Wet Processing for Brass Cleaning

Discussion in 'Gear Talk: What to Buy? and Gear Evaluations' started by Lapua40X, Sep 10, 2017.

  1. Lapua40X

    Lapua40X California Hunter Education Instructor Silver $$ Contributor

    Nov 28, 2012
    Comparing operations and results of two brass cleaning systems was an eye opener for me. Thought I'd share my experience with others who haven't yet made their final selection.

    I tested the Frankfort Arsenal Brass Tumbler and the Bald Eagle Ultrasonic cleaner.

    1. The Frankfort Arsenal produced brass that had a slightly better shine on the exterior and the inside of the necks was clearly cleaner than the Bald Eagle's result. Primer pockets were spotless.

    2. The Bald Eagle produced brass that was not quite as bright as its competitor but it was certainly clean. The primer pockets varied, ranging from spotless to obviously in need of additional attention.

    The inside of the necks were not quite as clean as those produced by the Frankfort Arsenal. I found that using "Q-Tip" swabs made it quite easy to wipe out the residue that remained in the primer pockets.

    Comparing them:

    The Frankfort Arsenal Brass Tumbler is a large, heavy, somewhat bulky device that relies on a large drum charged with cleaner and stainless steel pins to clean the brass. I found it awkward to handle and the covers that contain the cleaner inside the drum were difficult to seal. After making sure to clean the mating surfaces of the end caps (which are very large and defy using one hand to close tightly) I still found it necessary to use a strap wrench to close them tight enough to prevent leakage. As one might expect, there is quite a bit of noise generated when several dozen pieces of brass and five pounds of steel pins tumble inside a drum. The liquid cleaning solution did little to attenuate the noise. It has the capacity to clean a very large amount of brass at once. The process of emptying the device and separating the pins from the brass and examining every piece of brass to make certain none of those little steel pins was stuck inside was time consuming. To be absolutely certain no pins remained inside the brass I used a magnet to sweep the inside of each case.

    Pros. Cleans brass inside and out producing a "like new" shine. Capable of cleaning large amounts of brass at a time.

    Cons. Large and bulky, noisy operation. When wet, the steel pins stick to all surfaces (including interior of cases) which makes them difficult to manage. The drum is subject to leakage. Once magnetized, the pins are difficult to manage using metal tools (scoops, trays, etc.) Clean up time includes rinsing, separating pins from the brass, drying pins.

    The Bald Eagle is comparatively small, light weight and easy to handle. It relies on a pan, integral to its housing, to contain the brass for cleaning. The brass is contained inside a small basket that is immersed into the pan filled with cleaning solution. This machine worked best for me if I preheated the water (warm but not hot) and then reiied on the unit's heating element to maintain the preferred temperature. This machine has limited capacity. I have cleaned 100 pieces of brass at a time and it will accommodate a slightly heavier load than that but it will not handle the enormous amount of brass that the Frankfort Arsenal device is capable of processing. Even though primer pockets and inside of necks don't come out as clean as the do with the Frankfort device, a "Q-tip" eases the task of cleaning the pockets and a wire bore brush cleans up the necks.

    Pros. Cleans brass very well; Easy to clean and rinse the machine and brass; Light weight and easy to store; Comparatively quite operation.

    Cons. Limited in the amount of brass that can be cleaned at one time; requires extra steps to remove residue from some primer pockets and use bore brush to finish cleaning inside of necks.
  2. Mozella


    Jan 27, 2015
    You'll be a lot happier using the Frankford wet tumbler if you follow these tips. Fill the drum completely full and keep it in a laundry room, if you have one, especially if there is a utility sink. I don't have leaks and I just tighten the drum cover with one hand, but I do wet it with my finger to lubricate it and insure it's free of any debris.

