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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
How do I know what hardness I am starting with? I acquired some lead shot at first. Melted, skimmed off trash and pored ingots. Cast my first boolits. They seem way too soft compared to Laser Cast. So I got some wheel weights and made ingots but have not cast any boolits yet. But they (ingots) also seem very soft. I have not tried water quenching yet. My only test method is one laser cast and one of mine squeezed together in a vise. Mine deforms easily while the LC stays uniform.
Any suggestions on how to tell what hardness I have and how to make it harder? I read the post on alloy calculator but don't I need to know what I am starting with? Is all WW lead the same?
Thanks, Steve
 

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Look on CastBoolits for the "pencil test". It works. Pretty sure it's a sticky on there. It'll cost you about $10 for a set of the pencils.
 

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You'll really never know for certain without using a BHN tester. There are ways to get a good guesstimate but only one way to know for sure. The Lee is the cheapest but also the trickiest to use. Wheel weights will run 10-13 BHN, depending on whether you thrown in any stick on weights. Water dropping them will boost the hardness up to 17-19 BHN depending on how fast you get the cast from the mold to the water.

I don't know what the hardness of Laser casts are but I've seen 20 BHN and also 24 BHN mentioned. Either way they are both to hard for most shooting unless a gas check is used in my opinion. Even then, bullet to bore fit is more important than hardness. I bailed out of the hardness fad a long time ago.

Almost everything I reload for including the 357 mag, 357 max, 45 acp, 45 Colt and even the 30-30 are at 12-13 BHN. Up to 1500 fps I stick to plain base and above that to 2200 fps I use a gas check design. For the 308, 22 Hornet, and 223 I water drop or oven heat to about 18-19 BHN and add a gas check since these are driven at a much higher speeds. The trick as mentioned is .002-.003 over bore size regardless of intended use.

I know that Laser Casts are advertised as drivable up to Jacketed bullet speeds with no leading but I'm just not buying it outright. A softer bullet will bump up and seal the bore and a gas check will add insurance to that fact. A very hard bullet will not bump up unless driven at very high speed and pressure and without a gas check you can be sure of some leading of the barrel. Others may disagree but that's been my experience.

What caliber/gun are you casting for?
 

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There was an old rancher out of Missouri who cast simple lead/tin bullets that would be softer than either reclaimed shot or WW. Word on the street is he pushed them pretty hard with some success.

Have you tried the bullets you have? Do they not do what you want them to do?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
There was an old rancher out of Missouri who cast simple lead/tin bullets that would be softer than either reclaimed shot or WW. Word on the street is he pushed them pretty hard with some success.

Have you tried the bullets you have? Do they not do what you want them to do?
Yes I have tried them and had good results except for leading the barrel and cylinder. I am casting .410 (41 mag) and .430 ( 44 spl. + mag) have only fired 41s. Bad leading prob. I have used many store bought cast boolits and not had a prob.

I may have found my problem by accident. Can't say for sure yet. BUT. I was given the lead shot from my son who said it was used for a "test weight" not shot gun loads. It was all the same stuff like bird shot, as opposed to WW lead. Melted down it was very soft. Then I scored some (a lot of) wheel weights. The first bucket, I dumped on to the table and sorted out the cigarette butts, valve stems, soda can pull tabs, valve caps, tire labels and other stuff. Then started my "scratch test". What is lead and what is not lead. It looked "obvious". But maybe not. Some of the weights were definitely other metal.

Well this could be my mistake. Some of what I thought was not lead may have been "hard lead". So the next batch I threw in some of the culls and some of it melted with the other stuff. Some of it floated to the top. Maybe I was throwing out the hard lead. I may have to start all over. Melt every thing all together.

Bottom line is, I guess I need to test the ingots for hardness not the cast boolit.

Thanks for all the help, Steve
 

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Leading in a revolver is far more likely a fit issue than a hardness issue. What molds are you using and what size do the bullets drop from your molds? What size is the groove diameter of the barrels? How about the cylinder throats? Are you sizing? What are you using for lube?
 

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Cowboy, be careful when sorting wheel weights. More and more weights are being made from zinc or steel today than lead. There are a couple ways to determine what the weights are made of. Almost always zinc weights will have the letters "FE" stamped on them. Not always but almost always. Again almost always, zinc weights will have the clip attached to the outside of the weight where as lead will have the clip embedded into the weight. When culling weights I keep a pair of side cutters handy and if any weight is suspicious, the cutter will easily cut into the lead weight but will not even dent the zinc weight. Be careful of stick on weights also as at one time they were almost pure lead but some of them are now zinc.

When smelting the weights, keep the temperature at or slightly below 700 degrees as zinc melts at 786 degrees and lead will melt at 621 degrees. If you don't have a lead thermometer you're playing Russian roulette with your casts. Anything and everything that floats to the top when smelting should be skimmed off and thrown out. Get zinc melted into a batch of smelted weights and the entire batch is most likely ruined. The reason wheel weights are so valuable to the caster is because they contain arsenic and antimony which is needed for hardening by water dropping or oven heat treating. the weights will also contain some tin which aids in fill out in the mold.

The shot you have may have been regular shot which is almost pure lead and very soft. Only magnum shot has enough antimony to make it harden up a little. You may already be aware of all this but just in case...............
 

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Easy way to check for the zinc weights is to use a couple of drops of muriatic acid. The acid doesn’t react with lead but sure will with zinc. Muriatic acid reacts with steel too but can simply use a magnet to test for common steels.
 

