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Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert - Joe Brennan
Chapter 5.0 - Bullet Lubricants

A collection of comments on bullet lubes by various cast bullet shooters

     With a bullet large enough to seal the throat and any reasonable bullet lubricant; at velocities under 1600 fps you will not have any leading problems. At higher velocities you may need a "better" bullet lubricant.

     Cast bullet shooters spend countless hours experimenting with and agonizing about bullet lubricants, with no discernable progress.

     Equipment lists from the CBA national matches show a wide variety of bullet lubricants being used by these experienced shooters, demonstrating that no consensus "best" lubricant has been found.    

Bullet lubricants and accuracy

     Here’s the deal. If, with a good lubricant, your gun averages 3” at 100 yards for 5 shots, another bullet lube ain’t going to fix it. I know you’ll try, but it won’t work.

     If, with a good lubricant, your gun averages 1” at 100 yards for 5 shots, another lubricant may reduce your groups by a bit, but I’ve never seen it happen.

     Without getting embroiled in the morass of statistics, let me say that a hell of a lot of groups must be shot to demonstrate a small difference in mean accuracy around 1”.

     I am extremely suspicious of any reports of a "new" bullet lubricant producing better accuracy than an established lubricant such as the NRA ALOX formula.

     Some shooters have reported better accuracy when LESS lube is used, in both revolvers and rifles. I have found that when I lube only one grease groove on 31141 and 311299 bullets there is no leading, most of the time. I have also tried lubing only the groove above the gas check with Eagan and NEI 22 caliber bullets with no leading. I haven't yet seen increased accuracy with less lube, but the experiments continue.

Why lubricate cast bullets?

     We lubricate cast bullets because the bore will lead sometimes if we don’t. This ruins accuracy and can be a pain in the neck to clean up. So we think that the bullet lube acts as a conventional lubricant reducing or eliminating friction and galling. But there are some things we know about lubes and shooting that call this into question. Here they are:

     With a big enough bullet, that is, one large enough in diameter to fit the throat correctly, a good lubricant such as the NRA Alox/Beeswax formula or most of the other commercial formulas, and rifle velocity at 1600 fps or below, the gun will not lead and accuracy will be excellent. Leading is caused by shooting bullets that are too small for the bore. Small diameter bullets will lead no matter what lube is used; large diameter bullets won’t lead with any reasonable lube.

     Un-lubricated bullets shot with fillers (i.e. Cream of Wheat, or CoW) from the top of the powder to the base of the bullet with reasonable loads will not lead. I can’t get them to shoot accurately, but they don’t lead. There’s no lube and no leading. The same is true when very little CoW is used, with the space between the powder and the CoW being filled with a tuft of Dacron.

     Norm Johnson is shooting un-lubricated revolver bullets, with good accuracy and no leading. These are target velocity loads, well fitted to the throats, in revolvers.

     Grease grooves in bullets are not necessary, at least at lower velocities. The Alberts Scheutzenplinker bullets had no grease grooves and shot well. I have rifle molds in 30, 32 and 45 caliber with no grease grooves, and they shoot very well. I have also gotten good results using cast bullets (with and without lube grooves) lubed by nothing more than a soft wax wad below the bullet. It’s limited to low velocities, but it works fine. That being said, unless I am experimenting I generally lube my cast bullets and recommend that you do the same.

How To Lubricate Cast Bullets

Hand Lubricating

     Lubricate the bullets by hand; smear the lube into the grease grooves and all over the bullet. It’s a little messy, but it is easy and fast.

Liquid Alox tumble lubricating

     The only equipment required is a pint plastic ice cream container, a pair of tweezers, and a piece of waxed paper. Put the bullets in the container, squirt in some Liquid Alox, shake the bullets around gently to cover them with lube, take them out with the tweezers, stand them up on the waxed paper, and the next morning peel them off the paper when the Alox has dried. That’s it.

     Sometimes this lubricant will gum up the bullet-seating die. You'll know it when this happens. To avoid this, put the lubricated bullets on a paper towel, sprinkle a little talcum powder on them, and roll them around with your fingers. The bullets will be coated with talcum, won't gum up the seating die, and will smell very nice. Powdered mica is said to work as well, but doesn't smell as nice. I have had barrel fouling when using talcum coated liquid alox lubed bullets. I suspect that the fouling is a mix of lube and talcum. Use the very least amount of talcum to avoid this fouling.

