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  1. #1
    Owner - Tundra Supply jonanddad's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
    Edmonton, Alberta

    Melting wheel weights for bullet casting - all you need to know - Blacksmithden

    I decided to do a thread on melting down scrap wheel weights for those
    who haven't done it before. First, get yourself some wheel weights. You
    might find out that these days, it's a little easier said than done. It seems
    to me that they're getting a little hard to come by. More and more of
    the manufacturers are sending out their cars with zinc, iron, and even
    plastic wheel weights. Sooner or later, they're going to become a thing
    of the past like lino-type. To the best of my knowledge, wheel weights are
    the last of the commonly available bullet casting lead sources unless you want
    to pay top dollar for a commercially mixed alloy. If you've been thinking
    of getting into bullet casting, you might want to do it sooner than later.

    A few of the big tire chains have directives from their head offices not to sell
    used wheel weights to private individuals. Rather, they must only be given to
    "licensed recyclers". No doubt some health and safety "person" in an office
    somewhere found out that they were made of evil lead. Then, they decided to flex
    the "moron muscle" between their ears to make their mark on history. Saving
    the world, one wheel weight at a time

    A few tips for getting them. First, you'll need to talk to the service
    manager or owner of the garage. He/she is the person who will have the
    final say on who gets them. Second, when asked (and you will be asked)
    what you're using them for, don't tell them you're making bullets ! You don't
    know who you're talking to and they might be an anti. Tell them you're making
    down rigger balls, weights for your race car, you're re-doing the keel on a
    sailboat, you're making up fishing sinkers, or whatever. Just not that you're
    making bullets. Third, in passing conversation, don't be afraid to tell them
    that it's better that you get them rather than the scrap dealers. After all,
    they're sending them to China as scrap metal (which is true). Who doesn't
    hate the fact that everything is coming from China these days ? They
    might feel like they're getting a little satisfaction by selling them to a local
    guy rather than shipping them to some Chinese factory.

    You can probably expect to pay for them these days. $25.00/pail seems
    to be around the going rate. I bought one pail for $25.00, another I got
    for free from 3 trips over 2 months to a garage I know. The other two,
    I had to pay a scrap car dealer $0.25 / lb for. That's a little steep since
    your average full 5 gallon pail weighs in around 160 lbs. I didn't mind it
    so much this time since I could see that they had been sorting them
    and nearly every weight was made of lead. If you're buying from a
    scrap metal dealer, you're going to get a mix of the same stuff you'll
    be getting from a garage. If you buy from a scrap car dealer, you will
    possibly be getting a little bit more lead in the mix since the cars
    they're dealing with are older. I wish you luck in your hunting.

    Now that you have your wheel weights, you have to process them into
    something you'd want to put into a melting pot and cast bullets with.
    This means you'll have to get rid of all the garbage that the guys tossed
    in the pails at the garage, the steel clips imbedded in the lead weights,
    as well as all the zinc, iron, and plastic weights. One other thing is, most
    of the flat "stick on" weights are softer lead which the black powder
    guys want. They're great for muzzle loaders, but not so much for higher
    speed rifle bullets.

    Here's a pic of my half full buckets of weights. The lightest was 86 lbs
    and the heaviest was 97 lbs. My back just doesn't like slugging full
    pails of weights around anymore.

    The first thing to take into consideration is the weather. You will be
    doing this outside, and there has to be an absolute ZERO chance of
    rain. Water, even a tiny bit, combined with molten lead will not make
    for a good day. Lots more on that later.

    Ok. Let's get started.
    Spread your weights out on your garage floor. Pick out all the garbage,
    old valve stems, screws, nuts, bolts, and other trash. Separate out
    your flat stick on weights and set them aside. You'll melt them
    down at the end. By sorting first, you will be doing a few good things.
    First, and most important, you'll be able to see if somebody at
    the garage put any liquids (like their old coffee) in the pail. When
    you're dumping weights into an already hot melting pot that still
    has some molten lead in it WILL...not WILL result in
    the infamous steam explosion. I'll address that more a little later on.

    Second, by removing as much of the paper, old valve stems, tire
    stickers, etc, you'll be severely cutting down on the amount of smoke
    that will be rolling out of your melting pot. If you leave all this
    stuff in and just dump in your weights, it won't hurt anything but
    the smoke is brutal. Also, it may catch fire from time to time. You'll
    already have enough toxic smoke and fumes coming out of there
    with the plastic coating on the weights, and the stuff you miss.

