View Full Version : Best type of lead for C&B balls and bullets

September 16, 2010, 03:19 PM
What is the best type of lead to use if I want to roll my own? I bout a Lee Melting pot and an ingot mold many years ago but just never did anything with them. Also, what size/brand mold would you recomend for Pietta 1858 and 1860s

September 16, 2010, 03:23 PM
Pure soft lead only. For a variety of reasons.

September 16, 2010, 03:26 PM
+1 on what rlifleman said. For Pietta .451 works best.

Doc Hoy
September 16, 2010, 05:26 PM
As crazy as it sounds I like the Lee alminum molds better than the Lyman steel molds.

For one thing the aluminum molds come up to temperature quicker so you make fewer scrap bullets.

For the second thing the Lee molds make an essentially sprewless ball.

The downfall of aluminum molds is that just as they warm up fast, they also cool down fast. This means that in order to get consistent castings, you have to develop a relatively consistent rythm to your casting.

I did a study of the consistency of store bought bullets and found that a home caster can easily cast a better product.

Don't expect the average size of a Hornady .451 to be .451. They can be all over the place. Standard deviation can easily be .003. You can meet that at home with little effort.

I developed a set of spring loaded handles which always apply the same pressure to the molds while the bullet is solidifying. Standard deviation of bullets caste using this set of handles is right around .001.

My guess is that for most shooters this does not matter a hill of beans at the range. I just thought it was interesting.

September 16, 2010, 06:43 PM
Thanks for the info. I have always used Hornady .454 balls in my pistols. They swage a small ring of lead when rammed and I thought that was good to insure that there were no gaps between the balls and the cylinder walls. If pure lead is better can you tell me why? Does it take the rifling better? Also, what is a good source of pure lead?

September 16, 2010, 07:14 PM
Pure lead is easier to load, less stress on the ram and rammer, it is also easier on the rifling ang fills the bore more consistently than harder lead. A good source of near pure lead is once fired jacketed bullets, they're very soft. I scavange from the local outdoor range after rains, the bullets seem to run out of the berms and are on the surface in groups, easy picking.

September 16, 2010, 07:22 PM
Doc. I agree the Lee molds are nice. I have some I've used for over ten years and still going strong.
The reason I suggested .451 balls for Pietta is that the chambers are ,445/.446 . Using .454 balls is OK but it just makes more work and strain on the loading lever but if that is what you have no problem using them.
The reason to use pure lead is two fold. Alloyed bulets are much harder to load and also the chambers are a few thousandths under bore diameter and for the ball to obdurate to fill the bore soft lead is best.
You can shoot alloyed bullets but if you do it is best to have the chambers opened up to bore diameter and size your bullets to .001 over chamber diameter and bevel the mouths of the chambers to ease loading.

September 17, 2010, 10:04 AM
I am not sure where I can find pure lead around here. My local shooting range would not allow you access to their berms. Are fishing weights and scuba lead made out of pure lead?

September 17, 2010, 10:27 AM
Yes they are. As to sources look back a few threads for one titled lead getting hard to find. Several possible sources were listed there in response.

September 17, 2010, 10:34 PM
The reason I suggested .451 balls for Pietta is that the chambers are ,445/.446

ummm mine have all been .450. I use .454's

September 17, 2010, 11:18 PM
Hawg. That's why ti's always a good idea to check. I've only got 5 Pietta 44's. Two 58 Remmies two 1860 Armys and a Starr DA all 445/446.

Gator Weiss
September 18, 2010, 07:35 AM
Mr. Rifleman, I have a question for you; about civil war style mini bullets. The hollow based conicals with grooves, engineered for and normally fired in the 577 or 58 bore military barrells made with three lands and a moderate twist. In many specimens, the rifling is cut somewhat deep toward the breech, yet shallower toward the muzzle.

Some say exceeding 80 or 90 grains of powder tends to hyper expand the skirt in these pure soft lead cast hollow based bullets. The hyper expansion of the skirts has been photographed in flight by some research experts, so apparently it actually does happen. The hyper expansion of the skirt distorts the shape in such a way as to create much drag on the missle. This obviously causes the missile to suffer in accuracy and to dump velocity even more quickly than normally.

The school on black powder has always called for the use of pure unalloyed lead in a casting for the muzzle loading guns. BP cartridge guns will allow for harder leads.

I have some observations here, and my question is, do you think these observations would prove accurate, or do they just open other problems to be considered in BP shooting?

You seem like a very knowledgable guy and a credit to the forum. Would you comment on this for us?

1. Reproduction BP military style gun barrells are slightly thicker than many original cuts, and so they are a little stronger. You can therefore come up in pressure a just little bit with no worries or problems other than accuracy. But do not abuse this margin with reckless and dangerous pressures. Sometimes more pressure is desired in creating more energy for moose or elk, or for experimentation with long distance target work.

