The Golden Age of Bullet Casting

Glen

Moderator
Staff member
#1
In the first half of the 20th century, to be a serious handgunner, required one to be a handloader, and to be a handloader during this timeframe pretty much required one to be a bullet caster. The early days of bullet casting were dominated by names like Ideal, Hensley & Gibbs, Belding & Mull, and Lachmiller. As we moved into the latter parts of the 20th century, reloading components (and ammunition) became more readily available, making it easier to shoot in volume without necessarily casting one’s own bullets. Serious handgunners still loaded their own ammo, but the fraction of handgunners who cast their own bullets was beginning to wane. Moulds were now provided by Lyman, Ohaus (later RCBS), H&G, and SAECO. Later in the 70s, Lee joined the fray, followed by specialty shops like Hoch, NEI, and LBT. As we moved into the 90s, the popularity of bullet casting was dropping off, in part due to the ready availability of quality jacketed components, and in part due to the rising popularity (and availability) of commercial hard-cast bullets.

While commercial hard-cast bullets were popular, they also have limitations, and slowly but surely more and more shooters started turning back to the lead-pot to make their own bullets. As we moved into the new century, small shops started opening up aimed at giving the individual bullet caster what they were not getting from the “big boys”. Integration of modern technology into the mould-making process (most notably CAD design methods and CNC machining) allows the shooter to capture their ideas in a bullet mould easily and affordably. We truly do live in the Golden Age of Bullet Casting. This article is intended to offer a brief summation of some of the services available that might be of interest to handgun hunters.

Lee. Lee’s custom shop offers group buys through the Cast Boolits discussion board online (castboolits.gunloads.com). These are typically 6-cavity moulds, and there are some limitations in terms of bullet size. Typically one has to get a few dozen folks interested in a given mould design before the order is placed, and then turn-around time ranges anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (depending on where Lee is in their production runs). I’ve gotten involved in several of these Group Buys over the years, and for the most part I’ve been happy with each of the moulds I’ve received (there was one mould that was a “clunker”, but that was due to a flaw in the design, not to Lee’s execution of it). Moulds that would be of interest to handgun hunters include a .32 caliber 100 grain Keith-style SWC, a 400 grain Keith-style SWC for the .480 Ruger, and a copy of the excellent Lyman 429640 275 grain GCFP for the .44 Magnum. Also, while not part of a Group Buy, but worthy of note nonetheless, is the new Lee .35 caliber 200 grain GCFP is an excellent bullet design and shoots very well in a number of my .35 caliber firearms (e.g. my 10” .357 Hartley T/C), and has quickly become one of my favorites.


Lee 35-200-GCFP.jpg


Mountain Molds. Dan Lynch at Mountain Molds (mountainmolds.com, mtngun@gmail.com) offers a unique service to bullet casters. He has put together a very versatile online design tool that allows folks to design their own bullet moulds. One starts off with one of 9 basic designs and inputs bullet weight, diameter, band length, nose length, number of lube grooves, etc. and the spreadsheet handles all the math for you and draws a simple profile of your design so you can visualize it and tweak it to suit your tastes. I’ll be honest, I have spent hours playing with this design tool online, and it’s great fun! When the order is placed, the details in the spreadsheet are input as a CAD file to the CNC, and the mould is lathe bored (i.e. the cavities are ROUND). Over the years, I’ve bought a number of moulds from Dan and been very pleased with every one of them. Dan’s program allows the caster to find bullets that would difficult or impossible to get via traditional channels. For example, several years ago, I had a Herters .401 PowerMag that I wanted a 200 grain Keith-style SWC for (which no one has ever cataloged commercially). His online program made it easy to fiddle around with dimensions until I had exactly what I wanted. A few keystrokes later the order was placed, and a few weeks later the mould showed up in my mailbox. Later on, I did much the same thing for my .405 Winchester and .444 Marlin Contenders, and both of these 300 grain GCFPs shoot superbly. Most recently, I have been working with a 290 grain GC 9.3mm mould for my 9.3x57, and I’ve been very pleased with how it shoots at 2000-2100 fps (i.e. reproducing the original factory ballistics).

MM 40 Keith SWC3.jpg

Hollow Point Bullet Mold Service. Erik Ohlen (www.hollowpointmold.com, erik@hollowpointmold.com, (541) 738-2479) does not make his own bullet moulds, but rather he converts existing bullet moulds to produce hollow point (HP) bullets. He started off several years ago doing traditional HP mould conversions (i.e. single cavity moulds with a manually removed HP pin), then moved on to Cramer style conversions (captive transverse mounted HP pins, compatible with multicavity HP moulds), then moved on to his very robust inset bar conversions. I have had him do each of these various conversion for me over the years, and every one of these moulds casts beautiful HP bullets (cavities well centered, made to the specifications I requested). I consider his inset bar 4-cavity mould conversions to be the cream of the crop and have had him make 3 for me for the Keith SWC HP designs. Yes, this conversion is not cheap, but it is no problem to comfortably maintain a pace of 600+ HPs an hour with these moulds, and I am very happy with them. Most recently, I just started working with one of his inset bar conversions done on an RCBS 100 grain 6mm GC mould to generate ~102 grain cast HP for my superbly accurate SSK 6mm PPC Contender. I think this combination just might have a javelina in its future…

