panning for lead

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Ross Smith posted this 21 May 2020

I see we have a few new members and I was wondering if they know what they are getting into. So here is a re-cap of my latest disaster.

Our local range is a small affair, 2 short range and one long range allies.It does see pretty heavy use since it is free and open to the public. The local police also train and certify here and they really spray some lead. So I first made a screen out of hardware cloth and scrap lumber and nails from my collection of used nails screws and bolts. I have a small shovel that I carry in the pick up and an old ammo case. All set. I burned 2-3 gallons of gas going to and from the range. I only spent an hour or so shoveling and sifting sand and other things away from the valuable lead. Doesn't sound bad but I have debilitating arthritis and all the up and down and  sitting on the steep pile of sand wore me out completely in that time. My goal was to fill the ammo can which I did. I spent some time wondering where all the blood came from all over my hand and dripping on the ground. I finally found a pin-prick of a hole on my thumb probably from the hardware cloth ends. Must of hit a vein. Anyway I got that stopped and went to pick up the ammo can. Couldn't do it. I'm still getting over the double newmoanyeh from last winter and my strength is still gone. So I went and got my shooting gear cart that has wheels, and was able to pick up the box, just could'nt walk very far with it,and put it in the cart. When I got home I wanted to know how much my bounty weighed, 71 lbs on the bathroom scale. The next step is to render all that junk into clean lead. I have an old turkey cooker re-purposed to my lead pot heater upper, along with an old sheet iron skillet I started smelting a pan full of used bullets and assorted junk. The smoke that came off that mess was some of the worst I have smelled so I got out my respirator(good move) that is rated for lead vapor, could't smell anything with it on so I think I was safe. 2 hours later of melt-ladle lead into ingot mold-add more bullets work I was done and thuroughly exhausted. All that labor produced 30 1lb ingots. Less than half. My advice- buy your lead. Especially if you are one of us septagenarians or worse.

Ross 

I'll probably do it again.

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Bud Hyett posted this 21 May 2020

Even with the lead already through one smelting to get the dirt away, smelting again to get 140 one pound ingots of consistent alloy for a year's match shooting will hit us older people a little harder. I'm hoping to be recovered enough this Summer to process the lead in the garage for the next several years. 

I always have one other person to help, someone who can be paid in lead ingots. Once started, the process becomes kind of fun. But memories of the aftermath on the body makes one hesitant to start again. 

Farm boy from Western Illinois, living in the Magical Pacific Northwest

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Ross Smith posted this 21 May 2020

I forgot one thing. Of course I had to shovel all that sand back to where it belonged. And yes it will get melted and fluxed again.

How do you all treat range lead, is it like lead or wheel weights?

When I drop an ingot on the floor it clinks, while good lead goes thud.

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John Alexander posted this 21 May 2020

Ross,

Thanks for a good post on the joys and pain of scrounging for lead -- something most of us do in one way or another.

As long as people hunt for mushrooms and pay big bucks to chase around in the pasture trying to get a little white ball in the cup -- and then just take it out again, we don't have to apologize for some os our quirks.

I do take exception to your expression -- "one of us septagenarians or worse."  We've got to keep claiming it's better -- self deception isn't always bad.  The alternative is what is worse.

We can also start practicing lead conservation.  There are 4,000 fifty grain 22 bullets in your 30 pounds.  Have you noticed how much harder your 45-70 kicks than it used to?

John

 

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Ross Smith posted this 21 May 2020

Right on John.,

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max503 posted this 22 May 2020

I've collected some range scrap but I don't like working with it. The stuff from the indoor ranges especially gives off a lot of dust. That goes everywhere when you work with it. I've thought about wetting it down then starting each batch cold in the smelting pot.

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Shuz posted this 25 May 2020

I have 200 plus pounds of good wheel weights that have been sitting in buckets in my shop for about 10 years now, just waiting for "someone " to smelt down those greasy things! I'd gladly trade them for a 100 pounds of 1 lb ingots!

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Ross Smith posted this 26 May 2020

Where do you live? Postage on that would be a killer.

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sergeant69 posted this 31 May 2020

i'll be 70 in 6 months. todays sunday. thurs i cast 350 +/- 330 gr 45-70s. fri i lubed and sized said 45-70s and did hard yard work by hand for 45 minutes. then changed oil/filter in my toyota tundra 4x4. yesterday my son and i chainsawed down a dead problem tree and old telephone pole for a neighbor, cut up pieces, loaded all onto a 25 ft trailer, then unloaded on a burn pile. 3 hours w/no breaks. i LIVE on ice packs for knee, back and shoulder everyday, starting around 3 pm. to answer the question "do you notice your 45-70 kicks harder" hell yes it does. i have 3 rifles and a pistol in that caliber. was gonna go shoot the BFR around 6 pm yesterday but couldn't make a fist. arthritis. my point in all this? i am SO GLAD i'm not the only one! makes me feel better to know i'm not becoming a wuss, just nature taking over i guess. coffees kicking in. gotta go. literally.   

