If there’s one thing I always procrastinate about it’s managing my brass. I’m great at policing it! I constantly scramble for mine at the range and even pick up most unclaimed brass I see lying around.
But then the bags, boxes, and tubes fill up, as do the garage and basement shelves. Sorting becomes less of a priority. And one day I realize there’s a quarter-ton of dirty, mixed brass casings that needs immediate attention.
Recently, after picking-up over two-thousand empty brass casings left by the previous days’ shooters, I realized it was time to get to work and at the very least sort and clean roughly ten-thousand brass casings.
Having always used dry media, such as crushed walnut shells, I was curious to try a wet media tumbling method. And given many of the casings were very muddy I was keen on the idea of washing them so I began my research.
I initially looked at STM’s Steel Reloading Kit, but decided against it due to its high price ($299.95 delivered from Amazon), lack of timer and automatic shut-off, and multiple thumb screws on each side of the tumbler, among other things.
Instead, I picked up Frankford Arsenal’s Premier Series Rotary Tumbler Kit for $159.05 delivered (Amazon) because like STM’s model, the drum was rubber-lined and came with 5-pounds of stainless steel tumbling media (which is supposed to last a lifetime). But also because the ports on Franklin’s drum were screw-on (no thumb-screws) with interchangeable sealing and sifting inserts.
In addition, the tumbler’s base features a timer with automatic shut-off and boasts a one-thousand .223 Rem case tumbling capacity.
If Frankford Arsenal sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place them in the industry, you’ve probably been exposed to them because they are part of the Battenfeld Technologies conglomerate of brands which includes Caldwell, Wheeler, Tipton, and the others shown in the above assortment of brand logos.
Frankford offers a variety of reloading products including tumblers, media separators, media and polish, case trimmers and preparation tools, ammo boxes and trays, and other tools like powder scales. Also available are a variety of replacement parts, which is always appreciated.
Frankford Arsenal’s Rotary Tumbler kit comes with everything you need to clean and tumble one group of brass casings (up to 1,000 .223 Rem casings), beginning with a 7-liter tumbling drum.
The drum itself is fairly light weight, but when filled with brass, media, and water it can be come a bit of a load. On either side of Frankford Arsenal’s embossed logo on the drum (above) oval indentations allow for easy one-handed management of the drum and natural sifting.
The Rotary Tumbler’s base has some weight – enough to ground it to a flat surface- but I wouldn’t say its heavy. Its most prominently features include a 3-hour timer and two sets of axels with rubber rollers on each of the four ends.
Like most rotary tumblers, the drum sits on the rollers, which in-turn rotate the drum. The direction of rotation is indicated by the two arrows near the front two rollers (above).
But the real advantage here is the “maintenance free geared drivetrain”. There are no belts to wear-out, break, and replace!
As previously mentioned, the drum is double-walled and rubber coated to reduce noise.
Each end of the drum has a screw-on cap and two cap-ends. One set of caps is clear, allowing the user to visually see the media, brass, and water tumble within the drum. Flat rubber gaskets within the clear caps create a water-tight seal, keeping all liquids within the drum.
The second set of caps are swapped out after tumbling and used to wash the brass and separate it from the media.
The 5-pound bag of 304 stainless steel media pins included with the kit most certainly weighed 5-pounds and the pins were all very clean. The media was double-bagged in thick plastic with resalable tops.
Stainless steel media find advantages over other types of media in that it does not wear out, it typically cleans faster than organic media, and can pass through primer pocket holes to reach the inside of casings and primer pockets (and back out again).
The small pins of stainless steel media can also be managed with the use of a simple magnet, since most casings are non-magnetic.
Lastly, the one-time use 2-fluid ounce sample packet of Frankford Arsenal’s liquid EZ Sonic Brass Cleaning Solution is what makes this kit also one-time-use. After that first use you’ll need to have another bottle of cleaning solution or detergent handy for the following batches of brass.
The package notes that use with distilled water will provide the best results, but that tap water can also be used. I’m a “table water” guy, not a sparkling water guy so my brass sure won’t be getting any distilled water – we’ll save that for the humidor.
Back in the shop I finished decapping roughly five-thousand brass casings. I normally wouldn’t decap my brass for the first wash but I wanted to see how well the wet stainless steel media process cleaned the primer pockets.
I also wanted to allow the media a chance to pass through the primer pocket hole, hopefully increasing the chances of all-around cleaner brass and less media stuck in casings.
Frankford Arsenal’s Rotary Tumbler touts a 1,000-case cleaning capacity (.223 Rem) and I certainly had enough to stuff the drum to capacity.
However, I planned to first wash 9mm casings so I separated out an even one-thousand, and with all the ingredients assembled, I capped-off the drum and began to mix some brass brew.
One-thousand decapped 9mm brass casings…
Five-pounds stainless steel pin media…
One sample packet Frankford Arsenal EZ Sonic Brass Cleaning Solution…
Fill to brim with water, cap the other end, and…
I set the timer for the full three-hours, built a small cardboard enclosure to further dampen the noise, set the timer on my phone and went about my afternoon.
Three hours later the drum was sitting still so I popped the clear cap and inserted the sifting cap into the frothy concoction and screwed the ring on tight.
