Cast Bullet Alloys Come In Many Varieties.
In these pages time and again over the past 10 years I’ve touted the idea casting one’s own bullets is a good path to follow. It definitely is: both in the satisfaction of doing something for yourself and in the freedom to make most any sort of bullet desired.
A question I get sometimes in response to those articles is, “With the decline of wheelweight availability what do you recommend for cheap alloy?” Brothers of the Bullet Mold—to you I must say, “I’m not sure. Cheap may not apply much anymore. I know it doesn’t for me and my purposes.”
For instance, a few months back Yvonne wanted to clean out our old woodshed. Under some other junk she found several five gallon buckets of wheelweights and asked me what to do with them. I told her just to set them outside, after all weather can’t hurt lead alloys, and I’d give them to a friend who has never spent a cent on bullet alloy. He could have them for carting them off.
Why would I give away several hundred pounds of usable lead alloy? For several reasons: One, being I’m at a stage in my life where I can afford to buy lead alloys of certified composition. Another related reason is as busy as I am, it is not cost efficient for me to take the time to render down junk alloy and make it up into ingots. A third reason is I don’t experiment anymore. There is no need for me to blend up several mixes of lead and tin or lead, tin and antimony. I know what works for me and I don’t want to take a chance on the next pot of alloy not being the same as the last pot full.
In this RCBS bullet mold Duke uses 1:20 alloy for .38-40 rifles and revolvers, but when the same bullet is fired in .40 S&W autoloaders he uses Linotype in it. For the vast bulk of his cast bullet shooting, Duke has settled on only two alloys. At below, left is foundry certified 1:20 tin-to-lead alloy. At right is Linotype alloy.
As an avid competitor in the BPCR Silhouette game, after experimenting with bullet composition ranging from heat-treated wheelweights to pure lead, I’ve settled on a blend of one part tin to 20 parts pure lead. After tens of thousands of rounds fired downrange, that alloy has worked well in almost every black powder cartridge rifle tried. And that has amounted to scores of BPCR’s.
I say “almost” for a single caliber. Back in the 1870’s, for some unknown reason, both the Sharps and Remington companies bored their .44 caliber rifle barrels to have a groove diameter of 0.451 inch. (Give or take a thousandths or so once in a while.) Both of my vintage .44-77’s have 0.451-inch barrels. However, they cut the chambers of those rifles to accept cartridges loaded with bullets no larger than 0.444- to 0.446-inch diameter. Why? No one knows but firing a relatively hard 0.446-inch bullet over black powder and down a barrel with 0.451-inch groove diameter merely nets tumbling bullets. However, load very soft lead alloy bullets over the same black powder charge and it swells them up to fill the rifling allowing them to shoot surprisingly accurately. For that reason I keep a spare lead furnace filled with one part tin to 40 parts lead—an alloy so soft as to be useless for me in any other application.
Back to 1:20 alloy. Along the way, shooting experiences taught me this blend also makes superlative revolver bullets. I’ve used it in cartridges from .32 S&W Long to .45 Colt. Up to about 1,000 fps I use plain base bullets. Faster, and I use gas check designs. Such rounds also work perfectly for pistol-cartridge-firing Winchester and Marlin lever guns. Hence no need for me to hoard wheelweights anymore for such shooting.
The other genre of cast bullets needed for my guns are for auto-loading pistols and mild velocity loads for my two score of military bolt actions. The auto-loading pistol bullets are fired at speeds of 750 to 850 fps for .45’s up to 1,100 to 1,200 fps for 9mm’s. The rifle bullets are sent out at about 1,800 to 2,000 fps from cartridges as small as the 6.5mm Japanese up to the 8mm Mauser. One alloy serves for all. That is good old linotype used by the printing trade in the old days but still found at times at salvage yards. (A facsimile of linotype can also be purchased new from alloy dealers.)
Linotype is about the hardest lead-based alloy suitable for home casting bullets. It’s perfect if bullets must resist the vigor of being slammed up rough-finished feed ramps in military-type autoloaders or military bolt actions. It even works well in my M1 Thompson and M3 “grease gun” submachine guns.
A good friend bought more than a ton of linotype at a bargain price from a salvage yard a few years back and then decided it didn’t suit his needs. So from time to time he trades me a bucket full when he covets something I have an excess of. Our system works well for us.
In my day I was a superb lead scrounger. I got to be a familiar face at local tire shops and salvage yards. In fact I wasn’t above a bit of “light-handedness” because my first big haul of lead was a large block an uncle was using for a doorstop in his shop. My cousin and I replaced it with an old piece of scrap iron and melted it down into .38 Special bullets. It took us nigh on forever to chisel it into pieces small enough to fit into a lead pot.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino