Lead from scrapyard- buy ingots, or sheet/pipe scrap

Help Support Ruger Forum:

Uncle Howie

Buckeye
Joined
May 28, 2004
Messages
1,214
Location
MN
Hello, all-

I’m planning on casting some revolver bullets for low-velocity target loads. I’m going to start accumulating lead on a more regular basis.

My only casting experience is making round balls of pure lead. I do have a local mentor, but I thought I’d also bounce this off the wider audience here.

Local scrapyard has “scrap” lead. Sheet lead, old lead pipes, possibly packing from plumbing joints, and who knows what else. It “feels” quite soft. This is what I used to cast round balls. Dirty, but I had no problem skimming/fluxing it in my cast iron pot, and getting rid of the vast majority of the crap, last time. After that, it goes in my Lee pot to be cast into projectiles.

They also have ingots, about six pounds. This “feels” harder, but obviously one reason is that it’s a six-pound chunk of metal, vs. 1/4” thick sheeting, or an easy-to-bend pipe.

Scrap and ingots are priced the same.

In favor of ingots:
-easier to handle, right away
-appear cleaner, much of the dross and crap has been removed

In favor of scrap:
-smaller pieces, easier to get started melting, at first
-PERCEPTION that it’s softer, and perhaps more “pure”
(Not difficult to make a harder alloy, if desired.)

Against ingots:
-MIGHT be harder than I want, for easy-obturating bullets in powder-puff loads
-unknown sources-is there crap in there from melting down batteries, etc.?

Against scrap:
-more difficult to handle/store, until I make it into ingots
-dirtier, both at first, and in the pot
-absolutely needs to be cleaned (skimmed, fluxed) prior to casting
-gives appearance of being soft (borne out by my past round ball casting)

My concerns:
-if ingots are too hard, might make bullets harder than I desire
(easier to alloy tin or antimony to harden, vs. trying to make it softer)
-are ingots more likely to be made of crap like old battery plates, etc.?
-if there ARE old car batteries, etc. melted into into the ingots... is all the extra-nasty crap (besides regular lead hazards) already burned off, or is it still there?
-assuming car batteries in the mix, is this lead likely to be any more hazardous to me (or my casting/loading equipment, or my revolver) than the scrap?

Any thoughts on which is the better bet?

Thanks for sharing!

-Howie
 

MIshooter

Single-Sixer
Joined
Apr 10, 2006
Messages
245
Location
Michigan
I would go with lead pipe and sheets. No idea what might have been melted in the ingots. A really small amount of zinc wheel weights in the ingots can cause a BUNCH of casting problems.

For pipes, I make sure to cut out any joints as the chemistry of a joint is slightly different.

You will need to add a bit of tin to make pure lead fill out a bullet mold properly though. For target shooting in revolvers hardness is not critical. Semi autos need a harder alloy. If you can get linotype you can mix it with pure lead and tin for a harder alloy. Lyman cast bullet handbooks have a good read on alloys with recipes.

Good luck
 

NikA

Buckeye
Joined
Nov 2, 2014
Messages
1,543
Location
Yrisarri, NM- high in the Manzanos
My personal preference would be the ingots. Less expensive to make an alloy softer than harder in my mind. Also, while obturation is important, bullet fitment is probably more so, and you can likely get away with a harder bullet than you need if it's the right size.

You can test the hardness of lead with a set of drawing pencils; the different pencil hardnesses have rough equivalency to the Brinell hardness scale.

My feeling is that anything really dangerous is likely to have been burned off in the smelting process to create the ingots, and as long as you don't grossly overheat the melt, it's unlikely to come out. Data I've seen show small amounts of arsenic in shot and wheelweight lead sources and I've not seen these described as more dangerous than casting with pure lead.
 

contender

Ruger Guru
Joined
Sep 18, 2002
Messages
22,138
Location
Lake Lure NC USA
I do a fair amount of casting,, and smelting of lead. From all kinds of sources.

As you have found,, the sheets or pipes etc are most likely closer to "pure" than the ingots you mentioned.
The ingots you mention. Are they marked in any way?
Also,, are they a single ingot weighting 6 lbs?
What shape are they? "Plumbers Lead" used to be in larger ingots,, of round or even octagon shaped,, roughly 5-6 lbs each.

Now,, I don't think they'd have ingots made from old batteries. The process to melt this things SAFELY is much harder.

Personally,, I'd buy some of both types.
Also,,, as mentioned,, you can test for hardness using a set of pencils. (Good info on that on the cast boolits forum.)
And you can soften harder stuff by adding the softer pure stuff. Or, as you know,, you can harden the softer stuff as well.

