As we publish articles in our series on Precision Reloading we’re going to attempt to do them in a logical order that mirrors the precision reloading process. For that reason the first article that delves into the precision reloading process itself, after defining what it is in the first article, is going to be on the subject of cleaning brass. That might seem strange, but there’s a reason for it. You want to start your precision reloading process with some sort of cleanup of your fired cases. That way as you lube them and run them through sizing dies you aren’t forcing dirt and small pieces of stone and other gunk up into the dies. You want to keep the dies clean and free of burrs or gouges on the interior.
Precision Reloading – Cleaning Brass
As we mentioned above you need to clean things up a bit before you can size your cases to prevent dirtying and damaging the polished interior of your reloading dies. There are a few different methods of cleaning brass up and we are going to go over each method briefly and then discuss the method we like best for this stage of the precision reloading process. Each of the methods for cleaning up brass has its own unique set of characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. Only you as the reloader can decide which one fits your needs and budget!
The first method is the traditional vibratory tumbler using walnut or corn media. By far the biggest advantage of using this cleaning method is the price. You can pick up a vibratory tumbler and container of cleaning media for a fraction of the cost of other methods. It will do a good job of cleaning dirt and grit off of your fired cases. This method will also polish the cases at the same time through the same act of the cases jostling against each other and the cleaning media. The downside to this method is the time it takes to clean the cases up, and the dusty film it can leave on the cases after cleaning.
Your next method for cleaning cases up is going to be the ultrasonic cleaner. This is also the next step up in price. The advantage of the ultrasonic method is the thorough cleaning both inside and out that you get by dropping cases into the cleaner. There is a cleaning solution that is heated up by the cleaner and then ultrasonic pulses help jostle and break up any dirt and grime present on the cases. The ultrasonic cleaners do an excellent job cleaning the cases up. The downsides besides the higher price of the unit, is the time it takes for the solution to heat up, time taken for the cases to dry off afterwards, and the lack of any polishing of the cases. They will be clean, but they lack the shiny look of clean and polished brass.
Your last available method is going to be the rotary tumbler and stainless steel media method. This is by far the most expensive at over $200 USD for the equipment at media. It also works the best. We did a write up specifically on stainless steel media cleaning. Stainless media cleaning works by dumping small stainless steel pins into a rotary tumbler that cleans and polishes the brass at the same time. It does the best job cleaning and polishing of any of the methods listed and the brass comes out looking new. Downsides are the price of the equipment and the drying time required for the brass.
Precision Reloading – Brass Cleaning x2
At some point after sizing your brass a lot of people will run it through a second cleaning cycle. This is done to clean off any remaining case lube that might be present on the exterior of the cases. It also is a good opportunity to polish any marks from sizing present on the exterior of the cases. Modern spray lubes like Hornady One Shot are air drying and don’t necessarily need to be cleaned off. Depending on the lube you use it may or may not still be present on the exterior of the cases. You don’t want a slick substance present on the exterior of the case. If you are using a persistent lube it needs to be cleaned off.
If you fire a rifle with a persistent lube on the case or even cleaning solvent in the chamber you will potentially run into pressure problems even with a powder charge and hand load that is normally safe in your rifle. The issue is the lubricity of contact between case wall and chamber allows the case to slide back against the bolt sooner instead of sticking to the chamber wall as the pressure expands the size of the case. With a good lube that evaporates this isn’t something you need to lose sleep over but I think its one more reason to toss the brass back in for a second cleaning cycle. I also like shiny looking brass and I like to polish off the sizing marks. That’s your other major reason in favor of a second cleaning cycle.
You have some choices when it comes to cleaning brass in the precision reloading process so pick accordingly. Your primary goal is to clean fired cases to make sure you aren’t dirtying or marking up the inside of your dies. Later on, towards the end of your precision reloading process, you will likely want to run the brass through a second cleaning session. While not strictly necessary it does reduce chances of any case lube giving you pressure problems and by polishing off any sizing marks you will wind up with better looking brass as you finish up!