If you’re already a reloader, then this post probably won’t tell you anything, but if you’re considering reloading then this is a topic you will need to become familiar with.
Unless you buy shell casings that are new, (which is unlikely if your reloading either to save money or to become more ammunition self reliant) then your going to have to clean the residue from the burnt powder as well as the dirt and grime they received on the ground before you reload them. If you don’t then not only may you have a dirt clod or other foreign object stuck inside the casing (which most likely would cause an explosion upon firing). More likely would be that grit on the outside of the casing would damage your expensive reloading dies or the chamber of you firearm.
The process of how to clean shell casings is simple, but it’s not something to rush.
How to clean shell cases:
- Sort out your brass by size and type.
- if you do this after you clean you may have small cases nest inside of larger cases and if bits of cleaning media get involved the cases can wedge together. (that why we did the shell sorter review first – to emphasis sort before clean).
- Put brass in a vibratory tumbler (think big rock tumbler).
- Add media
- Add cleaner chemicals if desired (I don’t)
- Make sure it’s formulated for cleaning brass, ammonia based chemicals weaken brass cases.
- Tumble the brass until its clean
- This can take hours depending on dirtiness of the casings, cleanliness of the media, and the capacity of the tumbler.
- Once the brass is cleaned to your satisfaction you need to separate the media from the casings.
THIS MAKES A MESS IF YOUR NOT CAREFUL
All sorts of commercial devices are sold to help so this, but for the first couple years I used a big bowl and a colander – Just make sure never to use this for anything else as it will be contaminated with lead.
I now use my shell sorters since the are designed to let everything smaller than the shell casing fall outside of the sorter.
Once this is done, you can lube your cases and begin the reloading process
Types of Media:
There are many types of media used to clean shell cases, and it can get pretty expensive. Personally I use walnut hulls that were ground up for use as sandblasting media because I got a BIG bag pretty cheap at a local cheap tool place.
Corn cob is probably the most common media. It is less aggressive than walnut media (meaning it takes longer to clean). But it most think it gives a better shine.
Corn cob material is available from reloading supply outlets. Additionally, it also may be available from pet supply dealers who market it as bedding. Just make sure it is ground pretty fine as the large particles can not only get stuck in the cases, but don’t clean as well.
The corn cob material can be reused a few times before it becomes too dirty to be effective.
Walnut hulls work in a manner very similar to corn cob. The organic materials rub against the brass during the tumbling process and clean residue from the exterior of the brass shell casing.
Some people use both either as a mix 50/50 corn/walnut, or clean with walnut and then polish with corncob. I like nice shiny cases, but since I like it simple, fast, and cheap – I normally just go with one or the other depending on the easiest media to get.
The walnut hulls can be reused a few times.
If you search on the various reloading forums you will find lots of opinions about cleaning of your brass. Some swear by the use of additives like Flitz polish, NuFinish, or Turtle wax. Just be careful of things like Brasso. The ammonia can weaken the case so that it cracks easier.