Saturday, April 16, 2016

Casting Bullets for .44-40 WCF in an Antique Mold

This morning I cast some bullets to load in .44-40 WCF cartridges for my Cimarron Firearms Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle. The mold I used was the antique Winchester mold that I got off eBay a few weeks ago along with a Model 1882 loading tool. The tool and mold were made between 1882 and 1914.

To melt the lead I used a Lyman Big Dipper furnace, which I got as part of a kit that also included a lead dipper, an ingot mold, a copy of the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook, 4th ed., and three kinds of bullet lube. (Right now the only lube from the kit that I have a use for is the Alox, which I used for fluxing the lead. I gave the Orange Magic lube to my brother, while I'll give the moly lube to a friend.)

The furnace is sitting on a couple disposable cookie sheets to catch any spills. The lead was purchased on eBay. It's dead soft so it is probably reclaimed plumber's lead. According to information I've read online, original 19th Century black powder .44 WCF cartridges were loaded with pure lead bullets.

The mold is in good condition for its age but when I got it the sprue plate retaining screw was stuck. After a few weeks soaking in Kroil I was able to remove it this morning without too much effort. I think it was just a crud buildup because there didn't seem to be any rust on it or in the hole in the mold block when I removed it.

To warm the mold I let it sit on the pot as shown above, while the lead was melting. I then got it up to a good temp by casting some bullets, which wound up back in the pot.

This was the first time I'd cast bullets in a couple decades, so I'm pleased with today's output. Before taking the picture a bunch of wrinkled bullets from when the mold was too cool had gone back into the pot.

And a closeup:

I measured a few with a digital caliper and they seem to be dropping at about .425 to .426, which is on the small side. However, they may still be usable in my rifle when loaded on top of black powder. Because they are soft, the sudden jolt from the black powder charge may bump them up to fill the throat and grooves. The only way to know for sure will be to load them up and try them.

However, I suspect that I will need to add some tin to my lead. All cast lead bullets shrink a bit when they cool but adding tin not only hardens the lead, it reduces shrinkage.


Toastmaster said...

Back in the day when I was doing some casting, I used wheel weights. Lots of contamination and dross, but they made pretty good bullets.

Dave Markowitz said...

If I had a source for clean, lead-based wheel weights I'd try them, but more and more, WWs are made from other materials like zinc and steel. Between all the dirt, valve stems, and non-lead metal mixed in, messing with them isn't worth it to me.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really sound like you have a real problem, beyond refining your casting technique.

You will need a bit of tin in your alloy, if it really is almost pure lead, to get it to cast well. In the old days you could find 50/50 plumbers solder in bars, but I'm not sure you can anymore. I've been stocked up with alloys for a long time now. If you can get some linotype, you can use a small amount of that as a tin source. Start small and use trial and error.

I've never had success heating a mould on the edge of the melting pot. Years ago I bought an electric ring and I set moulds directly on its coil if I'm casting outside. Indoors I put the moulds right on the kitchen stove burner. I used to like putting them in a gas stove flame, years ago. Just don't overdo preheating.

It depends on the mould -- the bullet weight to mould weight ratio -- but in general I've never had much luck heating a mould by casting with it. If you're lucky the mould will just retain enough heat for you to keep going. Of course if you are casting say a 500 gr. bullet in a single cavity mould, the mould may get too hot and start casting frosty bullets, and you’ll need to take a break for a minute of two. But, frosty bullets never seemed to hurt anything and are almost always well filled.

I've never used bullet lube for fluxing. There is probably nothing wrong with that, but I don't know. I'm old fashioned, and have always used a few drops of mineral oil or a small lump of paraffin for fluxing, and they always have worked fine. I have tried commercial fluxes and they never did anything special for me, except maybe smell better. I also used sal ammoniac for awhile, but it caused the pot to scale up. So, simple is best.

I would cast all of my bullets to be well filled out and uniform. Depending on the powder impulse to "bump them up" does not sound like a good plan to me. The .44/40 was at one time nominally .427" diameter, but I'd bet on finding modern barrels to be .429" or greater groove diameter. I would hope for my bullets to cast at least .430", and then experiment with sizing them to .429", .428", etc., as well as trying them unsized. If the bullet casts bigger, try increments of 0.001, e.g., .431", .430", etc. It probably will be the diameter of the throat that determines the best size. Bullets sized 0.0005” below throat diameter are often best.

If you are using black powder, lubes like Alox may not be the best. It might be worthwhile looking up some old formulas, like pure paraffin or beeswax mixed with vaseline. The object is to be oily enough to keep the powder fouling a bit soft, but not so oily it bleeds into the powder.
Most of this is very old lore, so younger guys who have mastered “the latest” may contradict me. But, the basics don’t seem to change very much.

Dave Markowitz said...


I used the alox lube for fluxing since it says that it is suitable for such right on the package. Tin ingots are available on eBay, Amazon, or direct from Rotometals, so that won't be a problem.

The lube that I'm using on the bullets is a mix of beeswax, mutton tallow, and a little canning paraffin. It's the same stuff I use on the felt wads I make for my percussion revolvers, and works very well to keep black powder fouling soft.