Casting REAL Bullets

by Dennis Dezendorf

WARNING   Casting bullets is dangerous. In addition to the dangers inherent in working with molten metal, lead is known to cause birth defects and cancer. Work outside or exhaust fumes to the outside. Wear safety goggles or glasses. Wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking. Never allow liquids near casting area.
Joey is my 16 year old son, camping partner and hunting buddy. A veteran hunter, hiker, camper and outdoorsman, he saved his money and bought a muzzleloader last fall. He pondered, agonized, and worried about which gun to purchase until the order was in the mail. His muzzleloader is a Traditions .50 caliber sidelock with fiber-optic sights.

Last year, Joey shot sabots with Speer .45 caliber pistol bullets, but wanted to try casting his own. He decided on a Lee Precision mold that would cast the 320 gr REAL bullet (Rifling Engraved at Loading). I ordered one from MidSouth Shooters Supply.

So, with my Lee Production Pot in a shady spot in the backyard, a supply of pure lead, and mold and skimmers, he began production of REAL bullets. He started by reading and following the instructions that came with the mold.

Casting bench
The Dezendorf casting set-up
Cleaning the mold is important, as is smoking it. The Lee people recommended that we smoke the mold by using a butane cigarette lighter to put a light coat of soot in the cavity. They also recommend that you lubricate the hinge and sprue cutter.

Lead is a deadly poison. I work lead outside because I want to stay away from the vapor. After reviewing the safety concerns, we plugged in the pot and filled it with lead. Putting the mold on top of the pot serves to preheat it. You can't get good bullets unless the mold is hot and the lead flows into the cavity fully.

When the lead was molten, a scum of slag formed on top. This slag is dirt and crud that collects on the metal while it is stored. We don't want that in our bullets, so we skim it. The slag also contains lead oxide and we want to dispose of that properly.

Casting by Joey
Joey at work.
Molten lead is very hot. Never, never, introduce water to the melted lead. The water will flash immediately to steam with great force and violence. If you have never seen a teaspoon of water put into a pot of metal, you have missed one of the scarier sights in the world. The water "jumps" from the pot, carrying the molten metal with it. Keep your lead dry. Never drink around your casting area. Having liquids around molten metal is a great safety problem.

Okay, Dennis, you ask, what would you do in the event of a sudden rainstorm? Good question! I would get away from the pot, kill the power to it, and wait until everything was cool to the touch before I started to clean up the mess. I can buy more lead. I can't buy arms or eyes.

Joey began casting. The first few bullets came out misshapen. The mold wasn't filling properly, probably because it wasn't hot enough. I told him to keep casting, and bright, shiny bullets were soon falling on the table. Those bullets, when they come out of the pot, are hot and soft. I drop mine on a piece of cloth so they don't deform hitting the table. Joey got his rhythm and before long, it was time to add more metal.

We added more metal and his sprues and mis-cast bullets to the pot. One of the best parts of casting your own bullets is that if you make a mistake and mis-cast a bullet, it can go back in the pot. Very little lead is wasted. When the melt was hot, we skimmed again, and Joey was soon back in business. The rhythm continued until he decided he had enough. We gathered our new bullets, put the discards back in the pot and cleaned the work area.

Later that night, we lubed the bullets with Liquid Alox. Lee Precision sells it, and I think it does as good a job as anything else for cast bullets. This stuff comes in small bottles, and I suspect that because it is has a proprietary name (ALOX), it is manufactured by the Alox Corp and Mr. Lee puts it in smaller bottles. It is a tumble lube. What you do is put your cast bullets in a container (I do mine in a sandwich bag.), squirt a little Liquid Alox on them, and tumble them until they are coated. Stand them on waxed paper to dry overnight. The next morning, your bullets have a waxy coating on them that smells like varnish. It reminds me, more than anything, of that old lube they used to put on .22 bullets.

Shooting by Joey
Notice the bench. Food grade stainless. I got it out of a dumpster.
The next morning, we headed for our backyard range to fire those bullets and see how they worked. Joey used 90 grains of FFg Clear Shot powder under his REAL bullets. The first three shots fired in to 1 inches at 50 yards. That is good hunting accuracy, and with development, it'll get better. I'll keep y'all updated as the load development continues.

Bullet casting is a fine way to spend an afternoon with your son (or daughter, or your Dad). In an hour, you can have enough bullets for an afternoon of shooting. In an afternoon of casting, you can have enough bullets for a year of shooting. Joey is making his own bullets, now, in the great traditions of shooting. Pure lead is fairly easy to find. If you can cut it with your thumbnail, it is soft enough for black powder. They can even be cast over a campfire. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction using things homemade, and a bullet cast in the backyard is a magnificent way to turn scrap into pleasure.

Group by Joey
I think this bullet is going to work just fine, with a little load development.
This winter, while Joey sits in his deer stand, a bullet that he cast will be in the barrel of that rifle. An old mossy-horn deer might creep through the brush, toward the old logging road Joey watches. As Joey thumbs back the hammer of that gun and eases it to his shoulder, the deer might stand in a patch of sunlight, testing the wind with twitching nostrils. The stillness of the morning would be shattered by the thunder of the rifle, the smoke would hang for a moment before disappearing into the forest canopy. Breathing heavily, Joey would reload and slip from his stand, stalk quietly down that overgrown road until he came to that deer, lying in the leaves.

From my stand a half-mile away, I'll probably hear his shout. Don't you think?



Copyright 2001 by Dennis Dezendorf