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Thread: Bismuth/Tin bullet casting

  1. #1
    Boolit Buddy
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    Bismuth/Tin bullet casting

    In a previous thread that I posted, ( http://castboolits.gunloads.com/show...per-or-bullets )I was looking into casting some non-lead bullets due to California's non-lead hunting law.

    Through some input there I went to Roto-Metals and ultimately purchased three pounds of their Bismuth/Tin (88%/12%) alloy.

    Why not just buy copper bullets to reload?
    Well, because I am a caster and like to "roll my own" when it makes sense.
    Generally speaking, the copper bullets are about $1.00 each and from my calcs, my cast Bismuth/Tin bullets will be initially about $.36.
    I say initially because I will be shooting them into a bullet trap (At 75 yards) in my backyard and will recover the bullets for re-use, which will bring the cost per round down as I re-use.

    I did a casting session using my Lee pot with a PID Temperature Controller, which is basically a thermostat on steroids and also used a 358-158-RF 6 cavity Lee mold.
    I will be shooting these from my Henry Big Boy Steel 357 Mag carbine.

    Initially I set the temperature for 625 deg. F.
    This worked but I found that although the sprue would appear to be hardened, it was not, and I had some smearing when the sprue plate was opened.
    I then set the temp to 575 deg. F and that helped.

    (Getting long, see next post)

  2. #2
    Boolit Buddy
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    This Bismuth/Tin is....let's just say....different.

    When the sprue cools, it looks very granular, but the bullets do not come out that way.
    When I finished my session I poured the remaining alloy into a muffin pan to make an ingot.
    After pouring it looked a bit lumpy so I used an old screwdriver to stir it up and as the alloy cooled down it felt as if I was stirring wet sand.

    Another thing, The bullets cast weighed 141 grains from my mold and were .361" diameter.
    Having to wait longer for the alloy to cool in the mold made it a bit harder to open the mold to release the bullets.
    This stuff seems to expand more than lead alloys.
    I checked the hardness (BHN) using a Cabin Tree Lead Tester and it came out at 12 BHN.
    Perhaps over time it will harden more. I will be testing that periodically.

    I've done some research in the Reloading Manuals and have developed some tests loads that I will be using soon.

    More info to come as I progress with this Bismuth/Tin testing.

  3. #3
    Boolit Buddy
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    I took some pictures during my Bismuth/Tin casting session.
    Here is what I bought from RotoMetals:

    Here is what the Sprue looked like:

    Here is how the bullets looked after casting:

    I smashed a bullets to seem if it would smash but it was brittle and broke in half.
    Here is what it looked like:
    (As mentioned, it tested at 12 BHN)
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Rizzo; 09-20-2019 at 02:05 PM.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    Thanks for sharing your findings! Very Interesting!


    I am sure that there will be others who thank you as well.

    Please add more when ya can.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    Interesting. 141 grains is a decent weight, only 10% less than the weight with lead. I’d assume you could use the same load data since the bullet is taking the same space inside the brass...

    Are you going to do any testing to see if accuracy is better or worse than with lead?

    Do you lube or powder coat or shoot as is?

  6. #6
    Boolit Master


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    Look at the structure of the metal in the 4th pic. The grain is so large, it looks like chunks.

    Almost looks like it's facets of a cut gem. Breaks along a fault line.

    I would be concerned about that boolit shattering on impact with bone.

    Having said all that, thanks for the report ! Fascinating !
    "Varium et mutabile semper femina." - Virgil
    Man, ain't it the truth....

  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    I've never cast a bismuth bullet, but I do make my own bismuth shot. I've tried to describe that "slushy" stage to people before. It's odd isn't it? It's not like the lead solidus stage, it's different. You think the bismuth is solid, but it is not. It's not just a crust either. It's something you have to see to understand.

    Anyway, at 12% tin, I hope those hold together well. Shoot some into wood blocks like some 2x4's stacked together. If they hold up to that, they will perform great on animals.

    Bismuth is not as good as lead. As much as the greenie weenies want it to be, there has yet to be a Lead substitute developed that costs less than $50 per pound. With non-toxic metals you can have softish shot/bullets that are lighter than lead, or super hard shot/bullets that are even heavier than lead, not both. Both ways are as expensive as heck. Nice Shot was the only thing I'm aware of that has even come close to the properties lead shot. At $50+ per pound, it was a commercial flop.

    Bismuth is about as close as you can get, plus it's one of the least expensive non-lead alternatives, and it can be made into both shot and bullets the same way lead is.
    Last edited by megasupermagnum; 09-20-2019 at 06:46 PM.