     The disadvantage of Liquid Alox is the overnight drying time required, which may not be convenient. (I am probably the only person in the world who waits to cast bullets until the morning of the match.)

Lubricating in a lubrisizer

     Alox in stick form works well in a lubrisizer, as do most of the other stick lubes. (Some of the stick lubes are very hard and need to be heated in the lubrisizer to flow. Heaters for lubrisizers are available, and it has been reported that putting a lit 60 watt light bulb on a drop cord next to the lubrisizer reservoir will warm up the works after a few minutes and let the lube flow.) It is advisable to relieve the lube pressure while heating the lubrisizer because the heat and pressure can fracture the lubrisizer casting. If your equipment is in an unheated building, a small heat lamp bulb also works wonders, especially if installed in one of those clamping reflectors from the local hardware store.

     If you want to lubricate bullets without sizing them, get a die that is big enough not to size the bullets, run them through, and you’re ready to go. I use this method for some bullets, but you have to adjust the amount of pressure on the lube to keep it from squirting up. It really takes very little pressure to move soft wax lubes. The disadvantages are the cost of the lubri-sizer, dies and nose punches. Advantages are speed, cleanliness and ease of operation. There are other methods of lubricating bullets without sizing, see the nearby articles.

     When I'm done with the lubrisizer I back off the reservoir pressure screw about two full turns with the small ratcheting wrench that comes with the machine to prevent slow extrusion of lube into an empty set of dies.

"With Lyman equipment, be careful to use only dies fairly recent manufacture: Years ago, it was common to find dies that would shear one side of a cast bullet, and leave it unbalanced. But since sometime in the late 1950’s or so, all Lyman dies have been made with a uniform taper that swages the lead bullet more uniformly. If there’s any question, just wipe out the top of the sizer and look inside. Tapered swaging dies will appear smooth and uniform. Dies that shear bullets will have a visible step or shoulder just inside the mouth of the sizing die.

     Excessive sizing with the step dies that sheared bullets produced bullets that were unbalanced and inaccurate in proportion to the sizing, because of more lead sheared off of one side of the bullet than the other side. The more sizing, the worse the resulting accuracy would be. This led to the adage that though sizing was a necessary evil, the less sizing, the better; and shooting unsized bullets was by far the best for target accuracy. But Col. Harrison’s research (published in the American Rifleman) exposed this problem, and led to the adoption of smoothly tapered dies that reduced bullet diameters much more uniformly. Bullet sizing - though theoretically still undesirable - is now sufficiently consistent that I have obtained accuracy of one and a half MOA from 45-70 bullets sized down from 0.460” as cast to 0.445” for an 11 MM Mauser."

Ken Mollohan

     "The following applies to the Lyman and RCBS design lubrisizers, but not to the Star design lubrisizers. If you run into trouble because the lube pushes up under the bullet while you are on the extraction stroke, you are using too much pressure on the lube reservoir. The fix for this is really pretty easy. The optimum tool for this is a box-end wrench that fits the pressure screw. Some folks use a ¼-inch “breaker bar” with an appropriate socket because it is easier to deal with.

     Start with no pressure on the lube reservoir at all. Run a bullet down into the sizer and hold it down with moderate pressure. Now increase pressure on the lube reservoir until you feel some resistance, then back off on the lube pressure screw by a full turn. Then extract the lubed bullet from the sizer. You should get little or no upwelling of lube under the bullet and if you get any at all you need to back off another turn or so. Now try another bullet into the sizer, turn the pressure screw one turn to increase the pressure and one turn to relieve the pressure and then extract the bullet from the sizer. You should get full lubrication as desired and no (or negligible) extra lube under the bullet. If there is a bit of lube under the bullet just ignore it as long as it doesn’t increase in volume with each bullet.

     This sounds like a lot of busy-work, but it becomes second nature and does not particularly slow down the operation."

John Bischoff

How To Pan-Lube Bullets

     Any lube will work with this method. I use Darr lube for lubing many revolver and rifle bullets from 22 to 45 caliber. Darr lube is (officially) half paraffin and half Vaseline with a teaspoon of RCBS case lube. Paraffin comes in one-pound packages and Vaseline comes in twelve-ounce plastic bottles, so I mix the two containers worth and add a little Marvel Mystery Oil until the lube is a pretty pink and soft.

