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|PAN LUBING BPCR BULLETS MY WAY
By Wayne McLerran
Although it’s not a complicated process, no doubt there are as many variations on
pan-lubing black powder cartridge (BPCR) bullets as there are reloaders utilizing
versions of the technique. After a few years of cutting bullets out of the lube cake
using a homemade “cookie cutter” made from a modified cartridge case and with
a dowel rod, then progressing to a commercial unit that’s no longer available, both
are pictured below, I eventually wised up and switched to “thumb punching” the
bullets out. It’s much faster and achieves the desired result. To do so efficiently,
I’ve settled on a process that works very well for me.
By the way, all my lube is stored in a freezer in the original 1lb tubs and in a quart
Mason jar. Freezer storage may not be necessary but it’s my way of minimizing
any negatives due to aging. The Mason jar has a handle (the type used to drink
out of) and holds sufficient lube to process 180 bullets, which is enough for three
silhouette matches and the number that I cast and normally lube at one time. With
the handle, it’s convenient for pouring the hot lube into the lubing pan or bowl.
Following are the details and photos of my lubing process.
The safe way to heat lube is using a water bath, i.e. place the container of lube in
a pan of water and heat until the lube is fully melted. The water-bath method
prevents the lube from getting hotter than 212 degrees. Although recommended
against doing so by the “experts”, to reduce the heating time, I place the frozen
lube-filled Mason jar in a microwave for a few minutes until it’s completely
melted, which is easy to determine since the container is clear. I’ve used this
method for several years and haven’t noted any signs of lube degradation. Just be
sure not to overheat and scorch the lube.
While the lube is heating, the container that will hold the bullets and lube is
prepared. I’ve found the perfect container (Pyrex # 7210 7”x5”x1.5” rectangular
glass bowls), which hold 60 bullets and provides just enough space for pouring in
the lube. Therefore, “bowl lubing” would be a more accurate description of my
The bowl is first lined with aluminum foil, which allows for easy removal of the
hardened lube cake. A Styrofoam bullet organizer, discussed in further detail
below, is used to align and gently push the foil down into the bowl while lifting the
edges of the foil so it does not catch and tear on the corners of the bowl. The foil
is then folded down around the edges of the bowl. Using the organizer to gently
push the foil down and form it to the bottom of the bowl helps to minimize
wrinkles which will prevent the bullets from sitting flat. Wrinkles in the foil will
also allow additional lube to creep under the bullet bases.
The bullet organizer is made by modifying 50-hole Styrofoam trays from
ammo/bullet boxes – the ones available from MidwayUSA and possibly from
other suppliers. The trays I use will work with .40 caliber and .45 caliber bullets.
Assuming the existing holes are slightly larger than the bullets to be lubed, use
some sort of punch or very sharp thin tool to extend the holes completely through
the bottom of the tray and attach (glue on) two punched-out rows cut from another
tray. The result is an organizer that fits perfectly in the Pyrex bowl and can
accommodate up to 70 bullets, but one row is not filled to allow space for pouring
in the lube. By the way, some types of common glues will dissolve Styrofoam, so
water-based white or woodworking glues were used to add the additional two
rows to the organizer.
I made up two of the organizers from three trays and have used them for lubing
several thousand bullets to date. They’ve held up very well but are starting to
look a little ragged. Of course, if you’re comfortable working with wood and have
a drill press, a similar wood organizer could be made. Since the organizer is also
helpful in forming the aluminum foil to fit the bowl, slightly round off the bottom
corners and edges to prevent tearing the foil.
Prior to using the organizer, mark an arrow on one side with a felt-tip pen and
place the organizer in the bowl so that the arrow is always orientated the same
way. The reason will become obvious when it’s used to aid in punching out the
lubed bullets – more on this later. With the organizer in the lined bowl, place the
bullets, bases down, in the holes. Gently remove the organizer so as not to disturb
the bullets. Needle-nose pliers are ideal to grab and lift the organizer.
Next, and I consider this a key step, after gently removing the organizer and prior
to adding the hot lube, the bullets are warmed up by passing a hot-air gun or hand-
held hair dryer over them for several seconds. I’ve found the lube adheres better
to warm bullets and will not have a tendency to roll out of the grooves when
punched out of the cooled cake. When the hot-air gun or hair dryer is moved back
in forth directly over the bullets they will not move due to their aerodynamic
design, unless the bases are not flat due to being cast in a mould with a loose
Slowly fill the bowl with lube until the level is slightly above the top lube
groove. Allow the filled bowl to cool for several minutes (30 minutes is good)
and the lube to harden slightly before moving it to a refrigerator or freezer for
additional cooling. If the bowl is moved too soon there’s a good chance one or
more bullets will tip over and you’ll have a real mess on your hands due to the
“falling domino effect” knocking over a bunch of the bullets. To speed up the
process, direct a fan at the cooling lube cake.
Now comes the 2nd use for the bullet organize. Place the organizer over a kitchen
towel or one or more sheets of paper towels which will cushion the bullet bases
when being punched out of the lube cake and can also be used to remove any lube
that has crept under the bases. The organizer should be positioned in the same
orientation as when it was first used to arrange the bullets in the bowl, hence the
reason for originally “marking” the organizer with a felt-tip pen and always
orientating it the same way. Once the lube and bullets are cooled sufficiently, a
trial and error process, lift the lube cake out of the bowl with the aluminum foil or
turn the bowl over and catch the cake, then peel off the aluminum foil. Position
the lube cake, bullet bases down, on top of the organizer. At this point it’s a good
idea to flip over the lube cake and organizer together to ensure the bullet bases are
aligned with the holes in the organizer.
With the lube cake accurately positioned over the organizer, using thumb pressure,
push the bullets down out of the lube cake into the organizer. To cushion my
thumb, which tends to get sore pushing on the nose of a bunch of bullets, a folded
section of paper towel is placed over each bullet nose as its being forced down.
Other options include using a small piece of leather, or cut the thumb off an old
leather glove, slip it on and use it. If the lube cake is at the correct temperature,
the bullets should “snap” out of the cake into the organizer as the lube grooves
shear off the lube. If the lube cake is too cold and the bullets will not budge,
warm up the lube cake with the hot-air gun or hair dryer, or let it sit at room
temperature for a few minutes. Just keep in mind the bullets will transfer heat
much faster than the lube, so check for the correct temperature by pushing out a
bullet rather than sticking something or pushing a finger into the lube to check for
softness. If the bullets are easy to push out and don’t snap out of the cake, than
the lube cake may be too warm. Through trial and error you’ll figure out what
works for you. If done correctly the bullets should “punch out” with minimal
thumb pressure and with completely filled lube grooves.
I find that using the organizer works much better than using a folded up towel or
foam cushion under the lube cake when punching out bullets. The organizer helps
to hold the bullets in alignment as they’re pushed out of the cake and helps to
eliminate problems due to the lube cake breaking apart.
So that’s my complete procedure. If you haven’t tried pan lubing, don’t be
intimidated by all the details provided. Once you get the “hang of it” the process
is relatively straight forward, simple, and is by far the easiest and fastest way I’ve
found to lube bullets. Another benefit, when shooting in hot conditions the lube
will be firmer and stands up better than extruding the same lube by passing the
bullets through a “lubrisizer”. For those of you that already pan lube, hopefully
I’ve provided some hints to further reduce the somewhat tedious process.
Wishing you great shooting,