Lead and antimony in bullets


While on a mine museum tour, the guide told us that antimony (Sb) was used in bullet making to harden lead, so lead bullet is not pure lead at all. Does anyone remember appoximate lead-antimony ratio?


SKSVlad, the Sb ratio is usually 2.5%. It can be changed depending on in what degree they want to harden the lead.

Best regards,



The DWM bullet register generally shows 2% to 3% antimony in their lead bullets. This confirms the 2.5 % that Mihaly provided.



For a non jacketed “cast” bullet, there is also around 1% Tin (Sn) added to promote better flow out (filling) of the mould.

Some “casters” also water quench the hot bullets to further harden the alloy, to allow higher velocities to be used.

if anyone has further interest, may i suggest some time spent here…



(and yes I admit. I have an addiction to this dark art!)


From memory, Lyman no2 alloy is 5% Antimony and 5% tin.


quite a hard alloy…

too hard for general “plinking” and to be honest a gas check fitted under a softer alloy works just as well as a harder (more expensive) bullet with no gas check

i usually scrounge range backstop lead then mix 20:1 with wheel weights, works fine for me…

anyway, i’d better stop now, before the admin gremlins spank me for talking “off topic” (grins!!)


How do you ensure that range backstop lead doesn’t have any contamination from grains of dirt etc. that are embedded on impact? All fired lead bullets I have seen have alot of dirt embedded in them, what happens to this when you melt the lead?



Scrap lead has all sorts of crap in it. It floats to the top when melted (unless heavier than lead) and you skim it off the top. Fluxing brings out even more stuff. You just want to be careful there’s nothing like a live primer or anything thrown in there…(OUCH!)



The old linotype metal made some of the best cast bullets for all uses, whether plinking, target, or hunting. I believe it was a 84-4-12 mixture.

Of course, that was way back in the 20th Century. Today, you can buy ready to shoot lead bullets by the box of 500 or 1000, and the end price per bullet is probably less than making your own. Especially if your time is worth anything at all. Shooters today have got it made.




Scrap lead has all sorts of crap in it. It floats to the top when melted (unless heavier than lead) and you skim it off the top. Fluxing brings out even more stuff. You just want to be careful there’s nothing like a live primer or anything thrown in there…(OUCH!)


I use beeswax as a flux, works perfectly and as i keep bees i get it for free (grin!)

As Dave says, because lead (alloy) is so dense, all the rubbish (even FMJ jackets etc) floats to the top and is skimmed off

I’ve only had one problem smelting off backstop scrap and that was a .45 TMJ bullet that for some reason (i know not why) exited my cauldron, high enough and with enough velocity to clear a fence and then land on the bonnet of my friends car! he saw the funny side of it, thankfully.

I chap i know was at the outdoor range we use, smelting off scrap under a lean to shelter on a rainy day, had a drip of water land in his cauldron and (as we say) got a visit from the tinsel fairy. Luckily he wasn’t hurt!

I mix linotype 16 to 1 with backstop scrap, makes a lovely alloy


Is there much linotype left around these days? I suppose it will only get harder to find over time.


I think linotype is about a thing of the past. I used to have my name and address on linotype. My brother was a Sports Writer for a major San Francisco News Paper, and their office was right next to the press room. I work one summer there - the got me a job typing Stats for the various sports leagues - a really boring job but what the heck, the pay was o.k. That press room was hot. They Had tons of linotype in that room - every type-setting machine, and there were a lot of them, had their own melting furnace as I remember, and the linotyper started out in big ingots with a ring formed in the end that attached to some sort of hook that lowered the stuff into the furnace a little at a time, I guess automatically.

I tried to get my brother to get me some ingots of it, but he wouldn’t do it.

Still, friends that molded bullets (I have never sone it in my life except for rounds balls that I used in an old cap and ball revolver I shot occasionally years ago) really like the linotype metal. Most shot .45 Autos and like to case the bullets fairly hard for best feeding and to reduce leading in “combat practice” loads (Yes, IPSC is not knew - just the way they do it is. Lots of guys did combat shooting even when I was a kid in my twenties. It just wasn’t organized, except for police. It seemed to make really good bullets - I load thousands of them. I am sure they added other metals to the linotype though to get the right blend.

