Sunday, January 31, 2016

Tumbling Along

By now, anybody that might stumble onto this particular blog has to be aware of using rock tumblers and stainless steel pins to clean brass.  This post offers a twist on the practice that will make the idea more affordable.

A few years ago, a shooting buddy gave me about five gallons of mixed brass that had been sitting on his porch for several years.  The stuff was nasty.  A lot of it had big green splotches of crud.   It included range brass so there was sand in it too.  

My regular Dillon vibratory cleaner couldn't get it clean, much less shiny.  I kept thinking that I'd get a small rock tumbler from Horrible Freight and try the stainless steel pin thing that I had been reading about but the cost kept that idea on the back burner until I asked myself why the pins had to be stainless steel.   Other than rusting, why wouldn't some plain old small nails work?

So I bought the two drum tumbler.   With the 20% off coupon (there's always a coupon or a sale on them) and a one pound box of 3 penny finishing nails I had less than fifty bucks in the whole setup out the door.  I did a test run of fifty 45 ACP cases.   

The brass was too nasty to run into a die so I deprimed them all by hand.  I suppose a universal decapping die would have worked too but I went with what I had since the idea was to do this as cheaply as possible.  You have to take the primers out so the primer pockets will get clean and you don't want spent primers getting wet and corroding themselves in the primer pockets.  They are the devil to take out when that happens. 

With the brass in the drum, I gave it one squirt of Dawn dish washing liquid and a dash of Lemishine which is something that you put in a dishwasher to stop water spots.   Everything I had read said to use it and there was some under the sink so what the heck.  I put in a small handful of the nails, maybe 1/3 of a pound, and ran it for a couple of hours. The cases came out looking so shiny it startled me.

Next I increased the quantity to seventy-five cases in each drum and they came out just as clean.

This is a batch of the brass before and after tumbling.  Its the same brass in both pictures.


A box of stainless steel pins is fifty bucks at the local Gooseburg and my pound of nails was just over three bucks.  Gooseburg's starter kit is $200.  I have less than $50 in this setup including tax.   The Gooseburg kit will do a lot more brass at one time but this isn't something I expect to do every time I shoot.  Its just for unusually nasty brass.   I do two drums a day and will continue to do so until I have cleaned all the brass in the bucket.  I won't have to do it again for a while.  The drum on the Gooseburg kit is a lot larger than the drums on the Horrible Freight machine.  It will do rifle brass.  I have yet to experiment on rifle cases and they may not work as well in my setup.  Certainly I'll have to do them in very small batches.

One other thing that's worthy of note is that the nails don't really rust much.   I pile them on a paper towel and let the pile air dry when I dry the cleaned brass and they hardly have any rust on them at all the next day.


Anonymous said...

rock tumbler = clean cement mixer

bb shot vs nails


Lantry said...

Hmmmm. I happen to have a Horrible Freight cement mixer too. I could do the whole five gallons at once. That might be fun to try!

Dick said...

Do you know that they also sell stainless steel nails? They cost more, but not much.

Lantry said...

I didn't know that. I'll have to see what they have at the fastener store the next time I'm in that part of town. Thanks!

Critter said...

Which tumbler did you buy? All the ones I see are significantly more than 50 bucks.

Lantry said...

I got the one with two drums. It is usually marked at a little over $50 but there's always a sale or a 20% off coupon. I didn't have the coupon but the cashier had one that she let people use.