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Ultrasonic (wet) vs. conventional (dry) Tumblers


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#1 benos

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:00 PM

For guys just getting into reloading (and won't be tumbling brass with a cement mixer) :D ... I am getting this question more and more - and I've only used vibratory tumblers with corn cob/walnut media - what are the pros and cons for each type?

I am specifically looking for input from those who have used both types of tumblers.
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#2 gm iprod

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 01:48 AM

Brian,

The best way to clean brass in a wet tumbler is to remove the primer. So one extra step in the loading process is required. I have used Ultra Sonic cleaners and rotary wet tumblers and metal pins.

Rotary Tumbler, Liquid and metal pins. Too much piddling around for me in the end, the brass comes out spectacularly clean and shinny, probably the brightest of any way. Best for doing large amounts commercially, as the pins are indefinetly reusable and all you need to have is a way of separating pins from brass and then drying brass. Water, dishwasher fluid and "lemshine", citric acid essentially. Can be hard on the brass as it removes any oxidized surface of the brass, which allows the now exposed outer layer to oxidize and possibly become brittle. Can make it necessary to use a little more lube than many are used to using. Noticeably harder to resize the brass unless you really hose on the lube. Dillon and or Hornady One shot Aerosol seemed best. Then there is drying the brass after the swim. A real pain. Can take some number of hours for each load.

If I had to do massive amounts of brass all the time, this would be commercially viable with a big enough tumbler. CEMENT MIXER comes to mind. A friend who gets brass from a commercial range (sometimes covered in dirt) says he polishes the brass quickly (15 minutes) with corn cob and Dillon Polish at the end to make the cases a little easier to size. That corn cob last much longer than I ever thought it would as it is hardly doing any work.

Ultrasonic. Also liquid, again works best if you remove primers (aids in reducing drying time) seems to work OK. The "reccommended" fluids are not cheap. Not really sure it does it any better than Vibratory Tumbler. Just seems to be too expensive to get a cleaner of enough size to do cases in large lumps.

My preference is Corn Cob and Dillon Polish in the Big Dillon Tumbler. Any brass that I get from the local Police range comes up fine, I can walk away from it for hours and actually get real work done while it bubbles away at the back of the shop. Brass can be used immediately it come out of the separator. BUT, needs constant topping up of the polish, will not easily remove big chunks of dirt from inside the case. Easy to seperate the media and much less messy when the tumbler process is ended.

On balance I think value for money for the 95% of guys who reload, a medium size tumbler, corn cob or walnut media and some good quality Polish (Lyman and Dillon seem best for me) are pretty much fool proof.

I sell Ultra Sonic and Vibratory Tumblers. All but a few use the Dry Media Tumblers and Polish.
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#3 M1Garand

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:43 AM

I used the dry type tumbler for years and finally decided to go ultrasonic. I really like the ultrasonig because I use a lot of pulled .223 and 30.06 military brass. There is some sort of sealer in the mouth of the cases of the mil brass and the tumbler will not take it out. The ultraconic cleans it out but good. I can't do as many as with the media tumbler but I'got time.

#4 technetium-99m

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 08:57 AM

I just put together a cement mixer steel pin case cleaning method. I'm thinking ill be able to clean 3,000 40 cases and 4,000 9mm at once. The method takes more effort than a dry tumbler but it can handle so much more brass it isn't even funny.

#5 acekc

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 09:34 AM

I use the stainless media with the Thumler's Tumbler. I can do around 200-250 pieces of pistol brass depending on caliber; that's OK for now but I am pondering getting a cement mixer and taking it up a notch or ten. I do knock out the primers beforehand using a Lee universal decapper die - I use my progressive so it goes quickly.

One thing I've noticed as that unless you're cleaning nasty, corroded brass that has been sitting outside for a couple of years, an hour in the tumbler gets them 95% of the way there if not better. You might spot a couple of stubborn bits of crud here and there but generally they look great inside and out. As a result I never tumble a batch for more than an hour anymore. Once it's done I dump out as much of the water as I can without spilling media/brass and then fill it and dump it one more time - this gets nearly all of the soap off.

Separating is pretty easy if you already have a crank-style separator like the Frankford Arsenal unit. You just fill the bucket up with water until the level is an inch or so below the rim - this puts the basket about halfway in the water. Throw the brass in, lock the basket and spin it around like you would to separate out dry media - all the steel pins fall to the bottom of the bucket. The brass can be put in an oven on low heat or left to dry in the sun. Check the flash holes of a few pieces to make sure they're dry - the flash hole tends to capture a drop of water and hold onto it.


