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    • #23249
      Goodsteel
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      COWW stands for Clip On Wheel Weights.
      When I was a kid and well into the 90s, getting lead for our guns was as easy as going to the tire shop and asking for it. You would drive away with three 5 gallon buckets level full, whos handles were just strong enough to lift the bucket a couple times without tearing it off. Back home, there was nothing to do but throw the COWWs into a welded steel bucket on a turkey fryer, melt the weights, cast into ingots and throw away the clips.
      Those were good times, and we never knew how good we had it. I remember the first time I went to the tire shop and the owner told me they were charging $10 per bucket. I thought that was odd, but totally reasonable, so I payed the man for two buckets and went away happy.
      Then came the time I found stick on wheel weights in there. “Very strange” I thought, but shrugged and melted them with the rest of the COWW.
      After that, I went to get weights and I was told that they had a no sale policy in place on the lead. I believe the thought that went through my mind was “WTH?!?!?!” or somthing to that effect. I finally found a place that would sell to me, at $25 per bucket which I thought was highway robbery at the time. I went home to smelt only to find out that the whole batch was lousy with zinc, steel, and SOWW and my yield was greatly reduced!
      Little did I know that this was going to be the way of things from then on.
      ​
      Now days, if you manage to scrounge up a bunch of COWWs, you’re going to have lots of zinc, steel, and stick-on mixed in there, and these things need to be separated out in order to get the good hard lead from the COWWs.

      There are several methods for accomplishing this: Some people read the markings on the wheel weights and have learned how to tell which are which just by that. Other people drop them on the concrete and listen for the sound they make (Lead makes a “thunk” sound while zinc and steel make a “tink” sound). Still others use large diagonal cutters to pinch the weights as zinc and steel are hard and COWWs are soft.
      The disadvantage of these methods is that it requires you to handle/inspect each weight……..one…….at…….a……time.
      I use a different method to separate my weights, and it’s based on the fact that COWWs have the lowest melting temperature of anything in the bucket.
      COWWs melt at about 600-650 degrees, while zinc melts at 700-750 degrees and pure lead SOWWs melt at 790-825 degrees.

      In order to use my method, it’s imperitive that you start with a pretty good puddle of known COWW alloy about 1″ deep. I use the diagonal cutter method to segregate out a pretty good portion of COWWs and I melt them in the steel smelting pot, then skim off the clips, leaving me with a good puddle of COWW alloy:

    • #23250
      Goodsteel
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      Then, I shovel in a bunch of random tire shop fodder, and start poking/stiring/scraping with a stick of 1X2 pine:

    • #23251
      Goodsteel
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      I keep stirring, till the alloy starts to melt. This looks like a powdery, crumbly mess. I just keep it rolling as the temperature rises slowly:

      At this point I throw in a dollop of beeswax to help everything flow together, then, as soon as things start getting good and liquidus, I start scraping off anything that floats:

    • #23252
      Goodsteel
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      I continue to repeat this process till I have a good 100 pounds or so of COWW alloy in the pot, then I throw in a couple handfuls of sawdust, crank up the heat, and stir vigorously with my stick:

      Once the alloy looks like mercury, I scrape off the charred dross, and cast my ingots:

    • #23276
      frkelly74
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      That is a very good, clear explanation. Now , just have to actually find some wheel weights.

    • #23287
      Wheel Gun
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      Nice write up. I use the check every one in the bucket method it’s slow but generally It’s part of the orientation for some of the new casters that want to learn how to cast. I tell them that you might as well learn the difference right off if your going to start to cast. In today’s buckets were getting about 15% – 20% lead sometimes a bit discouraging but still worth it for me. Must be a little of my dad coming out as he was a bit frugal. The other day an acquaintance stopped by and said that he had 5 full pails and after sorting we ended up with 150ish pounds but that was some old stock that a fellow had sitting in his barn for a while so the lead content was a bit higher than I’ve seen in a while.
      Wheel Gun

    • #23301
      Goodsteel
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      Some tips for finding COWWs:
      Often, the lead is already spoken for by someone else, or the owner won’t turn them loose to people he doesn’t know, or he is enjoying the few bucks he gets regularly from the scrap yard where he has one of his lackeys drop them off.

      SO, the easiest thing to do is educate yourself on the local scrap yards. Find one that will sell to you, and patronize their establishment. Remember pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. Show up with your wallet, and be willing to PAY for them (the local scrap yard sells them to me for $.40 per pound, and the local tire shops sell for $25 per 5 gallon bucket.

