by Jim Shy Wolf
Before we begin, we’ve got to lay down the rules. First, this is a potentially very dangerous activity. The least that can occur is mild burns, progressing to severe burns and culminating in burning down your home or shop. It is mandatory every safety rule is followed- both those of the tool-maker and common sense. Fools will suffer their foolishness: don’t be a fool. Wear safety glasses at all times. If you can manipulate tools wearing gloves, so much the better- wear them.
Also, my experience is that of having been doing this since 1975, without any training other than reading and experience. I am not- repeat: not- a professional nor do I claim to be doing all procedures correctly, only as they’ve worked for me over the years.
With that out-of-the-way, should you decide to engage in this activity, do so at your own risk. I lay no claim nor desire to claim ownership of your errors, foolishness or injuries incurred. We are a Free People, let us act thusly.
We’ve been reading post after post of ‘What’s the best gun I can get for my buck?’ And every person with a weapon has put in their two cents.
We’ve brought those shiny new weapons home and looked at the box and fondled the gun, anxious to get to the range and fire off a few bazillion rounds of bullseyes. So we grab that expensive box of XXX Guaranteed Bullseye rounds and head to the range.
Unless we’re the well-heeled type, after a few boxes we start to realize how spendy this little game is becoming. But we love shooting and begin to wonder if there are ways to cut those costs so we can keep shooting and having fun.
Hark! We can hear the glass shattering as the light breaks ‘pon yon window…
We Can Reload!
Reloading can take many forms with many different tools, but all lead to the same point: a bullet down the barrel headed down range. What we’ll be doing from here on is making our own Guaranteed Bullseye rounds from the ground up. (OK: I’m going to renege on the ‘guaranteed bullseye’ bit since I have no control over another’s quality control. But we’ll get that led down the barrel.) And we’re going to do it from the beginning, starting with making our own bullets.
Required tools are going to be minimal and not very expensive even with today’s weak dollar. As you’ll notice, all my tools are Lee brand. No particular reason other than those are what was available when I wanted the tool. I have no experience with and will make no comment about another maker’s tools because I think such arguments are no more valid than the 9mm vs. .45 arguments. If anyone is interested in pricing Lee products they can go to www.leeprecision.com and peruse the catalog. Otherwise, I will make no claim to usefulness for any particular purpose you intend putting the tool to.
When it comes to doing or learning something, I’m about as low as a human can get on the mental ladder. Which means, if I can do something, I’m absolutely positive there is no one else in the world who cannot do the same thing. So don’t think you’re incapable of learning or that it’s too difficult. Also, think of all we have in today’s world and consider the people who invented it. Really, Folks- cavemen invented the bow and arrow, so how hard can things be to learn? You can do it, be sure of that. After all, it ain’t brain surgery or rocket science. Now, let’s make some bullets…
It takes a very secure man to paint his cave pink… oh, wait- sorry, we’re not painting…(sorry: Honey was nudging me)… but you’re going to get burnt and those burns will be pink, then white, then red. And they’re going to hurt! So be very careful: don’t listen to MSM news, the Tv, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or especially BSHO while working.
Follow manufacturers’ directions for all tools and keep a fire extinguisher handy. A gel burn-blanket won’t be a bad idea, either.
What We Need…
Our tools will be minimalist: just enough to get the job done well at low-cost and super efficiency.
Note the picture above: from the bottom left and going up, you will see a towel. This is what we will drop our molded bullets onto. Some people like a pail of cold water, which also helps make the bullet a little harder.
We will need a slice of wax- any kind will do, I use paraffin. We will use this to flux our lead before molding. Later we’ll use it to make a lubricant.
Besides the wax is a bung stick for working the mold’s sprue bar and to tap the bullet(s) free if needed. Do not use a hammer or metal to beat on your molds.
Next is the bullet mold. This is a two cavity 158-grain Lead Round Nose (LRN) .357 mold. Beside that is the ladle. This is what we dip the lead with to pour into the mold.
Next is a spoon: don’t use your eating utensils for working with bullets. We don’t want to ingest lead particulate. Use dedicated tools for this and all reloading. The spoon is used to load lead into the pot rather than dropping with our fingers. The pot gets very hot and lead can splash. We don’t want accidents.
