There are many types of fishermen out there. You've got your novice line-tanglers, commercial long liners, bass addicts, deep sea cigarette smokers, ticklers, ice fishermen, bow and arrow types. And while many folks like to fish, there are some anglers who operate further out in the deep end. I'm talking specifically about that special, dedicated breed of fisherman who make their own lead weights and jigs.
To make these fishing accessories lead from old tire weights and other sources is melted down and poured into molds. It's not a terribly difficult process, but it does raise some safety concerns. For instance the lead isn't typically very pure or clean. This doesn't particularly matter to the fish, but it does provide some challenges for our advanced angler.
We recently had a question on our website asking us to cover lead protection in greater detail. Our customer asked "I am an avid fisherman and make my own lead jigs known as "shad darts" for a spring run fish I enjoy pursuing each year. Can you advise what would be the safest mask, filters, gloves and clothing to use when melting lead and pouring into the dart molds I have. Also, do you sell any respiratory masks that would filter out vinyl paint fumes? I also use this type of paint to color the jigs and darts I make because they do not chip easily. The vinyl paint has a nasty odor and I am aware that, like lead, it is also hazardous. Any help would be appreciated."
Great questions, and excellent awareness of the potential problems associated with this type of operation. Before beginning the process or donning protective gear, the first order of business is providing good ventilation for the project. Melting your lead outside, in a garage with the door open, or at the very least in a room with a fan helping to clear the air is a must. Outside is preferable. Cooking down and melting lead will give off fumes that must be prevented from entering the lungs. In addition to the metal fumes, the grease, grime, and oil that may be on the lead will create smoke and other particulate matter. Then there's the smell.
The beginnings of a solution for protecting the lungs is finding a way to filter the particulates. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend respirators with an N-100, R-100, or P-100 rating. The 100 is the important thing. Also sometimes referred to as HEPA filters, they are designed to block 99.99% of particles down to 0.03 microns. Lead particles and fumes will definitely be blocked by this filter as long as the mask is fit properly.
While you can get N100 disposable masks such as the 3M 8233 Particulate Respirator, also known as the 3M Lead Dust Mask, it's been my experience that disposable masks rarely provide the same level of face seal as the reusable masks like the 3M 6000 series or 7500 series half face respirators. The 6000 series is less expensive but the 7500 series is much more comfortable and is made of 100% silicon which allows for easier clean-up.
If you were only dealing with lead dust, there are several good mask combos for sale including the 3M 6000 Half Mask Lead Dust Respirator Combination, the 3M 7500 Lead Dust Respirator Combination or the very good and less expensive Moldex 7940 P100 Filter and 7000 Respirator Combination. The 3M options both feature P100 filters protected by a plastic cover. This may be important if your lead splatters or splashes. Hot metal can burn holes in material filters and render them useless at the least appropriate time.
If you're looking for something that will filter out bad smells that may come from melting lead or, as our customer requested, to use for the painting portion of his project, the 3M 60921 Organic Vapor Cartridge with pre-filter combo provides excellent all-around protection. The sealed pre-filter keeps out the fumes from the lead. Organic vapors from the paint are blocked by the activated charcoal inside the cartridge.
One quick note about the 60921 cartridges. These are fairly expensive. People always ask us how often they need to be replaced. The answer is it depends. You can use them until you either smell the paint or metal fumes through the mask (in which case the activated charcoal in the cartridges has finally been overwhelmed) or until you find it difficult to draw a breath (in which case the filters have been clogged). Either way you’ll know it’s time to change them out. You can extend the life of the activated charcoal in the cartridges by storing them in a ziplock bag when you’re not using the respirator.
I don't honestly know how hot your tools get when working with the molten lead. I have seen videos of guys using regular welding gloves to pour and work with the molds, weights, and jigs. What concerns me is that when you're working with the lead you’ll inevitably accumulate lead dust, shavings, and splash on your gloves. It seems like a better idea to get rid of your gloves after you’ve used them for casting lead. The trick is finding a glove that is inexpensive enough to dispose of after use, but that still provides adequate protection. The MCR Safety Flex 9688 gloves might fit the bill. They have a latex-dipped palm and fingers which will help with any residual heat on the jigs or with hot tools. At $1.50 a pair, they are not terribly expensive. The Towa PowerGrab Thermo Insulated Gloves would be a nice upgrade. A leather-palm work glove like the MCR Memphis 1200S is an economy option.
For clothing, a disposable Tyvek suit like the Tyvek 1412 is a good idea. Inexpensive and disposable. Again, the dust isn’t something you want around. If you put your clothing in the wash with your other clothes you can really create quite a problem. It can really make you sick. One more tip – when you order your Tyvek suit, get it one size larger than you would normally wear. It won’t tear out so easily when you move around doing your work.
Finally, always wear safety glasses. Models like the Pyramex Mini Z-Tek glasses are smart, inexpensive additions to your personal protective equipment. You’ve only got one set of eyes and even a single drop of water in the lead will make it splatter. Simple goggles work well too. Consider the comfortable Pyramex G704T Chemical Splash Goggles for this type of work.
I hope these suggestions give you a better idea what safety equipment you need to stay protected when you're working with lead. If you have additional questions feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. You can also give our customer service folks a call at 1-800-829-9580. Thanks for reading.