AR15.Com Archives
 How to clean brass without a tumbler?
KaseyK  [Team Member]
5/22/2009 8:11:13 PM
I plan on purchasing a tumbler next month. I am holding off as to stay in my budget plan. I plan on loading a couple hundred .38 special and .45 acp up in the next few days, as I have time. The brass is all once fired and in excellent condition. Is there a way to clean the brass effectively without a tumbler? I'm thinking a ScotchBrite pad with some metal polish on each one would work, with a nylon brush to the inside of the case. I use a primer hole cleaning tool on the brass as well. It will take some time to do it with each brass, but I actually have time for once! Anyone have a better suggestion? Dare I ask, can you, "wash" the brass in the sink per say?

Also your tumbler suggestions would be a great help.
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godrilla47  [Team Member]
5/22/2009 8:13:32 PM
I used to use OOO steel wool.
ThePontificator  [Member]
5/22/2009 8:56:00 PM
You're gonna scrub each case individually? With brass polish.?

DO I HAVE A JOB FOR YOU!!!!



Don't do that.


Bucket of hot water, add brass and a very very generous squirt of dawn dish detergent. Stir every once in a while. Pour off soapy water, rinse with clear water, drain, and lay out on old towels or rags to dry. Do not waste electricity/gas putting brass in the oven.

No need to scrub the inside of the cases, nor any need to clean the flash holes.

I did brass this way for six months prior to buying a tumbler and media separator. Works fine.

pepe-lepew  [Member]
5/22/2009 9:15:00 PM
Wipe it off, resize it and continue. If you are going to shoot the loads before you get your tumbler, don't worry about shine.
KaseyK  [Team Member]
5/22/2009 10:50:52 PM
Thanks for the advice! So, is a tumbler a worthy investment or something that just shines the cases up for visual reference? If I can use the money set aside for the tumbler on other goodies, that would be awesome!
ThePontificator  [Member]
5/22/2009 11:38:01 PM
Originally Posted By KaseyK:
Thanks for the advice! So, is a tumbler a worthy investment or something that just shines the cases up for visual reference? If I can use the money set aside for the tumbler on other goodies, that would be awesome!


You can certainly reuse/resize/reload cases without ever cleaning them but why would you want to? Fired brass contains all sorts of nasty compounds: powder residue, soot, lead, lube, and mercury. Some of these compounds are obvious health hazards. Dirty brass will likely gunk up your dies, the chamber of your firearm, the magazine follower. And it's possible...and plausible...that with enough build up these compounds might contaminate the primer and powder charges of your reloaded rounds.

That, and unclean brass is just nasty to handle.

You can certainly never buy a tumbler and separator and get away with washing your brass in hot water and Dawn detergent but that's only a half-ass job.

I would say yes, a tumbler is a worthy investment. What is likely not a worthy investment is buying a grossly expensive tumber (and there are some out there that are EXPENSIVE). and going through pounds and pounds of corn cob and polish... and time...and electricity...bringing the brass to "condition bling".

I see you live in MO. Live/work near Midway? They sell all sorts of tumblers. If the least expensive Frankford Arsenal doesn't float your boat get a slightly more expensive Lyman or RCBS. Midway always seems to have at least one or two tumbers on sale or a tumbler/separator combo on sale. Harbor Freight also sells a tumbler for around $52. Discount stores might sell a drum-type "rock polisher" for even less.

Crushed walnut...untreated...does a more than adequate job in cleaning cases and you only need to tumble for 20-30 minutes. Walnut is harder than corn cob and probably lasts longer. The brass won't be super shiny but will have a clean, dull finish and a silky feel. Walnut in a proper grit seems to be more universally available than corn cob in a suitable grit. It's sold as "Lizard Litter" in pet stores.

A rotating media separator is certainly nice but not necessary. Go to any restaurant and score a couple of 3.5 or 5 gallon plastic "pickle buckets" with lids. Most places either sell them for a couple bucks each or give them away. Then go to a discount store and buy a cheap plastic colander that has a bowl that will fit inside the bucket. I saw some plastic Farberware colanders at Big Lots for $2 each and instead of little round holes they had long "slits" on the bottom. Perfect.

Anything beyond "clean" is purely asthetics. I like to bling my brass because....I dunno...I just dig mirror polished brass. it's not really necessary it's just a pride thing.
pepe-lepew  [Member]
5/23/2009 12:23:39 AM
Originally Posted By KaseyK:
Thanks for the advice! So, is a tumbler a worthy investment or something that just shines the cases up for visual reference? If I can use the money set aside for the tumbler on other goodies, that would be awesome!


