Guide to Hand Sorting Wheel Weights
As the industry replaces lead wheel weights with alternative materials you may wish to sort these items out.
Although WW can be separated by controlling heat sometimes it may be desirable to hand sort your wheel weights prior to melting . Some advantages of pre sorting this are:
• Less wasted energy going into your melt
• Less chance of accidentally getting zinc in your lead
• The ability to separate ZINC from STEEL for other reasons such as selling for scrap or using the Zinc for other projects.
• Separating stick ons (Typically softer and useful for other purposes)
• Removing other debris
The picture below are some common examples of wheel weights.
The two main designs of WW are Clip-on and Stick-on. Stick on WW are typically much softer lead than Clip ons and can be used for other purposes.
There seem to be 5 materials that wheel weights are made from:
• Lead – USABLE
• Zinc – QUESTIONABLE USE or SCRAP
• Steel – NOT USABLE, SCRAP
• Composite – NOT USABLE - (highly flexible polymer composite stick on)
• Plastic – NOT USABLE
Be careful, some designs are the same but the materials are different:
Composites have no apparent re-uses.
Common Methods of identification:
After a little experience you should be able to sort WW visually with a good degree of accuracy. After using other methods to accurately ID various types of wheel weights you will learn which is which. Assuming you have no previous experience, here are some other methods of visually determining the make up of wheel weights.
LEAD: Look for deformation, gouges, deep scratches, and scarring, these generally only occur on lead. I also have never seen a WW labeled “Micro” that wasn’t lead.
ZINC: Look for the label Z or Zn (except when used as "oz" specifying weight, which can be lead) Some Zinc WW are not labeled and must be tested using other methods.
STEEL: The easiest to identify and poses no risk if a mistake is made. Typically marked "Fe" and always have the printing stamped (recessed) into the material.
When in question lead can always be confirmed with a pair of cutters. Lead is the only type of WW that you will be able to cut a notch into without much trouble. I prefer to use a large set of cutters as it provides more leverage and better feedback with less work. Zinc and Steel will not give the same results.
(See image further down)
Lead can be differentiated from Zinc and Steel by tapping it against a hard object and listening to the sound. This works best with large and medium size WW but becomes less reliable with smaller ones. Holding the WW limp tap it against a heavy hard object (I use a large chunk of steel). Lead will make a dull thud, steel and zinc will make a higher pitch pinging noise.
Sometimes scratching is a quick way to confirm lead. Instead of taking the time to use cutters simply drag its edge against the edge of something hard. if it feel soft and you end up with a nice shiny line then it's lead. If it's noisy, you can feel it grinding, and there is not a generous amount of shiny metal exposed then it's probably not lead.
Lead, Zinc, and Steel WW all have steel clips that will be attracted to a magnet, so you can't very well use a magnet to pull out all your steel WW. A magnet is good for confirming your suspicions about questionable wheel weights. Check the end of the WW (farthest from the clip) against a magnet to test it.
Lead and Zinc are not attracted to magnets (but remember, their clips are).
Most WW are labeled with a weight. Zinc and Steel are significantly lighter than. If you are questioning the composition of a WW simply compare size and/or weight against a known WW.
It is said that Zinc will react to muriatic acid (and perhaps others) and that lead will not. I have not tried this. It has been used to test if there is any amount of Zinc alloyed into your alloy.
Wheel weights are dirty and poisonous. Your health is priceless escpecially vs. a bunch of filthy dog pee covered lead. Besides the hazards of lead they may also be contaminated from brake dust, road grime, and tire shop junk. Some examples to consider are:
Any other garbage or junk
I wear gloves and a quality respirator (3M with P100 Filters, under $15 shipped on ebay). I also cover my work surface with cardboard that can be disposed of and keep my “lead working clothes” in a sealed tote so that it doesn’t contaminate anything in the house or get mixed with the laundry. Of course don’t eat, rub your eyes, pick your nose, pet the cat, pick the cat's nose, etc. I simply keep the frame of mind that I am contaminating anything I touch. When sorting WW the dust will get on you, take a shower and change your clothes when you are done!
Some of my videos related to lead, smelting, wheel weights, etc. can be found on my youtube channel at:
DISCLAIMER: I hate disclaimers and think people should use common sense. This is a compilation of information that I have learned, there are no guarantees the information is accurate. Do your own research especially where safety is concerned. Only you are responsible for yourself!
I welcome anyone to correct or add information to this thread.
I also put together a video with tips on where to find lead. Maybe it will help some fellow forum members.