Again, buy a good quantity of both,, and go to testing. And if you are really concerned about the ingot alloy,, there's a guy on the CB Forum who will take a sample of you metal, test it,, for the price of (1) lb of lead. You send a small piece for the sample, as well as a 1 lb ingot for payment.

Now,, here's an idea you may want to consider.
Powder coat your cast bullets. It's EASY,,,, inexpensive,, and isn't quite as picky about stuff as traditional lubed bullets. Plus,, less smoke,,, and easier cleaning after shooting. Again,,, CB Forum has a wealth of info. I have totally quit using lubed bullets.
And if all that fails,, PM me & we can discuss things. We can swap phone numbers,, and have a serious discussion.

But if you have concerns about the mystery alloy,, I'd go heavier on the pure stuff,,, and mix things to make it harder. That way you have a known alloy for your purposes.
 

mikld

Blackhawk
Joined
Apr 22, 2009
Messages
947
Location
Oregon
Now,, I don't think they'd have ingots made from old batteries. The process to melt this things SAFELY is much harder.
I agree. Old auto batteries are normally recycled by Haz-Mat certified recyclers, for safety reasons.

I would probably go with ingots. Easier to handle and it sounds like the alloys of either the ingots or scrap is unknown. Get a Lyman manual and check the alloying chapter and pick up some tin, lead free solder or pewter. The pencil BHN test works and you just need about 10-12 BHN for good handgun bullets (I have run some of my 11-12 BHN cast bullets to 1,200+ fps with good accuracy and no leading in my 44 Magnums). Don't overthink, fret about "hardness" as anything between 10 and 18 BHN will work OK in most handgun applications and even pure lead can be used successfully with proper loads (many, many soft, nearly pure lead, swaged bullets have been reloaded successfully by many, many shooters).

You just mentioned alloys, but one of the most important aspects of cast bullet shooting is bullet to gun fit. Check around for info on how to determine your bullet to your gun fit...
 

Paul B

Buckeye
Joined
Dec 4, 1999
Messages
1,731
Location
Tucson, AZ
The sheet and scrap is probably mostly pure. The ingots are a guess at best. Hopefully just wheel weights which are just about perfect for handgun bullets. Even they can be shy of proper additions. For example, I still have some weights I bought back around 1973. Bullets cast from them have a BHN number of about 15 on average. Linotype runs about 21to 22 BHN. The last batch of weights I bought ran right around 10 on the BHN scale. I take those and add one pound of linotype, a three foot pice of 95/5% lead free solder, the type with silver in the alloy, and one-third cup of magnum bird shot, sized 7 1/2 or smaller and preferably smaller. The smaller the shot the higher the arsenic level. The linotype adds tin and antimony to the mix. Basic alloy will run right around 11 on the BHN scale when air cooled and aged for about a week. If you want harder bullets you can water drop them from the mold and after a week they'll run about 18-19 BHN. If that ain't hard enough, bake then for four or more hours in toaster oven at 400 degrees and then water drop. BHN in low 30s.
However, for your purpose, a BHN number of 11 will work just fine for plinking load and targets. Frankly, I run BHN 11 bullet at full throttle from .357 and .44 Magnums will no leading problems.
Oh, and the BHN number for pure lead is IIRC, 5.

Paul B.
 

Uncle Howie

Buckeye
Joined
May 28, 2004
Messages
1,214
Location
MN
contender said:
The ingots you mention. Are they marked in any way?
Also,, are they a single ingot weighting 6 lbs?
What shape are they? "Plumbers Lead" used to be in larger ingots,, of round or even octagon shaped,, roughly 5-6 lbs each.

Ingots are about six pounds each, round, and kind of dome-shaped. The dome would be in the bottom of the mold, and the flat side of the ingot is the top of the pour.

They have had a steady supply moving through there for years, but... I occurred to me that “someday,” they probably won’t be allowed to sell lead to the general public anymore, for “environmental” reasons. I might as well have a stack of ingots in my shed, hedging my bets. 8)

I do have a copy of Lyman’s Cast Bullet Handbook... the next step is to read it! :p
(I have read several sections, but I need to continue my reading.)

Thanks to everyone for all their help!
 

contender

Ruger Guru
Joined
Sep 18, 2002
Messages
22,138
Location
Lake Lure NC USA
Those ingots do sound like they may be plumbers lead.
I'd still invest in some of both,, and buy it now,, while available,, as it's getting harder & harder to find GOOD lead or alloy's.

I have been slowly spending a few spare minutes here & there going through the (3) buckets of clip on WW's I had stuck back. Checking them for zinc or other non-lead ones. So far,, I'm through 92) buckets & the 3rd one is started. Once I get them checked & sorted,, I have a serious smelting operation ahead.
In 5-10 years,, a LOT of folks will be crying the blues,, looking for sources of lead for bullets. I plan on having all the bullets I need already done.
 

