View Full Version : How soft the lead for a cap n' ball revolver?

August 12, 2010, 04:11 AM
Hello everyone!
I shoot a 1856 Remington replica by Uberti in .36.
Given that on this side of the Pond (and the Mare Nostrum aswell) balls are 10 eurocents apiece, I cast mine.
I recycle lead from the ball stopper at the firing range and keep separated lead obtained from FMJ versus bare lead versus plated.

I have found that lead from FMJs is softer than the other two and I am presently using just the first for my balls.

Am I worrying too much?



August 12, 2010, 07:59 AM
I heard that it should be soft enough that you can press (not drag) a fingernail print into is a quick test.

August 12, 2010, 08:39 AM
No, you are not worrying too much.
Using too hard an alloy can cause all sorts of nasty things. The hard ball can resist the pressure of the rammer to the point of breaking or bending the loading arm.
If you cast a harder alloy and have casting flaws, the ball may not swage properly into the chamber and leave an air gap along the side of the ball. this results in a delightful experience called a chain fire. Two or more chambers going at the same time. Don't ask me how I know and don't ask why it took four occurances before I figured it out.
Use the softest lead you can find.

August 12, 2010, 09:14 AM
On a tangent note: Does anyone have a good source/type of lead available for casting?

I see 1 or 2lb lead on sites like Amazon for 2 or 4 dollars. I shop enough on there that purchasing a couple bars and a mold might be good for me. For the life of me, I can find neither .451 or .454 balls locally. .50 and .440 abound.

I don't mind buying them online at all, but it just seems silly that I couldn't just spend an afternoon making my own and save $15+ dollars.

August 12, 2010, 09:26 AM
Fiv3, see if you can get used lead wheel weights from one of your local tire stores. I live in a small(ish) town and I drop off a five gallon bucket. When it's full, the manager calls me. That bucket lasts quite a while!

If you've got a metal recycler in town, check with them - they may give you a deal on scrap lead (probably the wheel weights that the tire shop wouldn't give you!)

It takes a little extra work to pick out the steel "hooks" that attach the weights to the wheel and you have to also pick out the zinc weights that also get tossed in, but if you get the stuff for free, that's a small price to pay.


C.Robertson, below, is right - wheel weights are too hard. I let my fingers run away from my brain...I cast wheel weight bullets for BP cartridge guns. I get soft lead from the recycler. My bad, and thanks for bringing it up. As soon as you try to load a wheel weight ball into your revolver, you'll see what he's talking about :D

August 12, 2010, 10:07 AM
To secure lead for your PB pistol first choice should be your local metal recycle center. See if they have lead pipe, sheathing, etc. You can usually buy it there a bit over their day spot cost.
Wheel weights are too hard (in my opinion) for BP revolvers, too much stress on loading lever to size the ball into the chamber. I have a few WW balls cast in 1969 or 70 during my learning time, and they are very difficult to get in the chamber. Current pure lead swadges right in.
And no, lead does NOT get hard with age. :)

August 12, 2010, 10:47 AM
I worry, too.

In the past I've acquired wheel weights for cartridge cast bullets and soft (pure) lead, from an area commercial smelter, for BP balls and bullets. Last week, I got some free soft lead from a new source: my dentist.

Lead is used to shield dental X-ray film. The foil used to be torn off the film and went into the waste-paper basket; but, now it's saved for "proper" disposal. Thin foil the size of a postage stamp doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. The dentist's offering yielded 4-pounds of ingots. That's enough for 350 .375 balls (US$30.63 [19.65 GPS] from Dixie Gun Works)!

August 12, 2010, 11:12 AM
Medical lead is about the purest soft lead you will find. But you don’t need lead that pure for blackpowder shooting, regular unalloyed lead will work just fine.

Cast bullets have alloys to harden the bullets. You don’t need that. Blackpowder guns operate at such low pressures that hardened bullets won’t upset to fill the grooves. The lead in cores of FMJ’s is dead soft lead, which is great for blackpowder.

