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Thread: Casting lead questions

  1. #1
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    Default Casting lead questions

    I picked up about 300 pounds of lead today, about half what I'll need to create a stack of custom ballast castings for my CLC Autumn Leaves project. Now I've seen more than a few videos of heroic pours of many tons of lead, using old steel tanks, large quantities of propane and all of that. My job will be much simpler, but not having played with molten lead before, I need some direction on the finer points.

    To melt the lead, I have an old plumbers kit. A burner unit screws down on top of a propane tank. An iron pot that holds about 40 pounds of lead max sits in a sturdy frame attached to the burner. This was a Craig's list find, the previous owner used it to melt lead for decoy anchors.

    The castings look like this, taken from John Harris' directions:

    ballast mould.jpg

    So I'll have this wood frame, carefully leveled on the ground, and then a pot full of 35 pounds of melted lead. Here are my questions:

    --The supply is a real mix. Maybe 100 pounds of bullets on one end, a solid 100 pound ingot at the other extreme. Also, a bunch of old drainage pipe. So I'll need to saw up some of it. What works best, both by way of saw and blade?

    --The lead isn't all clean, but not terrible either. I have to scoop or scrape off the dross, right? Any particular tool for this?

    --The mold is wood. I've seen in some videos they scorch it first, but others seem not to. Is this necessary? What about the plywood base -- will any kind of ply take the heat?

    --I don't think I want to try to pick up the pot and pour it. If I ladle the lead into the mold, what happens if it skims over from cooling in places as I fill it up? Will that create weak spots? (The castings will be packed side-by-side under the floorboards, so there won't be any stress on them.)

    --And what else didn't I think about yet? I know the stock needs to be dry, and yes I'll have heavy gloves and eye protection.

    All advice appreciated.

    The finished pieces have a handle built-in. Fancy.

    Casting II.jpg
    -Dave

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Ladle the lead into the mold. It'll be fine.

    Is shrinkage going to be a problem? The top face will develop a nice depression.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    A handle on the center of a 40 pound nog may be a bit clumsy?

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Dave,

    A few things about safety. Lead can spatter and seem like it's exploding. This is caused by moisture trapped in the molten lead. The pipe probably has some moisture inside that will need dying.


    Heat and dry the crucible before placing lead in it to dry it.

    A face shield, welders gloves and heavy cotton long sleeves and pants. If the lead splatters and hits your skin it will stick on you like glue. Hot hot glue. It will leave a permanent mark.

    Do it outside with a fan. Lead fumes are poison.

    A long handled dipping spoon will work to clean off the dross. The spoon will get really hot fast.

    Each new laddle of lead will remelt what is in the mold.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Make sure that everything is absolutely dry. Both the rough lead and the moulds. Flash steam can splatter lead everywhere and will cause voids in the cast. The wood will char so you may well need several moulds. I would use hard wood for the moulds, your illustrations do not indicate any taper to allow the ingot to be tipped out with ease, are there any specified?
    Do not heat the lead any more than you need to. You can cut lead pipe with an axe, but do not trap any air in the bore of the pipe as when the air heats and expands it will cause minor explosions. You can probably cut your ingot into three with an axe and maul. I would just stand the long stuff on end so that as it melts it settles into the pot. Muck on the rough stuff will float and can be skimmed off with a shallow ladle.
    A small cast will not suffer from filling by the ladle full, you may get laminations if you are too slow but that is unlikely.

    Cross post with navydog,.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    The wood will char badly after the first pour anyway. Charring it first does reduce splatter and bubbling due to moisture steaming out of the wood.

    You can cut lead pretty easily, try to catch all the shavings in a tarp or something. Keep children and young women upwind, they are most vulnerable to lead. Wear a respirator and natural fiber clothing.

    Its hot compared to boiling water but nothing compared to bronze. You can skim the dross with a flat stick, but an old piece of rebar with a flat hammered on one end works better without burning.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    When I cast the keel for Emily Ruth I used recycled lead from the recycle place. A lot of it was old flashing and there was some pipe, downspouts actually. None of it was wet but it was really filthy. Not wanting to use dirty lead on casting day, I melted it all beforehand and cast it into smallish ingots. I used a bread pan. This was extra effort and propane but it saved me a bunch of time on the actual cast. There was enough to think about that day to not have to worry about cleaning the lead.