    Third, it'll give you a chance to look at the weights. Once you know
    what to look for, you'll be able to scan for and toss a lot of the
    iron, zinc and plastic weights. The process I use will catch all
    of these during the melting process, but, why waste your time and
    propane heating up a bunch of scrap if you can catch it before hand.

    Lead weights are sometimes marked with the letters Pb. Zinc
    weights are sometimes marked Zn. Iron are sometimes marked
    with Fe. Not all weights have marks though, so it's only one
    of your tools to get rid of the garbage stuff. Here's a few pictures
    of some of the weights you'll run into. The video following it
    is "the drop test". Larger iron and zinc weights will ring with a
    higher pitch than lead when dropped on a concrete floor. One
    other thing. With larger weights, if you can bend them with your
    hands, they're lead. Zinc and iron are a lot stronger.

    Here's a video of "the drop test".

    Now that you have a few buckets of "clean" and dry weights,
    you can get started with the melting. Stuff you'll need is as

    Personal protective equipment:

    1. I highly recommend a full face shield, but I guess safety
    glasses are better than nothing.

    2. A hat you won't mind ruining.

    3. Heavy gloves

    4. Old clothes that will completely cover you, and
    they should be made from natural fibers. No synthetic
    stuff for this job. I wear flame resistant coveralls since
    I have access to them.

    5. Work boots.

    Melting equipment:

    1. A large metal pot. I used the bottom half of an old steel
    tank, but I've used a metal 5 gallon bucket before. It's up to
    you so long as it's made of steel. This will go faster if you
    have a piece of sheet metal to cover it with.

    2. A heat source. I use an outdoor 60,000BTU propane cooking
    burner. I've also used a tiger torch in the past.

    3. Enough propane to do the job. This melt used exactly one
    20lb cylinder, but I had another on hand just in case.

    4. A metal straining spoon. This is to pull out the metal clips,
    non-lead weights, and other garbage while leaving the lead
    in the pot. This should be a fairly heavy one as well. You'll be
    stirring very dense and heavy lead, not soup.

    5. A wind break to keep your heat going to the bottom of the pot
    if there's a breeze on the day you do it.

    6. Something to pour your lead into to form your ingots. I
    use muffin trays. On this particular melt, I used one that's
    made for rectangular mini-loafs.

    7. A cookie sheet to set your muffin tray in. You'll see why later.

    8. Something clean to dump your new ingots onto. I used plywood
    on this melt, but I've used cardboard in the past.

    9. A pail that will hold some water and a cup to pour the water with.
    Your standard coffee cup is fine for this.

    10. Something to use as a dipper to get your lead from the pot to
    the ingot tray. I use a stainless steel camping cup.

    11. A metal can for you to dump the hot clips into.

    Ok. You're ready to melt some lead !!!!

    Put about 1/4 of a pail of wheel weights into your pot. Light the burner
    and set it to maximum. Put your wind break in place and cover the pot.
    The first batch will take a fair bit longer to melt since there's a lot of
    air spaces between the pot and your weights. Leaving some molten lead
    in the pot on following batches will speed things up.

    Stand away from the pot while it's heating. The melting plastic on the
    weights, any debris you missed, and the fumes from the metal is downright
    toxic. If you start to feel light headed, STOP. Shut off the burner and wait
    for a day when there's a decent breeze. You can just assume that you're
    going to die if you pass out and dump a pot of molten lead on yourself. I can't
    stress the safety factor enough here. This little venture will require your
    full and undivided attention. Molten lead is very unforgiving and will burn
    any part of your body very badly in less than a second !!!

    Ok....the heats been on for a while...your pot is smoking away and smells
    like a burning plastic and rubber dump just inside the gates of hell. If this
    is the case, you've done everything right so far. Every few minutes, peek into
    the pot to see if there's any molten lead forming between the weights. It
    will look like liquid chrome. Once you start to see this, get your gloves
    and face mask on and grab your spoon. Try to stir up the mix a bit. Drag
    some of that liquid lead up onto the weights that haven't melted yet. By
    doing so, you'll be keeping the contents of the pot at a more even
    temperature. What you're trying to avoid is having liquid lead in the bottom
    of the pot getting way above it's melting temperature. This may cause
    any zinc weights that are down there to melt into the mix.

    Zinc is to a bullet caster what garlic is to a vampire. Lead that's contaminated
    with very little zinc will not fill out in a mold. Your bullets will be left with
    bubbles and voids, and there's nothing you can do to fix it. The only
    remedy is to dump the pot, and start over with a fresh batch of lead.