     Bullet lube doesn't like being heated up too much, so all our heating is going to be done in water, sort of a double boiler process. I heat the lube cake pan in a frying pan with about half an inch of water in it.

     Put the bullets in a cake pan of lube that is in the frying pan. When the lube melts, stand the bullets up with a pair of tweezers and turn off the burner. Let the bullets and lube cool down.

     Take the cake pan out of the frying pan; let everything cool down to room temperature. The lube and bullets MUST be at room temperature before the next step.

Pick the cake up and push the bullets out with your thumb.

     When the cake pan, lube and bullets are at room temperature, put the cake pan in the freezer for a short time. Paraffin based lubes take about 3 minutes, beeswax in the lube increases the time required. Take the pan out, turn it upside down, and see if the cake of lube and bullets falls out of the cake pan. If it doesn't fall out, back in the freezer for a minute, then try again.

Now you've got a cake pan of lube with holes and no bullets. Here's it is, ready for the next set of bullets. You might need to add some more lube at this point.

     If the lube splits or cracks, then the lube got too cold and you must put everything back in the frying pan and melt the lube again.

     Allow the lube and bullets to warm up to room temperature. The lube and bullets MUST be at room temperature before the next step.

  Pan lubricating, tweezers method.

     You will need a bread tin, a frying pan, a pie pan and some lubricant-I use Darr lube.

Put an inch of water in the frying pan and put it on the stove. Put the bullets on top of the cold lubricant in the bread tin. Put the bread tin in the frying pan.

Put the pie pan on top of the bread tin as it heats up, a slightly warm pie pan mandatory.

     Set the heat on low, and when all the lube is melted take the bullets out of the lube with tweezers and stand them up on the pie pan.

     When you put the bullets on the pie pan you want the lube to drool down and make a shallow puddle of lube around the bullet. You do NOT want the lube to form a donut at the base of the bullet, which sometimes happens when the cookie sheet is cold.

     You must put the bullets on the lube when it is cold, and heat up bullets and lube together, this method won't work unless the bullets are as hot as the lube. You don't want the lube very hot; just above the melting point is fine.

     Pick the bullets off the pie pan, scrape the lube off the pie pan with a putty knife, put the scrapings in the bread tin and you're done. All of the grease grooves will be filled and the bullets will be covered with a film of grease.

How to make sheets of lube.

Here's a frying pan on the stove, with about a half inch of water in it. Any heating operation with lube should be done in a double boiler setup to keep the lube from burning.

     Some shooters use wax or lube wads under the bullet when loading cartridges. A sheet of lube is needed, and I've used some embarrassingly complicated ways to make lube into sheets for this purpose. That all ended when Bill Lancaster told me how HE did it, while we were talking at the Trail Glades Range in Miami. This is what is called an "Elegant" solution. I went to the Salvation Army Thrift Store for a 9-inch pie pan, and here's how it worked out.

There's the pie pan, with about half an inch of water in the frying pan.

That's a lump of lube in the water in the pie pan.

     When the lump melted, the lube didn't cover the top of the water. As lube was added, eventually the melted lube covered the water. It took about three times this much lube to make the lube puddle cover the water. Note that if you take the trouble to use the same weight of lube for each cake, you can keep the thickness of the cake uniform. And increasing or reducing that weight will adjust the thickness of the cake up or down in proportion. Keep the heat as low as possible.

The lube is melted. Now turn the heat off. Go and read a Lyman Manual, mow the grass and generally leave it alone to cool down and harden.


The lube is now solid. The edges will usually pull away from the pan after the cake has cooled, freeing it for use. If it doesn’t, you can put in the refrigerator for half an hour, which will generally do the job.

     The edges of the hardened cake will be thicker than the rest. Just trim the edges and put the cuttings in a bag to be added to the next batch. Add the Swiss-cheesed remainder of the cake when you’ve used it, and recycle them into the next cake, with just enough make-up lube to replace

If all else fails, you can cut the lube sheet away from the edge of the pie pan with a table knife.

Here's the sheet of lube, ready to make lube/grease wads.

 what you’ve used. Pressing the mouth of the loaded case onto the sheet of lube will cut a wad out and leave it in the case mouth. The details of using the lube

Some folks prefer to leave the charged case in the loading block, and simply press the cake over the mouth of the case to cut the wad out.

 or grease wad are given elsewhere-just make sure that the wad isn't touching the powder and that it is not free to rattle around in the case. You must understand the proper and safe procedures before loading with a lube wad!