Ohlen inset bar conversion 429421.jpg

RCBS 6mm HP mould.jpg


NOE. Al (Swede) Nelson of Night Owl Enterprises (NOE) (noebulletmolds.com, (801) 377 7289) offers an extensive line of gang moulds and HP moulds. His approach to making HP moulds is unique in that he keeps the HP pins captive by using a slotted bar on the bottom of the mould block to hold them. This allows the HP pins to be changed out very easily, allowing the caster to vary the cavity depth/diameter very easily, and even to make flat-nosed solids, all from the same mould. The dangling HP pins are not quite as fast to cast with as the inset bar conversion described above, but they still work pretty well. Al will make custom moulds for customers too. For example, a gentleman was building a custom rifle up in Alaska and wanted a brass 4-cavity bullet mould to make a copy of the old Ideal 257283 .25-20 bullet. He approached me in order to get some example bullets cast from an original Ideal mould, which I supplied. Al now offers this design as a standard catalog offering. Two of my favorite NOE moulds are his .45 ACP HP mould and .30 caliber HP mould (based on the RCBS 30-180-GCFN design). Both produce excellent bullets that shoot very well indeed. I hope to shoot a coastal blacktail buck next fall with one of the .30 caliber HPs. Most recently, I have been working with a couple of Al’s .22 caliber moulds – a 45 grain GCFP for the .22 Hornet (which is very accurate from my 10” Contender with 11.5 grains of AA 1680 for 2035 fps), and 59 grain RNFP for my .223s (which shoots very well in slow twist barrels at 2150 fps). Both of these .22 caliber cast bullets figure heavily in my summer varminting plans.


NOE 452 230 HP.jpg

Accurate. Accurate Molds (www.accuratemolds.com, tom@accuratemolds.com ) offers an extensive online catalog of bullet moulds, ranging from .29 to .94 caliber. These moulds are CNC lathe bored, in blocks made of aluminum, brass, or iron. Their catalog includes designs for paper-patched bullets, heeled bullets, tumble-lube bullets, as well as traditional GC and plain-based cast bullet designs, and each has an excellent detailed drawing with lots of dimensions so the buyer can make a well-informed choice. Tom will also make custom moulds to a customer’s specifications (within limits). I have not yet worked with an Accurate Mold (I do expect to correct that situation here shortly), but I know several very experienced bullet casters who have Accurate Molds and they rave about their high quality.

MP Molds. MP Molds (www.mp-molds.com) is an outfit run by Miha Prevac that produces CNC machined bullet moulds exquisitely made out of brass, aluminum, and in some cases steel. Miha makes proven designs in both gang moulds (as many as 6-cavity), and multi-cavity Cramer-style HP moulds. I first became aware of Miha’s work through some chatter on the online discussion boards, where he was getting very favorable reviews. I checked out his website and liked what I saw. A little while later, he added a copy of Dave Scovill’s excellent 45-270-SAA SWC mould design (one of my favorites) to his product line, along with the corresponding Cramer-style HP mould. The temptation was too much to resist! I contacted Miha and the order for the HP mould was placed forthwith. A couple of weeks later (it takes a while for packages to arrive from Europe), it showed up in my mailbox. It was, quite simply, the most beautifully made bullet mould I’d ever seen. And it casts beautifully! One of my favorite .45 Colt loads for this 275 grain HP bullet is 13.0 grains of HS-6, which generates 1150 fps from a 7 ½” Ruger Bisley. I used this combination to take a 200-lb feral hog and was very pleased with its expansion and penetration on a broadside ribcage (i.e. lung) shot. The young sow went down very quickly (and was very tasty!).

Mihec 45 HP.jpg

More recently, Miha has added a copy of the time-honored H&G #68 200 grain .45 ACP SWC to his product line. These moulds are also offered with the option of getting Cramer-style HP pins installed. Once again, I contacted Miha and got the happy news that he had this mould in stock, in the form of a 4-cavity brass mould, no less. I wasted no time in saying “Yes!”. This one is even prettier than the first! Bullets drop from the blocks at 187 grains and .453+” when cast with 24-1 alloy, and with 7.4 grains of Unique generate 1100+fps from a 5” Government Model with superb accuracy. Expansion of this excellent bullet is positive.

MP #68 HP mould.jpg

Things have come a long way since I first started reading about handgun hunting and bullet casting as a boy back in the 1960s, and then started casting my own bullets in the 1980s. We’ve got far more options, and better mould designs, than ever. This truly is the Golden Age of Bullet Casting. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go fire up the lead pot…