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Thread: $1 Lead Smelter

  1. #1
    Boolit Master

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    $1 Lead Smelter

    I used a plumbers pot for smelting for many years, I melted down several thousand pound of WW and linotype with it. Unfortunately, when I moved to a new house two years ago, the plumbers pot didn't. All my ingots did make the move, so I really had no need to do any smelting on a large scale until recently. A friend gave me two counter weights from his small tractor, which are pure lead and too big to get into any of the casting pots I have.

    I stopped by an appliance repair shop near my home, and asked if they had any electric range elements that had been removed from scrapped stoves. They did, so I bought two matching elements for $2.

    My casting/reloading room is electrically heated, plus I have a 40 amp 240 volt outlet for my welder. I made this rig up in about 30 minutes as an experiment, and it worked very well. The supporting base is a coffee can that I stabilized by filling it with 30 pounds of lead. The heating element has three metal supports incorporated that fit into some notches I filed into the top of the coffee can. I also had to cut a small slot in the side of the can to clear one leg of the heating element.

    I connected a cord to the element and plugged it into one of my 20 amp 240 volt heater outlets. I then put one of the 35 pound tractor counter weights in an 8" pressure cooker pot and turned it on. 25 minutes latter, the counter weight was in ingot form.

    I'm well aware that there are some safety concerns here, and the setup needs some modification, but it was very stable and worked great.


    Here is the heating element as received. I used a clamp on ammeter to determine that it is 3000 watts


    This picture shows one of the notches I filed in the top of the coffee can to stabilize the element and weight of the pot.


    This is the result, and it worked quite well for a $1 dollar smelter.

  2. #2
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    Bret4207's Avatar
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    Good job! I use an $8.00 Walmart hot plate and it works fine for me. Not asclassy as a $250.00 RCBS super pot, but the end result is the same.

  3. #3
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    Any idea what it would take to make the temp of the ring adjustable???????? This has given me an idea for a new casting pot.
    Paul G.
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  4. #4
    Boolit Master


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    I just used the switch from an old cook top to adjust the heat on my home made smelting pot. It has nine positions from high to low.

  5. #5
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    It pays to Save Money with DIY

    We all try to make something out of seemingly unusable discarded items. My casting area is littered with various propane cookers from which I have put together my cooker using an old "smoker base" and a large cast iron dutch oven pot. The base is welded iron bar with a large iron ring for the pot to sit on.

    While I can load up to 60 pounds in it with np worry at all, I am always looking for that bigger pot!
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  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    It is interesting that the heat output was sufficient to melt so much lead so quickly. Did the element get bright red? If so it probably won't last long.

    The safety aspect of what you used for the try-out is, as you implied, quite awful, but can be improved without invalidating your concept. Just adding one of the simmerstats from the same stove, so you can control the heat, plus some decent flexible conduit around the wires, a proper ground, a tin box around the terminals, etc. can turn this into something a lot of people might be able to copy usefully. I suggest you also try standing on top of the element (when it is cool of course) to verify that the coffee can is strong enough to support the weight safely. If not, making a steel stand should only take a few minutes. If you can make this invention safe while still using standard bits from old stoves etc., it might make a useful step forward for those of us using gasoline or propane heating. Properly-designed electrical heating is safer and cheaper to run.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master

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    I agree. The scariest part is the exposed electrical connections. They should be covered, but having worked in and around energized electrical equipment for 35 years in power plants, it is not scary to me.

    I'm ahead of you on the weight bearing, I've already stood on it.

    As to how long the element will last, I can't say. So far it's run wide open for 2 hours without any signs of trouble. Yes, a switch or thermostat could be added, but so far I've not needed it. I add and remove lead fast enough that it never needs modulation for smelting. If I was casting from it, then it would. I was a bit surprised how quickly it heated, I had my infrared thermometer on it the first time I fired it up. Within 60 seconds, the bottom of the melting pot was at 450 degrees.

    One of the reasons I even tried this is that I normally run a 3000 watt electric heater in this room anyway......might as well kill two birds with one stone. It got nice and warm in there while running this.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tpr. Bret View Post
    Good job! I use an $8.00 Walmart hot plate and it works fine for me. Not asclassy as a $250.00 RCBS super pot, but the end result is the same.
    While the Hotplates do work... eventually, as far as I know most run to a maximum of 1500 watts. Too slow for me. I had to go to a porpane single burner. The one described above doubles (or trebels) the wattage of a consumer hot plate.

    Very cool. (hot?)
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  9. #9
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    Somehow I doubt that running a 3000 watt melter is cheaper than using propane. But it is easier to use indoors if you want to do that sort of thing. I prefer my Turkey fryer, plus I tend to melt 150 lbs at a time. Just ingotized and alloyed 1600 lbs of sailboat ballast. Been thinking of making this same sort of contraption as a melter to feed my 22 lb furnace, it can't keep up with a LEE six holer mould. I have a 1500 watt hotplate, been thinkng of upgrading to something a little larger.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master rbstern's Avatar
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    I use the $8 Wal-Mart hot plate, too. For dealing with small amounts of lead, it's perfect.

    Bret, what do you use on the hot plate? I find that anything larger than a 1 qt saucepan takes too long to get hot.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by Springfield View Post
    Somehow I doubt that running a 3000 watt melter is cheaper than using propane. But it is easier to use indoors if you want to do that sort of thing. I prefer my Turkey fryer, plus I tend to melt 150 lbs at a time. Just ingotized and alloyed 1600 lbs of sailboat ballast. Been thinking of making this same sort of contraption as a melter to feed my 22 lb furnace, it can't keep up with a LEE six holer mould. I have a 1500 watt hotplate, been thinkng of upgrading to something a little larger.
    Good point, and I'm sure you are right. So what does it cost to use propane? How many pounds of lead can be melted with a 20 lb. propane bottle? When I was using the plumbers pot, I could smelt 400 pounds with about a gallon of unleaded gas.

