If you do a lot of rough-bottom fishing you have probably lost plenty of leads. You can either resort to using scrap metal or really economize and make your own.
With tackle prices escalating, more anglers are making their own lead weights for sea and freshwater fishing—the greater saving being made with sea leads because they are larger. But it can be a difficult and dangerous operation, and should under no circumstances be practised by children.
For the average adult, taking simple precautions will ensure a minimum of danger, but a certain risk is always present when dealing with molten lead. For instance, the inside of a mould must be perfectly dry. Molten lead poured on to a single drop of water can result in a disastrous explosion, spitting molten lead in every direction. The reason for this is that the molten lead vaporizes the water, which immediately expands.
Before embarking on any production, good quality metal moulds must be obtained. Home-made moulds in clay, plaster or sand-should not be used as they can disintegrate before the lead is cast. A good steel mould will produce thousands of leads and is virtually impossible to wear out. Brass moulds are sometimes used—but these are very expensive and used mostly by professional lead makers. The cheaper type of mould, however, cast in an aluminium alloy, will be sufficient for almost all the leads required by an amateur lead maker for several years.
Crucible and ladle
The next necessary item is a thick iron pot for melting the lead—not easily obtainable today but sometimes spotted in junk or secondhand shops. Alloy pots or saucepans are not suitable as they soon lose their bottoms when subjected to prolonged high temperatures. An iron or steel ladle is also needed to transfer the molten lead from the boiling pot to the mould, and can be obtained from any good hardware shop.
Any kind of scrap lead can be used to make fishing leadsHeat, sufficient to melt the lead, can be produced from a conventional gas ring or one of the Calor Gas type burners. With either method, the heater should be placed on a solid stone floor rather than on a bench, as it is safer should the pot topple over.
Do it out-of-doors
Lead melts at approximately 327°C (621 °F) but should be heated to beyond this to prevent it solidifying either in the ladle or in the mould before it is completely filled.
The whole operation is best done outdoors, as scrap lead may contain impurities such as paint or bitumen, which will cause pungent fumes as the lead melts. Once the lead is molten, the impurities will float and can then be skimmed off the surface with the ladle. If left, they will tend to clog the mould.
With most moulds, two halves are matched together with pins which fit into holes in the other half. A funnel-shaped pouring hole is located at the top or on some types, on the side of the mould.
To make freshwater leads of the swivelled bomb variety, the right-size swivel to fit the mould must be purchased. Other freshwater leads, such as coffins and drilled bullets, are moulded around a straight wire which is then withdrawn from the completed lead.
With sea leads, 18 gauge stainless steel wire or 16 gauge brass wire is used to make the loop and spikes of a grapnel-type lead. Before the mould is closed, make small kinks in the wire to prevent it pulling out of the lead after manufacture.
Use a ‘C clamp or vice to hold the two halves of the mould in place while the lead is being poured in.
Weights of 2lb and more are sometimes needed when fishing wrecks lying in very deep water. A mould to make such a large lead is extremely expensive and unless you often go on this kind of fishing expedition is not a worthwhile investment. Get hold of a quantity of cardboard tubes with very thick walls: they are often incorporated in advertising material used for various types of in-store display and are often discarded by supermarkets. A short section of one of these tubes makes a perfect mould. Cut one into lengths suitable to make the required size of lead: a 5inX2in tube produces a lead weighing just over 2lb. Plug the bottom of the tube with a wooden stopper that fits it exactly, then stand it in a bucket of sand and pour the lead in. After a few seconds the wire eye can be placed into the rapidly cooling lead with a pair of pliers and held there briefly. When the lead is thoroughly cold, the weighted tubes are put into water for several hours, which softens the card. It can then be removed with ease.
Sections of large-diameter copper or brass pipe can also be used as a mould, but it then becomes part of the weight. The cardboard tube or pipe must be absolutely dry before any attempt is made to introduce the molten metal.
The ladle must be very hot when transferring the lead from the melting pot to a mould, to prevent the lead from solidifying on its journey. For this reason it is best to leave the ladle in the molten lead for two or three minutes to heat up before carrying the lead to the mould which should be placed close nearby.
Pour without stopping
Use the pouring lip on the ladle, and pour into the mould quickly and without stopping, to prevent bubbles forming, until it is full to the top of the pouring hole. The first lead of a batch is often a failure, but as the temperature of the mould increases with the continual pouring of the lead, much better quality leads will be produced. There is no need to delay the open- ing of the mould once filling is complete, as the lead will solidify quicker than you can unclamp the two halves. Because the mould gets very hot after two or three leads have been cast, it is a good idea to handle the hot mould with thick, heat-resistant gloves. The lead weight can be extracted with a pair of pliers, and the gloves will be useful for reassembling the mould for the next casting.
When the mould gets too hot to handle, it should be left on one side to cool naturally. Under no circumstances should water be used for this purpose, as immersion in cold water distorts the mould. And, as explained above, molten lead in contact with water droplets causes an immediate explosion.
Trim off untidy lead
When the newly made lead weights have cooled sufficiently to handle with ease, the blob of lead caused by the pouring hole can be trimmed off with a pair of cutters, while any jagged edges made where the mould did not fit snugly can be removed with a knife. Finally, remember that no matter what type of lead you are moulding, the need for caution is paramount to avoid severe burns.