Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cast bullets in rifles: why?

Og took me to task one day for shooting cast in my rifles. And the fact is, you can run into problems. So why do it?

Three reasons for me:
1. Cost
2. Tailoring loads
3. I enjoy rolling my own

Admittedly, for some rifles not much difference. You can often buy FMJ bullets for very good prices, especially if you buy them in bulk. For others, for which pulled military ball is not available, there can be quite a difference. You do have to figure in the costs of a method of melting the lead, lube and(where appropriate) gas checks and, for many, a size/lube press. Happily, you can get some good stuff for not very much, and if take care of they'll last damn near forever.

Tailoring loads:
I started using these for my Model 94 back when my son weighed about 70 pounds and loved shooting it; my standard loads whacked him pretty hard, so I started making these so I could put together light loads for him. And the fact is, light loads that work in your rifle are good for practice. For some rifles can cut costs quite a bit(less powder for one) and give you a low-recoil, low-noise load that gives good accuracy. Which also makes them good for introducing someone to a centerfire rifle.

One more good point here: there are a lot of old rifles out there that in some cases should not be used with modern full-power ammo, or you just don't want to stress them that much even if in good condition. For these you can put together loads that won't stress things too much, and allow you to keep shooting them.

I just like it:
It's really neat to take old wheel weights and other scrap, melt & clean it, then turn it into shiny new bullets. In some cases you don't even need the size & lube press; if the as-cast diameter of the bullet matches the bore, you can lube it with something like Lee Liquid Alox and go from there.

There is another factor to consider, and it's the same as in handloading in general: is it worth your time? A lot of shooters(like Kim)don't handload because they consider any benefit in savings/tailoring loads not worth the time, and casting bullets does take some. For a lot of people, while handloading may be fine, the extra time and the expense of getting started just isn't worth it.

Quickie size/lube procedure

Take a cast bullet & gas check

Take the sizing die and top punch

The die is machined & polished perfectly round and the exact diameter you want the bullet to be, in this case .309". The nose punch fits the bullet nose so it isn't distorted in the process.

Put the die & punch into the sizing/lubing press.

The lock ring on the right holds the die in place. The press holds a stick of bullet lube and, since I use the hard, high-temp lube which has to be heated, it's bolted onto a heater. When the lube is up to temp, you place the gas check in the die, set the shank of the bullet into the check,

And press down on the lever. The bullet is forced into the die and formed to exact diameter and the gas check is crimped onto the bullet heel. You can't see it in this picture but there's a lever on top of the press that puts pressure on the lube, forcing it through the passages, into the die and then into the lube grooves. Then you raise the lever, which lifts the bullet out, and you have a ready-to-load bullet. The picture I took of the finished product didn't come out; when I get the chance I'll take another and add it in.

Update: here 'tis:

A gas check is just a copper cup that fits on the base of a bullet designed for it; they will not fit on a plain-base bullet. A gas check bullet has a 'heel' on the base of smaller diameter where the check fits.

There are two kinds of gas checks. One is just a cup that slips on and the sizing process squishes it in a bit; the other has a thicker rim that's actually crimped onto the heel. I prefer the second type, as I've heard of cases of the other type coming off in the barrel. Which is bad.

The purpose of a gas check is to protect the base of the bullet from the hot propellant gas. Up to a point it's no problem; start loading the bullet up to higher velocities, and the gas winds up cutting into the base/corners and two things happen: accuracy can degrade, and the barrel WILL have a fouling problem.


Tracy said...

I just enjoy casting my own. That's the main thing. But also, for decades I have approached bullet casting (and the equipment purchases that go along with it) with the attitude that, just because cheap bullets are available right now doesn't mean that will always be the case.
That attitude is beginning to pay off bigtime, nowadays.

Firehand said...

Ain't that the truth?