A Lesson Relearned

By Tom Moore

One of the things I learned from my dad about living life is it is usually a good idea to have a backup plan. Some people call this plan B, alternate plan etc. When the original plan doesn’t go as intended, one had better have some idea or plan in place to fall back on or the consequences may not be pleasant.

Such was the case one morning recently when I decided that I would spend the morning casting lead bullets. My supply of 100 grain semi-wadcutters for the .32 magnum was getting low and since I was in the middle of load development for this bullet, I thought I had better replenish the supply.

A storm had passed through the night before with high winds and rain so everything was soaking wet. This meant that I couldn’t start painting the house as suggested by my wife so a little casting seemed the logical thing to do. I assembled all the stuff and plugged in the old Lee ten pound bottom pour furnace. While it was heating up I made a second pot of coffee, poured a big cup and settled in. It’s hard for me to enjoy a casting session without a cup of coffee nearby.

The pot of lead was melting down as normal. I added enough wheel weight ingots to bring the level almost full. I added some sawdust for flux and stirred it all around. The RCBS mould blocks were now preheated so I started the casting process. After the normal culls the bullets started falling out fully formed and I was off and running. The furnace was behaving really well. There was no dripping at all. Usually I’m faced with some minor dripping which I have learned to live with and when it gets too much I run a length of wire up the nozzle from below to clear out the debris. When I do this, I place an old muffin tin, actually is aluminum, under the nozzle to catch the flow. Usually this is all that is needed to clear the nozzle and stop or minimize the dripping.

The operation was really going well. I was getting into a rhythm and the pile of 100 grainers was growing. About halfway through the pot of lead the dripping started and got the point where I had to perform the wire routine. It worked a couple of times then the dripping would not stop. The metering rod on the Lee furnace has a slot in the top end so one can use a screwdriver to twist the rod back and forth while pressing against the seat to help clear out foreign material from the seat. This did not work either plus the flow was reduced to almost nothing. Obviously something was plugging the orifice but I had been unable to clear it. One more try with the wire, this time with a longer piece to reach further up into the cavity. Using this length of wire and raising the metering rod at the same time cleared the obstruction…..molten lead was now pouring out like it was supposed to.

Lowering the metering rod to shut off the flow all of a sudden did not have any effect on the flow. It was still flowing full bore. Movement of the rod up and down or twisting it made no difference. I had a runaway lead furnace.

We’ve all experienced those "oh s____!" times in our lives. Times when we are helpless to change the situation. All we can do is be an observer. This is where I was. Here is this pot of molten lead flowing out at a rate I don’t think it ever has before and it’s filling up that muffin tin at what seems like twice that rate. It reminded me of watching a lava flow, not much one can do but stay out of the way.

As one cavity of the tin is filled, I move it around to the next empty one. This is all I can do, there is nothing else around to catch the lead. The muffin tin is getting real hot and limber and the lead already in the tin is still molten. I keep looking down into the pot to see where the level of molten lead is…..I think it is rising instead of going down.

At last the pot is empty. The muffin tin is so hot and flimsy that I’m not sure I can safely move it. I have managed to grip one side with a pair of needle nose pliers and the other with a rag. Most of the lead is still molten. I get it moved to a safe spot without burning myself or catching anything on fire.

Whew………Where is that cup of coffee???

I did not have a backup plan in place. If the pot had been full of lead when the problem started, the muffin tin would not have been able to contain it all and I would have had a flow of molten lead over the workbench and floor, both made from wood.

This is the first time this has happened to me in over twenty years of casting. It may never happen again, I certainly hope it doesn’t. However, all that is a mute point, I should have "what if" the process and had a backup plan in place. You can be sure I will never again be without a means to empty a full pot of lead during a casting session.

If you use a bottom pour casting furnace, you may want to consider this event happening to you and provide for a means of catching a full pot of molten lead should the need arise.

Food for thought.