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I'm done casting bullets for now


wwillson
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I have cast at least 20,000 .452 bullets for 45ACP in the last couple years. My motivation was to learn about bullet casting and to reduce costs. I certainly learned a ton about casting both from people here and on other forums and by doing. I seriously doubt that I saved much money over buying cast bullets, as I can get .452 bullets from Michael Meyers at Illinois Bullets very inexpensively. If I factor my time in, then it makes casting silly. The cast bullets from Mike are cast from a lead alloy of the proper hardness, which means I don't have to scrub lead from my barrels every time I get home from the range. I think the mix of clamp-on and stick-on wheel weights make an alloy that's simply to soft. I did try clamp-on only weights and heat-treating with pretty good results, but I'm still tired of scrubbing lead from barrels.

I've been shooting almost entirely 9mm, which has become my favorite pistol caliber, for about the last year. FMJ 115g RN 9mm bullets from Montana Gold are about 7.5 cents each. I can get cast 9mm bullets from Illinois Bullet for 6 cents each.

Unless bullet prices drastically increase, I'll be buying instead of casting.

Wayne

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Probably a bit better for your health as well in regard to the Pb.

My indoor range requires at least partial MJ, but really lean toward FMJ.

Frankly, loading 9mm doesn't seem like a value gaining proposition. Sure it's great to get the exact load you want - and for this reason alone worth it. But I can get plinking 9mm with FMJ for ~0.15$ per round. My time alone is worth more than that. Even Walmart stuff is ~0.20/round.

Now start talking larger odder calibers and wowser, reloading is REAAAAAALLY worth it. I bought a box of 20 super high end .357 Sig (just to see grin )man....over 1.00 a shot at $22.95 sick

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Quote:
Probably a bit better for your health as well in regard to the Pb.

Yeah, most heavy metals are a significant health risk, but I'm extremely careful not touch my face/mouth and clean up really well when I'm done.

Quote:
My indoor range requires at least partial MJ, but really lean toward FMJ.

The indoor range I shoot at couldn't care less. I wonder if some are required by insurance to ban cast?

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Frankly, loading 9mm doesn't seem like a value gaining proposition. Sure it's great to get the exact load you want - and for this reason alone worth it. But I can get plinking 9mm with FMJ for ~0.15$ per round. My time alone is worth more than that. Even Walmart stuff is ~0.20/round.

Most of what I can get is on the $0.20/round or more. My reloads are about $0.10/round and I shoot quite a bit. I also consider reloading to be as much fun as shooting, so it's a win-win.

Quote:
Now start talking larger odder calibers and wowser, reloading is REAAAAAALLY worth it. I bought a box of 20 super high end .357 Sig (just to see grin )man....over 1.00 a shot at $22.95

WOW - I'll bet those $1.00/round load really kill that paper dead! :-)

Wayne

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This is going to be long, but I've put a lot of thought into this.

It's usually done while casting and there isn't a whole lot else to do.

I think for me, money savings (if there is any) comes at least third on my list of reasons for casting. My first and second reasons run close together, with money savings falling far behind.

My first two reasons are variety and self sufficiency.

Reason One: Variety

I cast to get what I can't get otherwise.

I like/need some bullets that aren't very common. They wouldn't be easy to find if I wanted to buy them. In 9mm, I like a 140 SWC (Saeco 383) and sometimes a weird old wadcutter Lyman made before I was born (356472). I am starting to like a 185 grain WFN in .357. I shot some 113 grain wadcutters in .44 Spl yesterday.

None of these are common, and I've never seen three of the four for sale anywhere.

I don't want unusual bullets just because they are unusual. It's usually because they are what suits my purposes. Those 9mm designs were the first two 9mm cast bullets I got results from that were anything close to decent. I've since added another one or two in more conventional shapes (and more cavities thankfully) after I got casting for the 9mm better sorted out, but I still get the best results from those two bullet designs. I use the 140 SWC in IDPA and IPSC (good accuracy, nice clean holes in paper, and whacks the steel down OK).