  8. #8
    Boolit Buddy Burnt Fingers's Avatar
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    Lead shrinks as it cools. Bismuth/Tin expands.
    NRA Benefactor.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master

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    I've pretty much opted to stick with .30 caliber bullets and Barnes TTSX's for my California hunting, but my Dad the Retired Old Man Of Leisure has been playing around with this stuff for some of his more obscure diameter options.

    We found that the mostly bismuth stuff was brittle in our jug tests (I know, water isn't meat, but it's what we've got). We've been playing with the other Rotometals alloy that is mostly tin. Zero expansion even in water at close range. Decent accuracy, but given that it's about 70% the weight of lead per unit of volume, velocity retention and trajectory are an issue.

    Hollow points might be an option but getting even solids made of this material out of the molds is a challenge and a half. Adding nose pins would be a nightmare. Seems like the path with this stuff is big meplats, kicking up the velocities, and staying under 150 yards.
    WWJMBD?

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  10. #10
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by reddog81 View Post
    Interesting. 141 grains is a decent weight, only 10% less than the weight with lead. Id assume you could use the same load data since the bullet is taking the same space inside the brass...

    Are you going to do any testing to see if accuracy is better or worse than with lead?

    Do you lube or powder coat or shoot as is?
    Yes, as mentioned, I have researched Reloading Manuals to get some load data.
    I focused on 140 grain bullets to get a load data range to test.
    Testing to be done next week, if no rain.

    I size and lube using an RCBS Lub-a-matic 2

    From slugging my Henry barrel I determined that sizing to .358" is what to use.
    I have been using .358" with no leading in the past.
    However, since the bullets drop at .361" I noticed some smearing of the alloy after going through the .358" sizer.
    Makes sense since the alloy has to go somewhere.
    I decided to see what the results would be using a .359" sizing die and there was not as much, but still some smearing (swaging?).

    To add to the load data testing I will be shooting both .358" and .359" bullets at the same bullet weight and charge to see if either one does better.

    I like doing these data collecting tests.
    It's fun!...........but frustrating sometimes.

  11. #11
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by megasupermagnum View Post
    I've never cast a bismuth bullet, but I do make my own bismuth shot. I've tried to describe that "slushy" stage to people before. It's odd isn't it? It's not like the lead solidus stage, it's different. You think the bismuth is solid, but it is not. It's not just a crust either. It's something you have to see to understand.
    Casting shot. I really never gave it much thought before. It sounds interesting and the neurons in my brain starting firing thoughts about "what kind of mold would that be?" and "How small could you cast"?

    I did a bit of web searching and saw buckshot molds but no smaller.
    Then I saw a Youtube video that showed a guy making smaller shot with his home made method here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmUur4ESZKw
    I can only assume after my brief searching that there is a lot more to this shot casting.
    Very interesting.
    BTW, what size shot do you cast? Do you use a mold or ?
    Anyway, at 12% tin, I hope those hold together well. Shoot some into wood blocks like some 2x4's stacked together. If they hold up to that, they will perform great on animals.
    OK, I will be shooting into a sand bullet trap but will see what happens when shooting into a 4x4 that I have in the backyard.
    Pics to be coming after the testing.
    Last edited by Rizzo; 09-21-2019 at 12:19 PM.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigslug View Post
    I've pretty much opted to stick with .30 caliber bullets and Barnes TTSX's for my California hunting, but my Dad the Retired Old Man Of Leisure has been playing around with this stuff for some of his more obscure diameter options.

    We found that the mostly bismuth stuff was brittle in our jug tests (I know, water isn't meat, but it's what we've got). We've been playing with the other Rotometals alloy that is mostly tin. Zero expansion even in water at close range. Decent accuracy, but given that it's about 70% the weight of lead per unit of volume, velocity retention and trajectory are an issue.

    Hollow points might be an option but getting even solids made of this material out of the molds is a challenge and a half. Adding nose pins would be a nightmare. Seems like the path with this stuff is big meplats, kicking up the velocities, and staying under 150 yards.
    Good info.
    Thanks for the input.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master pjames32's Avatar
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    Following. This sounds interesting!
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  14. #14
    Boolit Buddy
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    Well, I finally got time to shoot the Bismuth 88%/Tin 12% bullets that I cast.
    Here in California you can not shoot any animals with lead bullets so I decided to see how Bismuth/Tin would work.

