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A beginner will require several types of weights,  ranging from 1 to 6 ounzes (up to 175 grans) for shore fishing and possibly up to as much as 2 lbs (1 kilo) for boat fishing depending on currents / tides etc.
Basic Weights: The most common sea fishing weights are tapered cones in shape, ranging in weight from < 1 to > 8 ounzes. Legering is a common fishing technique where a bait is cast out and you wiat for fish to find it.

Breakaways: These are recognisable instantly by the wires built into the leads.  They are designed to catch into the sand or mud bottom, to hold the bait in place against the current, but to snap "open" if a fish bites and/or as you retrieve the rig.  Obviously you should not use them in weedy areas or over rocky or foul ground!

Different shapes:  If you come across oddly shaped weights, chances are they have been designed to work in specific conditions or for a particular type of rig.

Moulding Weights:  Moulding your own lead weights is relatively simple but it is dangerous work.  A kitchen hob (gas or electric) will generate enough heat to melt lead in a small pan, but a proper casting pot or crucible is far superior and safer.  Molten lead is very dangerous and gives off highly toxic fumes so only work in well ventilated areas.  Always use proper safety equipment including goggles.  You can buy adjustable moulds into which you quickly pour the molten lead, having first inserted wire for the "handle".  Never do this on your own, and always ensure that distractions - including children - are firmly locked outside the workspace.  Moulds are heated first - in an oven or over flame - to ensure that the lead gets all the way into the mould before it sets, and that any water (potentially explosive) is evapourated off.  Another tip is to use candle soot to blacken the inside of the mould for ease of separation.  Never pour water onto a filled mould to speed up cooling. This is very dangeous as it generates superheated steam.  Never examine a weight or mould before it has cooled.  The bigger the weight, the longer it takes to cool, so be careful! Store all the equipment in a locked box.   Do not use an aluminium pan to melt lead - it is not strong enough.  Use a proper crucible or a very strong steel vessel.  Arm length heat resistant gloves, goggles, and the farrier's leather apron are strongly recommended.  Scrap lead can be found from roofers, old lead piping (make sure it is free of impurities and water in particular), your local tyre centre (balancing clips are made of lead but are filthy and have metal clips)... it certainly beats buying them in a tackle shop.  I have seen people hold moulds together with a pike gag - not a good idea.  Get yourself a proper G clamp, several if you intend using several moulds.

Drilled Bullets:  Drilled bullets are small globes with a drilled hole through the middle.  They are used in float fishing to give the trace some distance in casting but they can be used in slack tides for legering. 

Watches: These are studded circular weights that is ideal when fishing for flatfish - the weight will move around and disturb the mud or sand to attract the fish.

Spinning Weights:  To add distance to your casts when spinning with a single lure, you can buy spindle shaped weights that are threaded on to the trace above the lure.  Most lures are weighted and do not need additional leads.

Feeders:  I am keen on learning from other fishermen and in particular from fresh water or game anglers.  Feeders are small cylinders into which ground bait is stuffed.  It acts as a weight when casting but the small holes in the cylinder allow the bait and its aroma to escape so as to attract fish to the baited hook(s).  A similar option could work in fishing from shore, maybe with WD40 oil added to the bait in the feeder.  The feeder would have to be big if you want to cast a fair distance and the issue of aerodynamics also arises.  Some people whip bait or soaked cotton wool in between the wires on grip leads or into the centre of watch leads with shirring elastic to create their own wee ground baiting weights.

Nuts & Bolts: Bear in mind that anything heavy can work as a weight.  If you want to cast a long distance it helps if it is small and aerodynamic.  Nuts and bolts work perfectly well so long as they are attached to the trace using a swivel to eliminate twist being imparted to the line.  They can be a lot cheaper than shop bought weights too!

Why Lead?   Good question since we all know that lead is not very environmentally friendly.  To be fair a lot of manufacturers are making non-metallic fishing weights available, albeit freshwater anglers have pushed for this given the propensity for swans etc. to ingest smaller lead weights.  Lead is heavy relative to its size and it is cheap.  It melts at a low temperature and is easily shaped, moulded and recycled...  Old lead pipes can be cut up and used to make weights.  Make absolutely sure to remove all water otherwise it can explode and shower molten lead all over you... A few bits of candle wax added to the molten lead will draw together any impurities and dirt, ensuring the weights emerge flawless.  Avoid the fumes.  Lead is a toxic heavy metal and seriously damaging to your health in the long term.  If you can avoid using lead weights, then use alternatives... old rusty bolts work!

Non Metallic Weights:  Some manufacturers have moved with the times and are offering non-toxic and non-metallic fishing weights - several of them are online, with reasonable prices.

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