    I use a stainless steel slotted spoon to remove the dross. I bought it from a thrift shop. Standard kitchen variety. It has never gotten hot but I use gloves so, maybe a little warm. Not a worry.

    I think you will find out that wood molds are a one-time affair.

    It's not as hard to do this as one might imagine.

    Jeff

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Lots of good info here. Thanks everyone.

    Two points are sticking in my mind. First, the mold plan doesn't call for any taper, but it's only 1 1/2" deep. Maybe not needed for this reason? The other is the question about the durability of a wood mold. I need to knock out 20 castings. Is lining the mold with aluminum flashing a way to get more life out of it? Or is that asking for all manner of complications?

    I was thinking of making two molds, so one can cool while I'm filling the other. But I sure don't see making up one for each pour.

    Jim, Instructions are to fill it until it's ready to spill so that it will cool back level. One nice thing I see here is that the fails can go back in the pot for another try.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    Ladle the lead into the mold. It'll be fine.

    Is shrinkage going to be a problem? The top face will develop a nice depression.
    On bigger castings I prefer to pour, if putting it in a ladle full at a time the lead can start to set hard quite quickly and one layer may not bond to the next.
    I use roof spouting as a channel in preference to a pipe, suspend the pot on the end of a long lever, so it can be swung over the channel, and have another lever bolted across the pot so a second person can tilt it to pour.
    I do it out in the open, wear heavy boots and leather apron, gloves, breathing mask and eye protection.
    When pouring it behaves rather like water under high pressure.

    John Welsford
    An expert is but a beginner with experience.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    Lots of good info here. Thanks everyone.

    Two points are sticking in my mind. First, the mold plan doesn't call for any taper, but it's only 1 1/2" deep. Maybe not needed for this reason? The other is the question about the durability of a wood mold. I need to knock out 20 castings. Is lining the mold with aluminum flashing a way to get more life out of it? Or is that asking for all manner of complications?

    I was thinking of making two molds, so one can cool while I'm filling the other. But I sure don't see making up one for each pour.

    Jim, Instructions are to fill it until it's ready to spill so that it will cool back level. One nice thing I see here is that the fails can go back in the pot for another try.
    Shrinkage will give you enough clearance to pull the casting out.

    John Welsford
    An expert is but a beginner with experience.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    If you need 20, you might consider doing them in sand. Doing an open face mold in sand is dead easy, though your wooden pattern will need some draft. I have cast lead in a mix of play sand and bentonite clay (some kitty litters). Slightly damp sand is what you want here, there is plenty of paths for steam to escape through the sand. While you are melting the next pour you can reform the next mold. Maybe have two boxes of sand so you can let the ingots cool a bit longer before digging them out.

    The sand recipe above will give a rough surface finish, as proper green sand is a much finer sand than you can buy at your hardware store, but it should serve alright. You can hand plane lead smooth if you need. Don't use your best plane.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Why not just weld up some steel molds ? This might give you some ideas : http://mimijane.ca/ballast
    Cheers,
    Mark

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    I haven't seen anybody point ut that you should wear heavy leather shoes...boots preferably. Modern synthetic tennies probably won't be the best idea for footwear.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    --The lead isn't all clean, but not terrible either. I have to scoop or scrape off the dross, right?
    You will recover more and cleaner lead if you use a flux. Sawdust and candles work: https://www.artfulbullet.com/index.p...-sawdust.2439/

    Thread: Need Advice : Making a mold for lead.
    Quote Originally Posted by George Ray View Post
    I found that plywood worked well but the smoke bubbling through the molten lead was an unnecessary issue that caused some roughness on the top of the cast item. The majority of the smoke was eliminated by scorching/charing the interior surface of the plywood mold with a propane torch to get the 'off gassing out of the way' and then to paint the interior surface with a thin slurry of plaster of paris or the material the is used to spray textured ceilings. Pine ply would probably contain more resin and be smokier than fir birch or a similar ply.

