Shot tower

A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of small-diameter shot balls by free fall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is primarily used for projectiles in shotguns, and also for ballast, radiation shielding, and other applications in which small lead balls are useful.

How a shot tower works
The Dubuque, Iowa shot tower

Shot makingEdit


In a shot tower, lead is heated until molten, then dropped through a copper sieve high in the tower. The liquid lead forms tiny spherical balls by surface tension, and solidifies as it falls. The partially cooled balls are caught at the floor of the tower in a water-filled basin.[1] The now fully cooled balls are checked for roundness and sorted by size; those that are "out of round" are remelted. A slightly inclined table is used for checking roundness.[2] To make larger shot sizes, a copper sieve with larger holes is used.

The maximum size is limited by the height of the tower, because larger shot sizes must fall farther to solidify. A shot tower with a 40-meter drop can produce up to #6 shot (nominally 2.4mm in diameter) while an 80-meter drop can produce #2 shot (nominally 3.8mm in diameter).[3] Polishing with a small amount of graphite is necessary for lubrication and to prevent oxidation.


The process was invented by William Watts of Bristol, England, and patented in 1782.[1][4] The same year, Watts extended his house in Redcliffe to build the first shot tower.[5] Use of shot towers replaced earlier techniques of casting shot in moulds, which was expensive, or of dripping molten lead into water barrels, which produced insufficiently spherical balls. Large shot which could not be made by the shot tower was made by tumbling pieces of cut lead sheet in a barrel until round.[6]

The "wind tower" method, which used a blast of cold air to dramatically shorten the drop necessary and was patented in 1848 by the T.O LeRoy Company of New York City,[7][8] meant that tall shot towers became unnecessary, but many were still constructed into the late 1880s, and two surviving examples date from 1916 and 1969. Since the 1960s the Bliemeister method has been used to make smaller shot sizes, and larger sizes are made by the cold swaging process of feeding calibrated lengths of wire into hemispherical dies and stamping them into spheres.[9]


Name Location Country Year Notes
Berlin Shot Ball Tower Berlin Rummelsburg Germany 1908 Nöldnerstraße 15 and 16. Used until 1939
Brussels Shot Tower Brussels Belgium 1885 Kruitmolenstraat 60. Used until 1962. It is a circular brick tower 46 m high, with a diameter of 4.7 m at the base and 3.1 m at the top. Classified as cultural heritage since 1984. It stands at the site of a former black gunpowder factory known as 'La Poudrière'.
Cheese Lane Shot Tower Bristol, England United Kingdom 1969 A reinforced concrete tower built to replace the very first shot tower built in Redcliffe by William Watts[10]
Chester Shot Tower Boughton, England United Kingdom 1799 A circular brick tower; the oldest surviving shot tower in the UK[11]
Clifton Hill Shot Tower Melbourne, Victoria Australia 1882 A brick structure that is 80 m (260 ft) high.[12] And the tallest remaining in Australia[13]
Colonial Ammunition Company Mt Eden, Auckland New Zealand 1916 A steel framed tower[14]
Coop's Shot Tower Melbourne, Victoria Australia 1888 50 meters (160 ft) high[15]
Cox's Lead Works Shot Tower Derby, England United Kingdom 1809 Demolished to make way for the development of Corporation Street in 1932
Daugavpils Shot Factory Tower Daugavpils Latvia 1886 Original wooden tower burned down in 1911, square brick tower replaced it. Still in operation[16][17]
Drochtersen Shot Tower Drochtersen, Lower Saxony Germany ?
Dubuque Shot Tower Dubuque, Iowa United States 1856
Edmonton Shot Tower Edmonton, London United Kingdom 1907 Built by Eley Brothers. Reported as 200 feet high when caught fire in 1933,[18] 190 feet according to the Pathe News in 1950.[19] Operated until at least 1971. but since demolished.
Elswick Shot Tower Elswick, Tyne and Wear United Kingdom 1797 157 feet high.[20] In use until 1951, demolished in January 1969.[21]
Helena Shot Tower Spring Green, Wisconsin United States 1831 Preserved as part of a state park[22]
Jackson Ferry Shot Tower Wythe County, Virginia United States 1807 Now part of a state park and open to the public during the tourist season.[23]
Lambeth Shot Tower London, England United Kingdom 1826 In use until 1949, and was a feature in the 1951 Festival of Britain, before being demolished.
McCullough Tower Lower Manhattan, New York United States 1855–56 The first shot tower constructed of an iron frame rather than masonry. Built by James Bogardus with a height of 175 ft (53 m). Demolished 1907.[24]
New Vienna Shot Tower New Vienna, Iowa United States ? [citation needed]
Peters Shot Tower Kings Mills, Ohio United States 1895
Phoenix Shot Tower Baltimore, Maryland United States 1828 234 feet, tallest structure in the U.S from 1828 to 1846. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.
Pispala Shot Tower Pispala, Tampere Finland 1908 Height 55 m (180 ft). Used until 1972.[25]
Redcliffe Shot Tower Bristol, England United Kingdom 1782 The first shot tower, built by William Watts, the inventor of the tower process for the manufacture of lead shot. Demolished in 1968.[10]
Remington Shot Tower Lonoke, Arkansas United States 1969 Moved from Bridgeport, Connecticut.[26]
Rossie Shot Tower Rossie, New York United States ? [citation needed]
Sparks Shot Tower Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States 1808 First in the nation, in use until 1913. Now part of a public recreation center.
Stelco Shot Tower Montreal, Quebec Canada ? [27]
Tapham Tower Lower Manhattan, New York United States 1855–56 Built by James Bogardus with a height of 217 ft (66 m). Demolished in the first decade of the 20th century.[citation needed]
Taroona Shot Tower Hobart, Tasmania Australia 1870
The Old Shot Tower London United Kingdom 1783 A square tower of 160 feet, close to where Waterloo Bridge was later built. Built by Messrs Watts. Rebuilt 1826 after a fire, in use until 1890s, demolished 1934.[28]
Torre de los Perdigones Seville Spain 1885
Tour Saint-Jacques Paris France 1525 Former church tower used as a shot tower between 1824 and 1836.
Winchester Shot Tower New Haven, Connecticut United States ? [citation needed]
Wieża wodna przy ul. Korczaka w Katowicach Katowice, Silesia Poland 1911–12 Water tower, in the 1960s lead shots began to be produced at the facility belonging to the Colored Metals Plant Szopienice.