2. For more pressure, you obviously add more powder. But you risk hyper expanding skirts in a pure lead hollow base casting, and you risk some very weird or erratic flight characteristics if you are using simple patched round ball. Round ball isnt very accurate at high velocities.

3. Adding some alloy to the crucible can create harder lead, and less skirt expansion at higher pressures. Accuracy is held in place for a little bit longer distance accordingly.

4. Patched soft-lead round ball can be distorted by the rammer at loading. Accuracy suffers. Harder round ball casting will resist distorting the face of the ball on loading, and the patch is the only thing contacting the barrell anyway.

Please give me your thoughts on this.

Gator Weiss
September 18, 2010, 07:40 AM
Denster, Lee molds are great. I agree with you. They are affordable and well machined. They throw a good cast once you get the hang of it and get the heat right.

I was looking over the Cabella's website on molds. I have bought molds there. Someone posting comments on the website was citing some negative things about using Lee molds. He said he would never buy another Lee product because of the quality of their molds. I have never gotten a bad Lee product. Apparently he liked steel molds.

What is the difference in the casting? A casting is a casting, whether it comes from aluminum or steel. At least, that is how I kind of see it.

Is there any real advantage worth spending a hundred bucks on a steel mold?

September 18, 2010, 08:12 AM
Gator. I don't have anything bad to say about Lee molds. I cut my casting teeth on Lyman molds years ago they were also good just more difficult to use. As long as you follow the directions with the Lee molds they will give you long and excellent service. They do need lubed and the cavity smoked as per the instructions and they will loose heat quicker as Doc stated if you pause in casting but can be brought back to heat much quicker than steel. Most complaints I've seen are from people who don't read instructions don't lube the molds and then gall the blocs then blame Lee for their ignorance.

Doc Hoy
September 18, 2010, 08:44 AM

September 18, 2010, 09:34 AM
Gator Weiss, you flatter me, thank you. I have been deeply involved in the ML game since 1970.
My experience with the CW style rifled muskets is limited. But, I have known (past-tense, many are dead now) many of the top shooters with them. I can tell you this: there are fewer shooting disciplines where the participants experiment more than with those muskets/minies/powders/lead alloys/chants and incantations, etc.
I will say this, most, if not all who are going for accuracy, end up with the tried and true powder charges. Going hell bent for big bang gains nothing except smoke and recoil. (remember the CW rifle musket was designed to INCREASE felt recoil so the guys in battle would know when their gun when off) Most experimenting revolves around bullet style. I believe the most popular usually ends up with original style.
Understand, a .58 cal. very heavy bullet hitting a living target is a very formidable thing. Shooting the normal charges in the 50-60 gr. range is deadly plenty enough. By trying to go to 90 gr. or whatever you are leaving the world of traditional shooting and entering into a realm of problems. That is not what the CW rifled musket was designed for.
If you want a big bore, big banger, get, or have a good builder build you something like that. A custom Hawken in .58/.60 cal would be fine with the right twist and such. I have seen some up to a full 1.0" bore. With a good barrel and proper build you can stoke them up (almost) as full as you want.
I shoot a .54 Jaeger with 75 gr., patched round ball. And, I can tell you, going over that makes for very uncomfortable recoil even with the rifle weighing more than 10 pounds.
My bottom line advice is to go with what works for you if it is safe. Also examine what you want to do. If you want an elephant gun, build or buy one that loads from the back end. If you want to enjoy old guns in the traditional way. Then do it in the traditional way.

edit: hope this helps

September 18, 2010, 10:19 AM
I've been shooting bp and casting bullets since 1969. I started with a Lee mold and I still have it. I have some others but most of them are Lee. I mostly use others when Lee doesn't offer a particular configuration.

September 18, 2010, 10:23 AM
Gator. If you are interested in using minis over huge charges of powder. Google "Val Forgett Africa" for some interestingt reading. Val was the founder of Navy Arms and back in the 80's took Africa's big five and lesser game with Italian built guns he designed and sold as the Buffalo Hunter and Hawken Hunter and Hawken Hurricain. These used the Lyman 577611 mini and a mini that used to be produced by Shilo called the "stakebuster" that I believe was 610gr. These were shot over charges in excess of 200gr of 2F and I would imagine killed on both ends.

September 18, 2010, 11:21 AM
I use 70 grs. of Pyrodex under a traditional Lyman minie with devastating results.
The original C.S. charge was 65 grs. U.S. charge was 60 grs. However I use 120 grs. and a prb out of my .54 Hawken, go figure.:D

Doc Hoy
September 18, 2010, 02:09 PM
....I just came back from our mechanic with a half of a five gallon bucket of wheel weights. About eighty pounds in metal, some of which I am sure is not lead.