    Keep heating and stirring the mix until it looks almost like a slushy paste. This means
    it's almost time to start removing the clips and other junk from the
    mix. If you pick up a scoop of clips and there's a bunch of lead still in the
    spoon, it's not quite ready yet. The picture below shows it when it's at the
    slushy/pasty stage. A few more minutes of heating after this stage and it'll be ready.

    Keep heating and stirring until you can pick up a batch of clips in the spoon,
    and only a tiny bit of lead is is coming out with them. At this temperature,
    the lead will stay in the pot, but the zinc weights will not have melted.
    Scoop out everything as quickly as you can before the temperature climbs
    high enough to melt the zinc weights. Dump the clips and other junk into
    your metal can. You have lots of time to do this safely, so don't rush too
    much. Just don't leave the heat on and take a 2 or 3 minute break in the
    middle. Your spoon full of junk should look like whats in this pail. Sorry, I
    should have got a pic of it sitting on the spoon.

    When you have all the clips and other junk out, your clean lead will look
    like this. At this point, you can add some flux to clean it up a bit more if
    you want to. Personally, I do all of my fluxing in my casting pot.

    Take your dipper/stainless steel cup, or whatever you're using and dip
    it in the pot. Take only about half a cup at a time. It's lead, not coffee so
    it's going to be heavy. Take it over and slowly pour it into your ingot tray.
    If you don't completely fill a cavity, don't worry about it. Just get more lead,
    top it up, and move onto the next one until the tray is full. Don't overflow
    the cavities. This will make the ingots want to stick in the pan. Make sure
    you leave about 2 inches of molten lead in the bottom of your pot to help
    transfer heat when you add more weights. More on that later.

    Remember that pail of water and coffee cup I was talking about ? Take
    about half a cup at a time and SLOWLY pour it into the cookie sheet that
    your ingot tray is sitting in. There's no danger of splattering lead because you're
    not actually pouring the water into the lead.....just into the pan that the ingot
    tray is sitting in. There will be steam and bubbling, but it won't be violent.
    Continue to add water to the cookie sheet until all of the cavities have some
    water under them and then leave it. By doing this, you can get away with
    using just one muffin pan. You won't have to wait for the ingots to cool
    before you dump them, and they'll be much easier to handle.

    Now, back to the melting pot we go. The totally safe way to add more
    weights to your pot is to remove ALL of the molten lead, and let things cool
    down.....dump in some weights and start heating again. A faster way to get
    things melting is to leave 2 or 3 inches of molten lead in the pot (with the
    burner on high). This is probably the most dangerous moment in the entire
    operation due to the risk of the infamous steam explosion.

    A steam explosion occurs when water, or another liquid turns to vapor
    instantly rather than boiling off slowly like it does on your stove. Pouring
    just about anything that is liquid at room temperature into a pot of molten
    lead will cause an explosion to occur. The problem is 2 fold. The steam itself
    is more than hot enough to burn you and it may have considerable force
    behind it. That's the good part. That REALLY bad part is, when the liquid
    violently turns to vapor, it blows molten lead all over the place too. This
    will at the very best burn you. In a worst case, you'll be dead, and your
    entire yard will be on fire....I KID YOU NOT !!!! I am usually the last guy
    to beat on the safety drum because I've been messing with this kind
    of thing all my life. I will however take EVERY precaution necessary to
    keep from being the victim of a steam/lead explosion. If you're thinking
    of just dumping a bucket of weights into a pot of molten lead....and there's
    a chance there might be a cup of water in the bottom of the pail....well, let's
    just make it simple and assume you're going to die.

    Ok. Enough of the warnings and on with the show. Here's a VERY minor example
    of what will happen. DO NOT TRY THIS YOURSELF !!! Like I said...I've been
    messing with this stuff all my life and have a really good understanding
    of what I'm doing. Listen to what happens when I dump the weights in on
    top of the water that's dancing on top of the molten lead.

    Yes, I know that I look like a complete dork jumping back from the pot. Oh
    well. The idea was to show you how quickly it happens. You can really
    hear the lead hitting the steel sheet when the weights go in. Keep something
    in mind as well. Lead doesn't stick to steel really well. You could see the
    splatter that stuck to the sheet metal. Imagine how much lead actually
    came flying up, hit it, and fell back into the pot.....and that was with about
    1/8th of a cup of water, which had already half evaporated by the time
    I put in the weights. Could you imagine if there was 2 or 3 cups of liquid
    in the bottom of your pail and the bottom 4 or 5 inches of weights were
    all damp ? Most of the lead in that pot would have been in the trees above
    me. Ok. That's enough about steam explosions.

