From Ingot to Target: A Cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners©

A joint effort by Glen E. Fryxell and Robert L. Applegate

 

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Glen E. Fryxell

 

Rob L. Applegate

 

A few words about safety

 

          OK, letís get one thing straight right from the beginning: casting bullets from molten lead can be dangerous. So can handloading ammunition, shooting a gun, driving a car, or operating power tools. However, if one thinks about the hazards associated with each of these practices, recognizes what and where they are, applies a little common sense, follows established safe practices and takes appropriate preventative precautions, the risks can be mitigated to the point that bullet casting is pretty much as safe as collecting butterflies. If you choose to cut corners, ignore safety rules, be lackadaisical or just flat donít think about what youĎre doing, you will get burned, and you may well poison yourself and those around you. Just like handloading, bullet casting is as safe or as dangerous as you make it.

          Bullet casting inherently involves hot metal, both the molten alloy that we fashion bullets from and the hot moulds and lead pots. Leather gloves are a good idea (and remember, a hot mould looks just like a cold mould, this is why we put wooden handles on them!). Even very small splashes of molten lead can cause nasty burns and leather does wonders for preventing them. And lead pots do splash -- when adding metal, stirring in flux, or if (heaven forbid!) they encounter any moisture. Keep all sources of moisture well away from your lead pot! A single drop of water can empty a 10 pound lead pot explosively, coating everything in the immediate vicinity with molten lead. If your lead pot is out on an open work bench, even minor splashes mean that safety glasses are a must. I cast with my lead pot wholly enclosed in a laboratory grade fume hood, with a glass sash in place between my face and the lead pot. I leave the little lead splatters in place on the glass sash as a reminder to myself as to how easily these things happen, and for instructional purposes for any new casters that I may be teaching.

          Good ventilation is very important to the bullet caster. My fume hood also serves to provide suitable ventilation, not only for the smoke coming off the pot but also for the heavy metal fumes emanating from the pot. Lead fumes are an obvious concern, but more subtle is the fact that wheelweight alloy also contains small amounts of arsenic. Arsenic is kind of a quirk in the periodic table in that it forms an oxide that is more volatile than the metal, and in fact at lead pot temperatures, some forms of arsenic oxide are fully gaseous, so if the arsenic gets oxidized all of it evaporates from the lead pot and is easily inhaled. Use of a reducing cover material helps to prevent this oxidation (see chapter on fluxing).

          Fumes are not the only exposure vector that we need to be aware of, teething children like to put anything small and chewable into their mouths, especially if itís bright and shiny. This includes cast bullets and discarded sprues, making housekeeping an important issue if small children have access to your casting area. This is easily dealt with, keep the sprues contained (heck just recycle them!) and keep the bullets packaged and out of reach of small fingers. Big fingers are an issue too: wash your hands thoroughly after each and every casting session, and again before you eat.

          Weíve all heard about lead poisoning, but what does it really look like? The symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include: loss of appetite, a metallic taste in the mouth, constipation, pallor, malaise, weakness, insomnia, headache, irritability, muscle and joint pain, tremors and colic. Lead poisoning can cause elevated blood pressure, sterility, and birth defects. The most significant site of lead toxicity is the central nervous system, but lead poisoning also impacts the red blood cells and chronic exposure to lead most often results in kidney problems. A childís body is more efficient at absorbing and retaining lead than is an adultís, and lead gets stored in a childís growing bones. The net result is that children are far more vulnerable to lead poisoning than are adults, and since their central nervous systems are still growing and developing, the impact of lead poisoning on a childís life can be far more severe than it might be for an adult, and may include brain damage, mental retardation, convulsions and coma. Responsible handling of lead can prevent these exposures, symptoms and health hazards.

          Remember, safety first. Think about what you are doing, take appropriate precautions, use adequate ventilation, and keep your lead out of reach of small children. Bullet casting is a wonderful hobby and one that will allow you to get so much more out of your shooting, but just like handloading, bullet casting is only as safe (or as dangerous) as you make it.

 
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