process by melting the lead in either a cast iron pot or a dedicated lead melting pot. Once the lead is completely molten, flux is added to mix the lead, tin and antimony into a homogenous mixture. Flux materials range from simple shavings of bee or candle wax to commercially available flux mixtures. Besides mixing the lead, the flux also brings impurities, known as dross, to the surface so that they may be dipped off and discarded. Many long-time casters drop a pinch of sawdust into their lead pot after fluxing to give the dross something to attach to and make dipping it out easier. Many casters find it easier to melt and flux large amounts of lead at a time and pour it into molds for later use.

Bullet molds come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and calibers. The parts of the mold are the two halves that form the chamber when closed, the guide pins that hold the two halves closed, and the sprue cutter, a rotating piece of machined steel that serves to slice the sprue overpour from the bullets and leave a clean flat base on the finished product. One, two or six bullets per mold are all common.

Molds can be aluminum, iron or steel. Aluminum molds are less expensive and heat faster, but also cool faster between pours and aren’t as durable as iron or steel molds. Iron and steel molds take longer to heat, but they hold that heat better over long periods and, well-maintained, can last for generations. New molds are often coated in oil as a preservative and must be cleaned before use with denatured alcohol or white gas. Many mold manufacturers recommend the use of a spray-on bullet release aid, available anywhere bullet-casting supplies are sold, for coating the molds and making bullet ejection easier.

(Brad Pendley photo)

 

 

Sprue Cutter

Image 6 of 8

Image 6 of 8

6 | Sprue Cutter

After overfilling the molds, tap the sprue cutter with a wooden club to cleanly cut away the over poured sprue.

As the lead heats and begins to melt, place your mold on or near the heat source so that it can come to temperature, a small hot plate works as a resting spot for molds as well. Cold molds cause the lead to set too quickly and leads to malformed bullets or air pockets within the bullet. As the flux is added, the lead will normally emit quite a bit of smoke. Put this smoke to work by passing the open mold back and forth through it. This smoke coating helps further line the mold to make bullet release easier.

The process of pouring the bullet is simply to fill the mold with molten lead, either from the bottom spout of the lead pot or from the side-pour dipper. Continue filling until a puddle of lead forms on top of the sprue cutter. This puddle is known as the sprue. By overpouring the mold, bullet shrinkage as the lead cools is lessened. After a few seconds, the sprue will go from shiny and bright to a duller gray. At that point, use the wooden dowel to tap the sprue cutter across the mold and release the bullets.

(Michael Pendley photo)

Folded Towel

Image 7 of 8

Image 7 of 8

7 | Folded Towel

A soft landing spot like a folded towel will prevent the newly cast and still soft bullets from flattening when dropped from the mold.

The newly cast bullets are still very soft at this point. If they drop onto a hard surface upon release, they will dent or flatten on one side. This is easily prevented by dropping the bullets onto a folded towel or into a heat-resistant gloved hand. Bullet hardness can be greatly increased by releasing into a bucket of water with a piece of carpet on the side of the bucket to cushion the drop and cut down on splash. Water quenching a wheel weight bullet will increase its hardness from around 12 BHN to as much as 20 BHN, helpful in magnum pistol or large-bore rifle calibers. Remember to keep any water source well away from the lead pot for safety.

(Brad Pendley photo)

 

Cast Bullets

Image 8 of 8

Image 8 of 8

8 | Cast Bullets

After pouring and sizing your cast bullets, they can be loaded into any number of calibers and custom loads, including both rifle and pistol options.

It is normal for the first bullets of any pour to not pass inspection, as the molds are generally not fully heated until several bullets have passed through. Simply drop any misformed bullets back into the lead pot to re-melt. As the molds heat, the bullets will begin to form completely with no defects. It is important to keep your molds from becoming too hot during the process. A sure sign of excessive heat in the mold is the formation of a frosty gray finish on the cast bullets. If you notice a discoloration of your bullets, simply set the mold aside for a few minutes to cool. This problem can be overcome through the use of two molds, alternating with each pour so that the molds have time to cool just a bit between fills.

While most modern bullet molds are very accurate in size and shape, bullet casters often take the extra step of running their bullets through a sizer to ensure perfect roundness and size in the finished product. Bullet sizers are simply tubes that screw into the bullet press. The bullets are forced through the tube so that each emerges the exact same size and shape. Many sizers also have the benefit of adding additional lube to the bullet as it passes through. Gas checks, thin copper, zinc or aluminum caps that fit tightly over the base of the bullet and prevent the heat and gas from cutting the lead as the powder charge pushes it down the barrel, can also be added in the sizing process. After sizing, various coatings can be added to cast bullets to prevent leading of barrels in higher-pressure loads.

If you are shooting your bullets without adding a coating, the final step is to add lubrication. The easiest way to accomplish this is by placing the bullets in a plastic container, squirting on a bit of any of the commercially available liquid bullet lubes, and giving the whole thing a good shake.

Once your bullets have been sized and lubed, they can be loaded in the same manner as commercially available jacketed bullets.

Online sources for casting supplies are found here, here, here and here.

Want more Realtree guns and shooting stuff? Follow us on Facebook.

(Brad Pendley photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Content