      If neither the owners of the tireshops, or the owners of the scrap yards will sell to you, then get involved in your church helping people and keep your eyes and ears open. It won’t be long till you make a contact that will take care of you like you took care of them or their friends. Nobody cares about helping a weirdo with a wad of money, but everybody helps somebody who helps others, even if that guy is a little bit of a gun nut and mostly broke all the time. (Aren’t we all?)
      :rolleyes:

    • #23385
      Anonymous
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      I really hate picking through a bucket of wheel weights. It gets so monotonous. I find a magnet can help identify the steel ones. The stronger the better.

    • #23393
      Goodsteel
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      GaryN;n1384 wrote: I really hate picking through a bucket of wheel weights. It gets so monotonous. I find a magnet can help identify the steel ones. The stronger the better.

      First of all, you’re not worried about the steel wheel weights. They look completely different and they will float without contaminating your alloy. Same goes for valve stems, tire stickers, nuts, bolts, screws, etc etc etc.
      The only stuff that you need to definitely identify and eradicate is the zinc in any form, and it looks so close to lead, that even I have been fooled.

    • #24916
      Str8shot426
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      I use pretty much the same method, I get to scooping the clips out right after the crumbly stage. Never had a zinc contamination problem.
      A note on lead/junk ratios, I think this is regional. The last 4 buckets of weights I smelted I had 2/3 by weight in ingots and the rest was clips, zinc, steel, etc.

    • #24931
      uber7mm
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      Goodsteel;n1392 wrote: The only stuff that you need to definitely identify and eradicate is the zinc in any form, and it looks so close to lead, that even I have been fooled.

      Some COWWs have the letters “Zn” or “Fe” in the casting, making identification easy, but not always. When in doubt, I take the wheel weight and scuff the corner on cement. Zinc (and iron/steel for that matter) are much harder and won’t scratch as much as lead will. Diagonal cutters as mentioned above work well too.

    • #24945
      Beagle333
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      I go for the one-at-a-time method with the diagonal cutters. Fortunately I only have about a hundred pounds of COWW left to be smelted…. ever. I hit my “lifetime supply” a long time ago and now am just cleaning up all of the loose WW still in boxes and buckets. 😎

      (a lifetime supply for me isn’t as much as you might think…. I have my own range. I just have to replace what I lose during very poor shooting or re-smelting/casting.)

    • #24958
      451 whitworth
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      Beagle333;n3227 wrote: I go for the one-at-a-time method with the diagonal cutters. Fortunately I only have about a hundred pounds of COWW left to be smelted…. ever. I hit my “lifetime supply” a long time ago and now am just cleaning up all of the loose WW still in boxes and buckets. 😎

      (a lifetime supply for me isn’t as much as you might think…. I have my own range. I just have to replace what I lose during very poor shooting or re-smelting/casting.)

      Lucky for me I’m in your shoes Beagle333. All the free WW’s and lead I obtained back when you could get it in the ’80’s, ’90’s, and early 2000’s are my lifetime supply. I have my own range complete with berm surrounded by railroad ties on three sides and lined with scrap steel and iron from heavy machinery. Nothing escapes!

    • #25166
      bullet maker
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      I’ve got almost a ton of COWW to melt down. I do basically the same thing as above. I like the one pound ingots. I find they are really easy to stack between the wall studs in my garage.

    • #25219
      JPHolla
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      One tip I tell people is that I do my smelting over a wood fire. I have yet to get the melt hot enough to melt zinc over a wood fire. Plus, I reload because I’m poor and spending money to burn propane just doesn’t make sense to me.;)

    • #25286
      Bullseye67
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      Last week I sorted 700+lbs of WW. 3 milk crates and 2 buckets. No, I didn’t weigh them just guessing from past experience. Ended up with 3 1/2 buckets COWWs, 1 1/3 buckets SOWWs and a

      heaped bucket of scrap steel, zinc, dirt, screws, nails and trash. The bucket of scrap is about 100lbs. I will take it and other scrap to trade at the metal dealer for sheet lead. Last time I traded 6

      buckets(658lbs) for 250lbs of sheet lead. I like 7lbs pure to 3lbs of COWWs for most cast bullets. So I would rather get sheet lead for scrap than cash.

    • #25506
      afish4570
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      Yesterday I smelted two 20# propane pots full to the top of range (pistol) bullets. My yield was way down since my last time doing this. The quantity of jacketed and plated bullets has cut the yield down alot (maybe 40%). Have lots of jackets to clean and sort out from the dross and skimmings and see if scrapping is worth time and bother. I will have to weigh the yield of muffin tin ingots. Dollar store muffin tins burned and left to rust outside were my ingot molds. Used motor oil lubed the molds and ingots popped out perfectly. My first time fluxing with pine tree chain saw sawdust and motor oil worked ok too. afish4570@gmail.com

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