DO-IT-YOURSELF projects are always satisfying, and when you also make savings it’s even more fulfilling.
If you frequent reef areas, as I do, you’ll appreciate the cost of tackle as soon as you snag on the coral or rock. If you’ve paid retail prices for your gear, particularly sinkers, you often have to fight the urge to dive down 30m to pull your gear from the coral.
The cost of dropper-style sinkers can be quite expensive, but luckily there are several sinker moulds available that will allow you to make your own. Naturally, the larger the sinker the greater the cost savings.
Making sinkers is one activity you need to do outside in an appropriate open-air work area. Children and pets should be kept well clear. You don’t want the dog to drop a tennis ball at your feet when you are moving molten lead. Full safety clothing and protective equipment must be worn. Safety goggles, masks and good quality welding gloves must be worn. This is one activity when you need to concentrate on all safety issues. Never rush and do not take shortcuts.
Ensure the saucepan fits securely on the heating element. Use pliers and tongs to handle all hot material. Lead spilled on the working surface will quickly solidify and can be picked up easily and placed back into the saucepan. Always place (rather than drop) lead into the molten material.
If you make this a two-person operation, ensure both of you have clear understanding of your tasks. Never mix alcohol and high-risk activity but keep some in the fridge for later.
Several sinker moulds are available. Moulds come in two mirrored halves. The snapper style on the left form size 4, 8 and 12 weight sinkers from the five chambers. A mould like this generally retails for under $30. If you can share the cost of the mould between a few of your fishing mates, you will increase your savings.
Melt the lead over a steady heat. Lead material is readily available for only a few cents per kg from second-hand dealers and recycling centres. From scrap metal merchants, the cost of lead varies from 50c to 90c per kilogram. 5kg will produce enough sinkers for many reef trips. There are no savings if you purchase refined lead ingots from metal dealers.
Once the lead is in a molten state, any slag or scrap material will rise to the surface. This material must be scraped off and discarded. A long handled fork can be used for this task, but as the lead cools it must be removed from the fork tines. The slag will be hot and must be discarded appropriately. If you do not remove the slag, the quality of the sinkers will be poor.
Once molten, the lead appears fluid. There is no variation of colour between molten lead and solid lead. Lead solidifies very quickly but cools relatively slowly. Always assume a piece of lead is hot before you pick it up. Lead can be added to the molten material at any time and it melts quickly. Always stir the lead slowly.
Place a long-handled stainless steel ladle in the molten lead and allow the ladle to become hot before pouring. The aim is to get a steady and constant flow of molten lead into the mould so that the chambers completely fill with lead in one pour. Heat the mould well and maintain heat to the entry holes to reduce the chance of lead solidifying at the entry. Pour the molten lead in one smooth motion. A long handled G-clamp enables the hot mould to be handled and released easily.
Use the long-handled clamp to move the mould from the heat. Unclamp and separate each side. Using long-handled pliers, remove all sinkers from the mould. Remove the sinkers slowly because they will still be hot and fragile at this point. Re-clamp the two sides of the mould together and reheat.
After only a few minutes’ work, you will be rewarded with enough sinkers for several reef trips. You can clean the sinkers up in a few seconds with side cutters, pliers and a touch with a rasp file. Occasionally the top hole might need to re-drilled. It is important that the sinkers are cooled sufficiently before handling. The sinkers are quite soft when warm and will often bend or break if handled roughly.
Any sinker that doesn’t meet your standards simply gets re-melted into the molten lead. The sinker on the right is a good size 4 snapper-style dropper. It will be cleaned and ready to go. During the pour of the sinker on the left, the molten lead solidified at the entry hole before the pour completely filled the chamber. This sinker was re-melted.
If you do not use one continuous pour, cracks or layers form, weakening the structure of the sinker. Ensure you have enough lead in the ladle to completely fill the chamber in one pour.
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