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Old September 23, 2012, 03:16 AM   #1
Pond, James Pond
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Tumblers. What is the gain, aside from aesthetic cases?

Is there any benefit to tumbling cases before making up cartridges with them apart from making them look pretty?

At the moment, I decap, clean the primer pocket and the stuff an old bore brush into the cases and give it a couple of twists, tap the case and put in the "to prime" pile.

The idea being to remove any powder or burn reside. However, they certainly don't come up gleaming and the out case looks tarnished.

I can live with that as long as the end cartridge is the better for it.

All the same I will same that this is my least favourite part and if I could do away with all the scraping and poking, I'd be quite happy.
It is dirty and tedious and feels more of a chore, whilst the rest of the reloading process is sort of relaxing.

So do tumblers clean the insides as well as they do the exterior?
Is cleaning the interior even worth the bother (priming pocket aside)?
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Old September 23, 2012, 04:04 AM   #2
Misssissippi Dave
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Getting rid of any carbon on the outside of the case is easier on the dies. This is more true for steel dies. Even carbide dies will last longer siziing clean brass. You can add stuff to the media to help it to clean faster or provide a higher shine if you care to do it. I find adding a little liquid car polish to the media will keep the brass from tarnishing over a much longer time compared to not using it.

Tumbling will clean out the worst of the junk inside the cases. It doesn't make the inside shin like it does for the outside. In my opinion it is plenty clean enough to reload them. It is easier to see any problems a case might have when it has been cleaned in a tumbler compared to dirty brass.

If I recall correctly, you are loading .357 and .44 . I suggest not tumbling both sizes at the same time. You don't want to have to try to unstick the cases. One will fit inside the other and the media will just pack in all the empty space. It can be a pain to pull them apart. I once tumbled 9 mm, .40 and .45 brass all together. It was not much fun pulling some of them apart. The 9 mm brass will fit inside the .40 and .45 cases and the .40 will fit inside the .45 cases. What a mess that was. There were even a few .32 pieces of brass in some 9 mm cases.

Remember to use very fine media so it won't get stuck in primer flash holes.

Last edited by Misssissippi Dave; September 23, 2012 at 04:10 AM.
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Old September 23, 2012, 06:19 AM   #3
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I remove the primers and put the cases in my tumbler and the primer pockets and inside the cases comes clean, as well as cleaning any residue of the out side of the case. I use very fine crushed english walnut media.
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Old September 23, 2012, 08:35 AM   #4
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Ultrasonic cleaner (Lyman for example) gets the brass clean inside and out, including the primer pockets, in less than 5 minutes. Mine works best with 200 or less cases per load.

My dirty dusty tumbler lives in the garage and is only used if I want "shiny" brass, and am willing to spend the time to clean the dusty media out of the primer holes.
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Old September 23, 2012, 09:11 AM   #5
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I'll tumble pistol brass to get it good and clean, but with rifle brass I'll usually just take some #0000 steel wool and quickly clean the neck and shoulder. If I have some old brass that's been bagged for a while, I might tumble that before I reload it. If it wasn't for cleaning pistol brass, I doubt I'd have even bothered to buy a tumbler.
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Old September 23, 2012, 09:30 AM   #6
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I find shiny brass easier to inspect, easier to find on the ground and more enjoyable to work with all around.

At first I said why bother and just cleaned by hand. Then I found out a good tumbler setup was only $60 total. It was a no brainer for me at that point since I have a free supply of range brass to process at my leisure. My setup is a franklin arsenal tumbler ($41, amazon), pet store media ($12, 50-50 walnut and corncob), nufinish ($7) and kitty litter scoop ($2, I scoop my cases out of the tumbler instead of dumping to save space).

For anyone looking to start tumbling I highly recommend the above setup for its low cost, low storage footprint, ease of use and effectiveness.
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Old September 23, 2012, 09:51 AM   #7
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As much time as I spend reloading I like to be proud of my finished product. With a tumbler my reloads look as good as they shoot. Also I think good shinny brass just works better in autos.
I use Lee media and find that it cleans & shines very well and lasts a long time. I clean all my brass before sizing and find that it does stick in the primer hole but when sizing the de-capper pushes it out with no ill effects.
IMO a tumbler is well worth the small expense.
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:03 AM   #8
billcarey
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I deprime and rotary tumble. What I notice most is primers seat easier...not a big change but enough to make priming smoother. I use walnut media and don't remove "dust" out of the primer pocket either. The size media makes all the difference in how many flashholes get plugged. I have to clear 1 or 2 of every 100 with a wire.
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:41 AM   #9
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I loaded for a number of years without a tumbler years back. At one point, I decided to invest in one and with the tumbler, media and separating tools, I probably dropped about $75 in to it.