    It takes very little moisture to cause dangerous steam explosions that spray molten lead all about
    . It waited patiently to happen until I got careless after many pours but thankfully I was well covered with clothes and face shields. As has been said "make sure there is NO WATER on/in the lead bits being added to the melt pot.

    Last edited by MN Dave; 05-02-2019 at 12:07 AM.
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by john welsford View Post
    On bigger castings I prefer to pour, if putting it in a ladle full at a time the lead can start to set hard quite quickly and one layer may not bond to the next.
    I use roof spouting as a channel in preference to a pipe, suspend the pot on the end of a long lever, so it can be swung over the channel, and have another lever bolted across the pot so a second person can tilt it to pour.
    I do it out in the open, wear heavy boots and leather apron, gloves, breathing mask and eye protection.
    When pouring it behaves rather like water under high pressure.

    John Welsford
    I second the serious risk of laminations if ladling the lead. I was forced to do this because my pouring pipe jammed and it was a disaster: needed to redo the whole thing.

    Another point I learned the hard way: lead is as fluid as water but 11x as dense which means it works like water in high pressure when it tries to find cracks and voids in your mold to escape. In other words leakege can be a problem, make sure you fit the corners well.

    The first link in my signature is to a thread on another forum starting with my lead pouring adventures

    Dreaming a schooner since 1988:

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    When I did the one small pour for my centerboard I lined the mold with aluminum flashing. Didn't want my centerboard burned...
    Worked fine, but the wood mold was still burned around the aluminum.


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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Timo_N62.9_E27.7 View Post
    I second the serious risk of laminations if ladling the lead. I was forced to do this because my pouring pipe jammed and it was a disaster: needed to redo the whole thing.

    Another point I learned the hard way: lead is as fluid as water but 11x as dense which means it works like water in high pressure when it tries to find cracks and voids in your mold to escape. In other words leakege can be a problem, make sure you fit the corners well.

    The first link in my signature is to a thread on another forum starting with my lead pouring adventures
    I helped remove and reinstall a Bolger Micro keel that had apparently been poured too cold with a small ladle. It was more of a mass of interlocked splats than a casting. We were surprised that it stayed in one piece.

    Lead and mercury are roughly the same density, (close enough for the sake of argument Hg is 20% denser or lead is 83% as dense) so a unit converter can be used to approximate the pressure. 4" of Hg (10cm) ≈ 2 psi (0.138kg/cm)(135kPa). Put another way, an inch of lead produces about the same pressure as a foot of water.

    John must speak English. In American, roof spouting is rain gutter.
    Last edited by MN Dave; 05-02-2019 at 10:44 AM.
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark0 View Post
    Why not just weld up some steel molds ? This might give you some ideas : http://mimijane.ca/ballast
    Cheers,
    Mark

    I too would use steel for this run of 20. But the mold needn't be welded. Simply clamp the appropriate lengths of steel angle to a length of steel flat bar to form a rectangle. After pouring (the lead will cool quickly) remove one side and one end of the mold and the casting will slide right out. For the handle, don't mess with the complication shown in your drawing. Place a short length of dowel within the mold and pour around it. It will char like crazy but that makes removal a breeze. Make a hook/handle tool to grab the lead bars by hooking through the cast-in holes.

    How much lead goes into each casting? It might be best to melt just enough plus a little, and then you don't need to bother with using a ladle. I would choose to pour directly from the melt pot. Use a pair of channel lock pliers as a temporary handle to aid tipping the pot.

    Jeff

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Depending on how they fit, if you have the room consider coating them with tool dip or thick paint. This reduces the amount of lead on your skin and scraped off in the boat if you shift the ballast around for storage or transport.

    And I'll join the chorus on the ABSOLUTELY NO MOISTURE warnings.
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    One of the points I haven't seen mentioned: Start with your bullets, or smaller stuff. It will be easier to melt. Then, when you add the larger, the already melted will help melt the new, bigger stuff.
    Heute ist so ein schne Tag...

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    If any plaster of Paris is used in the molds it should be oven baked to get rid of any moisture. Coating the mold inside with sodium silicate will tone down the charing of the wood. Sodium silicate is also known as "Water Glass" and is available from chemical supply houses. It is not expensive. If you do choose to use it, be sure that it is completely dry before making the pour!

