Lead, smelting and casting

You’ll most likely have to smelt and cast lead if you are building a keel yacht. We smelted around 300 kg of former roofing lead. And this is how we did it.

A word of caution

There are two major concerns with smelting lead:

  1. Lead is toxic. Do not breathe in smelting fumes, wear gloves. Once it gets into your organism, it wont go out. Read more on Wikipedia. Lots of bad stuff can happen.
  2. Smelting lead is means lots of very hot metal. Wear incombustible long sleeves and long pants, goggles would not hurt either.

Getting the lead

We found our lead sold on a web-market. We got it at market price, so nothing was gained and nothing lost. It arrived in the shape of old roofing tiles, folded up like paper into various size pieces. So it was easy to handle and smelt.

A popular method mentioned on the internet is collecting car wheel balancing weights. It might be possible in parts of the world with a serious auto industry. And you probably have to invest a notable amount of time going around car-shops. You have to watch out though, lots of weighs are zinc alloys.

Doug Jackson from SVseeker collected a truckload of old bullets. That is definitely not a possiblity in Estonia, as we do not have that many gun ranges and guns are in general not very common among citizens. Then again, I never investigated.

Melting the lead

If you are melting for anything larger than a fishing bait counterweight, then get a serious-serious buthane torch. Better yet, rent it! It is relatively cheap. We tried to work on a 1 kW mono-iron stove (the kind in a kitchen) and failed – hard. That includes covering the pot with a lid and helping it along with a handheld butane torch. The lead simply did not melt. We waited for hours.

So we got a 60 + kW rated torch and 11 kg of industrial gas.

The mould

We needed lead bricks, so we welded up a brick shaped mould. The only problem – it took a lot of work to get the cooled bricks out. This might have happened for a couple reasons:

  • Form walls too near to right angle
  • Too deep form
  • Crappy form-welds

What did pay off was making the mould of 5 mm steel, so it managed a lot of abuse before disintegrating. We were just starting to learn welding and it was a really messy job. I stitched the whole thing up with chicken shit welds. Lots of porosity and sputter. I think tacking the walls here-there would have sufficed.

In the end, lead smelts 327.5 degrees Celsius and that is not very hot. You can use pretty much any metal container as a mould. Custom solutions are needed when you need a custom shape, as we did. Very often muffin molds are used for lead, like here.

The pot (crucible)

We used a thick bottomed 10 L stainless steel pot as a crucible. It worked just fine. It got glowing hot when smelting, even red hot, but it held well – still does. A stainless steel kitchen pot will do fine.

I heard people say that the cheapest enamelled soup pots work too. By personal experience I know that the enamel has a tendency to pop off the pot due to a difference in heat expansion of the materials involved. For example – leave an empty enamel soup pot on the stove. Soon it’ll pop like popcorn, little bits of enamel flying. The forums say that they’ll do, though.

We melted off the pot handles with our first try and ended up welding a loose fitting lifting and pouring fixture around the pot from scrap metal. That worked out fine, no spills. Could not have done without it. See the picture for reference.
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The wood base plate seen on the picture is for insulating the pot from the large steel I beam.

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