John has recycled metals most of his life and is fascinated by waste that has value. Recycling made him aware of its necessity—and worth.
If you are newly retired and have discovered a hunger for a side hustle, metal recycling can be just the thing. In my other articles, I've focused on the more lucrative recycle materials: aluminum, brass, copper, steel, wire, circuit boards, and BPA free plastic drink bottles. However, given the nature of our inflationary environment, my thinking has migrated to metal that might become more expensive in the future. This includes today's topic—lead.
A Short History of Lead
In use since 3000 BCE, lead does not corrode easily, which drove its use in early times. The ancient Romans used lead for making water pipes and lining baths.
It is fairly common and inexpensive, and these characteristics have made it popular in construction, plumbing, batteries, bullets and shot, weights, solders, pewters, fusible alloys, white paints, leaded gasoline, and radiation shielding.
In the 19th century, it was discovered that lead adversely affects the nervous system; when ingested, it is a poison. This is a fact that must remain at the forefront of your consciousness when scrapping it. Any reference to handling it in the discussion below requires a knowledge of proper safety precautions.
Lead and Safety Precautions
When melting lead, wearing safety glasses is crucial. Why chance a lead splash in the eyes? My own preference is to always wear heavy gloves as well. Mine are leather welder's gloves. Lead must reach at least 600 degrees F to melt.
Lead fumes can cause a grave illness known as plumbism. I never melt indoors. (Experts recommend excellent ventilation for indoor lead operations.) My setup is outdoors, and I wear a 3M Half Face Piece Reusable Respirator 6300. It ran me $12.50 on Amazon.
Why Collect and Recycle Lead?
My side hustle has been to collect brass shell casings at shooting ranges. But given that that involves a lot of time bent over or on one's knees, it's easy to grab a bullet that's in your field of vision if you see one. I don't hunt for bullets, I simply pick up what is near my main focal point.
Why is lead not the center of my pursuit? Because as of publication, dirty lead can only get you about four cents a pound. Even clean lead will not get you much more than 35 cents a pound. Brass is bought for about $1.60 a pound in my area.
However, with increasing future inflation a distinct possibility, I anticipate the price of even base metals being bid up. I save my clean lead for crafts and future appreciation.
The Details of My Lead-Melting Process
I use a Lee Melter Furnace from Lee Precision that measures 7" L x 8" W x 5" H and weighs 1.85 pounds. I find the crucible plenty large enough to deal with the amount of lead I find. This model ran me $59 at Amazon.
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The temperature gauge goes up to 9 levels and high. I usually start out setting it at 7 and adjust according to the progress of the melt.
In general, two types of lead can be found at the range. There are small caliber bullets that are lead—they wind up smashing flat on impact (sometimes a little splayed copper is in the center if copper tipped). And then there are the whole or torn bullets that have white lead centers covered with jackets. When you put these in the furnace, the centers slowly melt and run out into the crucible. A bullet with a full metal jacket can be cut with nippers so that the lead will run out.
Once all the lead is liquefied, I use an implement to skim the top for the lighter contaminants. I use an insulated spoon, but a very small ladle would work. As that material is skimmed, knock it off on a fire-resistant surface. I use a flat stone and then collect the dirty lead in a bottle. The residue also carries other metals.
My Cleanup Process
I sweep my work surface for any leftover lead into a coffee can. I have been accused of being too vigilant with regard to safety. However, lead contamination is not a joke. The swept material in the coffee can is labeled "LEAD." You can also bring the material to some fire stations. Not all stations accept such material, so call around to find one. They also take paint and cleaning chemicals.
Lead shot is eaten by birds. Lead in fishing sinkers can cause lead poisoning. Lead dust from fishing sinkers can contaminate tackle boxes, tables, and other surfaces. Even small amounts of lead paint flake consumed by a young child can deleteriously affect growth and development. In the 60s, it was found that people who lived near busy city street corners had high lead levels in their blood.
Melting on the Cheap
You can melt lead without a great deal of monetary outlay—possibly nothing. See the video below.
The National Lead-Recycling Industry
Since 1995, domestic production of lead has increasingly shifted from primary mining and smelting to the recovery of lead-bearing scrap by the secondary lead industry, which accounted for 91 percent of U.S. lead production in 2012.
The U.S. secondary industry produced an estimated 145,000 metric tons more refined lead in 2012 than it did in 1995, primarily by recovering lead from battery scrap. This was enough to satisfy domestic demand. You can also melt plumbing joints, car weights, and fishing tackle.
- Benjamin Franklin. (January 14, 2019). The Word "Plumber" Comes from a Latin Word. Retrieved from https://www.benjaminfranklinplumbing.com/wichita/abou21us/blog/2019/january/the-word-plumber-comes-from-a-latin-word/ on May 21, 2021
- Latif Wani, Anjum Ara, and Jawed Ahmad Usmani. (June 2015). Lead Toxicity: a review. Retrieved from NCBI Resources at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4961898/ on 22 May 2012
- David R. Wilburn. (2015). Lead Scrap Use and Trade Patterns in the United States, 1995–2012. Retrieved from https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20155114 on 23 May 2021
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 John R Wilsdon
Readmikenow on May 26, 2021:
Excellent article! Enjoyed reading it.
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on May 26, 2021:
This article is full of information and so glad I read it. Thanks for sharing.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 25, 2021:
Valuable information. Nice article.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 25, 2021:
A very useful, informative and valuable information shared by you. Good for the environment and value for money.
Thank you for spreading the awareness, through this well researched article.