Finally, the melting pot. Mine will hold two pounds of lead, which gives me about 75 finished bullets of this size.
To make my bullets, I use lead wheel weights, ‘found’ bullets from the range, and lead ingots. Wheel weights are getting more difficult to find since recycling is so rewarding. When the fed made lead shot illegal for ducks, I suddenly found myself in possession of a ton of lead shot- perfect for making cast boolits. (OK, not a ton, but a couple hundred pounds.
If/when TSHTF, some of this shot will go back into shotgun cases.) You can see the dross in the spoon: wheel weight anchors, sand, copper, steel- anything that is foreign to lead will float to the surface to be scooped off before we flux with wax.
Fluxing is taking a thumbnail size piece of wax and dropping it onto the molten lead. Be very cautious here- this will most likely flare up. If your body parts are in the way, you will be burned. Wait for the smoke to clear, then with the spoon, gently scoop the black/dark gray scum from the surface of the melt. Our lead is now ready to be used.
Our ladle/dipper and mold will have to be heated. I use one of two methods, depending on my mood and how antsy I am to get started. The recommended way is to set the ladle in the pot and rest a corner of the mold into the melted lead. If I’m in a hurry, I open the sprue cutter and pour a ladle of melt into the cavities, dump them, and repeat five or six times. You’ll know the mold is hot enough when the bullets come out uniformly neat, with no folds or vacancies in the finished bullet.
As stated earlier, I drop the bullets from the mold onto a folded towel. Since the bullet is still very hot and soft, I have to be careful to not drop them onto each other: they will deform, sometimes badly. Once the molds reach maximum temperature, even dropping from too much height will imprint the towel pattern onto the bullet, so we have to be careful.
A note here about my bullets: these are for the .357 revolver and rifle. I’m not overly concerned with ‘¼ MOA’ results for either of these, just good, acceptable accuracy. Two to three inches at 100 yards is sufficient for my desires. For the LR rifles- .243, .308, 30-06- I don’t cast bullets, I buy them. Reason being, with those calibers I am very interested in ¼ MOA accuracy (though I don’t achieve it often). I can’t make as good a bullet for those calibers as I can buy. Perhaps one day, when the pockets are overflowing…
Once we’ve reached our goal on the number to be molded, turn off the melting pot, set the tools on a fireproof pad and dig out the bullet lube.
Cast bullets shot from modern firearms reach some very hot and fast velocities. As a result, as the bullet goes down the barrel, it leaves small deposits of lead on the lands and grooves. This results in poor accuracy and can lead to barrel damage if unchecked by cleaning and using a lubed bullet. Anyone who has handled .22 bullets knows about the lubricant on them. A greasy, wax type something that… well, is sticky. Bullet lubricant.
Lubes can be bought- Lee sells Alox bullet lubricant, which is supposed to be really good. Others sell their brand and all are probably really good. If anyone has questions on which is better, ask around the gunny sites and you’ll get enough answers to confuse you more.
Since I’m the kind of guy that Honey says is ‘cheap’ because I think spending more than five bucks on a gift for a kid we don’t know is a bit much, I make my own for pennies and save the bucks for other things. Like primers.
To make my cowboy type lubricant, I melt one block (a one pound brick of paraffin is comprised of four blocks) of paraffin in a double boiler. With this is a small 3.75 or 4-ounce jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly. Stir and blend (they’re grease, they’ll blend themselves, really), remove from heat and add about ¼ cup of Marvel Mystery Oil and blend in. No more than a quarter cup or you’ll get a mess. Of course, you could add more paraffin and Vaseline to smooth things out… but why? This quarter pound batch is going to last a long time.
Using aluminum pie tins (‘cuz they’re cheap and everyone has a few), stand about 30-40 bullets nose up and pour enough lube in to cover the lubricant grooves. (Those are the ‘rings’ you see on the bullets.) Don’t go past these- it’s not needed above the groove and just a waste. Once covered, put the tin in a freezer until the lubricant hardens enough to pull itself easily away from the tin.
Once free of the tin, just push the bullet nose until it goes out the bottom side of the lube plate. All done. Now rinse and repeat for the next batch – and this time, you have holes pre-punched to put the bullets in before liquefying the lube and freezing again. Rinse and repeat… until you’re done.
Up next: Putting all this fun together with more fun before the real fun begins.