    I belive we had five thousand pounds of lead that we used for "Talliesen" when we poured her keel. Some of the lead came from wine bottle caps that were saved and collected from various restaurants in the area. We drank a lot of wine back then! Two bathtubs full of lead with wood fires under them and it was necessary to keep the pour pipes torched hot to avoid clogging. Wishing you good luck!
    Jay
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 05-02-2019 at 11:18 AM.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Everything here is good advice. To make it very simple,,,Don't add scrap lead to molten lead.. Empty the pot, or nearly so, fill with scrap and it will dry as it heats up.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    If you are wearing a face sheild nd its hot and your sweating, it is possible for a bead of sweat to drop off your nose, roll down the sheild and drop into the lead sending screaming hot shrapnel that will burn right through a T and sting like the angriest wasp youve ever encountered

    I read about this guy....

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Thorne View Post
    Depending on how they fit, if you have the room consider coating them with tool dip or thick paint. This reduces the amount of lead on your skin and scraped off in the boat if you shift the ballast around for storage or transport.

    And I'll join the chorus on the ABSOLUTELY NO MOISTURE warnings.
    Or some brush or spray on truck bed liner. Tough and slightly textured. Its cool stuff.

    Peace,
    Robert

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    If it starts raining on your melting pot it won't be a problem, the drops will sizzle off into steam. The problem occurs if the rain falls into the mold and the lead is poured on top, trapping the resulting steam. Without the trapping aspect it's the same as pouring water into a hot pan, some sizzle and sputter, but no explosion.

    You can add scrap to a pot of melted lead, so long as it's dry. It's good practice to arrange the scrap around the burner for a good preheat. Same with the molds, preheat them.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Or some brush or spray on truck bed liner. Tough and slightly textured. It’s cool stuff.
    This is the WBF! Don't we have a recipe for coating lead that includes Stockholm tar, linseed oil and the wax cracked from the hive of the Guyanese Gyp-Moth Bee?

    I've only cast decoy anchors, fishing sinkers and jig heads, so I watch these big casting projects with much interest. Good luck, Dave, and thanks for taking us along.

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Way more to consider than I had considered! All of this advice has me thinking maybe I should first off skip the wood in favor of steel or sand.

    JPatrick and MarkO suggest steel. One side of the molding has a curve to it. This needs to match the bottom of the boat. All the other faces are flat. I don't weld and I don't know anyone who has the equipment. Clamping and bolting it together would be easy enough, but I'd have to be sure that that curved side was a tight fit against the bottom plate.

    Or go the sand route. Again, the shape is flat sided and of even thickness, so a fancy mold wouldn't be needed. Maybe a frame big enough four four or five pieces. Or just one? Use a single pattern to create the cavities, which would be open on the top, and then heat and pour, heat and pour, until that batch is done. Let it cool well and the repeat. I tripped across one amateur's recipe for the sand -- finely ground clumping cat litter (bentonite clay) and fine sand (sandbox sand?) plus just enough water to make it hold together. What could go wrong there?

    Anyone care to guess how long 40 pounds of lead needs to cool before it can be dumped out of a mold? I suppose it's about as long as it takes to melt down the next batch, in which case a single, reusable mold would do the job.

    The pouring/ladling question still has me wondering. The pot full of lead will weigh close to 40 pounds. I just can't see picking that up and pouring it without the entire dangerous mess getting very close to my legs and feet. What I can do is position the pot very close to the mold and use a big ladle, so cooling time in the mold between additions will be very short and I'll be moving close to a pint at a time.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Some of your questions/doubts/angst about lead would be answered by having a go. Try making a small wooden box, melt some of your lead, and pour it into the box. This will show how long it takes to melt, what it is like to handle when molten, and you can see for yourself the degree of charing. To skim off dross from small quantities of lead, old kitchen implements such as a steel serving spoon or slotted ladle work well. If you don't want to cut the pipe it may be possible to stand it on end such that it melts down into the crucible. Just make sure it won't fall over as it slides downward. The amounts of lead you are dealing with are not likely to cause drama. Stay to windward of it as much as possible.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    I poured a 25kg tip for a centerboard into a concrete mold. It had been curing for over a week, but still hissed and steamed a lot when the lead went in - the casting came out fine, but I'd say I was lucky it didn't do something more violent.
    I used a big F clamp either side of the melting pot to provide handles ( done up seriously tight) and a pair of vice grips so we had something to control tipping the pot with - that all worked really well. Note the "we"!! There is no way I'd have tried to do this on my own. If you are going to pour instead of ladle, you need to have a really solid/safe way of lifting and tilting the pot.

