Bought Lead Balls Or Home Cast? Which Is The Better Option?
Buying lead balls or casting your own at home can seem a trivial topic at first but can have a great impact on your quality of shooting in different kinds of guns. Some guns will readily take factory made balls, for example black powder revolvers, whereas others, particularly long guns or antique guns would benefit from a precision cast ball of just the right size.
In order for a gun to shoot well, it must have the correct size ball. Too large a ball must be hammered into the bore, causing deformation and affecting performance, whereas too small a ball will rattle down the bore and provide no consistency. This is fundamental to shooting muzzle loading guns. In long guns, or single shot pistols, a patch will usually be used to closer engage the rifling, so the ball must be ever so slightly smaller than the bore diameter. If you are unsure how to measure your gun for the correct size lead balls, please see our blog here.
Pros and cons of home casting and buying Pedersoli lead balls
|Home cast lead balls||Pedersoli factory made lead balls|
|+ Can be made to any size||+ Consistent|
|+ Often more economical||+ Precisely made|
|+ Equipment is cheap and easy to acquire||+ Uniform in shape and alloy|
|+ Can vary lead alloy to suit purpose||+ No other equipment required (besides gun!)|
|- Harder to be as consistent||- Can be more expensive than casting|
|- Possible health risks||- More limited options|
|- Cost savings may not initially be made||- Shooter cannot vary alloy percentage|
Factory Made Pedersoli Lead Balls – Pros and Cons
In many modern production guns, made on modern machines, the bore diameter is standardized, to replicate historical examples, and provide shooters the possibility of using the same ball size in several different guns. For example, the Pedersoli Kentucky .45 rifle, the bore diameter is standardised at .450’’, this is the same as other Pedersoli guns in .45, such as the Le Page single shot pistol. This enables the shooter to use a .440’’ ball, and a .010’’ patch across the board. In this case, there would be no advantage to the shooter to cast .440’’ balls, as they are readily available. It is true that home cast lead balls can be cheaper than factory made, particularly if the shooter is willing to pick lead out of the berm to re cast. Casting lead balls can be rather exacting, so for the best accuracy, in a gun of standard caliber, the shooter can be assured that factory-made lead balls provide a consistent size and weight every time, reducing the variable between shots. Factory made balls are also swaged, therefore have no sprue, and are consistently round in all planes, therefore are generally of a more uniform shape than can be achieved by even the most experienced caster.
For guns where the hardness of the ball is a major factor, such as a muzzle loading revolver, factory made balls can likewise provide the consistency needed to ensure a good shot. With recovered lead, or lead without a known alloy, providing consistency between batches can be difficult, whereas factory made lead balls are by their very nature made to the same alloy and dimensions every time. This, therefore provides a more consistent load into the revolver as the balls are squeezed into the chamber, and a consistent amount of lead is shaved off every time. Too soft lead can lead to the ball being squashed and misshapen when loading, whereas too hard lead can prove difficult or impossible to safely load into the chamber. This is not to say the correct hardness of lead cannot be achieved by the home caster, far from it, rather that with factory made balls, the shooter can rely on a consistent alloy and therefore hardness. Our swaged lead balls are made by Pedersoli to the standards we have come to expect from a Pedersoli product, and shooters may rely on consistency across the board and between batches.
Factory made lead balls are simply consistent and plentiful and can be acquired and used by the shooter with little effort. For precision and consistency, it is hard to beat swaged factory lead balls, as the work has already been done to ensure the perfect ball for the application.
Henry Krank Cast Lead Balls - Pros and Cons
New to Henry Krank this Spring are our own custom made range of cast lead balls, available in popular sizes for revolvers and single shot pistols and rifles. Click here to view the full range. As our balls are cast, rather than swaged, there is a significant cost saving associated with this, so they are perfect for practise and casual shooting. All our cast lead balls are made of a soft lead alloy, therefore are suitable for pretty much any gun, and are absolutely perfect for revolvers. As these balls are cast, there is a slight sprue to them, which is unavoidable with any cast ball, though when loaded correctly does little to influence the flight of the ball. This said, some more serious target or competition shooters may still prefer the Pedersoli swaged balls, which are a more true sphere, though the vast majority of shooters will be able to shoot quite contentedly with the Henry Krank cast balls.
As our cast lead balls are factory made from a soft lead alloy, shooters may be certain that the alloy remains consistent, and the ball's physical properties unchanged between batches. As with any kind of good shooting, consistency is the key, and the Henry Krank cast lead balls are sure to find favour with rifle and pistol shooters alike. Henry Krank soft lead balls offer a fantastic economical alternative to the Pedersoli lead balls, without the time required to cast your own. To view our full range of cast lead balls, click here.