What I found was that I was nuts for waiting so long to do it and knowing what I know now, I would never go back. No way!

1) all brass is cleaner
2) working with you brass is infinitely more pleasing & enjoyable
3) your hands, containers, everywhere you work is MUCH cleaner
4) inspecting the brass is now a casual affair and very easy to do
5) sorting by headstamp (if you do) is easier, better, more enjoyable, cleaner
6) loaded ammo looks infinitely better, much more pride in your product
7) your dies are MUCH cleaner inside, less chance of burrs or minute internal damage
8) carbide sizing dies make a dirty case EVEN dirtier by pressure-squeezing the filth, the cases end up looking worse after sizing if they are dirty

I'm absolutely certain that if you were on a shoestring budget with zero allowable room for expenditures, you can successfully handload without owning or using a tumbler.

But I'd not want to ever again.

I highly recommend the Berry's tumbler, it was a fantastic upgrade to my cheaper Frankford Arsenal tumbler.
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Old September 23, 2012, 11:10 AM   #10
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Quote:
Is there any benefit to tumbling cases before making up cartridges with them apart from making them look pretty?
Besides making the brass pretty the tumbler cleans the brass. The brass should be cleaned before it's sized. I don't know what method you use now but lets say you wipe them with a rag by hand. How long would it take to wipe off 600 cases by hand, I don't know I have never done it that way. I would guess about an hour. I can clean those same 600 cases in my tumbler and only have around four minutes of my time involved, the tumbler does the rest. The same with wet cleaning. You will have more time involved than with a vibratory tumbler.
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Old September 23, 2012, 11:17 AM   #11
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Besides making the brass pretty the tumbler cleans the brass. The brass should be cleaned before it's sized. I don't know what method you use now but lets say you wipe them with a rag by hand. How long would it take to wipe off 600 cases by hand, I don't know I have never done it that way. I would guess about an hour. I can clean those same 600 cases in my tumbler and only have around four minutes of my time involved, the tumbler does the rest. The same with wet cleaning. You will have more time involved than with a vibratory tumbler.
Here it is in short. The tumbler does the work, you do not have to.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:16 PM   #12
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No doubt that the tumbler cleans the brass very nicely. And that's great if your brass needs cleaning. I shoot the rifle, work the action open just enough to grab the brass which goes into: pocket, if hunting; MTM box if at the bench. Except for the neck and shoulders, my brass generally isn't dirty. It never hits the ground. As for inspecting cases, twirl the case slowly with your right hand, while the left hand holds the steel wool around the neck and shoulders, and you will find any split neck you might have as fast or faster than if you tumbled them. The steel wool snags ever so slightly in a split neck and you can feel it. So if my brass isn't really dirty, I don't tumble it. It's a waste of my time and effort. But, a big day of reloading for me might be 200 or 300 rounds of rifle ammo (way more for pistol). If I was loading 1000 rounds fired from an auto, where the brass went into the dirt, I might tumble clean them. As for the folks that tumble the brass to have pretty ammo, well that's a whole nother deal. Ya'll have fun.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:29 PM   #13
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Clean cases are much easier on the dies.

I use the vibrating type vleaner rather than a true drum type tumbler.

I use Dillon charging media in ground walnut hulls.

Don't buy the media from the LGS or big box stores.

Go to a pet supply store and buy a 16/20 lb bag of the stuff they sell for the bottom of bird cages.

I get mine at PetSmart.

It is a LOT cheaper than buying charged or un-charged media elsewhere.

Some times you can find the same thing at an outdoor supply place. It is sold for flower gardens.

It is ground up walnut hulls and that is what you want. Been doing that for years.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:37 PM   #14
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It never hits the ground. As for inspecting cases, twirl the case slowly with your right hand, while the left hand holds the steel wool around the neck and shoulders, and you will find any split neck you might have as fast or faster than if you tumbled them. The steel wool snags ever so slightly in a split neck and you can feel it. So if my brass isn't really dirty, I don't tumble it. It's a waste of my time and effort.
Well 603, that's your opinion, it certainly is not fact.