See alsoEdit

  • Drop tube, a similar concept, but used for scientific experiments
  • Prill, a small granule of material formed by a similar process to shot-making. Often used in the chemical industry for solid chemicals.
  • Spray drying is a process of turning liquids into powder; many spray dryers also have the drops of liquid solidifying as they drop in a tower.

Further readingEdit

  • "Up a shot tower". The Strand Magazine. 1891. p. 205.


  1. ^ a b "No. 422: Shot Tower", Engines, UH.
  2. ^ Re: How the small lead shot (7–8 sizes) used for shotgun shells are made?, Mad sci, May 2001.
  3. ^ Lipscombe, Trevor C.; Mungan, Carl E. (2012), "The Physics of Shot Towers" (PDF), The Physics Teacher, 50 (4): 218, Bibcode:2012PhTea..50..218L, doi:10.1119/1.3694072
  4. ^ Minchinton, Walter (1993). "The Shot Tower" (PDF). The Shot Peener. 7 (3): 22.
  5. ^ "Sheldon Bush and Patent Shot Company Limited, Cheese Lane, Bristol", Images of England.
  6. ^ "150th", The Age, Melbourne, AU, archived from the original on 2006-02-12.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-01-30. Retrieved 2013-09-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), Lynne Belluscio, LeRoy Penny Saver News
  8. ^ History of the American Shot Tower Archived August 11, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "The romance of lead shot". Shotgunner – Guns Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-05-05 – via
  10. ^ a b Efstathios, Tsolis (2007-03-10). "An Awkward thing" (PDF). University of Bristol. Retrieved 2015-03-19.
  11. ^ "Chester Leadworks and Shot Tower", Images of England.
  12. ^ Heritage, Victoria, AU.
  13. ^ "Melbourne Central – Our Heritage". Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  14. ^ "Colonial Ammunition Company Shot Tower". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 2010-03-02.
  15. ^ "Victorian heritage directory". Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  16. ^ DSR, LV.
  17. ^ "Daugavpils Lead Shot Factory". Official Latvian Tourism Portal. Latvian Tourism Development Agency. 12 June 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  18. ^ Shower of Molten Metal, Leeds Mercury, 1 Apr 1933, p. 5
  19. ^
  20. ^ Sales by Auction, The Public Ledger, 19 July 1884, p. 2
  21. ^ Tower collapses before schedule, Newcastle Journal, 23 Jan 1969, p. 8
  22. ^ Tower Hill State Park Shot Tower, WI, US.
  23. ^ Shot Tower Historical State Park, VA, US
  24. ^ Gayle, Margot; Gayle, Carol (1998). Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 169–174. ISBN 0393730158.
  25. ^ "Kiipesimme Pispalan haulitornin huipulle – perillä odotti järkytys: Historiallisesti merkittävä haulimestarin huone on karmeassa kunnossa". Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  26. ^ "Remington Ammunition & Components Plant – Lonoke, AR". Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  27. ^ "Montreal Shot Tower – Montreal, Qc, Canada".
  28. ^ The Old Shot Tower, The Globe, 12 May 1879, p. 3

External linksEdit