I have always used the typical corn cob or walnut media to clean my cases for reloading. I've burned up several vibratory tumblers over the years, partly because I like my brass to be shiny. 3-4 hours may get the brass clean but 'shiny' takes 24 hours or so, depending on how funky that brass is to start with and how badly I overload my tumblers. Then there's the dust issue to deal with, and each case ends up needing to be hand-wiped. I recently started decapping my cases before cleaning in order to cut down on primer dust, which is also a lead contaminant. No matter how long the cases run in a typical tumbler, the primer pockets are still dirty (very dirty if you don't decap before tumbling) and the residue inside the case bodies is all still there. I have always believed that the residue builds up inside the case with each firing just like it does in the primer pockets.
For the past several months I have been seeing some threads on other sites about cleaning cases with stainless steel media (HERE'S ONE
). I finally decided to give it a try. I bought a Thumler's Tumbler and a 5lb bag of media from Sinclair
, since they had the best prices (shockingly). I added some anti-vibration knobs for the tumbler from McFeeley's and I got a bottle of LemiShine citrus hard water detergent from the local grocery.
The media is a bunch of little stainless steel rods, small enough to easily pass through the primer hole. I had to run the tumbler about 15 minutes just to clean all the manufacturing gunk from the media itself. Then I loaded up and ran the new tumbler for 4 hours.
Here are some pictures of my first test run:
My 'football watching' decapping station - A Frankford Arsenal portable stand with Lee decapping die mounted on an $18 Lee press (my only Lee tools), and my custom LaRue primer-catching tray (since the Lee press throws them everywhere). BTW, if you get the Lee decapping die, you have to use the biggest end wrenches you own to tighten that thing down enough to keep the decapping pin from slipping. I wrestled that thing for 20 minutes with smaller tools.
The Thumler's Tumbler Model B with high-speed motor and a bottle of LemiShine from the local grocery. I added the vibration-proof knobs in place of the factory wing-nuts, but you have to use the low-profile knobs to allow enough clearance.
Just to show the scale of the media next to a .223 case.
I started with 80 cases: 20 x .270, 20 x .308, and 40 x .223. I could have added 50% more with no problem. Others say they can get around 120-200 .308 cases, 200-250 .223 cases, and up to 300+ 9mm. You are supposed to keep the total weight of contents down to 15 pounds - the rating of the tumbler. 5 lbs media plus 7-8 lbs water leaves 2-3 lbs for brass.
I picked some of the worst cases I could find for this test. Those .270 cases came from a friend. They belonged to his late father and had been sitting in a hot, humid garage for at least 30 years. Normally I would have thrown them into the trash they were so funky.
The rest were a mixture of Win, IMI, PRIVI (Serbian surplus), and PMC from the late 70's when they were sold as military surplus. All except the PRIVI (PPU) were 20+ years old and well aged.
To start, I added a big squirt of Dawn and about 1/3 teaspoon of the LemShine to the water. The water was black after 4 hours of tumbling. I poured out half and wiped off most the soap suds for this pic:
The results after rinsing and toweling most of the water away.
It's hard to get a good picture, but the cases were just as clean inside as they were outside, even those funky .270 cases.
Overall, I am seriously impressed. It was a pain to deal with the water and separating the brass, but I'm sure a routine can be worked out to minimize the hassle. I dropped 4-5 sticks of media during the process, but a magnet really helped there. (I understand some stainless is non-magnetic, but this stuff I got from Sinclair jumped to my magnet) I had 3 cases out of 80 that had media stuck in the primer hole - two sticks side-by-side in every case. They nearly fell out as soon as I put some needle-nose pliers on them.
It would be nice to have a big, deep sink in the shop or garage. I had to do my rinsing, etc in the kitchen. I just made sure to avoid any chance of media falling into the garbage disposal side.
After any full-length resizing, the brass will still have to go into a vibratory tumbler to get rid of the lube. But that should only take 20 minutes or so and I'm hoping that with some clean corn cob media, the dust problems will be minimal. I will still have to poke it out of primer pockets, though. I hope I can wipe any lube (Imperial wax) from neck sizing using alcohol and avoid the tumbler the majority of the time for bolt gun brass.
This takes much longer than the ultra-sonics I've seen discussed recently and the start-up costs are higher. But look at those results. Okay, maybe it's just the shiny cases that got my attention, but there's no doubt that this will take care of any powder residue build-up in the primer pockets and also inside the case body. And there is no way the ultrasonics can shine up old cases like this. It cost me just under $250 to gear up for this but I think it will be worth it in the long run. Both the tumbler and the media should last many years, and I know I've paid more than $250 for the vibratory tumblers and media I've used up over the years.