Lead smelting for ballast
Keith Calton makes his own ballast from scrap
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