 Ken Mollohan: Another method of making uniform sheets of lube is to melt the lube in a double boiler as above, but fill a CLEAN square milk bottle (or other bottle with flat surfaces) with cold water and briefly dip it into the molten lube. The lube will congeal into uniform sheets on the cool surface. Thickness of the sheets will vary somewhat with the temperature of the bottle, the temperature of the wax, and the length of the immersion. But it’s really pretty easy to develop a consistent technique.

     Pull the bottle out of the boiler, and use a sharp knife to trim the hardened lube off of the bottom, where it will have formed a bead. Then set it in the refrigerator for a few minutes until one of the sheets cracks. (Cracking will occur automatically with all but the very softest lubes, because after it hardens, it will continue to shrink as it continues to cool. Eventually, the shrinkage will pull the hard lube sheet off of the bottle.)

     Then just trim it, lay it flat and dip the bottle again to repeat. Return trimmings to the double boiler for re-use.

The Kake Kutter pan lubricating method. Ken Mollohan

     Reference the pan lubricating technique described above.  Sometimes the wax cake didn’t harden enough to release the bullets easily, and sometimes it was TOO hard and you couldn’t push the bullets out by hand.

     Lyman used to sell a device called a ‘Kake Kutter’ to deal with the situation. It was just a fancy wad cutter, and worked on the same principle. You can make your own by just cutting the base off of a fired case, or by cutting a port in the side of the case a bit larger than the bullet. Then chamfer the case mouth. This will give you a funnel shaped cutter that you can push down through the soft wax and free the bullet. It tends to get messy pretty quickly with soft lubes, but it’s easy enough to clean by just warming it slightly and wiping it out.

Bullet Lubricants And Their Recipes

     Thompson-Center, in their literature, says that no petroleum-derived ingredients should be used with black powder guns. Many black powder shooters agree. To be on the safe side, I use no petroleum-derived ingredients for cleaning the guns or lubing the bullets. "Pam" and Mazola oil work fine for cleaning the guns, after the hot water washing; and canola oil, peanut oil, Crisco and other ingredients make fine bullet or patch lubricants.

     "Midway" is a mail-order supplier of shooting and reloading equipment. In their Bullet Casting catalog #1 for 2002, they list the following bullet lubricants for sale: Alox (several makers), Lee Liquid Alox, Lyman Black Powder Gold, Lyman Ideal, Lyman Orange Magic, Lyman Super Moly, RCBS Pistol, RCBS Rifle, Rooster Red High Velocity Rifle, Rooster Red Zambini, Saeco Gold, Saeco Green, SPG, Thompson Bear Cold, Thompson Bear Heat, Thompson Blue Angel, Thompson PS Black Powder and Thompson Red Angel.

     After thoroughly testing these and the other readily available bullet lubricants, some dissatisfied shooters mix up their own lubes.

     In the cast bullet game, the concocting of bullet lubes using strange and hard-to-obtain ingredients is a rite of passage for us all. We’ve all done it, it doesn’t hurt anything, and it’s something to talk about. It’s a shame that we’ve never found the secret lube.


     Alox lube is half Alox 2138F-a commercial lubricant and half beeswax. This is the NRA formula that Col. Harrison came up with many years ago. It is available from several manufacturers including Lee, Lyman and Javelina.

     Lee and Lyman make liquid Alox, and it works well.

"The formula for Alox 2138F (no longer available) is as follows:

  • Material Wt %

  • Melt in a double boiler:

  • Alox 350 7.00 (The exact amount isn’t critical)

Slowly stir in:

  • Petrolite C-700 3.00 (Microcrystalline wax)

  • Blend until fully melted and dissolved.

  • Add slowly with good mixing:

  • Alox 350 90.00 (A total of 97 parts Alox 350 IS important)

  • Blend until uniform. 100.00 Alox 2138F

     To make the NRA lube, you can now add 100 parts weight of melted clean, pure yellow beeswax to the preceding.

     The NRA lube can be molded as you may desire. I’ve found it convenient to just pour it into small cans or even muffin tins. When I need to refill a sizer, it is simple enough to set the can (or a muffin sized block in an aluminum measuring cup) in simmering hot water to melt the lube, and pour it into the sizer. Allow to cool well before using.

