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Author Topic: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets  (Read 853 times)

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Offline Jay3100

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Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« on: March 18, 2019, 02:38:33 PM »
I have been casting projectiles for various calibers mainly for cartridge hand guns. I use decent lead lead alloy to deliver a hard projectile. I also coat them with HiTek coating so leadings not really an issue.

Just purchased that first cap and ball revolver and i’d like to cast my own .454 round balls. I ordered so “soft” lead supposedly for casting.

My question is the bhn hardness of the lead important enough to invest in and use a Lee Hardness testkit? Or is there ballpark method that works well enough to cast round balls for my 1858?

Jay
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Offline Len

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2019, 03:15:11 PM »
Hello Jay, welcome to the Forum.
I cast all my RB and bullets from clean lead, no alloyed stuff. Get it from the local junk yard. Real soft. That's what they used back in the good old days and that was what the irons were made to handle. As to my knowledge, back then they didn't use any fancy devices to measure hardness (I don't think they even had invented the Rockwell, Brinell and Vickers scales at that time). So, my 2 pence is, keep it original.

Offline Hawg

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2019, 04:26:24 PM »
Generally if you can easily scratch it with a fingernail it's soft enough. Clip on wheel weights are too hard, Stick on weights have a BHN of six and work just fine. Pure lead has a BHN of five. Stick on weights are about all I've used for the last 15 years or so.
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Offline Omnivore

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2019, 04:51:09 PM »
Hi Jay, and welcome!

It has been said before, to the experienced modern smokeless cartridge reloader who first venture into black powder;  FORGET EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.

In modern smokeless reloading, the concerns are operating pressure, velocity and hardness, but mostly pressure and hardness and how they relate to barrel leading.  In black powder pistols none of those things are of any concern.  Even in black powder cartridge rifle shooting (BPCR), where the bullets are several times heavier and the powder charges are three to four times heavier, they use fairly soft lead, thoughbeit alloyed with tin.

In a BP pistol your concern is powder fouling, and even that is only an issue when firing more rounds in a shooting session than was typical back in the day.  The only time you'll get any barrel leading when using dead soft lead is when the barrel fouls with black powder fouling, causing the bore to constrict.

A properly loaded and lubed black powder pistol, using pure soft lead, never leads a barrel.

See my "sticky" under the powder section of this forum, if you're real patient and like to sit for long periods reading.

So fouling mitigation is the issue, and not lead hardening.  Use pure lead and don't look back.  Anyway, you can look up the hardness range of pure lead if you want to put a number on it.  Plenty of people have tested it, but the point is, it's plenty hard enough in pure form.

You can shoot round ball made of alloyed lead, such as clip on or stick on wheel weight lead, and some do, but they're in the minority, they likely do it because that's what they have available for casting.  It doesn't buy you anything else beyond that, other than, possibly as in the case of clip-on wheel weight lead, more difficult loading for a given size ball.

The rule in black powder for bullets is: soft, oversized, and sloppy with lube.  Nor will synthetic powder coating buy you anything other than more work and expense. It is utterly unnecessary in a BP pistol.  If you want to run your bullets dry, you can do that, coating or no coating, but the black powder fouling will eventually build up in a long shooting session and begin to constrict the bore anyway.

Even the oversized part of that rule hardly applies to a revolver because the chambers are going to size the lead to chamber diameter, regardless.  Where it really does matter is in the use of round ball.  A round ball must be well over chamber diameter so as to shear or swage down enough to form a cylindrical drive band around the "equator" of the ball upon loading.  That provides a gas seal and also provides some engagement with the rifling.  So with a .447" or .450" chamber like most of the Italian 44 caliber repros have, you want a ball of .454" and .457" respectively.  I've used plenty of .457" ball in .447" chambers too, and they work well.

When it comes to using conicals in these revolvers, well, there's a ton of stuff we have on this forum already.  I short; conicals were the main projectile used in revolvers by the North in the Civil War, usually in the form of "consumable envelope" paper cartridges, they net you significantly more KE, they must be heeled or tapered at the base for loading, and their major diameter need not be more than about a thousandth or two over chamber diameter.  I usually run conicals of between 200 and 230 grains, but up to 255 or so were used back in the day, and I usually size them to chamber diameter, up to two over.  I also load a lube cookie (thin paper card, a lube pill consisting of a black powder specific lube, about an eighth inch thick, followed by another card) between powder and bullet.  Lube behind the bullet gets you far more "fouling mitigation" effect than lube over the bullet or in a lube groove.  Mostly I use paper cartridges with that load arrangement.

And that brings up the lube.  In modern smokeless loading, lube is used to help float the bullet in bore to reduce leading of the bore.  Not so with black powder.  Here the purpose of so-called "lube" is to mix with the powder fouling and keep it soft, such that a subsequent shot will "squeegee" the fouling from the previous shot out of the bore.  The proper fouling mitigation regimen will therefore result in no more fouling in the bore after the hundredth shot than there was after the first shot.  In other words; no buildup.

