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Stainless Steel Media Cleaning

In Blog by Rich14 Comments

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.

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Stainless Steel Media and some tools for storing, collecting, and separating the media from the cases

 

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.

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Thumler Model B rotary tumbler

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.

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6.5 Creedmoor Cases, fired and cleaned with stainless steel media on the left, fired out of a gas gun and uncleaned on the right, quite successful if you ask me!

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.

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The Gear: Thumler Model B, Stainless Steel Media, Plastic Tablespoon, Blue Dawn Detergent, Lemishine, Funnel, Strainer, Coffee Filters, Magnet

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.

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.

Comments

  1. Accuracytech,

    loved your SS media cleaning article. I'[m new to reloading and I ended up going this route and dont regret it. I wanted to share with you guys my procedures just to throw additional ideas out there.

    My set up: frankford arsenal tumbler w/ pins & their solution.

    I deprime, tumble with solution + media. Then I lube, resize and they go in for a second cleaning without SS pins this time around.

    My trick to separating pins and my final resolution has been daunting but here is how I do it:
    -I have a cheap plastic storage container (5-12 bucks from wal-mart).
    -cheap plastic strainer from a korean market store that will not let brass through but will let pins drop. (i found that using the super small strainers or coffee filter tricks didnt do it for me as I clean and reload at 250+ rounds at a time).

    I dump my brass into my plastic strainer and most of the pins will fall through. Initial water is very dark from cleaning; I simply tilt the bigger tub to drain water out then fill it again with bath water until theres enough room for me to dunk the smaller strainer in the water to clean out and drop more pins (gross cleaning & filtering). I then grab brass by the handful and turn/tilt underwater, visually inspect and place into an army laundry bag. Once I’m done checking brass for stuck pins I shake the laundry bag for any excess water then lay out in a rack to dry.

    I came to this solution for the following reasons:
    1. Small kitchen strainer/filters weren’t fast enough.
    2. Pins get stuck in the strainer/filters I had in kitchen.
    3. I can conduct gross filtering and cleaning easily and at a rapid rate with this method.

  2. Author

    Thanks James!

    Thats an excellent process. I didn’t mean to suggest I use the coffee filters to separate pins from the brass. I use a standard RCBS media separator for that and it works well because there is room in the main bucket for the water and pins.

    After the brass is separated, I dump the water and pins into the coffee filter to separate pins from dirty nasty water! Sounds like you have a nice setup, and some clean brass!

    Rich

  3. Hey I’d like to provide some input, as I did a lot of research before jumping into stainless tumbling.

    For the cost, I would recommend an Extreme Tumblers model Rebel 17 over the Thumler for a number of reasons. First off it has a better belt that doesn’t have the nasty habit of snapping. Second I believe it has a bigger capacity, due to a more powerful motor, of 17 pounds. Next the whole tumbler is powder coated. The Model B from what I’ve seen doesn’t have the inside of the drum painted, and so it is prone to rusting. After that it also comes with knobs that are better than the wing nuts the Model B comes with.

    Another reason I’d recommend it for people looking to jump into the whole business is because there are certain websites that will sell you a kit to get started with everything but soap and brass, for around $200. Those same websites also tend to have coupons for $50 off that you can find with some careful poking around in the Internet.

    1. Author

      Hey Don, thanks for the input! The Thumler has a thick rubber liner on the inside of the drum, does the Rebel 17? Or is it just painted on the interior? Are you talking about underneath the liner?

      1. Yeah the Rebel 17 has the rubber liner as well. If it didn’t I’m sure the noise would be pretty unbearable. Underneath the liner though the Rebel 17 is actually powder coated, where as the Model B is not painted at all. This has caused people to have problems with rust. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

        http://reviews.cabelas.com/8815/865347/photo.jpg

        I was a bit incorrect on the price earlier. I did some looking on the place where I got it, the price for the kit is $280. I did some poking around on the internet and found a coupon code for $50 off. The kit includes 5 pounds of pins, lemishine, and a media separator. Anyways the Model B usually ballparks for around $190 for just the tumbler, and the Rebel 17 ballparks for $220. As far as I’m concerned the extra $30 is worth it for the improvements you get over the Model B.

  4. Author

    I will pull the liner and check whether they are painting the interior of the drum. I had seen the Rebel 17 but couldn’t find a good review of one explaining the price difference.

    Might have to look into one, maybe I can convince them to send one for review if folks are curious as to differences between the two options.

    Thanks for the information!

    1. I’d say it’s definitely worth looking into either way. It’s definitely worth trying to get a hold of them to test out the differences. Like I said my research had shown that the Model B had rust problems, and one point that I’d seen for the Rebel 17 was that the drum was completely powder coated. It could very well be that Thumler has fixed it since then. One way to possibly check without having to pull your liner would be to see if the drum is completely welded and doesn’t have any gaps.

      http://imageshack.us/a/img51/5504/8imx.jpg

      Apparently those are enough to allow some water to get in between the liner and the drum and cause rusting if it isn’t painted. As far as I know the only outfit that’s really selling the Rebel 17 is Stainless Tumbling Media. They also sell Model B’s and a 40 pound large tumbler as well that I’m pretty sure is aimed at businesses that remanufacture ammo. If you look on their site the page also talks about the differences between the Rebel 17 and the Model B.

      Anyways it would be nice if they’d send you one to review. I’d like to see what opinions you could form, and if it was worth the extra $30 spent.

      1. Author

        I will look into it. Both to see if Thumler has fixed any of the issues and if the Rebel 17 folks are interested in a review.

        I think I’m also going to throw the switch on site membership and a discussion forum. That way if you’re a registered user of the site I don’t have to manually approve your comments. We can also start threads for discussions like this.

        Thanks again for the information, gives me something to look for when I write up the Thumler review.

  5. It’s not a problem. I’m actually appreciating going through what you’ve posted so far because I’m learning quite a bit. I’m just starting to get into longer range shooting, but it’s a bit harder for me where I live. But I’ve been shooting in general and reloading for a while now and I’m always happy to talk turkey with people and figure out a way to do things better.

    1. Author

      Activating the forum/social features is going to take a little longer than I thought. I have to double check some security settings with the web hosting company first. Believe it or not this site has been attacked a couple of times since it’s been up. One of the settings is interfering with access to the part of the site that controls memberships and registration but I think it’s a redundant feature. I’ll double check it with the IT people over the next few days and try to get those features up and running later this week!

      1. Author

        Alright, step one is active, you can sign up for membership to the site now, I’ve got one or two bugs to fix before the forum goes live. Once registered as a user of the site posting comments is easier, you can also do private messages and such. Another couple days and I should have the rest of this up and active!

        1. Excellent. Signed up and ready to go. Since apparently I had to share my job, I’m pretty sure I’m probably going to have to share a bunch of pictures from it at some time. And I’ll probably back channel some stuff to you in private.

          1. Author

            I can change that if it makes you or other guys uncomfortable, just takes some tweaking on the Admin side, you might have trouble logging in till I fix a bug, I’ll email you with how to do it in the meantime!

  6. Author

    For anyone following the conversation regarding the Thumler drum, I looked under the rubber gasket liner you dump pins and brass into today. The entire drum is painted, including the inside beneath the rubber liner.

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