     Alox 350 is one of a series of "oxidized petroleum fractions" (i.e., partially burnt grease) originally developed by Alox Corp, of Niagara Falls, NY.  However, they are now defunct, and the Alox line has been taken over by Lubrizol Corporation, who discontinued the Alox 2138F as too low in sales volume, but continues to offer the Alox 350 and a number of other Alox products, including the stuff sold by Lee as "Liquid Alox". You should be able to find them on the net easily at: http:”//”

Ken Mollohan


     This is named for Barry Darr, the barrel and mold maker and inventor. The formula is: one pound of Vaseline plus one pound of paraffin and a spoon full of RCBS case lube. (Bud Welsh wrote that only the true Vaseline should be used. I never saw the difference between Vaseline and a generic brand.)  I buy a 12-ounce container of Vaseline and a pound of paraffin. The paraffin comes four sticks to the pound, is available in the supermarket and is used for canning. I put the Vaseline and three of the sticks of paraffin (12 ounces) into an aluminum bread baking tin; I mostly forget to put in the RCBS case lube. This gives me equal parts of Vaseline and paraffin. I put the bread tin in an inch of water in a frying pan-an impromptu double boiler. Don’t overheat the Darr lube-if it smokes, throw it away. I make a new batch of Darr lube each year. I think the lube loses some qualities as it is repeatedly heated and cooled, and in a year a lot of debris accumulates in the bottom of the bread tin.

     Lately I've been putting four sticks or 1 pound of paraffin, a 12 ounce container of Vaseline, and a couple of squirts of Marvel Mystery Oil together to make Darr lube. It works just great.

     The black powder cartridge rifle gang uses SPG lube. They love it. I've never used it. Several people have told me that SPG lube is Darr lube.

     I was one of the lucky participants in the wonderful 2006 beeswax purchase, ending up with enough beeswax to last several lifetimes. I gave half of it away, and still have more than I'll ever use. Because I had it, I added it to my Darr lube, and fiddled with various recipes. I can't help myself. At the end of this, for pan lubing, I find Darr lube works better than any beeswax concoction I tried.

     The cake comes out of the pan after ~ 3 minutes in the freezer from a room temperature start. The beeswax recipe cakes didn't want to release from the pan.

     The bullets push out of the Darr lube cake easily. The bullets are reluctant to leave the beeswax formula cakes.

     The Darr lube stays in the grease grooves on the bullets. Some beeswax recipes had the lube pulling out of the grease grooves when the bullet (finally) pushed out of the cake.


     Buck Emmert developed this for Schutzen shooting.

     "I have used Emmert's home made lube for fifteen years successfully in Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette use. It is simple to make up:

  • 50% Pure Natural Beeswax

  • 40% Crisco Solid Shortening

  • 10% Canola Oil

     I have recently modified it by using only 5% Canola Oil and adding 5% Anhydrous Lanolin.

     It lasts longer and stays in the bullets grooves over time in better fashion. Lanolin is GOOD.

     This is a superb Schuetzen lube (plain base cast lead bullets up to 1500 fps or so).

     I am now using it for most of my pistol and revolver loads, also.

     All of the above percentages are by melted volume. Melt in a double boiler as overheating it is damaging. It works well in lube sizers and also is a dandy pan lube."

 R. Dale McGee


  • Four parts beeswax

  • One part lithium grease

  • One part Dextron ATF

     Just melt and mix. If the lithium grease is a little hard to mix, just use a whisk or spatula.


     There are thousands if not millions of recipes for bullet lubricants. Experimenters love to talk about waxes and oils and soaps and the qualities of each. Here are some of the ingredients:

     Steam cylinder oil, sperm oil, (think of the whales!), castile soap, Ivory soap, Crisco, mutton tallow, hog tallow, beef tallow, deer tallow, Japan wax, bayberry wax, Cosmoline, rosin, plumbago, oildag (graphite suspended in oil), ozocerite, yellow laundry soap and lanolin.

Some lubricants and recipes:

  • Beeswax softened with Marvel Mystery Oil and/or other oil and/or Vaseline and/or Crisco.

  • Paraffin softened with Marvel Mystery Oil and/or other oil and/or Vaseline and/or Crisco.

  • Lithium grease or silicon grease from the auto parts store.