    I shot them with my 20" Henry Big Boy Steel 357 mag. rifle at 75 yards.
    The mold I used for casting was a Lee 358-158-RF 6 cavity.
    The bullets came out at .361" and weighed generally 141 grains.
    I have slugged my barrel and determined .358" would be correct.
    Sizing them down from .361" to .358" created some smearing (swaging) on the bullet so I also sized some at .359"

    I looked up load data for a 140 grain bullet from several sources and used IMR4227 and Alliant 2400 powders.
    For the IMR4227 loads I used:
    16.2 grains, 16.5, 16.8, 17.1 and 17.5 grains

    For the Alliant 2400 loads I used:
    13.5 grains, 14.0, and 14.5 grains.

    To minimize factors that would influence accuracy, I weighed all of the bullets and sorted them into same weight groups.
    I also measured each load individually and also set the C.O.A.L. to 1.580" on all of them.
    I shot five shot groups in my tests.

    After checking zero with my standard 158 grain A.E. JSP bullets, I started shooting my load groups of 5.
    My results were TERRIBLE!

    I was shooting into my 24"x18"x10" sand filled bullet trap at 75 yards and the first shot did not hit anywhere in the 24"x18" area.
    I tried another shot and same thing.

    I went and got a piece of 36"x48" craft paper and attached it to the bullet trap and shot some more.
    I started seeing the POI's but the POI's (Point of Impact) were all over the place on that paper.
    I thought that my scope mounting might be loose but,....nope.
    I went through all of my loadings and had basically the same result. Very large groupings.
    I mean 12" - 18" and more.
    My loads ranged from 1635 fps avg. to 1800 fps avg.

    This reminded me of when I tried casting for my AR15 and groups were very large.
    The wise people here said that I was shooting them too fast (approx. 2500 fps)
    I lowered my loads and FPS and the groups did shrink.
    Perhaps that is the issue here with the Bismuth/Tin bullets.

    In the end I rechecked my zero at 75 yards with another couple of American Eagle 158 gr. JSP and it was spot on.

    My goal was to retrieve the bullets from the bullet trap to re-cast but not many made it in there. I suspect that some are in orbit right now and those that did make it pretty much shattered.
    See the picture below to see what I retrieved. The AE 158grn. JSP are also shown.

    Bottom line is I am not going to pursue any more Bismuth/Tin testing.
    I do not have much Bismuth/Tin left over and with the bullets shattering I am going to move on to copper bullets.

    I like doing this type of testing but it did get frustrating in the end.
    Hopefully this will help anyone else who wants to try using Bismuth/Tin.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  15. #15
    Boolit Buddy
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    i think it would be cheeper to pay the fine and shoot lead
    only been stopped 1 time in 45 years

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    I'm wondering if you just shoot cast lead that is powder coated and claim that it is bismuth? Or the guy that sold them to me said they were bismuth?
    WWG1WGA

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    Powder coat the boolits copper and a I doubt any heehaw game warden could tell the difference.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by sigep1764 View Post
    Powder coat the boolits copper and a I doubt any heehaw game warden could tell the difference.
    The fine is one thing, you could get away with it for a LONG time powder coating lead bullets metallic copper color. The problem is if you do get caught, you could very well loose your hunting rights for a period of time.

    Believe me, I've thought about using lead shot on ducks, and using buckshot on deer (not legal in MN). Nothing is worth loosing your rights.

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master RogerDat's Avatar
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    I recently acquired some 58.3 Bi 41.4 Sn alloy. Been reading what others have to say about making bullets from it. Problem is what I have is what Rotometals sells for lead free fishing weights. Would have to purchase some bismuth to get it closer to the weight of lead. This stuff is .75% the weight of lead.

    At $14 a pound this stuff is too expensive to be practical for any volume use. The 88 Bi / 12 Sn stuff is even more expensive at $15.50 a pound but I think closer to lead weight. I do wonder if more tin doesn't help it cast better, but at a high enough tin content it starts to melt at a pretty low temperature. At this 43% tin the bismuth alloy melts at 281* where the other 12% tin melts at 395* maybe in shotgun pellets it wouldn't matter. The wad might protect the alloy from melting.

    https://www.rotometals.com/lead-free...tin-alloy-281/
    Compared to this https://www.rotometals.com/lead-free...ismuth-12-tin/
    Je suis Charlie
    Scrap.... because all the really pithy and emphatic four letter words were taken and we had to describe this way of getting casting material somehow.
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  20. #20
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    I have made boolits from nickel Babbitt years ago. No lead, mostly tin with a trace of copper and nickel. They were a bit light for their size and I couldn't tell you if they shattered or not, but they'd go through a deer easily enough. For handgun shooting they were great.
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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check