Cleaning a Sharps Bullet Mold
The First Rule in Cleaning a Bullet Mold Is;
"Don't Do It"
Read This First!
Bullet molds are Precision Instruments, made and used by people who know what they are doing. Bullet molds are made in a series of steps to get the best product possible. If Cleaned incorrectly, they become useless for their intended purpose.
If I had only one bullet mold for a single shot rifle, it would be a mold by H. M. Pope. It is probably not fair to compare a Sharps mold to a Pope mold. Harry made tapered bullet mold cavities that were intended to be lubricated and not sized. They were to be fired "As Cast". His cast bullets needed to be as perfect as possible. Pope had superior materials and did his work 20 or so years later. I show the pope mold because they are the best and the principles are the same.
The surfaces of the mold that have the mold cavity cut into them must be flat and fit together without any gaps. You can hold the closed mold up to light, looking at the split between the two halves. The human eye can see light if the gap is one thousandth of an inch or more. (.001) Use the mold for a vice, or dent it, the mold is done. A relic only.
When the mold is completely finished and polished, the mold cavity is cut. This is done with a rotary cutter called a "Cherry". The mold is held in a special "Jig" or holder, and the mold is closed on the rotating cutter. The cutter must be centered on the two mold halves. Cuttings must be kept out of the way. Crisp clean edges must be cut in the mold cavity. There are fine burrs left which help seal the mold. Don't mess them up!
If you clean a mold, especially around the mold cavity, with a wire wheel? Sandpaper? File? It will no longer cast excellent bullets. Another messed up mold. I do not care who you are. You Can't Do It!
This Pope mold has a nice brown color to it. This is Oxidization. This brown color is a characteristic of cast iron. The mold has been "Cured" with heat at temperatures around 800 degrees. Don't mess up the finish! The oxidation keeps hot lead from sticking to the metal and helps cast a better bullet.
The subject of this page is a Sharps Bullet Mold. A Sharps mold that has been used is usually blue around the mold cavities. This tells you something. Sharps Molds are cast or forged from mild steel. This is not bluing like your see on your rifle. It is "Heat" blue caused by oxygen in the air. Oxidation again.
I often use original tools if they are not perfect. I prefer the old tools rather than reproduction Junk. If you ever try to use an original Sharps mold, you will find it hard to cast nice bullets. Steel is not a good material for molds. Later, Ideal and Lyman used a fine grained cast iron called Meehanite, or Malleable Cast Iron for their molds. They had the same brown color of this Pope mold, which is actually made from a Ideal "Blank" mold. You can read about Ideal Molds in the old spiral bound "Handbook of Cast Bullets". This has a section on how a bullet mold is made. If you want to use a mold, dont remove the oxidation. Wipe and clean the mold with Alcohol. Remove heavy dirt with a sharp piece of wood.
Look at the following images. This is what a mold should look like, unless some idiot messed with it!
Sharps Bullet Mold Images from Online.
This is all I had to work with when deciding to buy the following Sharps mold. The images are not great. I see a lot of paint. In this case I look for clues. I have bought Painted Sharps molds before. I look past the paint.
Buying a Painted Sharps mold is always a toss of the coin. A few years ago, I bought a Sharps Mold that had been painted with dull red Rustoleum Primer. I could see hints of shiny metal here and there. I soaked the mold in paint thinner for a few days. Then I cleaned it with a bristle brush like a hard toothbrush. The mold was near perfect, with sharp clean markings and a perfect mold cavity. No buffing, no polishing with steel wool! Soak and brush!
When I travel around to gun shows, I often meet people who cannot see what they are looking at. That has always been a puzzle to me. A serious Collector has to Read, Remember, Look at an Item and Think!
If you do not, there will be more nice tools for Me!
So what do I see here? White paint, a bent handle where an ill advised person used the handle for a pry bar. The area around the mold cavity looks brown and rusty. I do see it is dark, smooth and even. The mold block area does not close all the way. Why? But what else? The mold handles flare outward, which is a characteristic of a Hartford Sharps Mold. The rivet that holds the handles together is smooth and rounded. It has not been hammered on. The hinge area around the Rivet is heavier and wider. Again, a characteristic of a Hartford mold. The hole through the front of the mold, that creates the snippers, matches my other Hartford molds. Bridgeport molds have a different shape opening.
I am looking at a Hartford Sharps mold that had some paint slapped on. Even the poor pictures tell me a lot.
Here are the other three pictures I had to look at. Yes, the snippers are boogered up! That is almost always the case. When people see snippers, they automatically think Hardened, High Carbon Steel snippers. This is not the case for Sharps Molds. The snippers are Soft Steel. These snippers are for Two Things! LEAD and BUTTER! Lead and butter cut well with these snippers. Copper wire is too hard. The cutting edges will dent. Even if the cutting edges were hardened, the heat treating would be removed by the 800 to 900 degree heat from casting molten lead.
What else do I see here?
In the first image to the left, the back corner near the hinge is filled with goop. That is why the mold halves will not close. There is a raised ring around the bottom of the bullet base. Again, this is a common characteristic of Hartford Molds. There is thick stuff in the mold cavity. Is that why the edges of the cavity are not sharp and clean in the image? In the flat area near the hinge I see Dark Color that does not look like rust or corrosion. Black Paint?
