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Back when soldiers and frontiersmen had to create their own ammunition, they often went about it by “casting” their own bullets using rudimentary tools.
They scraped together lead or other metal and produced miniature bullets using hand molds and firepits. These days, casting furnaces allow hobbyist bullet makers and gunsmiths to produce many more bullets at a time and much more efficiently.
Today, let’s take a look at the Lyman Mag 25 and see how it measures up compared to other casting furnaces on the market.
What is a Casting Furnace Used For in Reloading?
First and foremost, it’s important that we identify what a casting furnace is and what it’s used for in relation to reloading or “handloading”. In most reloading circles, part of the point of the entire hobby is to produce custom ammunition that works better than average bullets for your favorite rifle or pistol builds.
Alternatively, hobbyist gunsmiths might take up reloading in order to save huge amounts of money on brass and other materials that they recycle either from their local gun range or from their own expended bullets.
However, you can also save money on the bullets themselves. Most reloading guides out there talk about salvaging the brass casings for bullets, but these are not the same things as bullets alone. Remember, the brass casing is the long jacket that the bullet tip is “seated” within.
Thus, even reloaders who manage to salvage all of their brass casings and who rely almost entirely on reloaded casings still need to purchase new bullets relatively frequently.
This can add up to a huge cost over time, especially if the reloader in question heads to the gun range every weekend.
What to Use a Casting Furnace For?
As the name suggests, a casting furnace is a tool that reloaders can use to smelt their own lead mixtures and produce new bullets that they can then feed into their weapons. However, this type of bullet producing comes with a few caveats.
For one, it’s much more technically difficult for someone to produce a perfectly sized bullet for their brass casings. You need to have more experience to both recycle your own casings and produce new bullets that can be seated within them without any operator error. For another, getting the lead and other metal materials necessary to produce those bullets is much more difficult than scooping up brass casings from your gun range.
Because of this, many hobbyist reloaders use casting furnaces to produce cheap bullets that they use without the intent of being extremely accurate or competitive. It’s mass-producing ammunition that you can blow through for fun and on the cheap rather than producing high-quality ammunition rely on for a target practice competition or a hunting expedition.
This isn’t to say that you can’t make high-quality bullets using both your traditional reloading press and a casting furnace like the Lyman Mag 25. The trick is that you have to have the correct mold for the bullets in question. In most cases, it’s easier to get molds that are generic and sized for certain common rounds like 9 mm.
Another limitation and what kind of mold guides a given casting furnace has within its chassis. For instance, the Lyman Mag 25 has a mold guide that accepts molds made by Saeco, Lee, RCBS, and Lyman themselves. This does limit your bullet production to some extent, although as mentioned before, you can find common molds from each manufacturer for some of your typical bullets.
All in all, look into purchasing and using a casting furnace if you want to produce lots of ammunition rather than top-quality rounds. For those cases, we’d recommend that you shell out a little extra cash and purchase bullets that you can use with your hand-crafted casings and primers.
How to Use the Lyman Mag 25 – Layout and Walkthrough
The Lyman Mag 25 Digital Furnace is an excellent casting furnace through and through for its ease of use and mold guide. Let’s walk through exactly how this furnace works so you get a good idea of the casting experience.
It follows the same general principle that other casting furnaces do. You have a main heated pot that holds the lead and other metal material inside. The pot eventually heats to such a degree that the lead turns molten, allowing you to pour through a spigot or spout and into a casting mold. The bullet mold then hardens and, ta-dah! You now have a new bullet ready for seating.
The Lyman Mag 25 features a special warming shelf located near the back of the pot. This lets you preheat the mold blocks that you’ll use to shape and size your bullets while the furnace is heating up the bullet metal to the correct casting temperature. You can use blocks of the four cavities, although beginners will likely want to stick with single or double cavity molds so they can go more slowly.
It’s always recommended that you use the warming shelf, as this lowers the time that the mold needs to shape and cool the bullets within. In other words, it accelerates the bullet casting process and also protects your molds from cracking if they were cold. Suddenly exposing a mold to molten lead can occasionally lead to the mold being damaged.
Furthermore, the Lyman Mag 25 has a mold guide that’s located directly beneath the drain spout. As you can probably guess from the part name, the mold guide allows you to lock the mold in place and slide it back and forth or side to side more easily than if you try to line things up by hand. The mold guide ensures that the bullet casting holes beneath the spout are perfectly positioned to catch the molten lead instead of spilling it over the side and making a dangerous mess. As such, you should always use the mold guide if possible.