Plus, I find I often need cast bullets sized to non-standard diameters. In 9mm, I almost always size to .358" because most of my 9mm guns slug at .357 diameter (which I understand is more common than most realize).

Try to find 9mm cast bullets in .358" diameter.

I could settle for the usual .355-.356, but they would lead and/or keyhole so bad in some guns that they would be useless to me. Fit is everything.

I also size most of my .44 bullets to .431 instead of the "standard" .429-.430. Most of my .30 caliber ones get sized to .310, though some get .309, and my worn-out Win 1895 needs them huge. I can find those choices in a few places, but it really narrows the choices.

Besides odd designs and sizes, I have some calibers that are hard to find any cast bullets for. I have a Browning 71 .348 Winchester. There are few bullets available for it in any form, jacketed or cast, and the jacketed ones got scarce a couple of years ago because nobody is going to make .348 bullets when they can't make enough bullets in common calibers to meet demand.

I can cast .348 bullets whenever I want.

Which brings me to...

Reason Two: Self Sufficiency.

If I have lead, I can have bullets.

I don't have to depend on someone else. Anything I can eliminate from that dependency, the better.

I used to buy jacketed 9mm and .45 bullets from two different places. At least one of them was behind when I needed to order, so I often chose my source based on who had them in stock. Then it got worse until my choice was often based on which one had the shortest backorder. And this was before the 2008-2009 panic buying. I saw the writing on the wall, and started accumulating casting equipment. It was one of the only good speculative decisions I've made.

I always thought one of the nice things about reloading was the flexibility. If I had, for example, Large Rifle primers, .30 caliber bullets and a medium powder like IMR 4895 on hand, I could reload my .308s, .30-06s, .300 Savage, .30-40 Krag, or maybe something else I might acquire. I might be on a Springfield kick and shoot nothing but .30-06 for months. Then I might read some Spanish-American War books and fiddle around with my Winchester 1895 in .30-40 Krag a while, or get wrapped up in the FAL. Vastly different rifles, but I can reload all of the cartridges with one box of bullets.

Casting takes that a step farther. A box of wheelweights can become bullets for anything I want. I don't really enjoy the work of casting, and especially don't like the time it takes, but I can walk out there right now and have bullets ready to load before I could get an order from Midway/Midsouth/Graf's/etc. Even if I could buy cast bullets from a local supplier (the two I knew of are gone now), chances are good I couldn't get over there any sooner. And if they were out, I'm sunk.

That flexibility of being able to make what I need when I need it is worth a lot to me. Maybe not to everyone, but it is to me. I try to keep at least 50 pounds of wheelweight ingots on hand, usually more, so I can turn them into whatever I want.

Price/Cost/Time:

About price: If I had started casting just to save money, I would have failed miserably. I keep buying up all those moulds I looked at over the years in catalogs and thought looked neat, or read about from Skeeter Skelton, Elmer Keith, and the like. So if I were to add up what I've spent and compared it to what I've saved, it wouldn't look very good.

It doesn't have to be done that way, though.

With the moulds I use most, I am making bullets a lot cheaper than I was buying them for.

I use wheelweights for almost everything, air-cooling them for pistol; water-dropping for rifle. If a guy can find wheelweights for free or close, he can do better, but I have had to buy 99% of mine. I usually buy mine by the box full (USPS Medium flat rate boxes) at $40-$50 per box, shipped. There are 50-52 pounds in a box, and by the time I smelt them down to ingots I average 42 pounds of usable ingots from a box. That's not counting the handful or two of stick-on weights I always find, that I set aside for my BP Trapdoor bullets.

This 42 pounds equals 294,000 grains of lead alloy. That works out to a little under 1,300 .45 ACP GI-profile round nose bullets (they weigh around 228 grains from my H&G #34 mould) or around 2,350 9mm 125 grain bullets.