I never process less that 500 cases at a time with my 650 dillon. To handle each case by hand would be out of the question. The ONLY time I'd handle each case is IF I were to be sorting by headstamp with bulk once-fired handgun brass, darn seldom if ever. <---In that instance, they would be tumbled FIRST!

Those with OCD just have-to-have the inside of the case and the primer pocket clean. They're forced to use the stainless steel pin rotatory tumbler, or ultrasonic cleaners. Both require multiple operations, several containers, and a LOT of time. THEN some sort of drying operation. <-- TIME and lots of it.

The tiny bit of carbon on the inside of the case, and in the bottom of the primer pocket is of NO concern, forgetaboutit!
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Old September 23, 2012, 01:06 PM   #15
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snuffy, it is my opinion that I don't need to tumble cases for my use and it is therefore, to me, a fact. I never said that you or anybody else shouldn't do it. It's just mostly a waste of MY time, since my cases are never dirty (except for soot on the necks). I don't have 500 cases to clean. That would be a rare occasion for me. So I'll re-state that if a fellow has 100 or maybe 200 cases that just have sooty necks, it's way faster to clean the neck with steel wool. I went 25 years without a tumbler and did just fine. Then I got a tumbler that I've had for maybe 4 years and it does a fine job. Now that I've had time with and time without a tumbler, I see that it has uses, but for small volume reloaders for rifles, it isn't a necessary tool. And again on the folks that like pretty shiny brass, I have never heard one person tell another person "gee, what great looking ammo you have". Mostly the chit chat is about the groups being shot and what bore cleaner you use. I lost the desire to shine brass the day I left the Marine Corps (actually, I lost that desire well before I left the Corps).

So don't beat up on me just cause I'm not a shiny brass guy or just because I don't share your view. I'm a long time and quite experienced reloader and I am entitled to my own opinion, even if it is occasionally at odds with others on the forum. And I'm tempted to mention the brand of tumbler I have, but that's likely to start another firestorm of protest that it isn't the best or most efficient tumbler.
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Old September 23, 2012, 01:49 PM   #16
Misssissippi Dave
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A vibrating tumbler is, in my opinion, probably the easiest way to clean pistol brass. You put it in and turn it on. Come back later and separate the brass from the media. Some ways of separation are faster than others. The time spent working with the tumber is not very much compared to the time it is running.

The tumbler you get is dependent on how much brass at a time you need to clean as well as availablity and the money you have to spend. There have been a few times I could have used a larger tumbler and also times I could have used a smaller one. For the majority of the time it seems to be the right size for me. The same could be said about presses. They all allow you to make ammo. Some are easier to use and some are faster. Some need more maintenance and some last longer. Not one of them will meet the needs or wants of everyone. When looking for a tumbler you first need to find out what is available to you. Next you need to decide how much you can afford to spend. The last thing is to get a size that makes sense for your average amount of cases you want to clean at a time. You can always wait until you have a large enough amount of brass to clean with one of the big units. You also can do several small batches with a small unit to equal the amount the big one did.
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Old September 23, 2012, 03:44 PM   #17
Pond, James Pond
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Between the lack of hassle, individually cleaning brass, and the added benefit of prolonging die performance, it does sound like tumbler might be a sound investment.

I don't reload masses: the most brass I have is about 220 .44 mag cases. My .38s number at about 160 or so. If I'm to avoid tumbling them together, I can afford to get only a medium capacity tumbler some pf the cases are always either in made up ammo, primed cases or spent cases...

I have a few options from UK reloading outfits. The place I've been to most so far seems to stock Lyman tumblers. They seem to go for about £70-100. There are also some options more locally from the same places that sell media.

Thanks for shedding light....
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Old September 23, 2012, 04:38 PM   #18
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If I'm to avoid tumbling them together, I can afford to get only a medium capacity tumbler...
You shouldn't ever tumble them together no matter the size of yuor tumbler or your wallet.

Any time you attempt to tumble brass that has different mouth sizes -- where one can fit inside another, you've got to separate them and tumble each on their own. Quite simply, the smaller ones find their way in to the larger ones and the smaller ones don't get clean.

