How I Wet Tumble Brass

| April 9, 2014 | 5 Comments

This is my third time around at reloading. The first time was in the late 90s when I reloaded .40 S&W. I did it again in 2008 / 2009 when I shot .45 ACP, but sold off my reloading equipment right before I moved to Minnesota.

I’m back in the reloading game thanks to .300 Blackout. One big change from my prior experience is affordable “wet” tumbling.

Wet tumbling is done with water, detergent, and often an additive to brighten the cases up. Previously I would “dry” tumble with pieces of walnut shell and corn.

Dry tumbling sucked, and was one of the parts I hated the most about reloading. It was messy, the media took up a lot of space, I had a dedicated contraption to separate the media from the brass, I often had to jab the flash holes in the brass with a toothpick to dislodge bits of shell, and holy shit the dust.

Wet tumbling has some weird steps of its own, but by and large I find it to be much cleaner, less of a hassle, and the startup cost is pretty reasonable.

Mandatory items

  1. Watertight tumbler. Some people spend hundreds of dollars on big ass, specially built brass tumblers. Others convert old mixers or washing machines. I’m cheap and not super imaginative when it comes to re-purposing stuff, so I went the easy route and bought a two-chamber tumbler from Harbor Freight Tools. The tumbler is normally $89.99; however I got mine on sale for $54.99 and then a 20% coupon brought it down to $47.99 before tax.
  2. Stainless steel tumbling media. You’re going to want media that isn’t so small that it get stuck in the flash hole. I purchased “Ultra 47s” (0.047″ diameter) pins from Bullseye Reloading via Amazon.com. Most of the time you can only buy 5 pound bags — which means that I have three pounds of stainless steel tumbling media I probably won’t ever use. About $50 via Amazon Prime.
  3. Liquid dishwasher detergent. Any kind of liquid dishwasher detergent will do, and you won’t use a lot. $3 or so.
  4. Towel. You can use other stuff to dry your brass (more on that later) but a towel is the bare minimum. $2 or 3, I used an old beach towel we use for our dogs.

Helpful / optional items

  1. Lemi-Shine. Lemishine is a dishwashing additive that cleans hard water spots and shit off of your dishes. It makes a weak citrus-based acidic solution that helps remove carbon and gets the brass super shiny. Shiny brass doesn’t make a practical difference, but there’s definitely a “wow” factor. The She-Shepherd thought my first batch of hand-loaded .300 Blackout was factory purchased. $3 or $4 at the store, or free with some orders from Bullseye Reloading.
  2. Fine mesh strainer. Some folks with traditional media separators from the “dry days” still use the hand-cranked, bingo-ball style contraptions. That’s totally fine, and probably does an okay job of getting the pins out of the cases. However that doesn’t solve the problem on how to separate the pins from the water. I use a very fine mesh hand strainer I bought in a 3-pack from  Amazon.com I pour the whole container through the strainer, and then rinse the cases clean under running water. I bought a 3-piece set from Amazon for $11, you could probably find a single metal strainer for less.
  3. Drying contraption. This might be a box fan blowing air over the clean cases, or a circular dehydrator, or even a few minutes in a dryer inside of a lingerie bag. Cost varies.

Basic directions

I encourage you to watch my YouTube video, but here are the basic directions for wet tumbling brass with the Harbor Freight tumbler:

  1. Fill the Harbor Freight tumbler with 1/3 pins
  2. Add 1/3 brass. In my situation, that’s about a pound of pins and around 70 .300 Blackout cases.
  3. Add one 9mm case worth of Lemi-Shine.
  4. Fill the rest of the tumbler (the remaining 1/3) with water.
  5. Add a squirt of liquid dishwater detergent.
  6. Put the gasket onto the tumbler.
  7. Put the metal plate onto the tumbler, and screw it down with the black tumbler chamber nut.
  8. Let the tumbler run for an hour or two hours. I don’t like running it longer than that; some have remarked that longer cycles result in orange or yellowish cases.
  9. Strain the brass through the strainer under running water to remove the case crap, soap and Lemi-Shine.
  10. Pick out the brass from the pins.
  11. Dry the brass in a towel the best you can.
  12. Let the brass air dry until you get impatient.

There are some nuances and best practices I cover in my video, but that’s about it.

I’m completely sold on wet tumbling, and I hope you consider it, too. You’ll never have to replace the stainless steel media. I was able to get my setup going for less than $120. The “prosumer” brass tumbler market starts at about $250, with the most popular “Biggdawg” model running about $350 just for the tumbler. Yes, it’s a great piece of machinery and yes it has a larger capacity, but the barrier to entry is a lot higher at the price point, in my opinion.

Before:

wet tumbling tutorial-0

After:

P1020800

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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5 Comments on "How I Wet Tumble Brass"

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  1. Rick says:

    Hello Short Barreled Shepherd,

    Thanks for the promotion of our ULTRA 47™ Stainless Media. We are glad you like the results of wet tumbling with our product.

    While we do sell on Amazon and other online outlets, your readers can get better pricing by ordering directly from us. Amazon has some of the highest fees out there and we pass the savings directly on to our website customers. We also sell our product in 2.5# quantities for those using smaller tumblers. As an official distributor for Pellets, LLC we also provide wholesale pricing for those looking to put a group buy together.

    Thank you again for helping our small business out with word of mouth advertising.

    Rick Evans
    Bullseye-reloading.com

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Glad to help! I’ve referred several readers to your pins via Amazon, and it’s good to know about getting smaller quantities and lower prices directly from you.

  2. Derek says:

    When separating everything after the tumble, use a colander and shake/bounce the brass over something to catch the stainless pins (strainer?), and all your stainless media will fall through the colander.

    I found this to be fairly effective.

    • Rick Evans says:

      Hey Derek,

      We use a large paint strainer bag over our separator to catch the stainless media while rinsing under water. These bags can be found at your local DIY, paint or hardware store.

  3. Mark says:

    I also wet tumble my brass for reloading. It does such a better job at cleaning brass, and when you figure in the fact that wet tumbling also cleans out the primer pockets for a more consistent primer seating depth as vs. manually scraping the pockets, then there is no comparison between the two methods. My buddies who also reload had talked about wet tumbling but thought that it wasn’t really worth the expense over using the dry tumblers that they already owned, that is until I showed up with samples of my new looking cases. They are reconsidering their thoughts about the process now, and one has made the switch.

    I am surprised that you didn’t mention the possibility of building your own wet tumbler instead of buying one. There is a lot of information online for those who are inclined to go this route. Bigg Dawg is the person who probably started this craze and he has even put plans online to do this. While every plan that I see calls for a welded steel frame, I made mine using wood and plywood for the base, and it is just as bomb-proof as anyone else’s machine. I probably have around $225 out of pocket invested in my set up for what would have cost me about $570 from the Bigg Dawg, and that is including two different sized drums and all of the accessories to get going. I accumulated the parts over a two or three month period and so spreading it out made it even easier to afford. I haven’t touched the dry tumbler since I made the switch.

    A person doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to build their own tumbler, it is actually pretty simple if you are handy with your hands.

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