    Pete
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post

    The pouring/ladling question still has me wondering. The pot full of lead will weigh close to 40 pounds. I just can't see picking that up and pouring it without the entire dangerous mess getting very close to my legs and feet. What I can do is position the pot very close to the mold and use a big ladle, so cooling time in the mold between additions will be very short and I'll be moving close to a pint at a time.

    Redesign. Make the castings smaller. I think you will slop a lot of lead in your haste to ladle it quickly enough.

    But, you could easily cobble up a quick mold, melt 40 pounds of lead, and experiment with it. Your learning curve will rise quickly. The answer will be apparent.

    Jeff

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Well the advice about stop the bellyaching and get to it is well taken. I need to experiment.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    Well the advice about stop the bellyaching and get to it is well taken. I need to experiment.
    well, it is good that you sought advice and took the time to wrap your head around it.

    My final 2. You need help. No, not mental, physical. Something or someone to support the load while you pour. The melting pot needs a bail and a spout. you can use a dowel and a chain for two helpers to support the weight while you tip the pot.

    Some relatively inexpensive ebay alternatives.
    Vtg. ENAMEL X-LARGE COWBOY KETTLE CAMPFIRE COFFEE POT. Note the low tipping handle.
    Someone might question the load carrying capacity.
    ends Saturday, 11:59AM No bids so far.
    Starting bid: US $19.70
    pot.jpg

    Similar, but
    Large Vintage Granite Coffee Pot


    More conventional:
    LODGE Cast Iron No 10 DUTCH OVEN $50
    pot2.jpg
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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by navydog View Post
    Dave,

    A few things about safety. Lead can spatter and seem like it's exploding. This is caused by moisture trapped in the molten lead. The pipe probably has some moisture inside that will need dying.


    Heat and dry the crucible before placing lead in it to dry it.

    A face shield, welders gloves and heavy cotton long sleeves and pants. If the lead splatters and hits your skin it will stick on you like glue. Hot hot glue. It will leave a permanent mark.

    Do it outside with a fan. Lead fumes are poison.

    A long handled dipping spoon will work to clean off the dross. The spoon will get really hot fast.

    Each new laddle of lead will remelt what is in the mold.

    I suggest stout shoes as well.
    I live and drink rum where other people vacation.

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by MN Dave View Post
    well, it is good that you sought advice and took the time to wrap your head around it.

    My final 2. You need help. No, not mental, physical. Something or someone to support the load while you pour. The melting pot needs a bail and a spout. you can use a dowel and a chain for two helpers to support the weight while you tip the pot.

    Some relatively inexpensive ebay alternatives.
    Vtg. ENAMEL X-LARGE COWBOY KETTLE CAMPFIRE COFFEE POT. Note the low tipping handle.
    Someone might question the load carrying capacity.
    ends Saturday, 11:59AM No bids so far.
    Starting bid: US $19.70



    Similar, but
    Large Vintage Granite Coffee Pot


    More conventional:
    LODGE Cast Iron No 10 DUTCH OVEN $50
    pot2.jpg

    Picking up that cast iron pot full of lead would be very dangerous. The free surface effect in wide and shallow pots is considerable, especially with a heavy liquid like molten lead.

    Jim

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    Default Re: Casting lead questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    Picking up that cast iron pot full of lead would be very dangerous. The free surface effect in wide and shallow pots is considerable, especially with a heavy liquid like molten lead.

    Jim
    Just so. You are better off with an old cast iron sauce pan with an extended handle welded on. Finish the handle with a T bar so that you can turn and tip the pot.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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