September 18, 2010, 03:04 PM
some of which I am sure is not lead.

Unfortunately some of it will be zinc. Zinc doesn't discolor like lead and melts at a higher temp. Lead scratches easily with a thumbnail, zinc doesn't. Keep your smelting heat too low for zinc and it will float to the top if you do get some in it.

September 18, 2010, 04:26 PM
Drug out my old Lyman Black Powder Handbook and reread the article. It was actually in the early seventies. Val Forgett and George Nonte went to Africa.
Val did take the big five and other plains game. Killed a Seleous Lion with the Buffalo Hunter and 577611 Minie over 125 of 2F took out both shoulders and everything in between. Killed a Hippo with the Hawken Hunter and the Shilo Mini over 180gr 2F and muffed a side brain shot from close range on elephant and the PH had to finish the job with a .458. Same gun and load as the Hippo did penetrate over 18in of elephant skull though. Both of these minis had thick skirts to resist deformation. Interesting article.

September 20, 2010, 02:50 PM
Denster, yes, but Forgett used a rifle, not a repro CW rifled musket. World of difference.

September 20, 2010, 03:18 PM
Gator Weiss, I'll take on #4 first.
Yes, ramming a ball can distort the face. Tests have shown it is the base of the ball that is most important to maintaining accuracy. Consistent loading with a proper tip on the rod is the best way to avoid messing your ball. For hunting situations, a looser ball/patch combo is usually used anyway and you are not going to lose enough accuracy to matter.

#3: To be sure what I was talking about, since I am not a big time CW rifled musket shooter, I looked up something that was written by a friend of mine.
BTW, my area of interest is 16th & 17th century flintlock rifles. As far as I'm concerned, those preecussin thingys ain't been invented yet. ;)
In the book compiled and edited by my, now deceased, good friend Don Davis, Winning and Shooting With the Champions, he had Bob Butcher write a chapter on shooting the rifled musket.
Bob, in those days (late 1960s through early 1980s) won many-many National championships with the rifled musket. Accepting what he says is a wise way to go.
He came to his conclusions by extensive testing. I have been there watching, by "extensive" I mean EXTENSIVE, days and days shooting all day, taking notes, trying powders, charges, voo-doo chants ;) and any thing else you can imagine.
In the end, his winning combo was "proper lube", he lists many and doesn't seem too fussy except to avoid some, like Crisco; a 50-60 gr. charge of bp and the right bullets. About minie choice, he says, "The only two minie bullets I can recommend and I have tried them all, are the .58 cal. 575213 or the 575213OS. I like the old style (OS) the best. It's a lighter bullet and has a thicker skirt than the 575213, which has less tendency to break off or crack while firing causing 'flyers' or tumbling bullets - go 575213OS."

As to your idea to harden the minie to avoid over expansion of the skirt when using larger charges, I'll add my opinion that this would prove to be a futile experiment.
It would require: exactly consistent hardness from batch to batch when casting and Butcher-like extensive testing on the benchrest. You would make the lead and powder suppliers very happy indeed.
And, I'll remind you, the CW rifled musket was designed to INCREASE felt recoil. Heavy thumping on the shoulder a hundred or two hundred times a day ain't fun. You would not like it.
Bob won matches that included 100 and 200 yard offhand targets. The inventors of the CW rifled musket did a good thing. The design does what it was intended to do and it does it well.
I guarantee, if you can hit a deer, using stock open sights, shooting offhand at 200 yards, it ain't goin' no wheres after that 505 grain hunka lead hits him.
Did I miss any of your questions?
My bottom line advice is do what works for you as long as it is within safe parameters.

September 20, 2010, 04:00 PM
Is lead shot for shotshells suitable for casting in cap & ball pistols?

September 20, 2010, 04:00 PM
Rifleman. You are correct Forgett used a heavy rifle with the 200gr charges behind a 610 minie. The Buffalo Hunter that he used with the 577611 and 125gr is basically a cut down Zuave.
I agree with you, in general, regarding the use of the rifled musket and there isn't anything on the North American Continent that can't be laid low within reasonable ranges with 60gr of 2f behind a standard mini.
I only brought up the Forgett article because he used pure lead minis just having heavier skirts to resist deformation. Interesting that same book has an article regarding at what point the standard mini starts to deform.

September 20, 2010, 06:12 PM
No, it is hard. And expensive.

September 20, 2010, 11:51 PM
Also, what is a good source of pure lead?


September 21, 2010, 07:59 AM
One must develop the fine art of scrounging to get good lead.
Admittedly, it is not always easy.
Around where I live the metal salvage yards are an excellent source. Try to get roofing, x-ray, electric cable wrap, pipe lead and others. Do the fingernail test on everything. Roofing and x-ray are probably the best types to work with and are consistently soft and pure.
Buy as much as you can at a time, it is not getting easier to find and certainly not getting cheaper.
I am down to about 100 pounds and will have to start looking for more. I have inquired at a salvage yard, he has quite a bit he'll sell for 50 cents a pound.

