Sunday, May 12, 2024

Lee TL358-158SWC Bullet Mold

Over the past month I've done a couple bullet casting sessions, mostly making 158 grain (nominally) lead semiwadcutters in a 2-cavity Lee TL358-158SWC mold. I also cast a couple hundred .490 round balls for my .50 caliber muzzleloading rifles.

Bullets cast from this Lee mold have a nice reputation for accuracy in .38 Special and mild .357 Magnum loads. I also like that the design incorporates a wide meplat that will perform well if I shoot anything besides paper or steel with it.

This image swiped borrowed from the Lee Precision website shows was they look like:

Aside from that wide meplat, the tumble lube design makes for easy casting and prep. I cast them from soft alloy since I'll be keeping them under 950 FPS. I used pure lead with some old, unneeded cast bullets added to the mix to add some tin for better mold fill-out and stretch the melt a little. I can still scratch the bullets with a thumbnail, however.

To lube, I put a batch in a small container and then dribble some Lee Liquid Alox on, then mix them all up until the lube is evenly distributed over all the bullets. LLA comes out of the bottle brown but you only need a very light coating, such that the bullets are still mostly silver colored.

You can also thin the LLA with some mineral spirits to stretch it out and speed drying.

White Label Lube's Liquid Xlox is a substitute for LLA and may be more cost effective than LLA, but I haven't tried it.

The wet bullets are then set on a sheet of wax paper to dry. They're good to go in about 12 hours.

Tumble lube designs are also good for powder coating if that's your thing.

Lee sells several other tumble lube designs, and I've read on forums devoted to cast bullet shooting that others get good results tumble lubing conventional designs as well.

I don't size the bullets before loading. Instead, I make sure that my case mouths are adequately flared. I seat them, then in a separate operation I run the loaded rounds through a Lee Factory Carbide Crimp Die, which also sizes the case down to factory dimensions. Thus, if the bullets are a bit oversized and caused a bulged case, it gets sized back down to the correct dimensions.

Yesterday I put 50 of the Lee bullets through a 3" Model 64, loaded on top of 4.1 grains of HP-38 in mixed brass, with CCI small pistol primers. In a 4" barrel and depending on barrel/cylinder gap, this load should run around 850 FPS +/-. It's probably closer to 800 from a 3" tube.

There was very minimal leading, if any. The lube leaves a bit of soot on the gun and is smokey. Many peopple don't like either but to me it's a part of shooting a revolver. The soot wipes right off with a rag anyway.

My late father's favorite .38 Special handload was a 158 grain LSWC, usually Remington swaged bullets, on top of 4.3 grains of HP-38 in mixed brass and usually with Winchester small pistol primers. It's very accurate but when I got the S&W Model 15 that he shot a lot of these through I had to remove quite a bit of leading. The front edges of the cylinder were actually covered in lead deposits. He shot a lot and got lazy with cleaning in his later years, what can I say?

The next batch of these I load will probably be a bit slower, with either 3.9 grains of HP-38, 3.5 grains of Bullseye, or some other charge. The paper or steel targets I shoot won't know the difference and recoil will be a little less, which is good for my hands.

I've recently acquired a pound each of Accurate No.2, Hodgdon Titegroup, and Winchester 244, none of which I've previously used. The No.2 and Titegroup should good for light target loads while the 244 is closer to Unique and may be good for heavier loads suitable for woods carry.

IMHO, bullet casting is not only fun but it's a good prep. Yes, it's time consuming but it helps insulate you from component shortages that happen every election cycle or artificially generated panic. Cast bullets are old fashioned but remain effective projectiles.

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