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Well.....I'm not to sure about that. Muriatic acid, commonly know as Hydrochloric Acid can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with the skin. When in contact with zinc, Muriatic acid will produce hydrogen gas which is highly explosive and certainly something one doesn't want to breath. I realize you said a couple of drops but I think I'll stick to a pair of side cutters.
 

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Cowboy, be careful when sorting wheel weights. More and more weights are being made from zinc or steel today than lead. There are a couple ways to determine what the weights are made of. Almost always zinc weights will have the letters "FE" stamped on them. Not always but almost always. Again almost always, zinc weights will have the clip attached to the outside of the weight where as lead will have the clip embedded into the weight. When culling weights I keep a pair of side cutters handy and if any weight is suspicious, the cutter will easily cut into the lead weight but will not even dent the zinc weight. Be careful of stick on weights also as at one time they were almost pure lead but some of them are now zinc.

When smelting the weights, keep the temperature at or slightly below 700 degrees as zinc melts at 786 degrees and lead will melt at 621 degrees. If you don't have a lead thermometer you're playing Russian roulette with your casts.
The cutters are an excellent tip for determining lead/not lead. One good squeeze will tell.
Zinc weights have "Zn" stamped on them usually, iron has "Fe" and sometimes lead has Pb - all the Periodic abbreviations.
The tip to keep at or below 700 is good advice to keep the zinc from getting melted in.
If you wash your weights to get some of the crud off make DANG sure they are completely dry before tossing them into teh melt lest you get visited by the "tinsel fairy". I put a large metal bucket over my melt pot - I can put the weights in it to dry them and it keeps the temp up in the melting pot to hurry things along.
 

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You're right....Zn for zinc and Fe for iron. Never could keep those straight. Another tip is if one is not sure the weights are completely dry of moisture, fill the smelting pot full before lighting the burner. That way the moisture will steam off before the lead is melted, unlike when throwing wet weights into molten lead which will get one's attention in a hurry. I don't even bother to clean mine but just all that oil, grease and crude become a flux for me. Smokes like heck but works.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks for all the tips. I am glad I smelted in separate batches and marked each ingot. If that last batch had some zinc in it, it would be very little. What would happen?
And if I throw everything into the pot and mix it all. Would a few ounces of zinc in with 50 or 60 pounds of lead make a difference?
 

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I don't even bother to clean mine but just all that oil, grease and crude become a flux for me. Smokes like heck but works.
I found out that's where all the sand and crud that causes voids comes from. So I clean it all off now.
 

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Thanks for all the tips. I am glad I smelted in separate batches and marked each ingot. If that last batch had some zinc in it, it would be very little. What would happen?
And if I throw everything into the pot and mix it all. Would a few ounces of zinc in with 50 or 60 pounds of lead make a difference?
Well - how it happened to me was I had heard that "just toss it all in the pot and scoop off the stuff that floats to teh top". Problem comes in when the pot gets hottern 750 and then teh zinc can start melting. yes it is a big big problem. With care you can flux it out by keeping the temp under 600 and fluxing and scooping the mix several dozen times. Much better to sort beforehand and avoid the issue all together. trust me when I say hand sorting before is the best way to avoid it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks, I think the only batch I have to worry about is the last one. I marked the ingots as batch #1 shot and #2 sorted WW's and #3 "other".
If, and I mean if, there was a small amount of zinc in batch #3...12 or 15 lbs. of lead what problems would occur in casting?
And if there is a small amount of zinc in batch #3 and all three batches (50-60 lbs.) is mixed together how bad is that?
Fluxing my way out of this seems like a good idea. But just want to know what is the danger? What problems would I have in casting and shooting?
Thanks again.
 

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Zinc mixed in the alloy will cause very poor fill out of cast bullets. Rounded edges, wrinkles and brittleness. I've never gotten zinc contamination or dirt and sand contamination for that matter because I keep my smelting pot at or below 700 degrees and go through a rigorous fluxing system while smelting.

In lead alloys, once a metal is incorporated into the lead, it stays alloyed. Can you remelt and flux out the zinc......some say you can, most experienced casters say not so but one thing is for sure, if you start down the road of trying to flux out zinc you stand a very good chance of the oxidation that floats to the top that you start skimming off thinking it is zinc, will actually or most likely contain your tin and antimony and you will probable lose it....not a good thing.

Personally I wouldn't mix the batches together. Better to have to discard 15 pounds than all 60 pounds. Besides, do you even know if you have zinc contamination? Sounds to me like you're just guessing because the lead feels hard by scratching with a fingernail. That test tells you nothing. Only indication one can get from scratching a lead ingot or bullet is if it is possible mostly pure lead or not. My casts at 12-13 BHN cannot be marred from scratching with my thumbnail. Cast a few bullets and see if there is good fill out in the mold and then test the bullets for hardness.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Gohon, thanks for all your input. I haven't smelted or cast anything lately. I have been reading a lot. I have more questions now than before.
Have you ever heard of using solder for hardening soft lead? What do you use for fluxing? How much and how often?
I am using Lee two cavity molds. In .410 and .430. and sizing with Lee lube and dies. Most (95%) pass through the die with little or no resistance and look very good.
Again, the only ones I have cast were of the first batch of lead shot. And the only ones I have fired were .41 with 6.5 gn. Bullseye, in a Blackhawk.
In comparison to .41 LaserCast they are very soft. With my mic. they both measure .410. I use the LaserCast with lots of other stuff and would like to come close to that in hardness.
Thanks again for your help.
 
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