Stainless steel media cleaning has become all the rage recently and for very good reason. Stainless steel media is extremely effective. Stainless steel media will clean and polish the inside and outside of the case, including the primer pocket. Stainless steel media cleans better than traditional walnut and corn cob media and it does it without the dust and the mess. Stainless steel media itself is reusable and does not degrade like traditional media. There are some downsides, particularly the startup costs associated with stainless steel media. However, the benefits far outweigh any negative aspects of the system and we are going to discuss just why it’s so effective in this post!
Stainless Steel Media – What is it?
Some people may have not even heard of stainless steel media so we’re going to explain what it is. Most reloaders have a step somewhere in their process for cleaning and polishing brass. This is both aesthetically and functionally necessary for the reloader to do. As you fire a rifle, or pistol, you are igniting a primer which in turns starts the process of burning the powder contained within the cartridge. That process of igniting and burning produces a lot of dirty gunk. You get carbon in the cases and barrel. You can get dirty sooty crud from unburnt powder both inside and outside the cases. The primer pockets are dirty and disgusting from having the primers ignite and fire through the flash hole to get inside the case and start the burning powder. All of that needs to be cleaned up.
Traditional reloading has used a vibratory tumbler and corn or walnut media as a cleaner and polisher. You dump the cases inside the tumbler and turn it on. After an hour or two of the cases vibrating and sliding around in a pool of cleaning media that rubbing and sliding polishes and removes dirt and gunk from the case. Unfortunately with the traditional approach there are many downsides. For starters, the media itself can produce dust which clings to the cases and everything else. The media itself degrades with use and can be recharged with polish but eventually its effectiveness deteriorates to the point of having to replace it. That adds cost to the process. I’ve tried many ways of tweaking and making the dry media better and no matter what, its never quite as good as you would like it to be.
This is where stainless steel media steps into the picture. Instead of small pieces of walnut shell or corn cob, you use small stainless steel pins as a cleaning and polishing media. In conjunction with a rotary tumbler, rather than a vibratory tumbler, stainless steel media does everything traditional media does and more.
Stainless Steel Media – What’s Required?
Unfortunately stainless steel media is a completely different system than the traditional vibratory tumbler system. It is more expensive to get into. As I sit here writing this post I checked prices on Midway USA for a Frankford Arsenal vibratory tumbler and some Lyman walnut media and both can be had for under $55 USD before shipping. The traditional tumbling method is definitely cheaper to get into. Conversely with stainless steel media, just the stainless pins run around $50 USD. The popular choice for a rotary tumbler to use with the stainless steel media is the Thumler Model B rotary tumbler. It’s retail price is around $190 USD. So clearly after shipping you are coming in around the $225-250 USD mark for a stainless steel media setup.
Stainless Steel Media – Is it worth it?
As we just discussed, you are looking at spending roughly five times as much on a stainless steel media setup as you would on a more traditional vibratory tumbler setup. A lot of people want ot know if the results are worth it and the costs are justified. In a word…YES! I think everybody has bought something at some point in their life and been so pleased with it they wondered why they didn’t make the purchase sooner. This is one of those purchases, at least for me. Years of tweaking and trying different case cleaning tactics to get nice clean brass all allowed me to achieve fairly limited success. Even at the point where I’d managed to get what I considered pretty good looking brass out of a vibratory tumbler, none of that even comes close to the ease and simplicity and the results of the stainless steel media setup.
The photo above is some 6.5 Creedmoor brass. The cases on the right are fired out of my current competition rifle which is a Mega Arms 6.5 Creedmoor AR10. The cases come out of that gas gun looking pretty gritty and grungy. That’s part of the nature of gas impingement rifles, they definitely dirty up the brass far more than a bolt action rifle. Which is the reason I elected to use those to showcase the capabilities of stainless steel media. You can go from gritty and grimey to looking brand new with the stainless steel tumbling system. The brass looks like it just came out of the bag or box its so squeeky clean. The effort is so minimal I wish I’d have made this purchase years ago.
Stainless Steel Media Cleaning Process
So what’s my process using the stainless steel media? It’s quite simple and it goes something like this. Pull the top off the Thumler Model B. Dump 100-300 cases into the barrel. Sprinkle in a few pounds of the stainless steel media pins. Fill the barrel with ordinary tap water. I then add a single tablespoon of blue dawn dish detergent and a tablespoon of lemishine to the barrel. I put the top back on the barrel and tighten the wing nuts. I set the barrel on the Thumler Model B rotary tumbler and I let it run for an hour. When I’m done the brass comes out looking spotless. Literally looking brand new. The rest of the process can be tweaked by the individual reloader to their liking but the only thing I do is use a regular media separator to separate the pins from the cases. I lay the cases out on an old used beach towel and let them dry overnight.
Stainless Steel Media Tips and Tricks!
So now I’m going to add a few tricks and a couple smaller purchases I made to enhance the whole process of using the stainless steel media to clean my brass. Obviously you have to buy the tumbler and the stainless media pins. After that though the process is quite simple but I encountered a couple issues along the way as I learned how to make the most of the new gear. I purchased a couple items to help enhance things as well. I’ll start with a photo and then explain the purpose of the items in it and how they contribute to the stainless steel media cleaning process.
After using an RCBS media separator to separate the pins from the cases I remove the cases and I’m left with water in the separator and all the pins. Well, nobody puts instructions in that tells you how to get the pins separate from the water without dumping them down the drain, right? I bought a simple cooking strainer from Target and some coffee filters. I put two coffee filters in the strainer and dump the water and the pins into the strainer. The filters and strainer allow the water to drain but they catch and hold the pins. I do this inside one of the halves of the media separator by the way, though you could just use a bucket or something too. You may miss or dump pins and water where you don’t want them so don’t just do it over a sink or tub unless you want to lose pins down the drain.
I then dump the pins out of the strainer/coffee filters through the funnel and into and empty plastic bottle I use to store the pins. The retractable magnet, like what you find in an auto parts store, works very well in case you do have a few pins land in a bucket outside the strainer or on the floor or where ever. The magnet grabs the pins and makes rescuing any you lost along the way a lot easier. I like to use the barrel of the Thumler Model B itself as storage for some of these little components. That helps minimize the space needed when not using the tumbler itself.
Wrapping up Stainless Steel Media Tumbling
So that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this, feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Stainless steel media is definitely an investment and it costs a lot more than traditional tumbling setups to get started with. Man oh man though does it do the job well. You really can’t go wrong with it so if you have considered it, I highly recommend you make the leap. Sooner the better and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Even the primer pockets, which typically are difficult to get clean with traditional tumbling setups, come out looking squeeky clean and brand new using stainless steel media.