In the center image the screw slots are sharp and crisp. Not boogered by an ill fitting screwdriver. These screws are often messed up when the mold is mistreated. A screwdriver must Fit The Slot! On Sharps molds, only the screws holding that plate are blued. These were made by the Weed Sewing Machine Company, that rented space in the Sharps factory. There is something on the screws, but I am not sure what. The mold halves are not closed. Look at the bottom of the snippers. Is that Heavy, thick black paint? Sharps Molds were finished bright. No paint.
In the third image you can see general dirt, grease and dark areas that might be black paint, rust and dirt. Light rust here and there. Look at all the trash and goop on the button that forms the hollow base of the bullet. In the area behind the snippers, you can see rough file marks going from top to bottom. This is normal. This area is finished at the factory with a rough file. Colt collectors can tell you all about polishing marks on Colt Single actions. What directions the polish marks should go. Which area was polished first? Which was polished next. How coarse are the polish marks. It only seems logical we do the same. Look at the surfaces and how they were finished at the factory.
I Got the Sharps Bullet Mold in the Mail
Above, I showed you the pictures I had to look at, when deciding to buy this Sharps Mold. It did not look very good. I really like Sharps Bullet Molds, so I decided to take a chance. I have had luck doing this before. You could say I am crazy, so here are better pictures I took myself. These new pictures show a lot more. The Mold Handles had been dipped in thick White paint. It is so thick no marks could ever be visible. What was hard to tell was the mold area. As I suspected, the mold area had been dipped in heavy Black paint. The paint had run into the Mold Area preventing it from closing.
The new pictures make me more confident I have a nice Hartford Sharps Mold here. What do I do next? I soak the mold in Lacquer thinner. Then I brush it with a nylon bristle brush. Repeating the process should soften and remove the old paint. Let's see what happens. Take a look at these new pictures.
A Cleaned Sharps Bullet Mold
I lost track of how many times I soaked this mold in Lacquer Thinner and brushed it with my hard nylon gun cleaning brush. Some results were quick. The White paint on the handles dissolved immediately. It may have been water based. The Black Paint was another matter entirely. It was probably Enamel. I would soak it, brush, then try to move the paint with a sharpened popsicle stick. Then followed with more brushing in thinner. Ultimately, nearly all the Black came off. There are a few black spots here and there, and there is still a little black paint on the screw heads. I picked a stopping place here.
What I found was better than I expected. The mold cavity is great. The Mold halves close with little light showing. This is a classic Hartford Sharps Mold, marked "Sharps Rifle Co." and "Hartford, Conn". This dates the mold sometime after the Company was reorganized.
They changed the name from, "Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Co." to "Sharps Rifle Co." in late October, 1874.
(I will add a chart of Sharps Markings and Dates to this site later.) On the handle you will also see Calibre 44. The 1876 catalog lists this as the 44 calibre, 1 1/16, 380 grain patched ball.
In the pictures you will see that the Mold is poorly Marked. This is not unusual in old reloading tools. If you run your fingertip over the markings, you can feel that the edges of the letters are raised. Mainly on the deeper stamping. They have not been sanded or filed. They were lightly stamped in some cases. Deeper in others. I have often wondered if the guy doing the poor stamping had a couple beers during lunch. He was a little weak when he got back from lunch.
I am very happy with the way this mold turned out. I do not expect these results every time. Check out the following pictures. Click to enlarge and zoom in.
What Do I have Here?
This is a nice, late, Hartford Sharps Bullet Mold. It was used quite a bit and stored well by previous owners. I have not tried to cast bullets with it. I can see it is in great condition and would cast good bullets. At some point in time, it was painted with Enamel and Water based paint. I am not sure why. The painter did me a favor. The paint protected the mold for a hundred years or so. I took a chance and bought it. Then I cleaned it carefully. To me, all the work paid off. I did not have a good 44 caliber mold that cast this size bullet.
I have actually gone through this cleaning process quite a few times through the years. It is Fun! I never had a website, so there was no reason to take pictures until now. From now on, I will record information like this.
Please be careful when you clean these old tools. The survival rate of these Antique Reloading Tools is small. Of those that have survived? Many have been damaged beyond repair by ill considered cleaning. Think before you act! You may have a rare or One of a Kind Tool.
NOTE: A friend of mine had a Sharps and a Remington Mold very much like this. He said he was going to take them home and "Clean Them Up." I told him I would give him $500.00 for both, right then. He decided to take them home to "Clean Em." He was going to make them "Better".
I knew what they were before he cleaned them. They were sharp, pretty bullet molds with perfect cavities and markings. They were covered with old hard grease. I could have soaked them and cleaned them easily. They were MINT 150 year old molds.
His cleaning did nothing but damage.
At the next show he said; "Here they are, I cleaned them up for you!" He had buffed them and polished them with wire wheels and steel wool and sand paper. The mold cavity edges were rounded off and completely ruined. The makings were smeared and sanded flush. Worthless!
He accomplished nothing and spent his own time and money to do it!
I told him I was not interested. He was pissed! He wanted that $500.00
Most people place a value on their time and materials. I offered him $500.00 to DO NOTHING! Spend no time, spend no labor. Sell them and make a profit. (How many times will people offer you MONEY to do NOTHING!)
Those were two nice $250.00 molds before he "Cleaned Em."