Let me clear things up. For the temporary the very little your cases are dirty it will not hurt anything to wipe them off and reload them. A tumbler cleans the outside of the cases and partly the insides too, so you don't have to wipe every case down before reloading. The benefit is the tumbler cleans them with out any of your labor and shines them too. You will probably be exposed to less hazards reloading dirty cases than sorting through the tumbled brass or shooting rounds at the range.
EWP  [Member]
5/23/2009 2:39:17 AM
Get you some of the liquid brass cleaner, Birchwood Casey case cleaner works very well. I use this on my brass after firing it to get them clean so I can run them through the sizing/decapping die before throwing them in the tumbler for a few hours to get that factory new shine again, but the liquid cleaner works good enough I really don't have to tumble them I just do anyway.
Rokchukrslave  [Member]
5/23/2009 1:07:11 PM
Originally Posted By EWP:
Get you some of the liquid brass cleaner, Birchwood Casey case cleaner works very well. I use this on my brass after firing it to get them clean so I can run them through the sizing/decapping die before throwing them in the tumbler for a few hours to get that factory new shine again, but the liquid cleaner works good enough I really don't have to tumble them I just do anyway.


+1 on Birchwood casey. I don't bother to tumble. Brass comes out squeeky clean, just not pretty and shiney.

markm  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 2:20:27 PM
Wash it and dry it with a rag, and you'll be fine.
ma96782  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 3:09:05 PM
Originally Posted By KaseyK:
Thanks for the advice! So, is a tumbler a worthy investment or something that just shines the cases up for visual reference? If I can use the money set aside for the tumbler on other goodies, that would be awesome!


IMHO.....there is no absolute need to buy a "tumbler or vibaratory machine" to clean brass.

The liquids will do (homemade or store bought).

Here is my .02 on the subject of “production loading” of rifle cartridges, for my “gas guns.“ Let’s start with “once fired” LC military cases, in whatever number of cases you want for your, “lot.”

1) Inspect and clean the cases. I use a liquid brass cleaner (Birchwood Casey # 33845 CCI). Follow the mixing instructions on the package. After the soak/cleaning, the cases are removed from the solution, rinsed and air dried. The solution is re-usable. IF, you want to use an oven for drying, use the lowest heat setting.

Why a liquid brass cleaner? Well, it eliminates the need to buy a tumbler (or vibratory machine). I don’t have to buy media and I save on electricity. There is the added bonus of no noise and/or dust in my work space. And, if I were to tumble/clean de-primed brass, I would have to worry about stuck media in primer pockets and flash holes.


BTW.......my pistol brass (.38 Special, 9mm and .45 ACP) gets run through my Carbide Re-sizing Dies w/o cleaning.

Aloha, Mark





norwood  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 5:17:51 PM
Originally Posted By ThePontificator:
[quote]Originally Posted By KaseyK:
...Fired brass contains all sorts of nasty compounds: powder residue, soot, lead, lube, and mercury. Some of these compounds are obvious health hazards....


And the problem with tumbling is that it turns this stuff to dust, which then goes into the air where it can be inhaled or settle and be ingested indirectly.

Using water dissolves this, which then gets poured down the drain, where it joins lead from the pipes, solder joints, etc at the water treatment plant.
ViniVidivici  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 5:28:54 PM
Originally Posted By pepe-lepew:
Wipe it off, resize it and continue. If you are going to shoot the loads before you get your tumbler, don't worry about shine.


This. Nothing to worry about until you get a tumbler. Trust me, it truly is no big deal.

And welcome to the world of reloading. You're gonna love it.
-GunNutJuell-  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 9:38:39 PM
Birchwood casey makes/made a solution you add water to then dip your brass in it, rinse it off, and it cleans 'em up pretty good, but not tumbler good.
Powershota530  [Member]
5/23/2009 9:46:53 PM
You can probably get away with a liquid cleaner for pistol cases but for rifle shells that need lube taken off them after sizing you need a tumbler. Period. Going wet is a pain in the ass because usually when you want to load cases you want to take them right out of the tumbler and start sizing. Drying wet cases is also more of a challenge than some arfcommers care to admit. If you have a compressor and can air dry the cases great if not it takes a while for the cases to dry out. Frankford arsenal makes good tumblers and a Lyman 1200 is an excellent medium size tumbler. My 1200 is 15 years old. Don't get the autoflow you won't need it. Get a Franford Arsenal or RCBS squirel cage type separator. For media go with 14/20 grit or buy your Media from Midway USA(they have the proper gritn that allows the media to pass through flash holes). For polish I like Dillon Rapid polish or Franford Arsenals Brass Polish.
GarrettJ  [Team Member]
5/23/2009 10:16:26 PM
I tried running them through the washing machine in one of those mesh bags once while my wife wasn't home.
The bag split open and I had a hard time digging all of the cases out from under the agitator assembly. I laid them out on towels to dry.

