Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler
Having been into reloading for about 7 years now, I’ve had my fair share of frustrations in the amount of time it takes to prep my brass for reloading. Time gets soaked up in lots of different stages, namely the resizing and trimming stages. Most reloaders dont consider the cleaning stage to be one of the stages that takes a lot of time, but if you want clean brass, it does take time. I was one of the typical reloaders who just used a vibratory tumbler for cleaning the brass; carbon and case lube. The problems I experienced in this is that the walnut media 1) Is messy and dusty, 2) Wears out quickly, and 3) Doesn’t clean the brass very well. I certainly doesn’t clean the primer pockets, nor the inside of the cases. And when it’s done tumbling, you have to check each piece of brass for plugged primer pockets…..which is time consuming.
In comes the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler, a relatively new approach to brass prep. It uses water and steel pins for media, and rotates sideways. It consists of two main components: The barrel, and the motor/base. The barrel is pretty big and holds quite a bit of brass. It comes with 5lb of stainless steel media and two packets of blue soap mixture for brass shine (This can be substituted with Lemonshine or other brass cleaning agent, OR nothing at all: It is not necessary to use in order to clean, only to shine). The tumbler is timer set, anywhere from 0-180 minutes. It will auto-turn off when finished.
Setup is pretty easy. Unpackaging the box has the main components and nothing to install. The barrel is lined with about 1/4″ of a rubber liner that is tightly adhered to the plastic.
Simply de-prime and re-size your brass and toss it into the barrel. I fit about 400 5.56 pieces in there with the full 5 lbs of SS media in there and there was definitely extra room: I wanted the brass to be able to roll around and not be packed in there too tightly, so I didnt go beyond 400. Frankford Arsenal claims you can fit 1000 5.56 pieces of brass at one time, but that seems a bit excessive to me. Not saying it cant hold that much, just that maybe it wont clean as well without a little wiggle room. Anyway, once all the brass is in there, add the media and your cleaning agent of choice. And finally, fill the barrel up the top angle and screw the top on tight. Put the barrel on the base, then twist the timer to the amount you want (I always go 3 hours), and watch it spin. You now have some time to kill.
Once finished, the brass will come out nice and shiny, as if brand new. The primer pockets are mostly cleaned up, but not perfect. As well, the SS media is able to clean out the inside of the cases too. But here’s the rub: As well as this system of cleaning works, it’s not without some caveats. It takes MUCH more time in making sure all of the media is gone from the inside of the brass. Without some sort of media separator, it takes FOREVER dunking each piece of brass into a bucket of water so the media will slide out and so you wont lose it. I did it twice and was resolved that if this was the way it would be each time, the cleaner brass is NOT worth the time involved in getting the SS media out of the brass. Fortunately there is a good solution: You can opt to get an off-brand media separator like this:
Or, you can get the Frankford Arsenal media separator…..either way works. Pour in the brass and media into the media bucket, and then you fill the media catching bucket up with water so that it covers the brass strainer about 1/3rd of the way up. Then close the lid and crank the handle so that the water from the lower bucket washes and catches all of the SS pins from the brass. It probably wont be perfect, but at least you will get close to extracting all of the media from the brass. Once the brass and media are separated, open it up and pour the brass onto a towel and rub them as dry as possible with a towel. From here, you can opt to use a hair dryer, or just air dry them (preferably in a warm and/or sunny environment). I would not try to reload these until you are 110% sure that there is no more water in the cases….I’d wait 1 full day at a minimum; 2 days would be better. The last thing you want is wet powder in your cases!
One other caveat, just so you are informed: This thing is LOUD. You will NOT want this in the house, but in the garage. The gears that make this thing roll are grindingly abrasive. It is probably 1.5x to 2x louder than a standard vibratory tumbler. If you’re concerned about noise, possibly because you live in an apartment….this tumbler might not be for you.
Depending on the size of the cases, I have experienced some of the media getting stuck in some manner….either sideways in the case neck (.308/30-06) or in the 5.56 small primer pocket holes, which need to be punched out. This doesnt happen nearly as often with SS media, but it does happen. And I’d much rather check than shoot out some SS media through my barrel. Another thing I should mention is that similar to vibratory tumblers, the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler does NOT like mixed brass of different calibers: You will get necks and pins sticking with each other and not getting cleaned. Stick with one caliber and stick with that for every individual batch of brass.
Overall, I believe that when combined with a media separator, the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler is a pretty good solution that effectively cleans cases. It’s a good feeling to see your work has paid off when the cases come out shiny and new….makes you feel like you actually did something! Here’s a comparison just for kicks: The brass on the left came from a vibratory tumbler, and the brass on the right came from the rotary tumbler. Big difference!
In the end, does it make a difference in performance? Some might argue residue in the case can affect performance, but I have not seen any detriment to shooting ability due to dirty cases. What it does do is get rid of the dusty part of cleaning cases, frequently replacing media, and tumbling for hours on end. And it gives you brand new looking cases. However, without a media separator, I dont think I would recommend this to anyone except low volume reloaders…..it simply takes too long to separate by hand. With the separator, I am happy with my purchase and would do it again…..only wish I had done it sooner. Time-wise, it’s really a net zero compared to a standard vib when combined with a media separator, but the results are far, far better. One other item that may be of use to you is a good magnet….they really make it easy to pick up these little media pieces that inevitably fall on the ground or get in cracks. Frankford Arsenal makes one specifically for this purpose and would make a good utility for this process.