Casting 12 ga Buckshot and Slugs, does hardness matter? What if I don't know?

Casting 12 ga Buckshot and Slugs, does hardness matter? What if I don't know?

This is a discussion on Casting 12 ga Buckshot and Slugs, does hardness matter? What if I don't know? within the Reloading forums, part of the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics category; Hiya everybody, I was hoping someone here has some experience loading and/or casting buckshot could chime in and help me out. I am thinking about ...

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Thread: Casting 12 ga Buckshot and Slugs, does hardness matter? What if I don't know?

  1. #1
    Member Array funklab's Avatar
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    Casting 12 ga Buckshot and Slugs, does hardness matter? What if I don't know?

    Hiya everybody,

    I was hoping someone here has some experience loading and/or casting buckshot could chime in and help me out. I am thinking about trying my hand at reloading some shotgun shells. All I really (want to) shoot in my shotgun is buckshot and slugs, for multiple reasons which I wont get into. Well after a bit of looking around, buckshot is incredibly expensive and hard to find ($60 plus shipping for a 25 pound bag is the best I could find online, and nothing in the stores around here). By my calculations, the buckshot would cost me around $3 a pound (and only be available in 00 buck) which would make each shell about 20 cents for the lead alone, after primer and powder, that's almost .30 a shot and while that's not crazy, I don't know if I can justify paying more to reload a shell I already have than it costs to buy a shell (cheap target load) from walmart.

    So I thought about casting some of my own buckshot. I saw some pretty cool molds, and I know I'd need a furnace, but those aren't that much from midway. I figure loading my own shot, I can reduce the cost by half to .15 a shot (compared to using store bought shot). Plus I will be able to cast whatever I'm willing to buy a mold for, which really appeals to me.

    I'm in a unique position to buy nearly limitless amounts of lead from a variety of sources, but none of them know how hard the lead is. So... Does it really matter? What is the problem if lead is too soft... or too hard?

    Locally I can pick up some lead from 3 sources for around or under $1.00 a pound.

    1. Discarded lead from an xray room's walls (or something like that), its been melted into neat little 1 lb bars, which is super convenient. No idea what else is in it.

    2. Melted down wheel weights. I hear good and bad things about these. The bad thing to me is it comes in pretty chunky blocks (30+ pounds) which wouldn't fit into a 20 pound furnace without some extra work.

    3. Lead ballast from race cars. I live in one of the bigger nascar cities, and I'm guessing that is why there is always lead ballast available. Once again, though, no idea whats in it besides lead, and it comes in big honkin blocks.

    Do any of these sources sound more (or less) likely to be more appropriate for casting buckshot and slugs? How about .357s? I got plenty of copper jacketed bullets to reload my way through, but if I do start casting, sooner or later I'm sure I will load something for the .357.

    Thanks for reading this incredibly long post (and sorry it turned out so incredibly long),


  2. #2
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    Array gasmitty's Avatar
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    Your post wasn't that long - unless your world is mostly texting!

    Does hardness matter? Yes, up to a point. If you're casting bullets for use in rifled barrels, it matters a great deal. For smoothbores it matters less, but - it still matters.

    Hardness of metallic materials is measured with specialized machines which typically apply a known weight to a penetrating stylus or ball of specific dimension, and the depth of penetration is what is measured. Since hardness varies so much (e.g., lead vs. tungsten carbide), different combinations of weights and stylii are used, depending on the material being measured. There are several different scales in use, most common are Rockwell (A, B, C, D, E, F) and Brinell. For lead and similar soft alloys, the Brinell scale is used and the measurement obtained is called the BHN for Brinell Hardness Number.

    With that behind us, let's move to common alloys used for casting projectiles. The Lyman Reloading Handbook gives BHN values of 22 for Linotype (the alloy used in the old newspaper printing days), 9 for wheelweights, and 5 for pure lead. Lyman will be happy to sell you their No. 2 alloy with a BHN of 15. The difference in haednesses is due to the amount of tin and antimony used in the specific lead alloy. For example, wheelweights (which are relatively soft) have 0.5% tin and 4% antimony, and the harder Lyman No. 2 uses 5% tin and 5% antimony. This is a good compromise hardness for casting bullets - but for shotgunning, you probably don't need to be so precise.

    Chances are the lead reclaimed from the X-ray rooms is pretty darn close to pure lead. I'd bet the race car ballast is similar. So your hardest raw material is probably the wheelweights.

    Starting wth buckshot: the reason to go harder is that lead pellets, no matter if birdshot or buckshot, will deform when traveling down the shotgun barrel after the shell is fired. The softer the lead, the more the pellets deform, and as a result the shot pattern gets larger and less uniform since the pellets are no longer uniformly spherical. If pattern and pattern spread are important to you, then yes, pellet hardness matters.

    For slugs, my references suggest that commercially loaded slugs are harder than Lyman No. 2. Ideally the base of the slug is soft enough to expand to the bore dimension (or a wad may fill that role) but hard enough so that it won't leave streaks of molten lead behind to foul your bore.

    I'm not sure what mold you would use for casting slugs, but buckshot ought to be pretty straightforward. Do your research on casting lead (you need to know about preheating the molds, fluxing, etc.) - and there are plenty of resources on line. I would start with a batch of pure lead buckshot and a batch cast from wheelweights, load a dozen of each, and spend an afternoon at the pattern board seeing which works for you. Depending on results you may want to find some other sources of lead alloys or tin and antimony to increase the hardness of your alloy.

    If you feel the need to measure your projectiles' hardness, you can get one of these: the Lee Lead Hardness testing Kit - MidwayUSA
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  3. #3
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    Array gunthorp's Avatar
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    I use an aluminum cupcake pan to cast ingots that will fit into the melting pots. I use a torch to melt the bigger chunks into a small cast iron pot that holds 15# lead, then ladle it into the cupcake pan with a steel ladle that holds 1 ¼#, enough to fill each cupcake.

    You can get used wheel weights from any garage that balances tires for free. Make sure they are DRY, dry, dry when you melt them with the torch and skim off the steel hangers. The tin and antimony in wheel weights needs to be fluxed together occasionally. I use a dab of wax or bullet lube. You can cast shot, slugs, and medium velocity pistol bullets from plain wheel weights. For high velocities (1000-2000fps) you should harden the mix with 1# 50/50 lead/tin bar or coil solder with 9# wheel weights. It’s getting harder to find 50/50 since plumbers must use lead free stuff. In my stained glass work I use 60/40 solder, so to make the same alloy, I use 1# solder to 8# wheel weights. I use a 4# Lee melting pot for preheating discards and sprues, and I can keep the lead level and temperature constant in the bottom pour 10# pot. See Lyman’s Cast bullet handbook and Lyman’s Shot shell reloading manual for techniques and load data. A leather apron, leather gloves, and good eye protection is a must. I made a powerful ventilation box to avoid ruining my weekends.

    For wheel weight slugs, I use Lyman’s 525 grain sabot slug mold. It’s designed to fit perfectly into a WAA12R wad, so the rifled slug barrel stays clean. With wheel weights, the slug weighs a little less. With W209 primers, capacious Fed Gold Medal hulls, Blue Dot or 4756, you can get over 2900 ft/lbs energy at the muzzle. A good recoil pad is recommended.

    An SKS ammo waist pack holds 60 fold crimp slugs.
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