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How To Clean Your Brass Casings For Reloading

In past articles, we’ve discussed the importance of cleaning your cases while briefly touching on the different methods available to do so. Cleaning your spent brass is important, not only to allow you to fully inspect the brass, but to ensure that no foreign debris finds itself inside your load. Today, we are going to start a two-part series on cleaning your cases prior to beginning the reloading process. In the first article of the series, we are going to look at the easy, less expensive, method referred to as dry tumbling.

How To Clean Brass Cases

The Tumbler

Technically, a dry tumbler is a vibrating bowl cleaner. This device consists of a covered bowl-shaped hopper with an electric motor mounted to the bottom. The motor has an offset weight installed on its shaft. When the motor is on, the offset weight causes the motor and bowl to vibrate. The motor does not spin the bowl - its sole purpose is to create vibration.

Tumblr Media

There are two common types of tumbler media: corn cob and walnut. The corn cob based media will leave a high gloss finish on the brass but takes longer to clean while the walnut will leave a satin finish. The Corn cob media is the same used in sand blasting; the pith and the chaff of the cob have been removed, leaving only the woody ring, which is then ground up and screened for size.

Many people will try to skimp by using cat litter or pet bedding made from corn cobs. Since these use the entire cob and not just the woody ring, they will leave your tumbler a mess and result in clogged bottleneck rifle cases.

Ground walnut shell is more aggressive than corn cob, so it cleans faster. Unlike corn cob, ground walnut shell pet bedding makes an effective tumbler media. This is sold in pet stores for use in reptile enclosures. Both media types, however, are available from sand blast supply houses in 40-50-pound bags.

Media Additives

Polishing compounds can be added to the media to assist in cleaning and help to keep the dust down. Liquid polishing compounds are available from reloading supply houses and tumbler manufacturers. Lucas Oil Outdoor Line’s Gun Metal Polish is an excellent product that works great in dry tumbling media. Add about 1/8 cup of liquid polish to the media (or up to 1/4 cup for large tumblers) and allow the tumbler to run without cases for about 10 minutes to distribute the polish.

To help the media stay cleaner longer, some reloaders will also add used dryer sheets cut into strips to the media. These are discarded and replaced at the end of each run, taking a good bit of powder/primer residue and dust with them.

Dry Tumbling

It’s always good to refer to your specific tumbler’s manual for usage instructions. However, here’s the gist of how a dry tumbler works.

The tumbler is filled to about 2/3 capacity with dry media, filled the rest of the way with dirty cases sorted by caliber, and then run for several hours to clean the cases. It is not necessary to remove the spent primer from the brass before tumbling, as dry tumbling will not clean the primer pockets anyway (or even the insides of the cases). Once cleaned, the cases are separated from the media, and can be reloaded immediately.

Safety and Hygiene
In addition to grit, debris, and tarnish, the tumbler removes powder and primer residue from your cases. This residue ends up in the media. Primer residue contains a poisonous chemical called Lead Styphnate which can contribute to elevated blood lead levels. The best way to avoid exposure to this toxin is to handle the media (and dirty cases) as little as possible. A media separator can help with this.

In part two of our series on case cleaning, we will be looking at wet tumbling.