    As you're dumping in your DRY wheel weights, do it slowly. As with any
    liquid, the lead can splash up and cover you. Just to it slowly and everything
    will be fine.

    At this point, I want to address one more safety issue. Don't get more than
    8 or so inches of lead in your pot. First, if you get more than that, it starts
    to get really heavy. You don't want to crush whatever your pot is sitting on.
    Second, there are limitations on how much heat you can deliver into your
    pot. If you try filling it right to the top, you're going to be there all day
    trying to melt it. Third, and most importantly...... just in case the fumes
    get to get distracted....or whatever. Imagine you accidentally
    jammed your hand into the lead while dipping out a cup.
    Do you want to have enough lead in there that it'll come up past
    your glove and fill it, or........ would you rather (hopefully) clue into
    what's going on and rip your hand out quickly ? With a little luck, you can
    rip the glove off in a big hurry and save yourself. With a little luck, you might come
    out with only stinging fingers or a minor burn. If you fill your glove with
    lead, they probably won't try to save your hand at the hospital. Please, try
    and keep your lead level low.

    Now, while your second batch of weights is melting, go back over to
    your ingot tray. It will have cooled enough to handle (with gloves on) by
    now. Flip it over onto the wood. With a little luck, all of your bricks will
    have come out. If you get one or more that stick, carefully pick up the
    tray and drop it face down, perfectly flat. If you drop it on it's edge, it's
    going to bend. Remember, they're made for muffins, not lead bricks. Don't
    try smacking the bottom of the cavities with a hammer or other hard
    object. The aluminum in the pan is pretty thin and you'll likely punch
    a hole in it. Now you've got a cavity that you can't use. Just work around
    your stuck ingot. Hopefully with a few heating and cooling cycles, it'll
    come out.

    Ok. That's about it. Just keep repeating those steps until all of your
    weights have been processed. Once you've done the last batch, get
    the last of the lead out of your pot by scooping, dumping it, or however
    you chose. Put in your stick on weights, melt them down and pour them
    into ingots. Make sure you mark them so that you know which ones
    are wheel weight lead, and which ones are pure lead.

    The statistics from this melt:

    We started off with 705 lbs of weights, and junk in the pails.
    Out of that, we pulled 34 lbs of stick on weights
    After all melting was done, we finished up with 482 lbs of harder
    wheel weight lead and 28 lbs of softer stick on weight lead.
    Total weight of finished lead was 510 lbs.
    Total number of ingots was 130 1/2 of hard lead and 7 1/4 of
    softer lead.
    I burned EXACTLY one 20 lbs cylinder of propane
    We started setting up the pot at 9:30am and finished
    putting the last of the stuff in my truck at 5:25pm. In
    that time we didn't shut off the burner once.
    We had 2 full 5 gallon pails of clips, zinc and iron weights, etc.

    I need to thank my buddy and my apprentice mechanic, Tanner

    for providing the place to do the melt, for his help, and for lunch.
    I also have to thank all the guys from and for
    all of the information they’ve provided over the years.

    In closing, all the usual hygiene rules apply. Don't eat, drink, or
    smoke while you're doing this. Take a few minutes to wash your
    hands really well before you take a lunch break. Do not do this
    on your freshly paved driveway, beside your new car, or anything
    else you can't get lead on. There WILL be some spilled lead. It's
    pretty much unavoidable. If you accidentally get some liquid in the
    pot, there WILL be lead EVERYWHERE. Keep your kids away while
    you're doing this. The fumes and smoke are toxic. Kids these days
    have enough issues without us adding to them. If you do get
    lead splashed on you, your hat, you gloves, or whatever, toss them.
    You don't want to be tracking the stuff into your home. One more
    thing. For GODS sake, don't try to use the muffin tray, spoon or cookie
    sheet for cooking again. If you're only going to do one big melt, toss them
    out when you're done.

    I don't want to discourage anyone from melting
    their own lead. If you are aware of the risks and take steps to avoid them
    it can be perfectly safe. Hopefully I've made everyone reading this aware,
    but I haven't scared anyone off. Well, that's about all there is to it gang.
    Happy melting, casting and shooting.