Not a concern with bottle neck rifle brass, where even a .22 Hornet is unlikely to find it's way inside a .300 Win Mag, but with handgun brass, the silly things are like magnets inside each other. If you tumbled 50 pcs of 9mm with 50 pcs of .40 S&W and 50 pcs of .45 Auto, you'd be shocked at how many of them are all nested inside each other at the end of a tumbling cycle.
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Old September 23, 2012, 05:01 PM   #19
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^BEFORE
AFTER>

These pictures are from Dryflash 3's AR15.com thread

Those are Norma unfired but old and green. A Thumler's Tumbler with SS media made them new again....inside and out.

One more picture from the above link.
Like I said, "Inside and out" Do you know of a faster way to make your brass better and more useable?
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Old September 23, 2012, 05:12 PM   #20
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I tumble with cob but I got over using polish long ago; a satin finish cleaning is all I need or want. It would be quite hard to prove that 'smoked' vs. purty cases make sizing easier or wear the dies less, or that they will shoot a bit better. Getting cases surgically clean inside is quite purty but unless you're going to do surgery with 'em it really won't matter.

The actual value of tumbling vs. hand cleaning depends on the quanity to be cleaned. Anything less than maybe 50-60 rounds (and a LOT of guys do no more than that very often) hardly benefits from tumbling but after that it does. When I have more than maybe a hundred to do I'll always tumble.

I can't tell that tiny cracks are any easier to spot on shiney cases than otherwise. Decap with a unversal decap die first, then clean/tumble and resize. IF you have any tiny cracks before sizing they become much bigger after sizing and are then very easy to spot.
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Old September 23, 2012, 07:49 PM   #21
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I tumble with cob but I got over using polish long ago; a satin finish cleaning is all I need or want.
Very true, polish is not needed. What I do like about using Nu Finish car polish is it helps to keep the brass from tarnishing. I have some 9mm brass that has been sitting in a bucket for five years a looks like the day it came out of the tumbler.
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Old September 23, 2012, 08:35 PM   #22
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Handling clean brass is just more pleasant to me. I don't like dirty hands when doing precision things like reloading. I wash my hands 10 times a day like it is.
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Old September 23, 2012, 08:37 PM   #23
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Maybe it's just a false notion, but it seems that my .45LC brass tumbled in walnut with some Frankford brass polish in it (seems like Brasso from the look and smell) easily drops out of my revolver chambers 100% of the time, without ever needing to use the hand ejector rod. Sure, the credit is shared with light loads and polished cylinders and because .45 cases are heavier than .38s, but it is nice, especially at an unloading table on a hot day, to be able to rotate, click-dump-click-dump and empty the cylinders in a hurry.
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Old September 23, 2012, 09:50 PM   #24
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Pond,
I don't know that a standard capacity tumbler would be very helpful in your situation.

Most vibratory tumblers need at least a 50% capacity load, to clean in a reasonable amount of time. The cases scrape the crud off each other as much as, or more than, the media cleans the cases.

I use one of the Berry's-manufactured Cabela's tumblers. For it to work properly with corn cob or walnut media, I have to run at least a 50-75% load. That means 400+ 9mms, 200+ .45s, 300+ .38s, or 150+ .44s. Anything less than that, and it takes ages for the cases to get clean.

The fastest cleaning time in this tumbler is when I have the thing near max capacity.

The cases scrub the crap off each other, and the media carries it away (while doing a minimal amount of 'scrubbing' as well).


So... a smaller tumbler might be more appropriate in your situation. Something like a Thumbler's rotary tumbler or their 10-lb vibratory tumbler come to mind. (The 10-lb tumbler may still be just a bit on the large side, though, for anything but ALL of your brass for one of those cartridges, in each load.)
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:19 PM   #25
Sevens
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Decap with a unversal decap die first, then clean/tumble and resize.
Four reasons I do not agree with this and can't recommend it:
1) when you decap BEFORE you tumble in a vibratory cleaner, you don't get the benefit of clean primer pockets because even tumbling won't clean those little pockets. (a sonic cleaner in liquid will)

2) you end up with corn media sticking in your primer pockets and flash holes. Not in every piece of brass, but in some -- and a piece of media stuck in either of these places can & often does displace or snap a decapping pin later when you attempt to resize

3) decapping before tumbling in a universal decapper adds a whole 'nother step to the process, and that's a LOT of work as the number of cases increase. That's one more hand motion in to a shell holder, ram up & down, and case out of a shell holder. For no benefit?

4) disagreeing with anything wncchester posts is always good for some thread fireworks. Even if you try to let him know it's just friendly ribbing!
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