Home Cast Lead Balls – Pros and Cons
Where home casting comes into it’s own, and indeed may be essential in some cases, is with guns of a non ‘standard’ calibre, such as antique rifles, muskets and pistols. In the heyday of muzzle loading guns, a gunmaker would typically provide a mould for the gun he was selling, as there was no mention-able industry standardisation outside of military guns, therefore casting was pretty much essential to good shooting. Over time, naturally, many antique guns are without their original moulds, and the shooter must cast their own to make these old guns perform. Custom moulds can be purchased in any size, and Lee Precision do a great number of off the shelf sizes. Click here to view our range of Lee Precision ball moulds.
Moulds and melting pots can be acquired for a very reasonable price, and are of very good quality, and there is no reason they should not last as long as the shooter with careful use. We are UK importers of Lee Precision moulds, who offer a range of double cavity moulds, made of aluminium to a very high standard, and there is usually a mould to suit every calibre. We also stock Pedersoli brass moulds and pincer moulds, which are more suitable for particular guns, such as military muskets or Colt revolvers, though will still cast a respectable ball. Lee precision also produce the Production Pot IV, the only 220v (UK mains suitable) melting pot available from Lee, which is a convenient and clean way to melt lead. Lee Precision do produce other melting pots, however the Production pot IV is the only one that will work on UK mains power. To view a video of the Lee Precision Production Pot IV in action, please click here. Other methods can be employed, such as melting in a cast iron pan or similar, though this is generally more work than using an electric melting pot.
Home cast lead balls can offer significant advantages to factory made balls in respect of the sizes it is possible to cast (pretty much anything), and also cost savings over time. It is important to consider the time required to cast a number of lead balls, and whether this renders it still economical in comparison to simply purchasing factory made balls.
Cost – Which Is The Cheaper Method?
The issue of cost is certainly a consideration, particularly with larger calibres, such as military musket calibres, as once the mould and melting pot are purchased, the only consideration is the cost of the lead, which as previously mentioned, can usually be acquired at very little cost. With larger calibres, the cost advantage of casting at home is more profound, as the cost of factory balls naturally increases with the amount of lead required. Of course, everyone’s perception of cost is relative, however I would argue that smaller calibres, that use little lead, can be acquired comparatively cheaply, and therefore do not merit the time or effort to cast. Conversely, the cost of a mould, and melting pot are consistent regardless of calibre, so setting up to cast two calibres is not vastly more than casting for one, with better economy in comparison to initial outlay as more calibres are cast. In addition, even in guns of standard calibre, the shooter will wish to experiment with the right load, including ball size. To take the same example of a Pedersoli .45 Kentucky rifle from previously, some shooters may prefer a .435’’ ball and .015’’ patch, and when experimenting, it may be preferable to load only 10 balls for each, to find which performs best, rather than buying many more than may be required. Shooters should also be aware of the health impacts of casting lead balls. When not properly ventilated, lead fumes can cause a number of health concerns, and it is generally not easy for this to be entirely mitigated, though the prudent shooter will be aware of this and take all reasonable steps to ensure he is casting safely. Lead contamination is arguably possible simply by handling lead balls regardless, though this is significantly less risky than the fumes given off by molten lead.
So, what does this mean in real terms? At the time of writing, a Lee Production Pot IV will cost around £80, and a Lee double cavity mould with included handles will cost around £25. Therefore, to set up to cast one calibre will cost around £100, slightly more if you wish to include items like a Lee Mould Mallet or a Lee Lead Ladle.
Conversely, a pack of 100 .490 lead balls cost around £35. Therefore, you will need to cast around 300 balls to make casting more economical than purchasing factory made balls. The economies of scale also increase when the size of ball increases.
For example, a pack of 100 .682 lead balls costs around £60, whereas the cost of casting has not increased, so less than 200 balls need be cast before savings are made. This is likewise true of the reverse, 100 .314’’ lead balls costs only around £17, so nearly 600 balls would need to be cast before savings were made in this regard. If casting for a few different calibres, this cost is again split, at the expense of only an extra mould. It is cheap to scale, and the Production Pot and Lee moulds are of excellent quality and longevity. This also assumes all other things being equal, if a particular size is required which is not factory made, then it simply must be cast, though this example serves to highlight the cost savings over time.
It is ultimately down to the shooter which method they prefer. For some guns, home casting can be the only way to go, however with modern productions, there is generally a factory-made swaged lead ball available. Cost and ease are generally two of the most important factors to consider, however for consistency and accuracy, one method will certainly suit your gun more than the other. It is worth weighing up how many balls you intend on shooting, and judging which would be the most practical, convenient and economic method.
All the products mentioned in this blog can be purchased on the Henry Krank website for only £4 delivery on all items, with Pedersoli lead balls included.
To see more information about casting lead balls, or how to choose the right balls, please see the links below:
Click here to read our blog on how to measure your gun for the correct balls
Click here to see Lee Precision’s video on the Production Pot IV
Click here to view our range of Pedersoli lead balls
Click here to view our range of Lee Precision round ball moulds
Click here to view our range of patches