Harry Pope’s lubricant recipe:

  • Beeswax 2 oz.

  • Bayberry wax 4 oz.

  • Mutton Tallow 6 oz.

  • Steam cylinder oil 2 oz.

  • Acheson Graphite #1340 170 gr. Or 2 heaping teaspoonful

     “Melt together in a double boiler arrangement whereby the container with the waxes sits in a pan of water. The heat must not be allowed to be applied to the wax container directly. Heat until all the waxes are dissolved and stir the mixture as it cools until it becomes too thick to stir. Even so, the Graphite will probably settle out of the mixture.”

Another Pope Lubricant:

  • Beeswax 65%

  • Beef Tallow 35%

  • Add “Oildag” and adjust for the rifle.

A Leupold formula:

  • 5 oz. Japan wax (carnauba wax)

  • 5 oz. Yellow beeswax

  • 2 oz. Ozocerite wax

  • 3 or 4 teaspoonfuls of graphite

     Melt the above in a double boiler arrangement. Stir thoroughly.

Some recommended lubricants from A. C. Gould’s “Modern American Rifles”:

  • Winchester Repeating Arms-Japan wax or beef tallow

  • Marlin Firearms Co.-Clear tallow 4 parts, beeswax 1 part

  • Massachusetts Arms Co.-1 part beeswax to 3 parts tallow

  • Ideal Manufacturing Co.-3 parts beeswax to 1 part common cylinder oil, also, beef tallow with enough Vaseline with it to soften as desired.

  • Sharps Rifle Co.-1 part beeswax to 2 parts sperm oil, by weight

  • Smith & Wesson-Melted tallow

  • Bullard Repeating Arms Co.-Fill grooves with beef tallow or Japan wax.

     Shooting Cast Bullets Without Lubrication.

     With help from Ken Mollohan and Bill McGraw

     Most cast bullets come with lubricant grooves, which we fill with our lube of choice before shooting.

     When I look at bullets recovered from the backstop, the grooves are still pretty well filled with lube. I’ve thought that this lube wasn’t needed, and that maybe the grooves could be much shallower.

     I have been shooting lubricated cast bullets with no grease grooves for a few years now, with excellent accuracy and no leading. The objective here was to design a bullet without grease grooves in hopes of having a high ballistic coefficient and thus less wind deflection. That worked.

     Norm Johnson is shooting pistol bullets without any lube as a standard practice. He cautions that the bullet must fit the throat of the cylinder.

     I have read in passing that Ken Mollohan is shooting cast bullets with no lubrication at high velocity; without leading and with acceptable accuracy. I hope to read about this in the Cast Bullet Association newsletter when I can get the appropriate back issues.

     In the distant past I shot some 30-40 Krag loads with un-lubricated cast bullets and a cream of wheat filler, without leading.

     I removed all lubricant from 20 sized, gas checked and lubricated 311299’s, and loaded them in 300 Winchester Magnum cases with Remington 2 1/2 Large Pistol primers and 17 grains of Unique. The cases were neck-sized in a Lee Loader die, and belled in a Lyman “M” die so that the mouth of the case touched the chamber neck. I always “M” die the case mouth until resistance is felt on chambering the case. I think that I see accuracy deteriorate when gas comes around the case mouth and down the neck. I wipe each case off after firing, making sure that there’s no gas leaking and staining. The bullets were seated to an overall length of 3.455”, which is a little longer than will allow the cartridge to freely enter the chamber. This length mashes the front of the front band of the bullet into the leade or ball seat or throat or whatever we’re calling that tapered part of the chamber from case neck diameter to the rifled bore. The bullet is a tight fit in the taper, because that shoots best for me in my guns.

     The rifle is a Savage Tactical rifle (I’m a little embarrassed at the “Tactical”, but that’s what it says.) It has a Weaver V9 Widefield scope set at 9X.

     I had loaded some fixed ammunition with lubricated bullets and the same load, and I fired that when I got to the range, at 100 yards. Groups were normal. I cleaned the rifle and made sure there was no lead in the barrel. When I get clean/grey patches out of the barrel with no stripes of black or dark grey, there’s no lead.

     Then I shot two 5 shot groups with the un-lubricated bullets. The first group was slightly over 2”, the second a little over 3”. Accuracy had deteriorated, which goes along with leading.