Next, several washes of the brass by rinsing with water in a small bucket, “panning” the brass in the trapped water, and shaking the brass within the drum thoroughly cleaned the waste water from the casings.
Simultaneously, the stainless steel media was separated from the brass and flushed out the bottom of the drum and caught in the bucket.
With all the vigorous sifting and washing, one or two casings per batch would make it through the filter and out of the drum. Or simply get wedged between slots.
The filter’s grating is somewhat flexible, which is actually good design when you consider the weight of the brass and water in the drum. A more rigid polymer may crack when this polymer would bend. I’d much rather have to push a piece of brass back through than deal with a broken grate.
After all washings, the clean brass will remain in the drum and the media will be sitting in the bottom of the bucket, ready for the next batch of brass or drying and storage.
Of course, next the brass needs to be dried. An old, five-layer, $30 food dehydrator works perfectly.
The dehydrator’s fruit leather tray was perfect for drying-out the stainless steel pin media.
And throughout the process, there’s no better tool to have by your side than a magnet. No matter how careful you are, those pins end up all over the place.
But back to the brass! After drying the casings looked great. They didn’t have that super-polished look, but rather a nice and even semi-matte textured brass tone.
Compared to a sample I withheld from the batch (above, left), the processed brass is surely on its way to a second life.
Now that’s not to say the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler and EZ Sonic Brass Cleaning Solution performed perfectly. Indeed, there were more than a few casings with internal residue that remained resident after tumbling and washing.
Then again, I didn’t expect the inside of every single casing to be completely polished-clean.
But I was disappointed with how many primer pockets were left with gunk inside. I know, I know…it’s not a huge deal for the average reloading enthusiast. However all the reviews and marketing materials I read for stainless steel pin media boasted about the media’s ability to clean primer pockets. The experience merely fell short of my expectations.
Although not abundant in occurrence by any means, the pins, if sized just right, can be come lodged in casings. It is important to check the casings as often as possible throughout the cleaning and reloading process to ensure any and all instances are discovered and pin media is removed.
Now, with much, much more brass to clean, and without EZ Sonic Brass Cleaning Solution, I turned to an old favorite; Lemi Shine!
Back on track, I carved away at the pile of 5,000 casings…
I ran 300 rounds of 5.56 NATO / .223 Rem for two hours with Lemi Shine with solid results (above).
Then stepped it up to 500 rounds for three hours and received a similar outcome (above).
Challenging Frankford Arsenal’s Rotary Tumbler, I piled-in 500 rounds of extremely dirty, muddy, and damp 9mm casings that someone had left out in the rain overnight at a local range. The post-tumble results were very good (above).
With consistent results for medium-sized batches of 5.56 and 9mm, I thought about pushing the capacity to the advertised maximum of 1,000 .223 Rem casings, but I held off. Not because I thought the casings would not get clean enough, but because sifting 500 rounds of .223 Rem plus water and steel media in the drum was just about as much as I wanted to get into at one time.
After cleaning over five-thousand brass casings of various calibers over the past several weeks with Frankford Arsenal’s Premier Series Rotary Tumbler Kit, I have to admit the tumbler has earned my trust – and quicker than ever expected. It performed without issue every time I ran it; on several occurrences all day long for days in a row. The tumbler’s base is a workhorse that never sputtered a bit.
Like many things in this industry, it all comes down to preference. There are things I like better in dry media vibration systems, for instance, zero contaminated waste water to deal with, generally less-noisy, and no drying of brass and media after cleaning. Then again, stainless steel media never needs replacing, I can manage the media with a magnet, and washing the brass ensures more removal of dirt, carbon, and debris.
So if your preference is a wet brass case cleaning system, Frankford Arsenal’s Premier Series Rotary Tumbler Kit is easy to set up, operate, clean, and store when not in use. It can consistently clean hundreds of casings at once and the 3-hour timer with auto-off is very convenient. Available at a competitive price, the stainless steel pin media Rotary Tumbler Kit is a great option for the cleaning portion of your case preparation routine.
Specifications: Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler (110V, 7L)
Price as reviewed: $209.99 MSRP (about $159 on Amazon)
Quality: * * * *
The Rotary Tumbler isn’t designed to be fancy; it’s built to be a workhorse. All components are of good quality and fit. The drum’s sealing caps keep liquid contained. The motor is more than adequate for maximum-capacity operation.
Loudness: * * *
The Tumbler’s rubber-lined drum does a good job of limiting the raucous noise of metal mashing metal, but the sound is still too much to bear if you’re in the same room. The clear sealing caps are a great feature, but may be an area where noise could be reduced.
Effectiveness: * * * *
Regardless of which brass cleaning detergent you use, the Rotary Tumbler seems to do its share of the heavy lifting. The stainless steel pin media may not be the best media when it comes to polishing brass or even cleaning primer pockets, but when tumbled with brass it sure cleans it consistently well across the batch.
Overall: * * * *
Frankford Arsenal’s Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler has a seven-liter capacity, enough to tackle one-thousand .223 Rem brass casings in a single 3-hour tumble. Its rubber-lined drum helps reduce noise and the drum’s sifting caps make separating brass from the ever-lasting stainless steel pin media quite easy. The Rotary Tumbler is easy to use, easy to clean, easy to store when not in use, and provides consistent, acceptable results at an affordable price.