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>> Cleaning Large Quantities Of Lead Alloy :: By Jim McCool (Arkepete) on 2002-03-28
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A good place for the beginning bullet caster, is to lay in a supply of the raw material, lead alloy! The best molds in the world are not worth a darn without something to fill the mold. The most useful lead alloy for our purpose is wheel weights. I should think they would be pretty universal the world-over - wherever there are cars, there are wheel weights. If you have wheel weights, you have 95% of the alloy for any kind of shooting.

While you are scrounging for wheel weights, it's possible to come across lead statuary, broken antique pewter plates, broken lead soldiers, new pewter ornaments, lead drapery weights, linotype bars, babbit metal, lead sheathing, plumbers lead, etc.. There are hundreds of alloys out there just waiting to be shot down range, but wheel weights will be your mainstay.

I've got buddies who work in the auto industry who bring me five gallon buckets of wheel weights; I've also asked for WW at tire stores and received as many as 5 five gallon buckets of WW.
When I get 8 or 10 five gallon buckets of WW, I will set up my coal fired furnace to clean them up and make ingots. My furnace is a homemade deal as you can see from my pictures.

It's a 55 gal drum cut off to one-third the regular height, and lined with fire brick. There's a flue-pipe to allow a blower to supply large quantities of air for a real hot fire. A friend of mine made my pot from 15-inch pipe so that I can melt up 250 pounds of alloy at a crack. Before I started using this pot, I used a cast iron Dutch oven for the same purpose.

I can reduce 1,000 pounds of dirty WW into ingots in one afternoon by myself. If a buddy helps, this can be increased to 1500 pounds. The quantity of coal required is minimal, maybe 20 pounds for every two pots full of WW. I'll buy 10 or 12 bags of coal, and maybe spend ten bucks to keep the furnace running through spring ingot making.

I would suggest doing this form of ingot making while it's still cool enough to keep people indoors. The initial burning of our local high sulfur coal really stinks. The coal will send a yellow cloud of smoke around the general area, until the fire gets hot enough to burn it off. And with the WW comes stems, gum, and lord only knows what else, which, as it melts, stinks to high heavens.

The process is basically the same as you would use with a lead pot, fluxing, casting, dumping the molds and refilling. The only difference is larger quantities of alloy. I use a large chunk of candle for fluxing and a large kitchen strainer, looks like a flat sieve, for removing tire clips, tire stems and other junk, leaving the lead alloy behind. I use one of the metal buckets the WW came in for holding the dross and steel clips. In an afternoon’s effort I can fill a 5-gallon pail with clips and other waste.

After the first batch of WW has melted down and been cleaned of debris, there is plenty of room for adding more dirty WW. The liquid metal speeds up melting down the additional WW for cleaning. When I have the pot full of clean molten metal within a couple of inches from the top, I begin to pour ingots. (Editor’s note: When adding any additional WW to the molten alloy, be especially cautious that they are totally dry and free of moisture either on the WW or in the bottom of the bucket, or a serious, perhaps fatal steam explosion may occur with the molten lead alloy!)

Once I begin to pour, it does not take long for the ingot molds to get red hot, so I will set the molds on the ground to use the earth as a heat sink and speed the solidifying of the metal.

After I have completed an afternoon’s ingot making, I will leave about an inch of metal in the bottom of the pot to speed up the first melt of next ingot making session.

One of my next scrounging missions will be to find a 3/4-inch thick by 12 inch by 30-inch slab of aluminum for a heat sink. As the ingots get cool enough to dump I drop them into a wheelbarrow to finish cooling, thus making it easier to transport to the storage location.

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