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I’m a believer – in Stainless Steel Media
Over the years I’ve used many methods to try and get my pistol and rifle cases clean. I started out cleaning by hand with steel wool and then moved on to walnut and corn media and liquid cleaners.
Some were more labor intensive than others, but they worked to some degree. Some cases just wouldn’t come clean, no matter what. A lot of times some form of residue would end up in the case body or even more annoyingly, in the flash hole. If you didn’t look into each and every case you could have a real problem when you load it if they have a large amount of residue in them. That residue replaces volume. A standard load may become a hot load with high pressure, enough to blow the case, or at the least mess with accuracy. The inside of a case that has been fired a few times is very black and hard to see into, making it harder to see residue. What to do, what to do?
I’ve been hard pressed to go to stainless steel media, mostly because of the cost of the media and the set-up. Reading and watching videos on the internet I found some problems with stainless steel, pins large enough to stick every time or nearly every time in the small flash holes of the PPC’s and BR cases. Some complained about the stainless steel damaging their case mouths, others the high cost of the equipment needed. I was surprised at the different size and shapes of stainless steel media and the cost differences.
I decided to try it if I could get the needed equipment cheaper. Several of the videos showed a $350 plus equipment set-up that was way too much money. A couple others talked about the Harbor Freight Rotary Rock Tumbler one and two drum set-ups that were less expensive than the Tumbler ‘B’ set-up and seemed to do the job.
I headed for Harbor Freight to see what they had. I found a Rotary Rock Tumbler with 3 lb double drum set-up, not real big, but only $50. At my local grocery store I found Lemi-shine and Dawn for around $5. The media I chose were pins .041” x .265 long. Their ad said “A pin will not stick in a PPC flash hole.” Five pounds shipped was $45.
To separate the media from the cases I used an enclosed media separator that I’ve had for 20 years. The top had busted off years ago. Then I had just $100 in the set-up; that’s more like it.
My first couple times didn’t work so well. The brass was clean, but not really clean. I finally figured out it would take some kind of formula to get great results each and every time.
There’s a reason it’s called a “3 lb drum Rotary Rock Tumbler”. It works best with 3 lbs of brass, media, and water in each drum, total weight. My wife helped me out with a way to measure the brass, media, and water by buying a battery operated 6 lb food scale she got at a thrift store for $3. I tried several combinations before I figured out the right combo.
Each drum must have:
1 ½ lb of stainless steel media (at the most)
1 lb of brass
12 oz of water
Lemi-shine (1/8 teaspoon)
Squirt of Dawn (enough that when you open the drum you see soap suds)
Tumble for 2 hours.
Also with the double drum Rotary Rock Tumbler you can use just one of the drums if you have a small amount of brass to do.
After tumbling I use my media separator to separate the pins from the cases and water. I run cold water into the separator base so that the drum is in about an inch and half of water. I pour only one drum from the tumbler at a time into the s
eparator drum so I can keep my 1 lb of stainless steel media segregated and not have to weigh it for the next batch of cases. A few turns on the separator handle (20 or 30) and the media is separated from the cases and in the bottom of the separator. Next take out the drum with the cases and rinse under HOT running water and dump the cases on a towel to dry.
Next slowly pour out the dirty water by one corner to keep the pins in the bottom of the bucket. But some may float out because they are so small and light (tap on them to sink them). Don’t try getting every last drop of water out. Stainless steel media doesn’t rust and a little water helps it flow out of the base and back into the tumbler drum to use the next time. Using your hand, wipe the pins into the tumbler drum and then use a magnet to get every last one out. Pins can get all over the place and a magnet is about the easiest way to pick them up (I use a small stick magnet). Big fingers and little pins don’t work well together.
I dry my cases in the Colorado sun. We have low humidity and bright sun light even in the winter. I’ve not tried any other method of drying my brass. Those of you in high humidity areas, you’re on your own.
Using the above combination the cases come out like new, clean inside and out, with a primer pocket even cleaner than I can get it with an electric primer pocket cleaning tool.
Some say, “1 lb of cases, that’s not much.” It works out to about 65 6mm BR’s, 80 223 Rem, 85 45 Autos, or 130 9mms in each drum. I do a lot of shooting and it hasn,’t as yet, been a problem. I have around 1,000 rounds for each of my 12 varmint calibers to make sure I don’t run out of ammo during the summer. After a couple trips I work on prepping my brass and storing it in color coded boxes, having it ready to load if I run short on a caliber I want to take on my next trip.
I’ll only de-prime really dirty brass to clean first with the stainless steel media. Most of my brass I’ll go ahead and size first because it isn’t that dirty, it just isn’t shiny and bright. You don’t have to get the lube off either. Just put them in the drum to clean it off.
I prep my brass after it has been sized, cleaned, dried, and checked for the proper length using the MAX LENGTH from my re-loading manual. I’ll set aside those that are to long and trim them to TRIM LENGTH.
I do check each case as I pick it up to chamfer/debur the mouth. A single pin will not stick in a PPC flash hole; but two will sometime stick in a standard flash hole. It happens about 5 times out of 100 pieces, if that. I use a stick pin for a bulletin board to push on one to dislodge them. It is very easy to see down a case mouth because the case is shiny inside and I keep a light colored piece of paper on my work bench as a background. I’m only looking for stuck pins, not residue, since there isn’t any to look for as is the case with some of the other media.
The only real problem I’ve come across is doing 17 Hornet cases. Because the cases are so small in diameter the pins sometimes will get stuck cross ways. It’s a problem. I use a small screwdriver and push on one side of the pin to dislodge them.
After a few months I decided to go for a bigger Stainless Steel tumbler, I ordered a Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler from Amazon. The complete set-up was $165. I just had too much brass to do, around 7,000 cases. I fell in a slump in 2015/2016 and didn’t stay ahead of my case sizing and prepping; I’m paying for it now. When I go on a prairie dog shoot I usually shoot at least 200 + rounds a day and brass can stack up real fast.
The first load I did was over 900 pieces of three different kinds of cases. I ran the tumbler the full three hour that’s recommended in the instructions. I used 1/4 teaspoon of Lemi-shine and 1 tablespoon of Palmolive (or Dawn) dish soap with the 5 pounds of media (that came with the tumbler) and a gallon of water. The cases came out GREAT. I’m HOOKED. In the instructions they say “don’t exceed 30 pounds total weight”, mine was 25 pounds so it was not a problem.
At first I thought I wouldn’t use stainless steel media much. Except maybe on cases someone gave me or on my cases that have been shot three or four times. But I like the way it cleans cases and I’ve got the procedure down to a science, I can get both drums dumped and cleaned up in about 10 or 15 minutes on the small unit. It is just a few minutes more on the larger unit.
I’m not cleaning my cases this way for them to just look pretty, I have safety in mind also. With clean cases I can inspect them much more easily and residue in the case isn’t a problem like it can be with the walnut and corn cob media. Safer and pretty, a plus – plus.
You can also check out my website at: varminterminator.com for much more info on my varmint trips and rifles I use.