    I recently filled a 20 lb. propane bottle, and it was $16.

    As a rough comparison, I figure it's about .3 cents per pound to use the electric element. Where I live, electricity is 10 cents per KWH. That means it costs 30 cents an hour to power a 3000 watt heater. So, it would cost me $30 worth of electricity to smelt 1000 pounds of lead. For me that is amortized by the fact that I heat the casting room electrically anyway. I'm guessing that propane would cost about half of that.

    So, I should be able to melt 2000 pounds with 30$ ( two bottle fillings) worth of propane. Is that about right?

    I also need to point out that this has the convenience of being set up in about 5 minutes, and can be used in an enclosed space. I'm aware of all the health warnings about smelting without proper ventilation.

  12. #12
    Boolit Man largecaliberman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 454PB View Post
    I used a plumbers pot for smelting for many years, I melted down several thousand pound of WW and linotype with it. Unfortunately, when I moved to a new house two years ago, the plumbers pot didn't. All my ingots did make the move, so I really had no need to do any smelting on a large scale until recently. A friend gave me two counter weights from his small tractor, which are pure lead and too big to get into any of the casting pots I have.

    I stopped by an appliance repair shop near my home, and asked if they had any electric range elements that had been removed from scrapped stoves. They did, so I bought two matching elements for $2.

    My casting/reloading room is electrically heated, plus I have a 40 amp 240 volt outlet for my welder. I made this rig up in about 30 minutes as an experiment, and it worked very well. The supporting base is a coffee can that I stabilized by filling it with 30 pounds of lead. The heating element has three metal supports incorporated that fit into some notches I filed into the top of the coffee can. I also had to cut a small slot in the side of the can to clear one leg of the heating element.

    I connected a cord to the element and plugged it into one of my 20 amp 240 volt heater outlets. I then put one of the 35 pound tractor counter weights in an 8" pressure cooker pot and turned it on. 25 minutes latter, the counter weight was in ingot form.

    I'm well aware that there are some safety concerns here, and the setup needs some modification, but it was very stable and worked great.


    Here is the heating element as received. I used a clamp on ammeter to determine that it is 3000 watts


    This picture shows one of the notches I filed in the top of the coffee can to stabilize the element and weight of the pot.


    This is the result, and it worked quite well for a $1 dollar smelter.
    Have you think about running the current through a thermostat to control the heat?
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  13. #13
    Boolit Mold
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    Where can you find a used plumber's pot? I asked a few older plumbers about them and they acted like I was looking for moon rocks.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master

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    I wish I knew, I'd get another one. I think it's about the most efficient (fuel wise) way to smelt. I don't think plumbers use lead joints anymore, they've all gone to PVC pipe.

  15. #15
    Boolit Mold
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    I've still got around 800 lbs of pure lead plus a bucket full of ww. Now for deer season to end so I can make time. (Course I should be in the woods now, but that's another story).

    You can often find a house being remoldeled and get an old cooktop. That has the controls built in, and usually take a 30 Amp 240v circuit IIRC. Mount that in your shop....and you could brew coffee when not smelting.
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  16. #16
    Boolit Master

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    I will repeat that this was a quick, short term usage project. If I have a ton of WWs to smelt, I would have gone to more trouble and expense. I had thought about heat control thermostats, switches, relays, etc., but found that it does just fine running wide open. Any time it didn't need to be running full blast, I just flipped the breaker, but that only happened at the end of a smelting session. I have thermostatically controlled bottom pour casting pots, this was assembled to melt some 35 pound blocks of pure lead into ingots, which is did very quickly and easily.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    RE the where of plumbers pots etc..

    Try

    Bullet Metals
    Bill Ferguson, Metallurgist
    P.O. Box 1238
    Sierra Vista AZ 85636

    This guy has a wide array of pots & accessories. I never actually ordered anything from him due to the poor man syndrome but have his flyer. It is a few yrs old so hopefully he's still around. Sorry I couldn't find a phone number for him in his lit.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master at Heaven's Range 2010

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    get a turkey fryer.they are much like plummers burners.I don not think they make plummers pots any more as they are phaseing out lead.
    wildcatt

  19. #19
    Boolit Master DaveInFloweryBranchGA's Avatar
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    454PB,

    I think you did a great job. Low initial investment, effective and simple. Got the job done. What else can you ask for?

    For those interested in plumber's pots to get increased fuel efficiency,

    You can get very close to the efficiency of a plumber's pot by modifying a turkey cooker to do a better job of holding the heat in. Here's a picture of one I modified and it works very well. I can do quite a significant number of wheel weights with a single cannister of propane:

    http://www.zjstech.net/~ddixson/Turk...Mods%20006.jpg

    http://www.zjstech.net/~ddixson/Turk...Mods%20007.jpg

    http://www.zjstech.net/~ddixson/Turk...Mods%20004.jpg

    http://www.zjstech.net/~ddixson/Turk...Mods%20001.jpg

    Regards,

    Dave

  20. #20
    Boolit Man
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    http://www.theantimonyman.com/ Mr. Bill is alive and well as of last week when I talked to him on the phone. His number is on his web page.

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