It was always a wonder to me why more factories didn’t offer auto pistol loads with lead bullets for economy - they work just fine as we all know - at least in most pistols. Some have - I have factory loads, mostly SWC bullets, with lead bullets. In Europe, calibers like .25 and .32 auto have been loaded with lead, and I have a couple of factory lead bullet loads in .30 Luger, I think.

I guess in the times I am talking about, not many people could afford to shoot enough regardless of the bullet material, to create a big enough market for the big companies to make auto pistol ammo with them. Thinking of it, aside from a small group of .45 aficionados and soldiers, of course, America was a “Revolver Country” until well after the war.

It is hard now to realize that the first 9mm Parabellum caliber pistol commercially produced in the United States was, I believe, the Colt Commander, the aluminum-frame version of the Government Model, and that wasn’t until the 1950s! The revolver was “King” in the USA.

John Moss


It seems that mercury was also used in the alloy, if we have to believe this gentleman:

"Many substances may be used to harden lead; such as zinc, antimony, tin, and mercury. The three first, however, have the defect of making the ball lighter than lead, while the last, although increasing the weight, renders it brittle. The best alloy for hard balls, I have found to be the following:

Lead, 89 parts by weight.
Tin, 1 part by weight.
Mercury, 10 parts by weight.

This makes a very hard ball, not brittle, and heavier than pure lead."

(The sporting rifle and its projectiles, by Lieut. James Forsyth, London, 1867).


I don’t know how Lt Forsythe managed to mix zinc and lead because it is darn near impossible. The two metals do not mix well at all and when the bullet or ball hardens they tend to seperate leaving a projectile with soft and hard spots and very unbalanced and inaccurate.

I speak from experience. Me and a couple other fools had black powder cannons and we were always looking for scrap material to make balls. Zinc was one that we avoided like the plague.



Ray –

It’s about 60 years since I had anything to do with chemistry and I’ve forgotten most of what little I knew, but I recall that one property of mercury is that it forms a stable union, or amalgam, with many metals, as in the silver-mercury amalgam used as a cavity filler in dentistry. Perhaps the mercury in Lieut Forsyth’s alloy formed such a union with the lead and tin, making the two mix more easily?

The dentist’s silver-mercury amalgam is supposed to be non-toxic, but I doubt whether the Health & Safety people would let you shoot mercury into people today – you might kill them!

John E



I never tried mixing zinc in with lead for bullet casting. Lead is used for alloying with zinc (heavy on the zinc side) for some uses but I would suspect that perhaps your problems were another alloying material in your zinc such as aluminum and/or copper (if you were using scrap) as zinc is not too common un-alloyed. Aluminum’s melting point is like twice that of lead and copper even higher. That might cause issues with cannon ball production…



Well, this is how Mr. Forsyth did it:

In making bullets of this composition, the lead and tin should be melted together in small quantities; and the moment they melt, the mercury dropped in and stirred, and the casting done as rapidly as possible. The reason is, that lead melts at 594 deg., and mercury evaporates at 660 deg.; so that if the heat gets above the latter point, the mercury files off in vapour”.

Anyway, he was talking about tin (stannum, Sn) and not about zinc (Zn).



The zinc that we used came from the sacraficial plates that fishing boats use to ward off electrolysis in salt water. I thought they were pure zinc but they may have contained other metals. When the balls were cast they looked pretty good and most of them shot OK. Occasionally one of them them would take off in all directions like a butterfly. If you let one of the balls sit outside in the weather for a couple of months the lead would darken but the zinc would stay silvery looking and you could see how the two metals never did fully mix.


I wonder if the guys mixing the mercury in the lead realized how much they were shortening their life.?



Ray is right, the mercury vapour produced would be higly toxic, don’t anyone try it. For academic study only.


It seems that zinc was indeed used in alloys for bullets, at least in the past:

The Whitworth carbine has made wonderful shots, mostly with moulded bullets composed of a lead, zinc and tin alloy.”

(L’Armement et le tir de l’Infanterie, J. Capdevielle, Paris, 1872)