View Full Version : Exploration of Boolit Casting History

05-14-2006, 11:48 AM
I was asked what should have been a simple question in my Hunter Ed class last week, but it completely stumped me and the other instructors. They know one of the other instructors and I are both into casting and loading, and we were talking about the evolution of the metallic cartridge from the muzzle loader. One kid asked about casting today and how it contrasted with how it was done 150 years ago. I had to say "That's a great question. I don't have the foggiest how they did it back then, but I know who I can ask about it and I'll get back to you with an answer next week." [smilie=1:

So, in a word, HELP!!!!

Does anyone here know about or have a source for information about how boolits were mass produced for the Civil War and the BP Cartridge (pre jacketed bullet) era. Today, we have all sorts of automatic casting machines from small home models to huge industrial units, but I have never heard mention of or read anything about how it was done way back when. I can trace back the history of gunmaking and explain all of the evolutional changes in lockwork and barrel making, but I have no clue how we went from melting lead by the campfire and pouring into rb tong moulds to automatic casting and swaging machines. I am in serious need of some enlightenment.

05-14-2006, 01:04 PM

"Does anyone here know about or have a source for information about how boolits were mass produced for the Civil War and the BP Cartridge (pre jacketed bullet) era."

I have at least two data points: I once had a scissors-type .54 RB mould marked "Hall's Rifle" that must have dated from the early 1800's, like the modern 12-ga. example shown below (these are still avaiulable from a custom maker in England). I have read that these were issued with each rifle, and casting bullets was a routine chore in bivouac. But there must have been higher-production setups at the National Armories.

And, I recall seeing a big rotary Minie' ball casting machine with at least eight stations, automatic mould opening, dumping and re-closing, in Bannerman's in the 1950's, from the Civil War, and have read about, and seen photos of, others of the same type. But sets of moulds and loading tools were made by Frankford Arsenal right through the turn of the 20th Century, for barracks use, though the Armories themselves must have had high-volume, automated production machines.

Of course, the target types using the F. Wesson, Billinghurst, etc., target rifles of the 1840's using picket bullets (often of two-piece construction - soft base and hard tip, and vice-versa for hunting) usually rough-cast them and then swaged them to final shape and size in moulds and dies provided by the makers.

You're right; there is a lot of scattered knowledge here that needs to be collected and pulled together. Why don't you post your question on the (free) Message Board at the ARTCA site: www. antiquereloadingtools.com


05-14-2006, 01:54 PM
I did a report on armament of the american revolutionary war. Most roundballs during that period we cast by the unit armorer. Siting around a campfire usually involved a casting session. The fire provided the heat and also a chimney effect that drew the fumes away from the people. There were volume casting machine but they broke often and the armories often employed gangs of casters to make round balls. However, most round balls were cast by the unit armorers for use within the unit.

05-14-2006, 02:12 PM
There were also some major swaging machines at armories for squishing out Minie bullets back in the days of the Great American Unpleasantness of 1861-65. This is no help when tracking the history of casting, but I think it's interesting, all the same.

05-14-2006, 03:06 PM
I have seen pictures of both gang moulds called armoury moulds and a casting table looking thing with a wheel on top to turn and load lead in moulds ,I will look for it as it was interesting at the time . you might also check with .... antiquereloadingtools.com they may shed some light on the subject for you...Dean

05-14-2006, 03:06 PM
Somewhere in the past year(I think) I read an article about paper patched bullets, stating that women's groups would roll paper patched cartridges to support thier men in combat(civil war). Didn't state where they got the boolits, though. They cut paper, licked, rolled, added powder, and twisted the tails.

05-14-2006, 05:15 PM
They cut paper, licked, rolled, added powder, and twisted the tails.

I've done this to help a friend who re-enacts civil war era. Blanks of course. Gets pretty boring really quick. Helps if you sit infront of the history channel whilst doing it.:roll:

05-14-2006, 09:14 PM
Read an article a few years back that told how the Hudson Bay Company rolled lead between steel plates in the same manner you would roll a small gob of cookie dough into a ball. Suppose to make a hundred or so at a time!! Would be interesting to have seen it.
Have read about the gang moulds and the casting machines from the Civil War.
That is a good topic to pick away at.

05-14-2006, 11:44 PM
Thanks for the replies so far, guys, and the link to antique reloading tools. I'm all signed on there and have posted an inquiry. I noticed a few familiar faces there.
For all those who remembered seeing and/or reading about the Civil war era casting and swaging machines, can you remember where? I, too, am a frequent victim of CRS, so I understand if it's just out of reach. :mrgreen:
At least you have confirmed for me that there were such machines so I have something to tell the kids and am officially no longer completely clueless.[smilie=1: Merely another old fart with a bad memory.

05-15-2006, 03:15 AM
versifier, there are about 30 pages on the history of cast bullets in the current (ha ha 1980) edition of Lyman's Cast bullet Handbook. I say "about 30 pages" because my long-gone and much missed wire haired fox terrier chewed the cover and several pages off the book when he was a puppy. At about the turn of the twentieth century, the history becomes the story of Ideal/Lyman. Very interesting, and probably just about the right amount to interest, but not glaze the eyes of your young students.