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Cleaning brass on the cheap

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  • Cleaning brass on the cheap

    Just what the world needs - another thread about tumbling/media

    Decided to try the absolute cheapest method of case cleaning I could think of. Well 2nd cheapest - a bucket of warm soapy water is cheapest I can think of, but I wanted at least some level of "bright & shiny" while keeping it on the cheap.

    I already use a vibratory tumbler with walnut & a small squirt of liquid car polish. As for ease + good results I think that wins. I use a US cleaner too. Ok results for small batches & it does get the inside & primer pocket squeaky clean.

    On to this experiment. Results were very good. I'd grade them a "B" overall. Cost I'd rate an A+. Ease/simplicity I'd rate a "C". Decided to try the Harbor Freight rock tumbler. I got the one with 2 drums on sale $49.99. 25% off coupon in this month's Popular Mechanics (instead of the typical 20%) made it $37.50 + tax. Other materials I had on hand already for the US cleaner, but say about $6 for LemiShine & $3 for Dawn (no idea what these cost because it's been a while but that's probably close). So $46.50 covers a tumbler & enough consumables to last 10's of thousands of rounds. They also have a single drum model for $39.99 - $30 with the 25% coupon. It's worth the extra $7.50 for double the capacity, but in the spirit of doing this on the cheap, you could be cleaning brass for under $40 total.

    This is the tumbler all set up.

    Next 2 are dirty brass. 52 pieces. Capacity of each drum is about 125 pieces (of .223) so batches of 250 at a time.

    Brass placed in tumbling cup. This model has 2 cups, each with a 3 lb capacity. That 3 lbs includes the brass and the water. You can see there's lots of room left in this one. You want to fill with brass about 2/3 of the way full max so there's a lot of room for it to slosh around. Plus all the way full would be too heavy.

    Products used - plain old Dawn. Not super concentrated, not meadow flower scented - just plain regular old school Dawn. LemiShine is sold at Wally World by the dishwasher detergent & Jet-Dry. I mix the water in a gallon batch using about 1/4 tsp of LemiShine & about 12 drops of Dawn. If mixing in the container use 1 drop of Dawn & a small pinch of LemiShine. This isn't a case where "if some is good, more is better". Too much LemiShine will turn the brass pink or copper colored leaching zinc out. I don't know if this is harmful or just cosmetic but "enough" LemiShine works as well as "too much" and leaves the brass looking as it should. Too much Dawn & the water will foam and not clean. You want the brass sloshing around violently (well as violently as it can at that slow speed). Think of a front loading washing machine when you put in too much soap - all it does is foam up all the water & doesn't clean the clothes - same thing here.

    This is the container with brass and cleaning solution. Only fill to cover the brass. If you filled low like I did, only use that much water. If you filled to about 2/3, only go that high with the water. Again - room to slosh around.

    This is the container after about 2 hrs of tumbling. Took pic immediately after opening. Note the low amount of suds. That's what you want to see. If it has a "head" like you just dumped a Hefeweizen in there, back off the Dawn.

    Dumped out into sink - yuck. Give it a rinse with tap water

    Next is baking soda in the sink. This is to show how much I used. You can't use too much here. You want enough to neutralize the acid (LemiShine). If you skip this step, the brass will still look good for about a day & then it will quickly corrode and look like a weathered range pickup. Put enough water in the sink to cover the brass, mix it around to dissolve the baking soda, then dump the brass in.
    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.<br /><br />-- Benjamin Franklin

  • #2
    Re: Cleaning brass on the cheap


    Brass in the baking soda water. Hard to tell in pic with white sink, but there's enough to cover the brass well. Slosh it around for a minute, drain, & then just rinse with a little tap water.

    Cases out of the sink. Can't really see inside - they're cleaner but not bright shiny clean like a US cleaner or SS pins. Primer pockets, same thing. Cleaner, but not spotless. The inside & primer pocket is definitely cleaner than tumbling in walnut but by no means spotless. Good enough for me.

    Laid out on a towel to dry. These weren't de-capped first because I'm keeping this batch separate from a very large batch I'm in the middle of. I only de-capped those 4 for demonstration. You will want to de-cap first using this method - esp for bottleneck cases. Water doesn't easily drain from a .223 case with a primer. Just sit out to dry. You can think of dozen methods to speed that up (fan, clothes dryer, compressed air, sun, etc). I put them on a large, shallow baking dish, set the oven to "convect" at 220, & in about an hour they're bone dry inside & out. These that aren't de-capped would hold more water & restrict airflow the the case so would take much longer to dry. Bottom right 3 cases were tumbled in walnut for comparison. Due to the camera flash they look the same or worse than this wet method but in reality they are a little brighter & shinier. Not much though.

    Overall I think this is a very good method of cleaning cases if you want some level of bright & shiny and want to stay on the cheap. It could probably be easily improved by the addition of stainless pin media but the capacity would be reduced due to the 3 lb limit of each drum. The only cheaper method I can think of - a bucket of warm soapy water - has the same drawbacks of rinsing & drying although the batch size could be much larger and the initial investment is a 5 gal bucket. Following the instructions above, those small bottles of Dawn & LemiShine will last for a very long time - probably much longer than several hundred pounds of walnut or corncob media. If you're new to reloading and starting to take pause at the expenses beyond the press & components, this is a good way to get something you need for very little money. But overall, I like the ease & performance of walnut. I might get a small amount of stainless pins and use this method for anything I want "extra pretty". Otherwise, this will be something I seldom use or use when something else is in the walnut.
    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.<br /><br />-- Benjamin Franklin


    • #3
      Re: Cleaning brass on the cheap

      I've used everything from shredded newsprint to uncooked rice to clean brass. Depending on how fast the polishing job needed to be, lots of ways to clean brass. Thats the nice thing about a tumbler vs vibrator, the tumblers simply do a better job, IMO. I still use a vibrator for brass thats not too grungy but for the real nasty stuff I use my old model B.
      "some people never let their given word interfere if something they want comes along"
      The real problem with the world are laws preventing culling.


      • #4
        Re: Cleaning brass on the cheap

        On sale $55 with tax.
        I have a Right to my Life; I have a Right to the Fruits of my Labor. If you concede the principle of the Income Tax, you concede the principle that the government owns ALL your income and permits you to keep a certain percentage of it.
        ─Ron Paul, interview by Time on Sep 17, 2009.