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Eutectic posted this 01 June 2020

Because a new range had opened behind the airport, the county closed down the range at a local park. My friend Ernie and I planned to mine the lead. I made a large sieve with 1/4 inch hardware cloth. We had a big advantage - there was water available, we brought a hose.  

The first shovel full about gave me a hernia. I doubt the range had ever been seriously mined. The area behind the pistol targets was almost solid bullets.Four hours of work had both our trunks full and the bumpers close to dragging. Each of us had about 400 pounds. This was washed clean of dirt so there was 350 pounds clean ingots when I melted it down.

We did not even come close to getting it all, We had worked about half the positions and only mined the centers. We made another expedition but we were too late. When we went back two weeks later they had bulldozed the backstops.

 

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Bud Hyett posted this 01 June 2020

Max503 - I've collected some range scrap but I don't like working with it. The stuff from the indoor ranges especially gives off a lot of dust. That goes everywhere when you work with it. I've thought about wetting it down then starting each batch cold in the smelting pot.

We have done exactly this, years ago when I lived in Illinois. Indoor range lead was wet down to keep the dust away from nose and eyes and keep it out of our bodies. When we got it home, we first set it in the Sun for baking and for driving out moisture. Then the next weekend we did the smelting with a cold pot and separate fills, I do mean separate fills. We would let the cast iron pot sit until cool to the touch, that takes time. Once it was cool, we'd add the next batch. All day project for 500 pounds of .22 LR and pistol lead, it was fairly soft.

Being paranoid about lead dust and subsequent lead poisoning is a good thing! 

Farm boy from Western Illinois, living in the Magical Pacific Northwest

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Shuz posted this 01 June 2020

I live near Spokane Washington.

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max503 posted this 05 June 2020

I'll set a bucket and shovel near the backstop at the indoor range.  Then I take a few deep breaths, hold my breath and shovel as long as I can.  Then I go back to the firing line and shoot till the dust settles and the fans clear the air.  Repeat till I get about 70 lbs, which is about as much as I can haul up the stairs and into my car.

I wear a respirator when doing this.

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mebudman63 posted this 05 June 2020

On your greasy dirty wheel weights....Take you a 5 gallon bucket and fill it up 1/2 way or more with the wheel weights. Then add a good squirt of Dawn or a degreaser detergent then water and just let them soak. Drain and repeat. Then let them dry.

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Wallyl posted this 2 weeks ago

I shoot into a sand hill;  lead/cast bullets only.  I then use a sieve made of wood and 1/4" hardware cloth, shovel in the sand, & pick out the bullets.  I let them dry and then blow off most of the sand with a driveway blower.  Then, into the pot...I flux with candle wax and stir...all the grit floats to the top;  I carefully spoon it off.  I "mine" 300~400 lbs of bullet alloy a year this way. 

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max503 posted this 2 weeks ago

I shoot into a sand hill;  lead/cast bullets only.  I then use a sieve made of wood and 1/4" hardware cloth, shovel in the sand, & pick out the bullets.  I let them dry and then blow off most of the sand with a driveway blower.  Then, into the pot...I flux with candle wax and stir...all the grit floats to the top;  I carefully spoon it off.  I "mine" 300~400 lbs of bullet alloy a year this way. 

 

350 lbs of lead makes 14411 170 grain bullets.  I got curious and had to do the math.  

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Wheel Weights posted this 2 weeks ago

And don't forget all the lead dust in your lungs after "mining" it.

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Qc Pistolero posted this 5 days ago

Where I shoot range lead will give aprox 60% of initial weight(dust,jackets,small gravel etc).I put it in smaller buckets(aprox 20#s)that I go empty in the 5 gal bucket in my car.

When all is ok,I can mine out 100#s in less than an hour.It gives me lead aprox 8bhn.

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Tom G posted this 5 days ago

I have several 5 gallon pails of recovered range lead. Lots of dirt in it. I also have one of those hobby cement mixers from Harbor Freight.  When I get down to where I need the lead, I'll put it in the cement mixer and some dawn detergent and let her run.  I can also flush it out with a hose while it's running till the water runs clean. I don't know how much lead that little chintzy motor on the mixer can handle but it should work. 

When I was down in Tucson, there was a small shop that reloaded ammo for people who brought in their spent brass. I noticed that they had a H. F. hobby mixer in the back room to tumble brass. I saw another one where the guy took the drum to Rhino Lining and had them spray a coating inside the drum. That would make it easier on the brass. I used mine to clean a large quantity of brass one time and it was a little too aggressive and dinged up the finish of the cases.  Taking the paddles out would make a big difference and should work fine for cleaning range lead.  

 

Tom G. 

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max503 posted this 3 days ago

I'm mostly saving my "mined" lead for hard times.

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