NikA

Buckeye
Joined
Nov 2, 2014
Messages
1,543
Location
Yrisarri, NM- high in the Manzanos
I used to smelt wheel weights, but with the current trend of non-lead weights and my schedule, I concluded that I'd rather pay for ingots. Picked up 250 lbs from some local folks in Feb. at a little less than 1$/lb. I think that puts my stockpile at a little less than 500 lbs.

I am working on a bullet trap so I can just infinitely recycle it. Easier than trying to dig it out of a berm.
 

Mobuck

Hawkeye
Joined
Dec 25, 2007
Messages
7,820
Location
missouri
In the "good old days", I had a steady source of wheel weights. A friend in the tire shop business would sell me all I could lift into the back of the pickup for $5 and I was pretty stout back then. Every couple of months, he'd call for me to stop. That went on for a year or so and then someone else offered him $10 for about 1/2 of what I was getting for $5. Now my "all you can lift" bucket cost me $20 and I stopped buying.
It takes quite a bit of time to smelt dirty raw wheel weights and in the end, every batch is a bit different. I did get in on the last of the linotype before it disappeared. Then my basement got restructured and I was back to casting outdoors. Cast bullets were cheaper than my time was worth and I quit casting my own. Looks like I may be back in that business one of these days.
 

contender

Ruger Guru
Joined
Sep 18, 2002
Messages
22,138
Location
Lake Lure NC USA
It does take some time to process ingots, wheel weights, sheet lead or anything "raw" to the point of it becoming a bullet.
And since there isn't a lead ore smelter anymore in the USA,, it's getting harder & harder to get raw materials.
But the pleasure of making my own,, just adds to the shooting enjoyment for me. Plus,, I get the exact design I prefer,, as well as a good quality bullet.
 

Mobuck

Hawkeye
Joined
Dec 25, 2007
Messages
7,820
Location
missouri
Yeah, I hardly ever get rid of anything. Have molds and lube/sizer dies for 9mm, 357, and 44 plus maybe a couple of .30 and .311 for the 300AC and 7.62x39.
 
Joined
Oct 26, 2006
Messages
9,534
Location
Woodbury, Tn
I bought a Lee 10 lb pot, and 28 lbs of “range lead” ingots that came as 2-14 lb ingots! I never got around to buying a 20 lb pot. I need to find a used cast iron pan to sacrifice, and melt down those ingots, put 10 lbs in my Lee, the rest in smaller ingots for later. I have dug slugs out of the trees behind my range that also need smelting. My tire shops, and scrap metal dealers won’t sell any lead around here citing some EPA rule.
gramps
 

AzShooter1

Single-Sixer
Joined
Jan 14, 2017
Messages
329
Location
Surprise, Az
Get both the ingots and the lead sheets. You can mix them to get the alloy you really want.

For round ball the plain lead would be best. For your cast bullets the mix would probably work out better. Get a Lee tester so you can test the hardness. It's not too expensive.
 

Dan in MI

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
Aug 9, 2003
Messages
3,023
Location
Davisburg, MI. USA
Don't assume the 6lb are in fact plumbers lead. I know a quite a few guys that have old plumbers lead molds. The ones I am familiar with are actually a gang set of five or six, six pound molds in one block. They almost look like a chain. A close friend casts like no one I know. His "big pot" does 500lbs at a time. When he fires that one up it's an all day affair. From that pot he makes either the aforementioned hex blocks, or most commonly 25 bars that look like sash weights. I have a dozen of those that I use in my truck every winter for ballast. :lol:
 

Dan in MI

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
Aug 9, 2003
Messages
3,023
Location
Davisburg, MI. USA
It's funny this came up. I was at my buddies house and talking to his son. We got to talking about smelting lead (the big pot was visible) and he said you're standing on 400 lbs of lead. I laughed and said "I don't doubt it". He said "No, I'm serious." Apparently someone dropped off some lead years ago and my buddy never did anything with it and it slowly sank into the ground. I figured it was range lead or some other scrap as that was not unusual. Then his son kicks at this plastic bag scrap mostly covered in dirt. It tears and I can see ten or twelve one lb ingots! He says "I ain't digging that crap up. It's going with the house when the old man goes."

I may do a little prospecting soon. :mrgreen:
 

mrs50sls56

Bearcat
Joined
Nov 23, 2011
Messages
46
Location
Washington State
My wife used to work as a nuclear medicine technician. They would get vials of injectable isotope in lead cylinders with lead caps. After use, they would have a half life of about a week, yielding them Geiger counter clean in about a month. Every week, she would bring the clean ones home to me; usually amounted to about 5-10 lbs. Melted into ingots for storage. After 40 years, I'm down to the last few hundred pounds.
 
Top