I just put together a cement mixer steel pin case cleaning method. I'm thinking ill be able to clean 3,000 40 cases and 4,000 9mm at once. The method takes more effort than a dry tumbler but it can handle so much more brass it isn't even funny.


Have you used this yet? What size is the mixer and how much stainless media do you use with it?

Edited by acekc, 28 March 2012 - 09:34 AM.


#6 benos

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 04:56 PM

Thanks for the replies so far!

I edited my OP to add "For guys just getting into reloading (and won't be tumbling brass with a cement mixer)"

:D
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#7 Mike_P

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 08:15 AM

Ironic that you posted this, Brian.

I'm not too new per say, but I'm a dry tumbler using Lyman treated green media + some polish. Lately my tumbler has been giving me some grief and I've been debating switching to wet tumbling.

As I can see the biggest thing holding me back right now is that I'll have to decap all my brass before wet tumbling, quite a bummer since I'm bulk loading and decapping on my 650.

So it's a hand off, I can either tumble my brass dry for 3-6 hours and get great external results and mediocre internal with uncleaned primer pockets, then just load it all up with no more work.

OR

I can take the time to decap everything, wet tumble few a few hours, then let it dry for hours, and THEN use it... Gives me super clean brass but... seems very slow.

#8 Steve RA

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 02:11 PM

Here is what I think is the easiest way to do it.

First: tumble in vibratory tumbler for 10/15 minutes to get dirt, etc. off.
2nd: deprime and resize, if you have a progressive with a case feeder, just use a head with
a couple of size dies opposite each other - pull the decap pin on the 2nd die - to balance the load on the shell plate.
3rd: tumble in stainless set up, two to four hours,seperate pins in seperator, then dump
wet brass in an old bath towel and shake back and forth for a short while, this
removes most of the water. Then tumble in vibratory with corn cob and Nu-Finish car
polish for 30 minutes or so.

It really doesn't take long if you only consider the time spent actually doing some portion of the above procedures and do something else during the tumbling periods. And when you are through the brass is spotless inside and out, also the primer pockets and ready to load.

There are different size wet tumblers available and depending on the amount of brass you have to do will determine the size you want/need. Same with the vibrating tumbler.

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#9 jmorris

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 06:02 PM

If you want easy dry with corn cobb is all you need to clean brass enough to not harm your dies.

Stainless/wet makes them look better than they did new.

#10 yoshidaex

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 06:35 PM

I just put together a cement mixer steel pin case cleaning method. I'm thinking ill be able to clean 3,000 40 cases and 4,000 9mm at once. The method takes more effort than a dry tumbler but it can handle so much more brass it isn't even funny.


PM sent

#11 Action Pistolero

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 06:48 PM

For a new reloader, vibratory is the way to go. I say sell them the big Dillon tumbler, some corn cob, polish and let them have at it. After a while they may get picky about carbon on the inside and gunky primer pockets. Then it's time for an ultrasonic.

I use the ultrasonic to clean the cases once a year to remove all the gunk. I clean them for 90 min., rinse them and then spread them out on a towel. By the time the next batch is ready to be rinsed, the brass on the towel is dry. They do get put in the tumbler to get the dirt off of the sides of the cases and then sized and de-primed prior to the ultrasonic.

#12 HostileHabitat

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 09:34 PM

I have a Hornady Ultrasonic brass cleaner. I use a little vinegar, a squirt of soap, mostly water, and some Birchwood Casey Case Cleaner. Works great. Clean and Shiny. The biggest thing for me is the primer pockets are clean and I don't have to do them one by one.

#13 jmorris

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 08:35 AM

The problem with both ultrasonic and stainless is if you use a machine that can only clean small batches. The Hornady for example will only clean 100 308 cases at a time. By the time you go through all the steps and let them dry, you could have cleaned each by hand faster. Once you have a machine that will do a few thousand in one cycle your time invested per case goes way down.

#14 ncopenshooter

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 08:47 AM

My buddy uses an ultrasonic on his rifle brass and does it for VERY cheap.