It actually did a pretty good job of cleaning them.

Now we have one of those fancy front-loading washers. It doesn't have an agitator, so there's nothing for the cases to get stuck under. But I now have a tumbler, so I don't need to worry about it. That, and I know better than to mess with the wife's washing machine.
ma96782  [Team Member]
5/26/2009 12:28:28 PM
Originally Posted By GarrettJ:
I tried running them through the washing machine in one of those mesh bags once while my wife wasn't home.
The bag split open and I had a hard time digging all of the cases out from under the agitator assembly. I laid them out on towels to dry.

It actually did a pretty good job of cleaning them.

Now we have one of those fancy front-loading washers. It doesn't have an agitator, so there's nothing for the cases to get stuck under. But I now have a tumbler, so I don't need to worry about it. That, and I know better than to mess with the wife's washing machine.


Why didn't you turn that "front loader" into a BIG TUMBLER? Just exchange the tub...........to one w/o holes.

LOL.

Aloha, Mark

pdg45acp  [Team Member]
5/26/2009 12:39:02 PM
Scotch Brite and paper towels
yumbeef  [Member]
5/26/2009 1:30:57 PM
Don't use Brass-o. I forgot if its ammonia, but some component of Brass-O weakens the case.
jimr  [Member]
5/26/2009 3:11:55 PM
Originally Posted By markm:
Wash it and dry it with a rag, and you'll be fine.


if i was going to do this i would put them on a cookie sheet an put them in the oven on the lowest setting for about 1 hour or so. you want the insides good an dry. also on a hot 85+ sunny day just put the cookie sheet in the direct sun for several hrs.
retrodog  [Member]
5/26/2009 5:30:34 PM
Get some wheels on your car that use those big moon hubcaps. Seal the holes on the back. Fill the hubs halfway with media and brass. Pop back on the wheel. Drive around town for a few days.
ThePontificator  [Member]
5/26/2009 5:56:38 PM
Originally Posted By yumbeef:
Don't use Brass-o. I forgot if its ammonia, but some component of Brass-O weakens the case.


The ammonia in Brasso will not hurt cases if you expose the polish to air for a day or two. The ammonia turns to harmless water vapor. You're only using maybe a teaspoon to 3 lbs. of media anyway.



41Fan  [Team Member]
5/29/2009 3:02:25 PM
I have a nice tumbler now, but when space and money were scarce I used a plastic jug, water, and case cleaner. I was shooting three times a week, about 300 to 400 rounds a trip. I always decapped them first and dried them on the lowest setting of a good gas oven. It is a good bit of work. If you can, get a tumbler.
Hoppy  [Team Member]
5/29/2009 7:07:08 PM
Originally Posted By GarrettJ:
I tried running them through the washing machine in one of those mesh bags once while my wife wasn't home.
The bag split open and I had a hard time digging all of the cases out from under the agitator assembly. I laid them out on towels to dry.

It actually did a pretty good job of cleaning them.

Now we have one of those fancy front-loading washers. It doesn't have an agitator, so there's nothing for the cases to get stuck under. But I now have a tumbler, so I don't need to worry about it. That, and I know better than to mess with the wife's washing machine.


Years go, when tumblers were really expensive I used to use this method. Put my brass in a couple of doubled up socks and into a load of wash. When done I put them on a cookie sheet and into the oven at 200 deg for an hour or so. Only had one sock bust in all the time I did it.
Johnny_C  [Member]
6/1/2009 9:18:58 PM
Before I bought my tumbler & was tired of
bumming my buddies tumbler, I accidently
left some empty cases in the thigh pockets
on my BDU's that ran through the washer
& the dryer. It was super shiny!

I bought two of the canvas bags that you
use for clothes pins. I tied the inner one
shut with the draw string & then doubled
it with the second bag , and then dropped
them in the dryer, with no heat. I did that for
about a year with no problems.

Worked like a champ until I finally found a
tumbler that I thought was reasonably
priced.

Good Luck!

Johnny C!
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