For general plinking, the round ball is a fine projectile, and, having no corners, it's also the easiest thing to cast.

Pure lead is harder to find than it once was, so anymore I order foundry lead, either from Rotomeatals or from Buffalo Arms.  Some I have gotten from plumbing shops as scrap from old cast iron plumbing joints.  Alloying is also more expensive, being that the tin and antimony are both more expensive than lead, so don't bother.  Some will toss in a very small amount of tin on the theory that it "wets" the lead, thus resulting in better fill-out of a mold.  I find that it is difficult to tell any difference, other factors in your casting process being more important (like temperatures of the pot and the mold, and keeping the mold cavities in proper condition).  Watching your temperatures, and maintaining the mold cavity surfaces, you'll get excellent bullets all the time, with no tin.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2019, 05:03:39 PM by Omnivore »
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Offline Hawg

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2019, 05:34:07 PM »
Pretty much what Omni said but clip on weights and harder alloys while they will work with an off the gun loader they're too hard on the loading levers, especially Remington levers and pins. Harder lead wont shrink as much when it cools so in addition to being harder they're even bigger than they need to be making them that much more difficult to load.
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Offline Omnivore

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2019, 07:20:33 PM »
Hawg would know.

Also regarding fouling mitigation; if you find that you need to scrub the bore afterward (as with a brush) to get it clean, then you're not using enough lube.  It should wipe right out with a tight-fitting patch and jag setup.  If it doesn't, then the bullets won't be whisking out the fouling either, during your shooting session, which means you're getting a buildup of fouling from shot to shot, which means pressures will rise, the fouled bore surfaces will be rough, and that's when leading starts to set it.

Back to your original question; black powder and black powder substitutes don't generate a high enough peak pressure to cause the type of leading that you'd be concerned with in modern smokeless loads.  So it's a whole, nuther deal, so to speak.

So truly; forget everything you know, otherwise you'll be chasing phantoms when it comes to black powder.  Smokeless powder, when it first came on the market, burst a lot of the old guns before it started to dawn on the average shooter that smokeless generates FAR higher peak pressures and is FAR less forgiving of an over-charge.  And it is that pressure which results in the leading issues in modern guns with lead bullets.  The modern loading manuals usually focus on velocity when it comes to lead bullet hardness, but velocity has only an approximate correlation to peak pressure, and it's the pressure that does it.  Thus we can load up a black powder rifle, for example, to 44 Magnum velocities with a soft lead bullet and still there's no leading issue other than as results from the copious powder fouling.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.   James 1:25 (KJV)

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.   James 2:12. (KJV)

Offline Hawg

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2019, 08:44:14 PM »
All I use these days are bore mops.
Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for thou art crunchy, and tasteth good with ketchup.

Offline mazo kid

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2019, 10:14:56 AM »
The fingernail scratch test is sufficient for what we use. If you go to the Castboolits forum, there is some info about using different pencil leads to test for hardness. Less costly than the commercial testers.

Offline Omnivore

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2019, 02:37:46 PM »
If there's no specific need to put a number on the harness, and the object is to determine whether your scrap lead is pure, then simply compare the harness of your lead to that of some commercially swaged bullets or round balls.  The thumbnail test, or squeeze test, etc. will be adequate.  So the question becomes; what's the objective?

Otherwise, for cap and ball, buy pure foundry lead.  Pure lead exhibits the very same hardness range as pure lead, it turns out, so it works out nicely.

I've never used a hardness tester.  If a particular load for a particular cartridge calls for a particular alloy, then I mix up that particular alloy.  If I want to assign a number to it for some abstract reason, then all I have to do is look up the hardness for that alloy.  If, after testing a particular load, I decide that the alloy should be harder or softer, I adjust the alloy content.  After all, it is the result in the gun that matters; not how far a particular pencil, or tool, will poke into your lead.  Putting a number on the hardness then becomes irrelevant, so long as you keep notes as to your alloy content.

Now, there is one good reason to have a hardness tester.  That is when you want to backward engineer a commercial hard cast bullet that you've tried for a while and you really like.  Test it's hardness, then look at the alloy charts and see what you need to mix up to achieve that hardness.

Again though, for cap and ball applications, pure lead is the correct hardness, so that makes it super easy.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.   James 1:25 (KJV)

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.   James 2:12. (KJV)

Offline Hawg

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Re: Lead Hardness Testing for Cast Bullets
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2019, 06:18:35 PM »
Hawg would know.

I have broken two levers at the hinge on Remington revolvers from loading balls that were too hard.
Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for thou art crunchy, and tasteth good with ketchup.