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Old 12-12-2012, 10:33 AM
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Default Soft and Hard Cast Bullets

I apologize in advance if this has been covered somewhere. Most of my reloading in the last two years has been for .38 specials, and .44 specials. I don't cast bullets, and with no basement and no work shed, probably never will.

Much of what I read indicates that softer bullets are actually better for most applications unless you get into high velocity, say in excess of about 1200fps, which I do not. Some articles even suggest less or no leading with softer bullets. Yet, most manufacturers want to sell bullets in the BNH 20 range, or even higher. They call the 10-14 hardness ratings 'cowboy' loads, presumably to suggest that all you need is a bang on the steel plate, and you're done.

Realistically, I kill paper, and that's about it. I had switched over to the plated Berry's bullets, but am now wondering if I am actually giving us accuracy. Aside from being a little more messy on the cleanup, why shouldn't I shoot exclusively lead wadcutters and semi-wadcutters, and why wouldn't I want the softer bullets?

Thanks for your thoughts.
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Old 12-12-2012, 11:25 AM
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Wadcutters and Semi-Wadcutters shoot just fine.

Commercial loaders use harder BRINELL numbered lead so as
to not become beat up in shipment.

Some manufacturers use a softer alloy also, not many.

SWEGGED bullets are available (they're softer).

Look at Missouri Bullets, Penn Bullets, Zero Bullets, Hornady makes soft SWEGGED Too, for some info.
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Old 12-12-2012, 11:28 AM
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There is no reason you can't accomplish what you are thinking about with cast bullets. I keep some plated bullets for .38 Special on hand for those times when I might want to use an indoor range. The lube on cast bullets causes most of the smoke and the plated ones minimize that.

I've had good results with .38 Special wadcutters from Missouri Bullet Co. They make up their alloys with the pressure of the cartridge in mind and they should be right up your alley. Fast shipping and good guys to deal with.

If I want to use semiwadcutters for some warmer loads in .44 Special/.44 Magnum I only use flat base designs. These have given me much less problem with leading than the bevel base style. I get these from Rim Rock Bullets and they are in the 15 BHN range; again, good folks to deal with. I cast a few .38 semiwadcutters with a flat base from time to time, but the older I get the less desire I have to slave over a hot pot of lead.

While a bit more expensive than cast bullets, some of the most accurate wadcutter loads I have assembled in .38 Special have been with the Hornady and Speer hollow base swaged bullets. Out of necessity due to the swaging process these are quite soft, but as long as you stick with target type loads the accuracy is excellent. If necessary while shooting any lead bullets, an occasional swipe with a little bronze wool wrapped around a copper brush can keep leading from being a big problem.

If contemplating using cast bullets, whether you make or purchase them, I highly recommend reading through some of the excellent articles here:

Glen E. Fryxell, Cast bullets and firearm information and history
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Old 12-12-2012, 11:34 AM
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Your bullet hardness is going to depend on what you want to do with it, how fast its going etc. Too soft and too soft you will have leading, too hard and too fast you can have leading again. This is a really good place to get answers.

From Ingot to Target: A Cast Bullet Guide For Handgunners, Table of Contents - Fryxell/Applegate
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Old 12-12-2012, 03:22 PM
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I shoot my <zippy> lead with a hardness of 22+ & sized to the outside diameter of the barrel bore & mostly with 2400 & unique in 38 revolvers. Let the rifling do the work. You can buy bullets & size them to what u wont if u don't wont to cast. I have a couple of guns that had a leading problem & resizing .100-.200 smaller was the fix.--You can also buy gas check bullets. The only time I shoot soft bullets they are hbwcs. below 750 fps. and I buy them. Missouri Bullet Co. has different hardness & sizes on 38 bullets up to 18.

Last edited by 4barrel; 12-13-2012 at 01:37 PM.
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Old 12-12-2012, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by FloridaFlier View Post
I don't cast bullets, and with no basement and no work shed, probably never will.
I cast outdoors in my backyard. It gets colder in the winters here than in Naples, FL. Here in NoCal it gets way down into the 50's, 40's and sometimes 30's and it even rains once in a while

I keep all my casting supplies in a couple of boxes in the garage. When I want to cast, I bring them out and put the Lee 4-20 casting furnace on a sturdy folding table with a plywood top and a steel sheet underneath (an old computer case sidewall). The setup/heatup takes about 30-45 minutes, the casting session is about 1-2 hours and the cleanup is 15 minutes with an hour cool down on the pot. After work on Monday, I made 800+ .357 bullets and was done before 7:30 with about 1.5 hours of casting.
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Old 12-12-2012, 04:58 PM
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Lead is the only way to go for paper as long as the range allows it. For the most pat as long as you keep the velocity low around 1000fps or so will not have leading issues. I have many revolvers and lead is all they ever see with no leading problems in any of them. Typically I run a bhn of 16 on my hardness tester and sized correctly. The only way to be sure is to load them and shoot them.
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Old 12-12-2012, 07:10 PM
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You can shoot soft as you want as long as you have a correct fit and keep velocity in a reasonable range. All shoot is my own cast bullets that started out as scrap range lead. That's about as soft as you can get, other than pure lead. My loads range from 650 fps for my bullseye loads up to maybe 950 fps for my .44 Special loads.
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Old 12-12-2012, 10:00 PM
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FIT FIT FIT! And after that, FIT!

Hardness does come into play, after that. .001" to .002" over bore or cylinder throat size is key. If you have a bullet that is a bit hard, 18+BHN, you can get good results by using a bit faster powder and pushing them to the upper end of the respective data.

Case in point, Bullseye over H110/W296. Pressure is higher with the first and lower with the later.