     I cleaned the gun, which had as bad a case of leading as I can remember, about 8” ahead of the action. It took perhaps 30 minutes and 10 Lead Away patches to get the lead out of the barrel.

     I wasn’t too surprised at the leading, but I was surprised at the cases. Starting with the fourth case, there was lead on the outside of the case neck. Maybe a quarter of each case neck was covered with lead, on the average. The lead was thin, some wiped off, but some took a fingernail and a lot of scraping to get some off. This is what I know. 

     Here’s what I think. There was no lead on the first 3 case necks. The case necks were expanded so that no gas leakage would occur. There was lead on the last 7 case necks. I suggest that some lead was melted and kind of gassy, it was a vapor when it blew around the case mouth and back over the case neck and deposited itself on the outside of the case neck. I’m reminded of vapor deposition, a process of “gettering” or “sputtering” a metal in a vacuum such that the metal vapor deposits itself on a surface. That’s how the gold/chrome colored metal printing gets onto advertising pens and other items.

     If there was no vapor going on, then the bullet must have melted, flowed around the case mouth, got onto the case neck, hardened into a bullet again and gone to the target. Editor’s note: The lead may also have come from an accumulation of etching from the gas action of previous shots. I like vapor.

     What about the case neck “M” dieing? I think the vapor went around the case neck after the neck had expanded-ironed out the belling-and then contracted. Else I can’t understand how the lead got around the case mouth.

     I’m kind of thinking that lead deposited 8” down the barrel for the first three shots, then the fourth shot and on had the powder gas vaporize the barrel leading and deposit it on the case neck, after the case neck had relaxed.

     But I don’t know.

     I agree with Norm Johnson when he says that we don’t understand what the lubricant does.

Response by Ken Mollohan:

     Actually, I think we have some very good evidence concerning what a 'lube' does in a cast bullet load. Consider the following:

1. Un-lubricated lead bullets (even though dead soft) can be fired without leading at fairly substantial velocities in air rifles.

2. Dr. Mann (and a few others) have obtained decent results with un-lubricated bullets, but only under conditions with fillers or when the bullet was a very precise fit in the throat.

3. Otherwise, un-lubricated cast bullets can be used in a firearm without leading ONLY if velocities are kept low.

4. Un-lubricated cast bullets can be fired all day long (even at high velocities) without any evidence of leading with Cream of Wheat (and other fine granular materials) as fillers.

5. I have noticed on many occasions that the appearance of leading and lead flashing at the muzzle (when shooting normal lubricated bullets) coincided with substantial enlargement of the land marks on recovered bullets. These enlargements can be shown to originate with the side of the land that pushes the bullet to rotate it, because flame etching marks on the bullet grooves are noticeably longer and more severe on the NON-pushing sides.

     Notice the pattern here: Every single instance where bare lead can be used successfully is under some condition that eliminates or minimizes the exposure of the projectile to flame. In example one, there is no flame (unless you are getting dieseling).

     In example two, the base of the bullet is exposed, but not the sides -and the velocities are generally low enough to avoid abrasive enlargement of the grooves.

     In example three, loads are light, and so is the pressure (and flame temperature) trying to get past the bullet.

     In example four, the fillers have been shown to form exceedingly effective and solid firewall structures behind the bullet.

     Once, many, many years ago, I tried to find out what was causing leading. The theories of the time included lead 'rubbing off' on the steel and similar absurdities. I tried just about everything you can imagine to make lead adhere to clean steel: Compression in a hydraulic press to 60,000 PSI wouldn't do it. Rubbing the lead on smooth steel wouldn't do it. Rubbing it on rough steel would remove the lead, but it was just a loose, non-adherent dust. Spinning the bullet against the steel using a variety of drills, etc left nothing that wouldn't wipe off with the finger. So bullet velocity wasn't the problem. In short, I have not found any set of conditions that will produce leading that does not involve flames - or at least high temperatures. All the evidence that I'm aware of seems to support a scenario that goes something like this:

     Upon ignition, the gunpowder quickly converts into a ball of incandescent gas at high pressure which drives it against the base of the bullet. If the load is light, and/or if the bullet is a very good fit in the throat, the gas cannot leak past in significant volume to do any damage, so the load is reasonably successful. However, as the load is increased, velocities and pressures also increase. If the bullet is not a press fit in the throat, some gas will escape around the bullet before it begins to move. Abrasive land enlargement becomes significant, and opens channels along the bullet for flame to escape. This flame can easily exceed the melting point of steel, and it has little trouble etching low melting lead alloy from the sides of the bullet. These molten droplets of etching are blown forward of the bullet, and then are ironed onto the steel wall of the bore as the bullet passes.

