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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ballisti-Cast 6 Cavity Bullet Mold Review

Consistent with my recent new practice, I will occasionally post reviews of firearms and firearm-related products here.  I post only what I know.  If I post a review, I have used the product.  No one pays me to do this. If I speak well of a product it is because I have experienced good results.


Ballisti-Cast 6-Cavity .44 Mold in Action

Review: Ballisti-Cast 6-Cavity Bullet Molds.

The byword in cast bullet molds for decades was the venerable Hensley & Gibbs Co., known for producing superb 6 and 8 cavity molds in what have become classic designs.  These included Elmer Keith’s famous semi-wadcutter in .44 and other calibers, the H&G #68 favored by so many .45 acp shooters and the old #50 wadcutter that fed so many .38 Special revolvers over the years. Millions, if not billions, of H&G bullets have been cast and sent downrange over the years. An H&G 6-cavity bullet mold was once the hallmark of a serious pistol shooter. But H&G is no more.
            The craft of making H&G molds has not vanished from the earth however.  It just moved to the hinterlands, North Dakota , where Ballisti-Cast is located.  In addition to automated casting equipment and large-capacity electric casting pots, the company acquired and now offers the whole line of H&G bullets in up to 6-cavity molds.  The old “arsenal” molds of 10 cavities are no more (see corrective note below), however, which is probably just as well because they required wrists and forearms of steel to operate.  Shooters in this degenerate age apparently no longer have the same kind of preternatural Popeye strength as did our forefathers. Nowadays many think they have “arrived” if they move up from a 2 to a 4-cavity mold. 
            Pistol shooting by its nature requires a lot of bullets.  And once you have cast with a quality 6-cavity it’s hard to go back to even a four-cavity; it feels like somebody put a governor on your car. Properly cared for, these are lifetime molds, maybe several lifetimes. When H&G was still around, I acquired two 6-cavity H&G molds in the old #68BB, a 200-grain bevel base design, and the #107A, a .44 caliber full wadcutter of 245 grains, flat base.  I also inherited a 6-cavity #130 in .45 caliber that casts a fine bullet.  They drop from the mold effortlessly.  Interrupted by Grad school, by the time I got around to ordering a 6-cavity #503, the famous Keith .44 semi-wadcutter, I was too late.  H&G was defunct.  
            I learned about Ballisti-cast when searching online for a used H&G mold.   I had my doubts. Making a good bullet mold is no easy thing.  I wondered if the skills and experience would transfer. In addition to the proper equipment, it requires a considerable amount of arcane knowledge of the sort that tends to disappear or degrade in the process of generational transmission. Plus, North Dakota? North Dakota conjures up visions of ethnic dishes with names like knudle, and of Angie Dickinson, not bullet molds. Montanans tell North Dakota jokes. Besides, if mold-making  of this sort were easy, bullet molds would be generally available and cheap.
            I ordered two six-cavity molds, the H&G # 503 that I had wanted for so long and which Ballisti-cast has re-numbered 1103, and the old H&G #78, designed by the legendary shooter Harry Reeves, so I have read somewhere, and intended for Smith & Wesson 1950 and 1955 model .45 acp target revolvers, renumbered as #678.  The latter is a blunt SWC design of approximately 215 grains.  One doesn’t see them around very much anymore, although some of the old time bullseye pistol shooters liked them. I have fired them in 45 acp target pistols to good effect with a load of 4 grains of Alliant Bullseye powder. My intention was to use them in a vintage revolver I had acquired.  The molds cost approximately $300 each complete with handles and sprue plates.
            And then I waited.  And waited some more. I received an email communication inquiring about my bullet metal alloy and sizing (.429 and .452, respectively, and an approximate 90/5/5 alloy, lead, tin, antimony) and billing me for my balance, which I paid.  And then I waited even more.  Two years ticked by, and I called, finally getting referred to Bill Sands, interrupting him as he ordered a double whopper and strawberry shake in the BK drive through (I know this because the cashier repeated the order).  This apparently did the trick. In a couple of weeks I had my molds.  I got the impression they had experienced turnover and production scheduling problems.  So I worried about quality.
            Bill Sands came through. The molds looked good. They matched the old H&G molds perfectly, even the handles.  No one had “improved” or cheapened anything, except on the mold pins, which help align the two halves.  A small precise insert button and pin combination of some sort of hardened metal or tungsten carbide like substance now did the job, better I believe.

.44 Mold Right Face

            I tried the .44 SWC first.  I lubed slightly the pins and hinge and sprue pin with NRA 50/50 Alox/Beeswax bullet lube (an essential step to preserve mold life.) It took a while to warm up, my first 50-100 bullets were wavy and went back in the pot, but when the mold warmed it started throwing perfect bullets, sharp in the corners and flat on the base.  The mold was marked .437, which apparently designates the machined cavity size. The oversize is deliberate and accommodates the expansion coefficient of the heated lead alloy.  They dropped from the mold assisted only by a light tap or two on the hinge with a lead hammer. The bullets cooled to about .432 and weighed between 247 and 248 grains.  When I sized them in a Star Sizer/Luber they effortlessly went through, coming out at .429.  I loaded 50 rounds in front of 4.3 grains of Alliant Red Dot powder, grabbed my ancient S&W Triple Lock and headed out back to my range. 

One Throw = Six Keith .44 SWCs

            At 25 yards, firing at approximately rapid fire cadence, (5-round strings in 10 seconds), one-handed, unsupported and standing on my hind legs like the higher primate that I am, the rounds impacted exactly where the sights were when the trigger broke. I was happy.  I will try 50-yard slow fire next, but I predict essentially identical results. See the test target. My intention is to use this load and revolver in the Harry Reeves revolver match at Camp Perry.  A beautiful bullet!

25 yards Rapid Fire 

            Next week or so, after I load up all my .44s, I will try out the new .45 mold.  
            Note, that in using these wonderful molds, always use a lead hammer or wooden mallet to knock aside the sprue plate.  Don’t ever peck at one of these molds with a steel hammer.  Keep them rust free and NEVER clean them with a wire brush and they will last decades. I make my own lead hammers with a crude mold made from slightly modified ¾ X ¾ X ½ copper plumbing Tee.  I taper the ends and cut it in half with a hacksaw.  For a handle use ½ inch copper tubing, insert it in the Tee, pour the lead around it, using a piece of metal c-clamped for the mold bottom, while pouring from the top.  This is easy to do and effective.  See the photo.  This is a nearly perfect weight lead hammer for bullet casting.

Closeup Lead Hammer and Left Half of Homemade Hammer Mold

            Ballisti-Cast was worth the wait.  They came through with a high quality product. Now I can cast enough .44 bullets to shoot as much as I would like. Maybe I should try some knudle next and perhaps see what else North Dakota has to offer.   

NOTE/POSTSCRIPT:  After writing this review I talked by telephone with Keith of Northern Valley Machine in E. Grand Fork, Minnesota which does the machine work for Ballisti-cast.  I learned the following things:

  •  8 and 10-cavity molds are indeed available for those of you with ambition and powerful forearms. 
  • The mold pins are made from hardened steel, and as stated above are indeed an improvement over the old plain steel pins on the elder H&G molds that were subject to wear.
  • Depending on machining schedules, the turn around time for mold orders is now roughly 3 to 4 weeks.  
  • Keith casts bullets using 4-cavity molds, so he knows whereof he speaks. 
  • One of these days on my way out to Montana for elk hunting. I plan/hope to visit Northern Valley Machine in that large land mass called Minnesota.   Keith says he will show me how the molds are machined.     

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