    Buy the Frankford media separator for eight bucks.
    It fits down in a standard 5 gal dry-wall bucket. Dump your brass and media in the separator, give the drum a tap, and ignore any left over media. Let the few remaining pins sit in the drum til next time.
    Then rotate the separator back and forth violently for a minute as it rests on the rim of the bucket. Stop every 10 seconds and fluff the brass to change the orientation so that most of the pins fall out. If you have a squirt hose on your utility sink, spray a little water on the cases and rotate again. Then dump the brass into a smaller 2 1/2 gallon bucket and fill it half full with water. Stir the brass around with your hand a few times, dump out nearly all the water, and then dump the brass back into the separator. Try to leave any pins in the small bucket and pick them up with your magnet. Then do the back and forth rotation routine again for a few seconds followed by an up-and-down shake. Stir the brass, shake again, and do the rinse in the smaller bucket once again. You should have no pins in the second bucket this time. If you do, run through the routine one more time. I never get stuck pins either in my .223 cases or my 6mm BR Norma brass.

    After the last shake, dump the brass into a bath towel, grab one end in each hand to form a hammock, and slide the brass from one end to the other half a dozen times to get rid of nearly all the water. Dump the nearly dry brass into a metal baking pan and put it on a tennis shoe rack inside your wife's clothes dryer for 20 minutes on "cotton". No rack? Put the cases in a mesh sports bag, tie a knot in the neck, and trap the knot outside the door as you close it. The bag should rest on the inner surface of the door and not make contact with the rotating dryer drum.

    When that's done, dump the dirty water out of the 5 gal bucket and when it's nearly gone, dump the pins into a sieve sitting over your smaller bucket. Let them drain and transfer the pins into your storage container. Pick up the last ones with your magnet.

    All this takes longer to write than it does to perform. Notice that you never have to handle the cases individually, something I HATE doing more than absolutely necessary.

    If you're still worried about pins, inspect them the next time you handle them individually like when you load your annealer or pick them up to seat primers or handle them to charge the case with powder.
    nmkid likes this.
  3. nativecat01


    Mar 6, 2017
    Mozella, you do it almost the same way I do. I use the blue sifter, but in the laundry sink I have a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled towards the bottom. I put a paint strainer in the bucket with the blue sifter on top. After the cases are done in the Frankford, I pour the cases in the sifter and use water to wash the pins out. After that I use a hand crank tumbler from Cabelas to get the rest of the pins out. I bought a $15 dehydrator from Ace hardware and finish drying the cases. I always inspect the cases before reloading anyway. So much better than the old way with walnut and vibratory tumbler.
  4. onelastshot

    onelastshot Gold $$ Contributor

    May 6, 2012
    I use stainless steel pins and couldn't be happier. I put it on the back yard patio and let it run for two hours. It takes 15-20 minutes to separate the pins from the brass and I just leave the brass on the back patio to dry (I'm in Arizona). Comes out looking new and the cleaning process is simple. I don't buy the hype of leaving carbon in the necks for a lubricated bullet release. When you purchase new brass the necks aren't lubricated, and you can always lube the necks if you feel it's important.
    msinc likes this.
  5. jepp2

    jepp2 Silver $$ Contributor

    Aug 11, 2011
    You guys are making me really glad I bought the STM media separator when I bought my wet tumbler. I fill the bottom with water, pour in the brass/pins, give the handle a half a dozen revolutions, and lift out the basket with only brass in it. Less time than it takes to write this.
  6. nmkid

    nmkid Gold $$ Contributor

    Dec 31, 2014
    I've used my Frankford several times and haven't had any leaks. I only hand tighten the ends.
  7. longshotbml


    Aug 11, 2013
    I love the Frankfort Arsenal unit. To make rinsing the bass easier take the drainage cap an place it inside a ladies nylon. The nylon is thin enough to still allow the cap to be used as designed. This will allow the water to drain but keep everything else in the drum. Once everything is properly rinsed and drained then I use a media separator to separate the pins and brass. So much less mess than separating brass, pins and water.
    I still use my tumbler and corn cob for cleaning pistol brass.

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