Look at all those beautiful cast bullets. Almost like little soldiers standing in formation. Unfortunately, there are a couple additional steps that are necessary after casting and before seating those bullets into primed, charged cases:
Cast Bullet Lubing
While we call it ‘lube’, it’s main purpose is to act as a gas seal while the bullet travels down the barrel. With out that seal, the hot combustion gasses would sneak up alongside the bullet and melt some of the lead, depositing it on the barrel wall. Lube Good. Leading Bad.
Lubrication methods fall into two categories:
- Lube while sizing using a machine that does both at the same time
- Lubing and sizing in separate steps. The two most popular methods – tumble lubing and pan lubing – are described below.
Tumble lubing involves putting several (50 or so) sized bullets into a bowl, squirting a few drops of a liquid lube over them, then rolling and tumbling the bullets around in the bowl until they have a fine coating of the lube. You will of course have to set the freshly coated bullets out to dry. I set mine out on wax paper. A common problem when tumble lubing is to too thickly coat the bullets. You should be able to just barely see the coating of lube on the bullet. Too much lube on the bullet results in excessive smoke when fired.
Pan Lubing uses one of the solid or semi-solid bullets lubes. A quantity of bullets are placed nose-up in a pan. The lube is melted and the liquid lube is poured into the pan. Enough lube is used so that the bullets’ lube groves are covered. After the lube has cooled and returned to a solid state, a small (usually homemade) cutter is used to cut the bullet out of the lube while leaving the lube in the lube grooves undisturbed.
Cast Bullet Sizing
Bullets come out of the mold slightly oversized and need to be squeezed down to the desired diameter. A Bullet Sizer looks and operates much the same way as a single-stage reloading press does: a bullet is placed in the sizer. Pulling the handle pushes the bullet through a die that squeezes the bullet down to the desired dimension.
You’ll need a die for each caliber bullet you intend to size.
Except for the Lee Lubing and Sizing Kit described below, All sizers in this article both lubricate and size the bullet in one operation.
Lee Lubing and Sizing Kit
If you are just starting out, the Lee Lubing and Sizing Kit is the least expensive way to lube and size cast bullets. It comes with a bottle of liquid lube called Alox (for tumble lubing).
The bullet sizer is designed to screw into any single-stage reloading press. Each pull of the handle sizes one bullet. It is available in most common bullet diameters.
I used a Lee Lubing and Sizing Kit when I started casting my own bullets and I found that you can easily achieve a very high rate of production.
The Lyman Lubrisizer has been around for years. It is a small hand-operated machine that simultaneously lubes and sizes bullets, one per stroke. The Lubrisizer has evolved over the years and undergone a few changes but the parts are inexpensive and readily available from Lyman.
I owned one for a while and I regret getting rid of it. While you can buy then new, there is now shortage of used Lubrisizers floating around Craigslist and the various reloading forums. Surprisingly, the Lubrisizer os not a high-volume machine. You can easily lube and size more bullets per hour using the Lee Lubing and Sizing Kit.
One of the Lubrisizer’s optional accessories is a lube heater. Lube is purchased in cylindrical-shaped ‘sticks’ and inserted into the lube reservoir. Many lubes are very hard and need to be heated until they are soft so they will flow. The heater attaches to the base of the Lubrisizer and a thermostat is used to control the temperature. (I never needed a heater. I live in Arizona and the summer temperature in my garage was sufficient.)
The RCBS Lube-A-Matic (LAM) is nearly identical to the Lyman Lubrisizer (excep that the RCBS LAM is green, of cours). The operate in exactly the same manner, though the parts are not interchangeable.
Magma Engineering Star Lube-Sizer
I have a Magma Engineering Star Sizer and they will spoil you. Originally made by a California company called Star, the design was acquired by Magma Engineering in Arizona. It is a little finicky to set up properly, but once set up and fully equipped with all its accessories, the Star Sizer can turn out lubed and sized bullets at a prodigious rate. I can pump 1000 bullets an hour through mine without breaking a sweat.
Available accessories are:
Thermostatically-Controlled Electric Lube Heater
Yes, I have one. I’m now using a lube that needs it in order to be soft enough to flow through the machine. For the lube I use I set it at 105F.
Air Feed For The Bullet Lube
A constant pressure must be maintained on the lube in the reservior. Without the air feed, this is accomplished by turning a screw with a wrench. Many people find this acceptable. If you are going for high volume output however you’ll want the air feed. For the lube I use I set the air pressure on mine to 50PSI.
While not a bullet feeder in the true sense of the word, it does keep my hands out of the way. The tube holds 10-20 bullets.
The Shovel Handle is much more ergonomic than the standard handle is is a must-have for high volume operation.
The Star Sizer can be ordered directly from Magma Engineering.
Ballist-Cast Mark VI Lube-Sizer
The Ballisti-Cast Mark VI Lube-Sizer is the newest entry to the field and is a new modern design. While I believe that it is probably the best device for high-volume lubing and sizing, Ballisti-Cast has a long history of long delivery times and in the past has not been good about meeting promised shipping dates.
The Mark VI can be ordered directly from Ballisti-Cast.
Bullet lube usually comes in one of two forms:
- Lube intended for tumble lubing is a liquid and comes in a bottle.
- Lube intended for one of the Lube-sizing machines (Lyman Lubrisizer, RCBS Lube-A-Matic, Magma Star, Ballisti-Cast Mark VI) comes in solid sticks. The Lubrisizer and Lube-A-Matic have a threaded screw running down the center of the lube reservoir, so lube sticks with a center hole must be used. Solid lube sticks (with no center hole) are used n the Star and Ballisti-Cast Mark VI. All lube manufacturers supply lube sticks with and without the center hole.
Many people have concocted their own lube formulas. In fact an entire cottage industry has grown up of people manufacturing bullet lube in their workshop or kitchen and then selling it. The lube I currently use, TAC #1 come from just such a source.
Some sources of Lube sticks are:
The latest advancement in bullet lubes is powder coating. Powder coating has been used in Australia for a number of years with excellent results and is just now making its way to the USA. Though I have not tried it, many people ae using the Harbor Freight Powder Coating System and a toaster oven.