    Disclaimer: I assume NO responsibility for your personal safety or
    the safety of your property. If you decide to melt your own lead, you
    do so at your own risk. Common sense is your best bet for safety.
    Please use it.....................Blacksmithden

    If you want to cut and paste this article, all I ask is that you keep
    it intact. Other than that, please feel free. Anything that helps
    my fellow shooters is a good thing. Cheers !!!

    THE END !!!!

    UPDATE: September 25 2011 -

    Did another melt yesterday. I got a pile of wheel weights for a really good price as well as some other bits and pieces. I thought it would be a good idea to discuss a problem we had, and the solution.

    In with my wheel weights, I got one large 80ish pound block of lead, some roof flashing, some lead pipe, some very heavy puck type 70/30 solder, and what I thought was lead wire.

    The large block needed to be cut into sections in order to fit in the melting pot. First, I tried our band saw. I made it less than an inch into the block and it grabbed the blade. The blade broke, and I actually had to break out a chunk of it, which remained stuck in the block. Don't use your band saw to try and cut lead. LOL. I wound up melting it into blocks with our oxy-acetylene torch. Even then, the blocks just sat in the molten lead. After half an hour, without even melting the edges, I gave up and melted them into the pot with the torch. The block type solder was the same. Didn't want to melt, so I just did it with the torch.

    The lead roof flashing sheet melted into the liquid lead ok. I rolled it up and just stirred the pot with it unit it was all gone.

    What I thought was about a 40 lb blob of bunched up lead wire turned out to be copper wire, insulated with cloth insulation, and then there was lead over top of that. All said and done, I got maybe 3 lbs of lead off it before I gave up and threw it in the junk pile.

    Anything that wasn't pure wheel weights, I marked with and S, representing softer stuff. I'll use that exclusively for buckshot and slugs.

    All said and done, I added another 546 pounds to the stash. That pushed me well over the mark of "a ton of lead". I think I'm done guys. If I can cast all this up in my remaining years, I'll be doing well. I imagine that my wife and kids will have to get rid of the last of it after I'm in the grave. Anyway....that's it guys....happy refining and casting !!!
    Last edited by blacksmithden; 01-14-2013 at 02:02 AM.

  2. #2
    Canadian ForcesShort end of the Ban Stick normmus's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    I was hoping this would get posted. This is the best home wheel weight smelting write-up on the web.

  3. #3
    Owner - Tundra Supply jonanddad's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Quote Originally Posted by normmus View Post
    I was hoping this would get posted. This is the best home wheel weight smelting write-up on the web.
    Yep, I did not think den would mind If I reposted it and I also said who the original poster was but he edited it out last night

  4. #4
    GOC Co-Founder jwirecom109's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    South Central Rural Alberta
    The things you can do with abit of time and skill.

    Welcome to GOC, Site for honest, hardworking Canadians, that own firearms.

  5. #5
    Owner - Tundra Supply jonanddad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Quote Originally Posted by jwirecom109 View Post
    The things you can do with abit of time and skill.
    Yes, I joined him on his September melt, It was a very good learning experience

  6. #6
    GOC Co-Founder jwirecom109's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    South Central Rural Alberta
    I have a buddy that owns two repair shows, I called him today he said he barely gets anything for them, so said come grab the lead ones if i want. Might just try this out.

    Welcome to GOC, Site for honest, hardworking Canadians, that own firearms.

  7. #7
    Canadian ForcesShort end of the Ban Stick normmus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Yes grab them whenever and wherever you can. The iron to lead ratio seems to be going up as time goes on so get while the gettin's good.

  8. #8
    Owner - Tundra Supply jonanddad's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Quote Originally Posted by jwirecom109 View Post
    I have a buddy that owns two repair shows, I called him today he said he barely gets anything for them, so said come grab the lead ones if i want. Might just try this out.

    Yea get as many as you can when you can, If you dont end up using them I will take them off your hands for you

  9. #9
    GOC Co-Founder jwirecom109's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    South Central Rural Alberta
    my buddy said if i want just come grab a handful or two anytime i want, if i want everything then i just gotta pay what he gets from the scrapper, which he thinks is nothing.

    Welcome to GOC, Site for honest, hardworking Canadians, that own firearms.

  10. #10
    Owner - Tundra Supply jonanddad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Quote Originally Posted by jwirecom109 View Post
    my buddy said if i want just come grab a handful or two anytime i want, if i want everything then i just gotta pay what he gets from the scrapper, which he thinks is nothing.
    Nice, Get all that you can!

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