- Deprimes and FL resizes the brass and trims to length
- Throws them in the ultrasonic with:
* distilled water
* 1 tbsp of dish soap
* 4-5 tbsp of Birchwood Casey Case Cleaner (but 1-2 grains of baking soda works)
* Hit it for as long as you'd like them to be clean (he generally does an hour)
- Rinse with distilled water
- Let air dry (or use a hair dryer)
- Load and go

Now, he's doing this for benchrest, F-Class and sniper type competitions. When I asked him about pistol and rifle for 3-gun brass cleaning and if ultrasonic would be worthwhile, he said, "no way," as in 20-30 minutes of tumbling in a Dillon tumbler with walnut and Dillon polish, his brass is 'good enough' for what that needs. The reason he uses ultrasonic for his rifle ammo is just anal consistency of his ammunition. He generally is cleaning 50-100 pieces of rifle brass at a time, but that's only because he's got the small Harbor Freight ultrasonic. While there are larger tanks out there, he was quick to say there's a point of diminishing returns as the brass prep and loading times are the limiting factor as his philosophy for precision reloading of the bolt guns is that all operations happen within a 4-8 hour period due to brass constriction. That's too much for my pea brain to handle, but his groups prove that he's done some homework.

So, I'm sticking with my tumbler. He is considering going to stainless steel tumbling as it gets the brass SUPER clean, but it's just loud as hell.

#15 Steve RA

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 12:02 PM

You can always wear ear muffs !! :roflol:

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#16 Babaganoosh

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 01:43 PM

Stainless tumbling is quiet, the water muffles the noise

#17 ncopenshooter

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 02:19 PM

You can always wear ear muffs !! :roflol:

:D

#18 primo86gt

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 06:09 PM

Nu-Finish car polish +1 Ran out of dillion polish and used nu-finish in desperation, Never looked back.. corn cob in the lyman 16yrs and sometimes starts very slow now.. probably by another one

#19 Griz

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 08:07 PM

For me it boils down to answering the question: "What are you trying to accomplish by cleaning the brass?"

I clean my brass for 2 main reasons:
1) So that the brass feeds well in my guns.
2) So that grit doesn't get into my dies and score/wear them.

Other people may have other priorities, but for me a vibratory tumbler accomplishes my goals with the least amount of effort.

I know that I am not cleaning the inside of the primer pockets, but the fouling there seems to be self limiting and (knock on wood) has never caused a problem for me.

I have tried wet SS pins in a rock tumbler and it was waaaaay too much hassle for no performance gain that I could measure other than the brass looking pretty (and sticking in my dies).

Edited by Griz, 13 August 2012 - 08:09 PM.


#20 Whoops!

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 11:41 PM

Another pro of the Ultrasonics is that you can clean guns, jewelry, and other objects with them.

The biggest con of the Ultrasonics with brass, by far in my opinion, is getting the brass dry for reloading. It's very time-consuming in my experience and even after a couple of days I find little pockets of water in some cases. I had little success with artificial heat due to the eventual appearance of tempering of the brass.

#21 Graham Smith

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Posted 14 August 2012 - 06:25 AM

I think that this may, in part, be a matter of perception. Wet tumblers get the brass really clean and shinny, but does that mean that the brass is better than something that's just had the loose crud knocked out of it in a dry tumbler? I really don't have an answer to that.

I do have an ultrasonic cleaner and have tried it with handgun ammo and don't find that it's worth the bother - a dry tumbler does as good or better a job.

Now, for precision rifle ammo, that's another story. It doesn't get as dirty as handgun stuff to begin with and I can pretty much get by with a few minutes in the tank. I deprime the cases and stack them upside down in a rack and run them for a few minutes then take them out and let them dry. Good to go.
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#22 HostileHabitat

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 08:09 AM

The biggest con of the Ultrasonics with brass, by far in my opinion, is getting the brass dry for reloading. It's very time-consuming in my experience and even after a couple of days I find little pockets of water in some cases. I had little success with artificial heat due to the eventual appearance of tempering of the brass.


I take my clean wet brass and place them on a towel all spread out and place a little personal heater blowing on them. 20-30 min later they are dry enough to reload. Its not enough heat to Temper the brass.

#23 Steve RA

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 12:57 PM

If you load on a progressive and use the stainless pin mode of cleaning you don't really need to deprime before running in the pins. Just run the cases as normal, dry by shaking in an old bath towel and running in corncob W/NuFinish for an hour or so. Then load as normal, any corncob in primer hole will go out with the primer and the rest of the loading is as normal.

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#24 Trident

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 09:35 AM

From Markco

"you might want to do a little research on dezincification. Most of the cleaning agents used for wet tumbling cause dezincification so you would actually be weakening the brass and opening yourself up for liability since you are selling it.

If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call or drop me a note"

See more on Wet tumbling, the risks, etc.... here :

http://www.brianenos.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=166660&hl=%20stainless%20%20steel%20%20cleaning&st=0

#25 pdogg

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 05:07 PM

I'm new to reloading and I have both devices. I've learned some valuable pros and cons from this thread. Thanks.




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