Case Cleaning/Tumbling using Ceramic Bead Media:

Ceramic Bead Vibratory Cleaning of Brass Cartridge Cases - Jim Betush

Process Photos

Process Instructions

 Step 1:  De-prime cases.

       If black powder was used as a propellant, the cases should be rinsed under running water first to remove most of the loose deposits.  If possible, de-prime the cases at the range and place them into a wide-mouth plastic jug half-filled with water and a squirt or two of dishwashing detergent.  At home, use a garden hose to rinse the cases in this same container, all the while gently agitating them.  When the rinse water runs clear, drain and place the cases into the tumbler bowl along with the media charge and liquid burnishing compound.  

Step two:  Place cases, media, and liquid burnishing compound in the vibratory tumbler.

       Media:  The media in this kit is a very hard fine-grained low-porosity 3mm-diameter white ceramic porcelain burnishing media.   The media charge in a 6-quart capacity Thumbler’s Ultra-Vibe 18 tumbler weighs approx 12#.  A larger tumbler will require a correspondingly larger media charge.  Some of the less expensive vibratory tumblers on the market will not have sufficient horsepower to work with the heavier mass of the ceramic media load.  For best results, the tumbler bowl should be at least 75% full.    The ceramic media will last through several years of weekly use.  Use just enough liquid burnishing compound to keep the media wet.    

       Note on Burnishing Compound:  The kit includes 2 1/4 pounds of Strat-O-Sheen Burnishing Compound.  This equates to 10 dry and level ˝ cup measuring cups worth, and will make up 10 gallons of case burnishing compound.  It is a yellowish soap powder concentrate, p/n 339-017/5, from Rio Grande Supply, a jewellerly making supply outfit in Albuquerque, NM.    ˝ cup (dry measure) is mixed into 1 gallon of water. Put the water in jug before adding powder to avoid sudsing!    The Strat-O-Sheen Burnishing Compound is soap-based, non-acidic, safe to handle, and disposes the same as any regular soap household product (down the drain).   It serves as a surfactant and wetting agent, and it also contains an anti-tarnish additive that helps to keep the brass shiny a lot longer.  While you may choose to use another liquid compound of your own choice, the usage of some type of wet additive is an absolute requirement for keeping the media clean.  DO NOT RUN CERAMIC MEDIA DRY!    I recommend discarding the liquid compound after each use.

Step 3:  Run the vibratory tumbler until the desired level of cleanliness is obtained.

        About 2 to 4 hours of un-attended running time is usually sufficient, although slightly longer cycle times will not harm the brass cases.  Cycle time will depend somewhat on the amplitude force applied by the individual vibratory tumbler.   Some vibratory tumblers are more “aggressive” than others, due to motor speed, horsepower, offset shaft weight, suspension dampening design, etc.   When the vibratory tumbler is in operation with ceramic, the media and brass will be doing a relatively slow and gentle rotation around the tumbler bowl, not the familiar quick rolling action of the lighter weight corncob or walnut shell media generally used for dry-cycle case polishing.   I recommend the use of an appliance timer to control the total amount of process time per batch.   

Step 4:  Empty brass cases and media charge into a separator screen/bucket.

        I use a Rio Grande Supply 16” diameter separating screen with 3/8” hole spacing and mating poly bucket to separate the media from the cleaned brass, but any good screening system will work.  In any case, treat the cases gently, especially if you do not size them between firings, to avoid damaged case mouths.  After separation, the brass is carefully placed back into the same plastic jug used at the range, and immersion-rinsed with the garden hose until the rinse water runs clear.  Drain the rinse water and spread the cases out on an old cotton bath towel to air-dry.  To avoid water spotting on the dried cases, gently hand roll them over the 100% cotton bath towel to remove any external drops of water, and then move them down to a dry section of towel for final air drying.  Here in AZ., we can just leave them outside in the sun for a few hours.   Inspect the primer pockets to insure that no media bridging has occurred.   Remove any media stuck in the primer pocket by gently prying with a small screwdriver.  Discard the removed media.   The media charge in the bucket must then be well rinsed.   The Rio Grande Supply screening system screens fit down into the bucket, making for easy rinse water decanting.  A little wetness left over in the rinsed media charge is not a problem as long as the media is clean.  I store the rinsed media in the separator bucket with the screen on top as a lid until next needed.

 Jim Betush, 07/14/04