Extrapolating that out, if I paid a full $50 for the box of wheelweights (I usually don't), that makes the .45 bullets $38.46 per thousand, and the 9mms $21.28 per thousand. I never know how much lube I use, so will estimate two sticks per thousand (might be way off). At $1.35/stick from White Label Lubes, that's another $2.70 each thousand.

So round up and call it:

$41/thousand for .45 230 grain

$25/thousand for 9mm 125 grain

That's if I pay my highest price for the wheelweights. If I got them for closer to $40, it's a good chunk less. And obviously if I were a good scrounger like some guys who get a 5-gal bucket once a month in exchange for a six-pack, I'd do much better.

I don't know of a local source of cast bullets anymore, so I took a look online. It was a quick look, but the least I see is:

$96/thousand for .45 230

$53/thousand for 9mm 125

So about half or less for DIY.

It naturally adds up. The last time I got wheelweights, the price was good so I got all he had- four boxes. Being the last he had, it was the dregs and had a lot of zinc weights in two of the boxes. But was still a good deal even though I got less useful alloy from it than usual. I got four boxes, and paid $150. Even with what the zinc junk taken out, those boxes gave me 154 pounds of usable alloy, or, a little over a million grains. If I cast it all into 9mm 125 grain bullets, I'd have over 8,600. It would make nearly 4,700 45 230 grainers. That works out to:

$31.91/thousand for the 45s

$17.44/thousand for the 9mm

(plus lube for both)

That's about 1/3 the commercial cast price.

On the other hand...

You have to cover equipment costs. That "savings" is ate up in a hurry if you buy good equipment to start with and keep adding to it. I learned quickly that better gear makes a boring task go a lot better and easier, so I do recommend it.

If you saved even $60/thousand by casting your own, it will take 6,000 .45 bullets before you offset that nice $350 furnace.

A nice four-cavity Saeco mould will take 2,000 bullets to offset.

Of course, one doesn't have to buy extra nice stuff like that. I find having things a little easier makes a difference to me on how much casting I'm going to do on a given day, so I throw the money around more than I probably should. Most casters are incredibly cheap from what I've seen, and use stuff I would have replaced years ago. But the fact they wouldn't do it if there wasn't a nickel to be squeezed shows you can save money at it. It's just that I'm not a very good example of how to do it.

On the other other hand...

There is my point/problem about not being able to find the bullets I need just anywhere. Besides limited bullet design choices, there is the size. Commercial casters might give a choice of two diameters in a given bullet style, if at all, and that won't do it most times. If I didn't cast my own, and had to buy my bullets from a custom caster, those prices I used above go out the window.

I could get what I wanted sometimes or maybe most times, but it would cost me. One great source is Montana Bullet Works. http://montanabulletworks.com/home.html

I used to buy from him before I started casting, and have bought some since. He offers a BUNCH of bullet designs in most calibers you can think of. He also has options in the alloys you want, or if you want them heat treated. Best of all, he offers sizing diameter choices (Fit is everything). He makes beautiful bullets- every single one of them could be on the cover of Handloader magazine.

But this doesn't come cheap. They are often nearly twice what they cost from the "for the masses" type places.

Others, like Bullshop, Beartooth Bullets, and Western, offer various styles, sizes, and alloys, but not as much. They are often cheaper than MT Bullet Works, but not always.

So if you need something special, even a little, it's going to cost you.

If you cast your own and need a larger size bullet, you often can simply buy another sizing die. A new sizing die still costs less than a couple hundred bullets from some of these places. Even if you want a different bullet design than what's commonly available, buying another mould can pay for itself fairly quick in comparison.

On the OTHER other hand...

Don't ever factor in your time if you want to justify casting.

I knew it was going to be time consuming before I started, but was still surprised by how much.