Using the mold guide is very easy. Just loosen the two wing nuts on the right-hand side of the furnace and place the mold on the rails. Make sure to position it beneath the spout, before your lead is fully heated! You can slide the mold up and around as needed, then tighten the wingnuts and lock it in place.
A mold stop is located on the side of the guide. This prevents the mold from shifting around too much. However, the stock can be adjusted by loosening the thumbscrew on the side.
When you’re using the mold with several cavities, make sure to fill the cavity that’s closest to you first, then push the mold away from you and fill the cavities sequentially. This is safer for you and your environment.
Main Furnace Operation
Now that we’ve covered the warming plate and the mold guide, let’s discuss the furnace itself. The Lyman Mag 25 is powered on via cable and a single on/off button. The heating pot can hold up to 25 pounds of coal bullet metal at a single time. However, it’s recommended that you turn the pot on while it’s empty if using it for the first time, as this will burn off protective oil from the manufacturing process.
The Lyman Mag 25 is a “digital” casting furnace because of the digital display and temperature controller. This is one of the big positives of this machine. The lower display shows the temperature that the furnace is currently programmed to run at while the top display tells you what the actual temperature of the lead currently is.
You can use the controls beneath both of the displays to increase or reduce the set temperature of the furnace. It can go to a maximum of 850°F (though you only need about 620 to melt lead) and you can change the temperature in 10° increments. You can tell if the pot is heating by checking for the “OUT” light, which will be on if everything is going according to plan.
To use the furnace, simply set the desired temperature for the pot and put your casting metal into the pot. Once the lead is at the correct temperature, you can use the bottom pour spout system.
The Lyman Mag 25 comes with a shut-off rod that allows you to control the flow rate of the lead, which prevents you from accidentally spilling too much molten metal over the surrounding area. You can open the spout as needed once your mold is in place and begin casting your bullets.
As with any other casting furnace, you should always wear protective gear like heat resistant gloves and eye protection and consider wearing a breathing mask if you have to use this furnace in an indoor environment.
In the end, we found that operating the Lyman Mag 25 was easy and simple.
Lyman Mag 26 Pros
Now that we’ve gone over what the Lyman Mag 25 looks like while operated, how does it hold up?
All in all, it’s a great casting furnace compared to most of the other manual ones on the market. One of the biggest problems with bullet casting furnaces is their lack of direct and quick temperature controls. The digital display is easy to use and safe for the operator and allows you to fine-tune the temperature as needed for the metal melting at that moment.
Furthermore, the shut-off rod is tight and allows for very precise control over the spout release speed. It does a great job of letting you control how fast you release lead from the pot into your cast. If you do want to stretch your limits and try to make the best casted bullets possible, you’ll definitely enjoy this control. It is a bit difficult to use from time to time, however, so oiling it up occasionally might not be a bad idea.
Many other users have reported that the Lyman Mag 25 holds temperature very well, which is another common complaint seen with other casting furnaces. This allows you to take big batches of bullet metal and dole them out into the casting blocks you have ready one by one without worrying about the metal solidifying in the pot.
Speaking of the pot, the fact that it can hold 25 pounds of casting metal in a single batch is great. Many other casting furnaces can only hold 10 or 15 pounds of metal at a time, which means you have to warm up separate batches of lead for each series of bullets. You may or may not make full use of this maximum capacity, but it’s still nice to have.
Finally, the warming shelf is another excellent addition. It makes your molds catch and create bullets more smoothly and quickly and protects them from damage.
Lyman Mag 25 Cons
By far the biggest downside to the Lyman Mag 25 is its mold limitations. For instance, even with mold brands that it accepts, it doesn’t usually accept molds that have six cavities or so; it’s normally limited to four cavities per mold block. This limits the number of bullets you can make a batch and slows down the casting process to a significant extent.
Aside from this minor aspect, however, there aren’t many things wrong with the machine or its design. You may occasionally see some problems with the spout if you don’t clean it up properly in between uses; grain or sand or other debris could cause lead to pour at a strange angle. But thoroughly cleaning the spout after every use should take care of this issue.
All in all, the Lyman Mag 25 is an excellent casting furnace and really shows the control and safety that the digital variants can bring to the table. It’s an excellent machine if you are dedicated to casting your own bullets and want to produce lots of cheap ammunition you can shoot with impunity at the target practice range. Just be aware that, like with virtually all bullet casting machines, it takes a lot of effort and practice to create ammunition you can rely on for target practice competitions or hunts.
Ultimately, we give this casting furnace a thumbs up!
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