Kim Bain looks at the process of manufacturing your own ball sinkers, a cheap and effective way of ensuring you have the right weights for the right situation in plentiful supply.
We use the Seahorse brand moulds from Tacspo for our ball and bean sinkers, the moulds that we like for the big sinkers produce multiple quantities of the one size. This type is required to produce good numbers of the sinkers you use a lot. Note that the difference when doing ball sinkers compared to snapper leads is the wire that you run through the centre to make the hole for your line.
Clip on tyre weights are a reliable source of lead. Wheel weights can be alloys with a mixture of tin and antimony combined with the lead. Modern wheel weights have approximately single-digit percentages of antimony. This makes the metal harder and may raise the melting point slightly. Some say that it also makes the lead flow better and moulds a little better than pure lead. Old sinkers, over-pour (sprue), and failed pours (rejects) are also a good source of lead.
So with that preamble in mind. Let’s get to making some sinkers.
It is very important to check your batch of tyre balance weights for impurities and dirt (dross) – we give them a wash and them let them dry (absolutely dry) on the concrete in the hot sun. They must be dry because any water will instantly transform to steam which will then blow the molten lead into the air. A slick five person crew will get through up to 50kg of lead in an afternoon… everyone brings 10 to 15kg per person.
Melt the clip-on tyre weights in a saucepan on a gas camping stove – heat the ladle as well - using the ladle we lower more solid weights into the pot as they melt down. Typically, lead-based wheel weights melt at around 327.5 degrees Celsius. Once we have a pot ¾ full of melted lead ‘liquid’ we start ladling out the molten lead and pouring it into the pre-heated sinker moulds.
At the same time as the first pot of lead is melting down; heat the ball sinker moulds (and the wires that make the line holes) on the other burner of the stove…(or on another stove).
An alternative to having the moulds directly over the flame is to heat them between two heated solid metal plates on another stove…we do this in order to keep our other moulds (for other sized and/or other shaped sinkers) hot and ready to go. Once you’ve started pouring the molten lead into them – as long as you have a production line going – the lead from each pour will keep the mould hot.
Dip the wire (as large a diameter as will fit into your mould – this large diameter is useful for heavier lines offshore) into some petroleum jelly – we smear the full length of the rod with lube using a rag or glove (because the wire is hot since it has been heated on the stove). You’ll note that the wire has a handle (lever) on the end. This tang plus the lubrication helps in the removal of the wire. Old sinkers, over-pour (sprue), and failed pours (rejects) are a good source of ‘pure’ lead after pouring.
Take the mould halves off the flame and ensure that the (hot) wire is in place ready to assemble the mould.
The assembled mould (ready to pour)
Clamp the mould shut with vice-grips at one end and use multigrips at the other end to hold the mould.
Pour a ladle of molten lead into the ball sinker mould – pour into one hole at a time. Make sure that you have enough lead in each scoop to fill the sinker into which you are pouring in one go.
We like to tilt the mould (ever so slightly) so that we can control the hole into which the lead flows – start with the lowest hole and work progressively ‘uphill’.
Pour all five sinkers, one at a time, before opening the mould. Also pull the wire from the mould (with a gloved hand or set of pliers) before opening the two-halves. It is a good idea to work the wire backwards and forwards a couple of times when you are pulling it out in order to ensure that the holes are well formed in all of the sinkers.
A ‘full-house’ perfect pour.
Use pliers to break off the extra lead (sprue). It will have solidified but it will still be very hot. Once the extra has been removed then tilt the sinkers out of the mould over and into a bucket of water. The mould does not go into the water – the aim is to keep the mould as hot and dry as possible.
In this case one of the ball sinkers came away with the sprue so drop the extra and this sinker into the water as well and trim it later.
Any sprue that hasn’t been wet (in the bucket) can go back into the melting pot. (the wet stuff will cause the lead to explode)
Quench the sinkers in a bucket of water when they come straight out of the mould. We ‘shake’ or tip the sinkers straight from the mould into the water.
Now the mould should be readied again and clamped and then straight away another pour is done. Continue the process and follow steps 11 through to 17 inclusive. By continuing to pour the mould will remain hot. If the mould gets too cold it will cool the lead too quickly. Then as the lead attempts to travel through the feeder hole it will solidify the lead in the sprue passage. Thus it’ll plug the feeder holes/throats before the mould cavity (sinker) fills with lead. You’ll know if the mould is too cold if all you end up with is sprue and/or half-sinkers. If this starts to happen, the either take a break while the mould is reheated on the stove or start again with another hot mould. It helps to have at least two moulds preheated when you start – for reef fishing and bottom bashing we use 7-ball and 9-ball moulds in addition to snapper lead moulds. (our supply is mainly made for those week long offshore trips to the reef when sinker losses can be high and you are away from a tackle shop so you need large quantities of big leads - the smaller leads we tend to buy – you get plenty of small sinkers in a bulk bag)
Meanwhile another person in the crew takes the cooled sinkers out of the water and uses a wire (coathanger) to confirm the hole in the centre of each cooled ball sinker. The next step along the production line is to trim the dags "flash" off the sinkers with either left or right cutting tin-snips – then give the sinkers a touch with a file to smooth away any rough edges.
The finished product in sizes 7 and 9. There are a few flat sided sinkers in the smaller saucepan – these are either reheated (melted) or they can be used for random fishing activities where the sinker is less critical and possibly more likely to be lost.
Melting lead into a molten liquid is a process that gives off noxious fumes. Accordingly your stove/cooker must be set up in a well ventilated area. Personal protective equipment should consist of long welder’s ‘gauntlet’ gloves, good safety glasses, filter mask and apron.