Luckily for me, I often have the time. I'm a stay-home dad, and in the summer I spend a lot of time on the deck watching our kids and the neighbors' kids. This was OK for a while, because I could putter around in the garage and still see or at least hear what was going on. Then we got the white trash Amazon above-ground pool, and I felt like I needed to be closer and more ready to act if needed. There aren't many little productive jobs I can do out there, however. I guess some people would sit and read or simply get slack on watching them, but I couldn't do either one. The best way I found to utilize this time is to set up my casting stuff and crank out bullets as I sit there.

If I was in any other situation, I couldn't imagine devoting the time to it.

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Probably a bit better for your health as well in regard to the Pb.

I think concerns of lead exposure from casting is sometimes...um...maybe no overblown, but not as bad as some other things we are more casual about, like handling fired brass and spent primers. Or shooting in some indoor ranges (some I've shot in still give me the willies to think about).

Then again, I was probably overblowing casting dangers for a long time.

I had most of the stuff to cast for quite a while but was afraid to because I "knew" it was hazardous. I thought lead "broke down" from the heat and gave off fumes, and I think that's a common belief. I know it's what everybody said.

Then I realized the people I was hearing this from had never cast a bullet in their life. How did they know this? Had they researched this and decided it wasn't for them, or were they just passing on what they heard from everyone else?

I checked, and found out lead doesn't start to give off fumes until it is heated to something like 1400 degrees (don't quote me on that number). Electric casting furnaces go up to about 850 degrees maximum, so they get just a little over halfway to the danger point.

And that took care of my biggest concern. The fume issue was the big danger I worried about most, probably because it's the one everybody talks about.

I think a lot of the noxious fumes I've heard people discuss ("But I can smell it!") is actually from the impurities in or on the lead. Smelting wheelweights can stink a place up quick from the paint on them. Once they are smelted and good and clean, I don't smell anything. Not that it's a good gauge, but if I ever did smell any, it was nothing compared to some indoor range sessions.

Of course there are other ways of getting it in your system. A lot of small particles are generated in the casting process by breaking sprues and stuff, but you stay careful with that. I put a canvas drop cloth down on my casting table (that gets used for nothing else) and fold it up carefully when I'm done. I keep an electric fan behind me, to cool me off, to cool the moulds with, and just in case there is anything coming out of the lead pot maybe it will get blown away from me.

I wash my hands thoroughly, don't eat or drink while casting, etc. I don't treat handling gun powder much differently and keep myself clean when handling it too.

After thinking about it, I feel many of us have been avoiding casting while missing a bigger danger.

I now worry more about handling empty brass or fired primers.

I have nothing hard to base it on, but I think there is a lot of nasty stuff in fired brass, spent primers, and the residue that covers our guns when shooting. There is lead in primers, and it is ground really fine to start with and no doubt pulverized more in the firing process. I'm sure some lead gets spread all over the gun with every shot, and it's going to be fine particles.

I know some of this staining is from graphite, but I'd think there has to be fine lead in there too. Not that graphite is OK either. Anything in fine form gives me ingestion concerns.

If it's as bad as I suspect, there is probably a greater risk from that than casting.

We pick up empty brass with bare hands and stain our fingers with it. We dump spent primer catchers, sending a small cloud of crud into the air. Tumbling cases in a tumbler with anything less than a fully closed lid leaves a coating around the tumbler base. We put dirty guns in IWB holsters or pants pockets. Cleaning guns exposes us to more of it.

This stuff is really fine, and we have to be getting some of it on us if not IN us.

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  • 1 month later...

No casings involved in my castings. smile Sizing required on the .575 minies, but everything else is one step. I cast all my own: .575 minies OE style, .575 minie improved, .58 cal REAL bullets, .675 RB, .50 cal REAL bullets, .490 RB, .451 RB, .375 RB. I can get away with the cheaper hard lead (wheel weights, car batteries) for loose fitting loads, but gotta stick with soft lead for the others. My gear paid for itself the first casting.

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