Lead smelt­ing for bal­last

Keith Cal­ton makes his own bal­last from scrap

Practical Boat Owner - - Practical Projects -

My first lead smelt­ing ef­forts were on the Alder­shot army ranges when I was 12 or 13. A cou­ple of us went onto the fir­ing area when the red flags were down and dug around in the sand in front of the tar­gets for the cop­per sheathed bul­lets (full metal jack­ets). We very quickly col­lected a bag full be­fore be­ing chased off.

To smelt the lead in the shells we had an old cook­ing pan which we heated over a fire and once the lead got to melt­ing point we flicked out the cop­per shell cas­ings with a stick. We grad­u­ally loaded in the rest of the shells, flick­ing out the empty cas­ings un­til it was just the molten lead.

We then wrapped the han­dle of the saucepan in some old cloth and poured it into a makeshift mould dug in the sand. Once cooled we had a rough lump of lead which we could eas­ily carry down to the junk yard in Alder­shot where we were paid about one and seven pence for our trou­bles, no ques­tions asked, a fine morn­ing’s work.

Over the in­ter­ven­ing years (about 60) I’ve ac­quired quite a col­lec­tion of lead bits and pieces and as I wanted to bring my Macwester Wight’s cen­tre of bal­ance for­ward I thought it was about time to con­sol­i­date them all.

I had a cast iron saucepan so I made a kind of kiln oven us­ing a gas burner, some bricks and some bits of old steel plate. Bear­ing in mind that the hottest part of a gas flame is at the tip of the pointy blue bit, I placed the noz­zle of the gas burner at a suit­able an­gle so the flame reached the bot­tom and sides.

As the lead melted out from the other metal ob­jects I hooked the de­tri­tus out with a long fork (things had moved on 60 years) and once all I had left was pure lead, I poured it into one of the two non-stick loaf tins bought for the pur­pose.

It’s best to heat more than you need each time as it’s a good starter for the next batch.

The fumes of melt­ing lead, plus any paint burn­ing off the scrap, is re­ally not good for you so do the job out­side in the fresh air.

The loaf tins hold al­most ex­actly 10kg of lead which is as much as you want to carry and they were good for four or five goes each.

I was go­ing to make keel ex­ten­sions and place the lead there but once I felt the weight I re­alised it would stress the keels too much so I care­fully co­cooned the nine pieces and placed them just for­ward of the keels in the bilges. I was then able to drain the for­ward wa­ter tank which had been used largely for bal­last. The ex­tra weight not quite so far for­ward stops the ten­dency to ‘see­saw’ and makes the boat’s mo­tion more com­fort­able.

You never know when the ex­pe­ri­ences you pick up over your life are go­ing to come in use­ful, though I’ve yet to find a use for qua­dratic equa­tions!

The to­tal cost of this lit­tle es­capade was two loaf tins and some gas.

Keith Cal­ton was able to smelt new 10kg in­gots from lead scrap he’d col­lected

Gas burner, bricks and steel plate cre­ated a makeshift kiln

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