Been there done that. Works!
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Old 12-12-2012, 10:08 PM
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p.s. I have some 44Mag loads that run 1800fps from my Marlin 1894. They are cast from straight clip on wheel weights. No leading and accurate, hunting accurate anyway.
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Old 12-13-2012, 11:40 AM
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Thanks to all for inputs. I am reading the tone of the responses to be generally in favor of softer bullets for range shooting at sub-sonic velocities. Missouri Bullets (thanks for the suggestion) offers a formula to determine the needed degree of hardness. I think I will try softer bullets for a while.

Also, I had been staying away from casting, but doing a lot of reading about it, which is what really got me into re-thinking hardness factors, and I may even try to cast a few of my own!

Thanks again to all, and Merry Christmas.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:13 PM
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I shoot lead anywhere from 10-17 BHN, and if the bullet fits the gun, I can run them up to Magnum velocities with no leading (the 10 BHN). For mebbe 13 years I didn't even consider BHN and only cast wheel weight alloy, it's equivelent, or range lead. Fit is much more important. Today "hard Cast" is used by manufacturers to satisfy/make sales to new users who think "harder is better", and as stated above many commercial casters use hard alloys to keep the bullets nice and smooth during shipping. At one point I tried the "formula" regarding bullet hardness vs chamber pressure, but weren't worth the effort, to me at least...
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:35 PM
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You are casting bullets from straight linotype?
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Old 12-13-2012, 06:18 PM
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Florida Flier,

Yes, there is no reason why you shouldn't be using lead. In fact, there are really few reasons why one would need to go with jacketed/plated. Probably the biggest advantage is that it is far cheaper and you will never wear out your barrel.

The most important thing to avoid leading is having bullets sized properly..... ie. 1-2 thou over your bore size. If this is right, hardness matters little at most paper punching velocities. In fact, as you mention, softer is better for modest loads because your bullet base will obdurate better.

By all means.... use lead. Even if you do get some modest leading.... it's easy enough to clean out with a brush and some copper scouring pads!
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Old 12-13-2012, 06:28 PM
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Take a look at this guy's videos. He is an experienced caster and reloader, but shows good practice in what he does and he is using quite modest and inexpensive equipment to make tons of bullets quickly and safely.

The only thing I would change is the placement of things that make the casting process as efficient as possible because just like loading, you are going through the same motions hundreds of times each session.

here.
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Old 12-14-2012, 04:30 PM
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For non magnum or midrange loads, you want your bullets relatively soft. I like 50% WW / 50% lead alloy. You should to try and match your bullet diameter to the cylinder throat size if possible. When cast bullets lead the cylinder throats, forcing cone and first inch or so of the barrel, it is because the base of the bullet is not sealing the cylinder throat. Vaporized lead from the bullet base is leaking by, etching the sides of the bullet and condensing and being ironed into the metal by the passing bullet. A lot of the older S&W's, especially in 44 and 45 caliber have grossly oversize cylinder throats, so bullets have to upset upon firing to seal. Lower pressure loads need soft bullets to accomplish this, while high pressure loads work OK with harder bullets. It's a matter of matching the bullet alloy to the pressure.
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Old 12-17-2012, 07:22 AM
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Thanks again to all. I plan to check the nearby range and auto tire shops. If I can get a good source of lead, I'll give casting a try.
Side note: I tried to measure the barrel of a .44 special, but could not get a clean measurement because the lands on one side are opposite the groves on the other. I was able to get clean numbers for the cylinder face. As my revolvers are all 1980 to present S&W's, that's all I need, right? Then I would look to buy or make soft bullets that are about .001" more diameter than the cylinder face. Am I saying that right?
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Old 12-17-2012, 11:39 AM
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The best way to measure your barrel diameter is to slug the barrel. That means driving a dead soft piece of lead (usually a fishing sinker) into the barrel and measuring the widest part of the bullet. Cast and size the bullets to be at least 0.001" wider so you get a good seal.

This is an excellent book to read and it's free. You can also download the entire book in PDF format for offline reading. It's called "From Ingot to Target"

Another wealth of information is at the Castboolit site
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Old 12-17-2012, 01:28 PM
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FloridaFlier, Measuring the five groove rifling found on the S&W's is quite difficult. As you noticed, the grooves are not at 180 degrees, so getting an accurate micrometer reading takes more than average skill. Any how, in revolvers, the cylinder throat size is more important than barrel groove diameter. Getting your mold or sizing die to as close as possible to cylinder throat size, with a good bullet lube, will usually get you the best results.
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Old 12-18-2012, 10:48 AM
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If your shooting revolvers it's a waste of time to slug the barrel. Size the cylinder chambers for accuracy.

I have a Lee BHN tester. Depending on what lead I can find the I cast 10~15 BHN. I save the 15 BHN for my 357 magnum and hot loads in my 1911. My 45 colts usually run soft at 10~12 for a 260 gn bullet at 850 fps measured by chronograph. I also load 200 gn 45acp target loads (~800 fps) using soft alloy.

I'v never had a leading problem.
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Old 12-18-2012, 02:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FloridaFlier View Post
Thanks again to all. I plan to check the nearby range and auto tire shops. If I can get a good source of lead, I'll give casting a try.
Side note: I tried to measure the barrel of a .44 special, but could not get a clean measurement because the lands on one side are opposite the groves on the other. I was able to get clean numbers for the cylinder face. As my revolvers are all 1980 to present S&W's, that's all I need, right? Then I would look to buy or make soft bullets that are about .001" more diameter than the cylinder face. Am I saying that right?
Be careful of tire shops as the price of lead has gone up so much the new weights are made with zinc. They are larger and weigh less .
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