Doc Hoy
September 21, 2010, 10:51 AM
Is it true that recent manufacture of lead wheel weights have a much higher concentration of lead than those manufactured say ten years ago? Up to bout 98 percent now?

September 21, 2010, 10:55 AM
Is it true that recent manufacture of lead wheel weights have a much higher concentration of lead than those manufactured say ten years ago? Up to bout 98 percent now?

Doc, as I understand it, it is now a much LOWER percentage of lead. Some say the wheel weights are mostly antimony now.
Wish they were. Then we could melt a high heat and skim the alloy off the top leaving (almost) pure lead. But, sadly, not to be.

September 21, 2010, 11:53 AM
The "stick on" wheel weights are almost pure lead, unless you hit the steel ones.

September 21, 2010, 12:18 PM
The "stick on" wheel weights are almost pure lead, unless you hit the steel ones.

Noz, if you say so. I don't even know what those are. The only ones I am familiar with are the standard pound in types.

September 21, 2010, 01:25 PM
The stick-ons are flat with a black rubber/adhesive back, used primarily on racing style mag wheels and some of those monster wagon wheel looking wheels. I scored 50lbs from Ebay for $.50 a Lb including shipping, a few months back.

Doc Hoy
September 21, 2010, 02:36 PM
Actually, there are hammer on weights that are made primarily (I am told) from zinc. They are not easy to pick out if you just try to feel the weight in your hand, but of course they remain solid at the melting temperture of lead.

The reason I asked the question is that (also I had been told), while wheel weights were once an alloy of about ten percent antimony or bismuth, about ten years ago, the cost of the alternate metals prompted the manufacturers to reduce the content in the alloy, leaving lead at about 98 percent of the content.

All of the roundballs I shoot pass the fingernail test. But this is IMO vague at best.

On the other hand, since the specific gravity of antimony, bismuth and tin are somewhat close to lead, some small amounts of these impurities (I guess we as shooters can call them impurities) doesn't make much difference in ballistics. I am well aware that hardness may be a more important consideration.

I would like to think I am shooting pure lead, but all I can say for sure is that it is "pretty pure".

Doc Hoy
September 21, 2010, 02:56 PM
...with a technical representative for Perfect Equipment in Tennessee. She told me that the lead based wheel weights they manufacture are from 93 to 99 percent lead with other metals being tin and antimony. She had no way of knowing:

1. How much change there is in the alloy and how fast....eg 93 percent today, 99 percent tomorrow, but she did believe it had to do with the cost of the metals.

2. Whether other manufacturers use similar alloys, although she assumed they do for market reasons.

3. How much of the market is supplied by Perfect Equipment.

If you look on the internet, you find that most of the manufacturers listed are Chinese.

September 21, 2010, 04:06 PM
So how many people shoot wheel weights in c&b pistols?

September 21, 2010, 04:30 PM
So how many people shoot wheel weights in c&b pistols?

Not me. I can't get them in the chambers. ;)
Sorry, you feed me a straight line and I can't resist.

September 21, 2010, 05:30 PM
I just called Discount Tires and they said that they recycle their weights. Then I called Firestone and they said that they recycle them but all of the ones that they get in the last year or so were made of steel.

September 21, 2010, 05:46 PM
Post #16 & #18 respectively:

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.

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! 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.

Post #16:


be careful of the stick on wheel weights. i'm finding alot of zinc ones mixed in. many have zn in raised letters but not all. keep your temperature below 650 degrees.

September 22, 2010, 07:33 PM
I found a guy selling 150-200 lbs of lead from a sailboat. I wonder how soft that stuff is. Any ideas?


September 23, 2010, 08:05 AM
Not a clue. Try to get a sample and test.

September 23, 2010, 08:17 AM
If this lead is too hard for round balls. I may be able to use it for my .45. Are some leads too hard for cartridge pistol bullets?

September 23, 2010, 09:03 AM
I don't know if it is possible to have a lead "too hard" for modern cartridge pistols. I used to use a very hard bullet in my .44 from an Arkansas company (now closed due to retirement) that I could shoot at high velocities with never a leading problem.
But, others may want to chime in on the "too hard" question.

September 23, 2010, 08:12 PM
Are some leads too hard for cartridge pistol bullets?

It's possible to have lead too hard for bp cartridge loads but wheel weights aren't it

September 23, 2010, 08:51 PM
Well I have 45 Colt and a 45 ACP so maybe if it it too hard for the 45 LC I could use it for the 45 ACP.