     (Now step aside for a moment, and go talk to someone with some experience with welding or soldering. They'll tell you that even the slightest trace of grease or oil on their materials will reduce or even prevent adhesion, and that for a good job, the metal MUST be clean as a whistle!)

     I believe that - with reasonable loads -'lubricants' prevent this by fouling the steel bore, reducing the surface tension, and preventing the molten alloy from wetting and adhering to the bore.

     However, as loads are increased even further, several factors begin to act against the lubricant. For one thing, as temperature of the flame goes up, so does the temperature of the lead etch droplets - and their surface tension goes down accordingly. Eventually, their surface tension will be lower than that of the lube, and the droplets will be able to adhere to the steel. (The weld / solder expert above doesn't even begin to work with temperatures like these!) Also, many waxes and wax like materials will completely evaporate at high enough temperatures, and some of them may not be able to stay around long enough to wet the steel.

     There's a lot more evidence that I could cite, but the short version is that- I believe-'lubricants' really don't lubricate anything. They just contaminate the steel surface and prevent lead from being soldered to the bore. Does anyone have anything they think I'm overlooking?


Bill McGraw said:

     Any un-lubricated CB must have a proper fit in the chamber, a substantial gas check, not just a Hornady GC. If the chamber will allow it, a much larger CB diameter or a tapered bullet with a large base band would be ideal. In many cases the chamber will not allow such a larger CB to chamber. We have many compromises in dealing with ammunition.

     Lubricant's property is to eliminate leading and other fouling by preventing larger amounts of flake or vapor lead from sticking to and building up substantially with subsequent rounds fired; all fixed ammo gas cuts to some extent; breech-seated ammo very likely does not gas cut but lubricant is still used in that discipline. In other words, lube is needed any time there is inadequate gas sealing, and that is most or all of the time. I think that is a simple enough explanation of the process of leading and lubricant's role in its use in our CB technology.

     In order to prevent gas cutting with un-lubricated CB's, some kind of additional GC with the HGC or PB designed CB's is needed. Mustafa Curtess and I still have some of your 30 and 45 cal NGG's (no-grease-groove bullets) and we are still testing them rather successfully. In my Trapdoor the 45 NGG is somewhat too small diameter to fit properly; therefore I have used cornmeal filler as a gas check with several powders suitable for 45-70 with low PSI loads that are recommended for the weaker actions, 17K PSI typical and NMT 25K PSI. I separate the powder from the cornmeal with a thin card wad and top off the cornmeal with another card wad and have used the PVC (vinyl) wad as well under the bullet; the PVC wad does a much better job than the card wads I have used.

     I have rolled the NGG in anhydrous lanolin for a thin coat, just enough so that it will pick up a light coat of motor mica; that must be considered a lubricant using an NGG. I don't use Unique or Red Dot type powders with the cornmeal filler to avoid excess PSI spikes. I have not had any fouling and have gotten approximately 3 MOA accuracy with the NGG with cornmeal filler and using 4895-S, 2230-S and RL-7; there are others I could have used but got reasonable accuracy with the RL-7.

     I tried using Unique with grease cookies and avoided gas cutting, but the grease cookies were difficult to handle. Wax wads were as difficult as well. Using cornmeal filler does reduce the MV to 900-1000 MV in the trapdoor. I have not attempted any higher MV's to prevent any damage to the Trapdoor action. I do get some unburned powder in the chamber but use a flexible plastic brush to brush out the chamber.

     I have made my own lubricants for many years and find that beeswax, anhydrous lanolin, and Neatsfoot oil are among many of the animal, plant and insect compounds that are necessary for the "anti-flux" property that we need for the "gas check" effect and prevention of accumulated fouling in the bore. Steve Hurst uses the "anti-flux" term to best describe lube's effects. Other non-polar compounds have been added to lubes with some benefit, but I avoid them if possible. Other than CB alloys, I believe that the JB's could benefit some form of lubricant to keep the bores much cleaner and consistent with many rounds fired in matches or varmint hunting.

Bill McGraw


Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article and over which The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned.

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