Re-casting Clear Ballistics Gel

In my never-ending quest to waste money or irrelevant firearms I recently procured a block of Clear Ballistics Gel, and proceeded to shoot the heck out of it with different, mostly obsolete guns in mostly obsolete calibers. You may have read the post about .30-200 and yes, you’ll see more about these tests later.

9mm test in the gel block. Hey, I said mostly obsolete calibers!

Because of limited financial means I bought a 4″x4″x20″ ‘slightly irregular’ block, meaning it had bubbles, but not enough to render it useless. Not very big, but I was able to make about a dozen test shots before I judged the block was just getting too torn-up. Time to re-cast it. That’s the beauty of Clear Ballistics products; they are re-usable. They are also nowhere near as temperature-sensitive as more traditional ballistic gel formulations, and therefore a little more consistent.

I looked up how to re-cast it (I watched a Youtube video. How else?) and set out to do the deed. OK, you need a mold for the finished block, and while CB sells molds that aren’t outrageously expensive they aren’t cheap, and I am. Casting about the internet I found an inexpensive Pullman Loaf bread-pan. Apparently there are people that want long, slender, perfectly square loaves of bread. In this case the pan is 4″x 4″x 16″. that’s on the short side, but for a fraction of the cost of the real deal it will do.

The Pullman Loaf pan, two bread-pans and the block in large pieces.

The first thing you need to do is to reduce the block to small pieces, like an inch square or less. OK, I set out a cutting board, grabbed my trusty hand-made chef’s knife and… nope. Not going to cut it. So to speak. Instead I grabbed the trusty Cutco bread knife, and that actually worked pretty well.

Cutting up the gel into smaller chunks for an easier melt.

Eventually I realized I could cut inch-square strips and simply tear bits off, which made things much easier. As you go you want to remove any foreign material. One of the hollow-points I tested had shed some jacket so I was picking those bits out whenever I found them. There’s probably some lead left in there, but it will sink to the bottom during the melt, so it’s not a big deal.

Chunks of jacket and denim removed from the gel.

Denim, OTOH, will not sink to the bottom, and bullets will pull a surprising amount of this material into the gel… and it will deposit it surprisingly deep. This isn’t really going to effect much, but it is unsightly.

Since I knew I had more material than the mold would hold I also used two 2-1/2″ deep bread pans, and filled those and the mold pretty full with the chunks of gel. Clear ballistics says not to exceed 280 degrees, as this can cause the gel to yellow and, in extremis, can affect the structural integrity of the gel. I set a rack over the heating element in the oven and covered it with foil so I would get indirect heat on the mold and pans. I put the oven rack in the middle and set the temperature to 250-260 degrees. It would be good to use an oven thermometer, but I know this oven pretty well.

Ready for the oven. You can see the oven-light reflecting off the foil at the top of the photo. Not only does this disperse the heat, it will catch most spills.

Once all of the goodies are in the oven I set a timer for one hour. At that point it was… goopy. Seriously goopy. I stirred it with a big spoon, then added more cubes. Getting the 250-degree goop off the spoon was impossible, but no worries: after cooling a few minutes it peeled right off. I set the timer for another hour and waited.

More cubes added after the first hour.

After another hour all of the cubes were thoroughly dissolved, and I decided it was time to pour the bread pans into the mold and see where we were at. Goooooopy. Filling the mold to the brim emptied the two bread pans and left a thick coating of gel in the pans. I set them aside to cool and put the mold back in the oven for two hours. This is to let it mix thoroughly and give time for the bubbles to leave. After a few minutes of cooling the bread pans were as easy to peel as the spoon had been, so cleanup was not an ordeal. I set aside the remainder of the block and the peelings in a ziploc bag for later use.

After two hours I turned off the oven, opened the oven door and left the gel to cool in the mold overnight. In the morning a fully-cooled gel-block awaited me.

Maybe not factory perfect, but it’s looking good so far…

It wasn’t very hard to get the block out of the mold, and I discovered I was wrong. There was some darkening of the gel because I don’t know my oven as well as I thought, and the denim will indeed settle to the bottom.

Some of the yellowing here is lighting. Some, alas, is not. Have to set the oven a little lower next time.

So, I’m back in business with a… well, functional gel block. Yeah, it took all evening and then overnight to cool, but it worked. Tune in next time (or the time after that) for more How Obsolete Are They? tests.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 August 2020

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