Saturday, November 10, 2007

Preparing a LEE bullet mold for use


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LEE bullet molds are a good value. Made of aluminum and coming complete with handles (at least the one and two hole molds do), they cost less than a third of similar molds from Lyman or RCBS. I have eight of them at this point and every one produces decent bullets for me.

While being a good value, and working well, there is certainly room to argue their quality is not up par with Lyman, etc. That said, there is no cheaper way to get into cast bullet making than the LEE tools. They offer bottom pour pots, molds, sizing sets, and just about everything else one might require to begin casting.

From personal experience and studying under the experts at Castboolit.com, I have learned that LEE molds, while cheap, do not really come ready to use. Oh, sure, they’ll throw bullets as soon as you get them clean and hot, but to really work nicely they take a bit of work.

Lets take a look at where they can be ‘improved’ before use……….

Chief among their flaws are burrs and rough edges left over from the manufacturing process. This is as much a feature of their aluminum construction as it is the machining.
Aluminum just tends to have burrs after cutting. It seems to be the nature of the beast.

Now, just take a look at this mold…. a six hole 9mm round nose LEE:

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I chose this mold because it’s brand new and clearly shows the room we have for improvement. While it actually looks very pretty just as it comes new from the factory, a closer look reveals some issues that can cause sticking bullets and casting flaws.

See what happens when we look closer:

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Do you see the burrs and roughness? No? Try one of these on for size:

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A well lit magnifying viewer like this is a Godsend to hand loaders and bullet casters.
When details in thousandths of an inch matter, old eyes sure do appreciate a little help!
A light like this can be found in most office stores and also at Harbor Freight tools.

Using the magnifier, we can now see some real details, like these:

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These burrs need to be touched up, very gently, with small rat tail files.
A serious tinkerer should have a set of these.

Working under the lighted magnifier, just touch the raised burrs with the file till
they are reduced to the surface. Only the slightest gentle touch is required.

Many casters will also run a small sharp file on each air sipe along the edge of the
bullet hole in the mold. This serves to let the mold fill out quickly and fully while
pouring the lead.

Once the mold is dressed, it should be thoroughly cleaned. Many casters choose to use mild dish detergent and warm water to gently remove any trace of oil from the mold.
I prefer to use Q-tips and alcohol, just cleaning the mold surfaces while leaving an oil film on the steel parts of the mold.

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The mold completely clean, it must be treated before it can be used to cast bullets.
There are several ‘mold release agents’ available, and these are simply sprayed on as the directions specify. While I have heard great things about these agents, I tend to be a little more traditional (and cheap).

I smoke my molds with wooden kitchen matches. This leaves a film of carbon on the mold, which encourages the freshly cast bullets to drop free of the mold without effort.

Here’s what that looks like:

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It may look ugly, but the way the bullet falls out without fuss more than makes up
with it’s own special beauty.

That’s it…. and it’s really not hard. Doing these simple steps, and lubing the mold
handles as the directions state, will go a long way to trouble free casting sessions.

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6 comments:

Mo said...

Excellent post. With the price of components as high as it is casting sure helps reduce the cost.

What alloy are you using?

Carteach0 said...

I use wheel weight, alloyed with 50/50 plumbers solder to boost the tin a bit. It casts nicely, filling the mold well. Hard enough for any pistol shooting, and rifle up to about 1800 with a gas check.

Mo said...

Thank for the fast reply. I look forward to reading more posts on cast bullet shooting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I just got a new Lee .358 gas check mold. I will try cleaning it with alcohol and smoking it today.

CharlieHam said...

Found this link, thought you might appreciate it with your interest in moulds. Regards, Chas.

www.bulletmoldblog.com

Anonymous said...

I just use a candle to smoke molds with. Faster than matches.