Unalloyed lead is used in various applications. This scrap lead, got at a scrap yard, was dead soft.


August 12, 2010, 02:30 PM
Thank you, Gentlemen:)

I'll start scrounging around this fall when I get a little more time.

Doc Hoy
August 12, 2010, 03:51 PM
....Did I read in this forum that the non lead content in wheel weights is down to one to two pecent?

I got hold of a couple of ballast bars from Navy ships a while ago which I still use. I think I have about four of them left. They run from 25 to 40 pounds each. When I got them I was told they are pure but it is sometimes hard to know the definition of pure.

You have to be careful with metal yards as well. I found myself in need of pure tin some time ago and called the local scrap yards. I went to the only place which said they had tin. The guy tried to sell me what was essentially solder, passing it off as tin. It was probably 60 percent lead.

August 12, 2010, 04:42 PM
kadima, lot of good advice given. Some got it right for wrong reasons, but what the hey.
Stay with pure soft lead for a variety of reasons, some given others not.
Someone gave best advice for finding lead, 'scrounging'. Keep yer eyes open for opportunties. I get old electric cable insulation (?) from scrap yards, x-ray shielding and whatever else I can find. And, being a die-hard, long time traditional muzzle loader, I am very fussy about getting really soft, pure as possible, lead.

August 13, 2010, 02:23 AM
Just found another really nice source...
I am in the "bioscence" profession, and I've found that the isotopes used for radiodiagnostics and radiotherapy are shipped in nice lead containers that are afterwards discarded....

I'll see if I can get my hands on them.

I've done some really scientific tests (using a Bic pen) on the recycled bulletts and can confirm that the lead obtained from jacketed bulletts is the softest one available, while bare and electroplated bulletts are definitely harder.

I have been told (but I have yet to check it, so take it as it is worth) that bare lead and electroplated bulletts: a) need to be harder; b)are molten, therefore some other metals in the alloy lower the melting point . while the lead core of FMJs is cold pressed therefore there is no need to have something to lower the melting point and there is no need for a hard alloy aswell.


August 13, 2010, 09:08 AM
Driving around scrounging lead can get spendy, I found the cheapest lead on evil bay, 99+% pure for about $1 a pound delivered to your door.

August 13, 2010, 10:59 AM
I have maybe 40 lbs of pure lead. Came from lead hammers we used to cast. Someday, I'll have to cast some balls.

Theoretically, one should get about 47 .45 caliber balls per pound. How many .45 balls/lb. you folks get?

August 13, 2010, 12:14 PM
....Did I read in this forum that the non lead content in wheel weights is down to one to two percent?
In California, the tree huggers have succeeded in increasing the non-lead content in wheel weights up to 100%. Often, in things like this, as California goes, so goes the Nation.
Gather ye wheel weights while ye may.

August 13, 2010, 01:49 PM
I have found many zinc wheel weights mixed in with lead ones, not to mention them damnable metal clips, oil, and crud.
If free, wheel weights are great. If you have to pay lead prices, then not so worthwhile. I just bough some more pure lead ingots for 35 cents a pound. He had a LOTS more, but shy on bucks. No need to wast the time and effort with the mess of wheel weights.

Doc Hoy
August 13, 2010, 02:18 PM
I am in complete agreement


(As my wife says, "With me there is always a big but")

I kind of enjoyed the smelting of the wheel weights when I used them. This was some time ago and the Firestone Store guy would let me just go around and gather them up off of the floor of the tire bay. I liked watching the clips float to the top. I only recently began fluxing the melt so in those days, I just skimmed the mess off of the surface of the molten lead.

Simple pleasures for simple minds.


August 13, 2010, 06:38 PM
The oil? Best free flux in the world! The clips? No problem at all!
The worst of it nowadays is that many of the zinc clips are not marked as zinc. If even one gets into your lead, good luck with your casting!:mad: You have to be extremely diligent to test each WW for softness so you don't let a zinc one slip past. I scratch mine on the pavement. The zinc is harder. A real problem and PITA.