Wet Stainless Steel Media Reference Set

Here is a sampling from the first batch, all “many times fired” shells, tumbled according to the vendor’s recipe.

As you can see, even down in the primer pockets, they are (almost) spotless. When I first pulled them out after cleaning, I honestly thought they looked better than new!

But there are some downsides.

  • Using the recommended quantity of stainless steel media and water, you can only do about 125 45 ACP shells at a time.
  • And a “batch” takes four hours in the tumbler plus separation and drying.
  • And separation of brass and stainless steel media requires some care and attention especially if you’re doing it near the kitchen garbage disposer.

The dry process, which I’ve been using up until this time, uses a vibratory cleaning machine with crushed walnut shells. It can do several times as many shells in half the time stated above. They’re clean enough but dusty.

And as my fellow shooters at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club commented this past Sunday when I was showing off the super-clean brass, it probably doesn’t shoot any better.

So, why bother?

My reason is dust control, for both equipment longevity and health.

In the dry process, the final “dust” that clings to the shells includes both carbon, a few fine bits of super-crunched walnut shell and a tiny amount of lead, coming mostly from the primer, not the bullet.

If the walnut shell bits make it back into the reloading machine, they are going to be hard on reloading dies to say nothing of the machine itself. So I started using the garden hose to rinse off most of that dust before reloading.

But there’s also a health concern, and not with just the lead.

In the separation step, that same carbon and lead dust comes off in a very nasty cloud that, while I’m careful to not inhale much, I dare say I’m getting a little every now and then. After tumbling the brass in the separator, it’s certainly on my clothes, face and hands and, if it’s there, it’s going to get inside my lungs and stomach.

How unhealthy is it? Well, it depends on how much you get. Less is better, of course, so I’m always careful to wash my hands (and face) after separating the brass, and my clothes go into the dirty clothes hamper. But that cloud of dust thrown out during separation doesn’t just blow away instantly. Some of it is bound to linger and get inhaled even if you are a couple of feet away.

That carbon, walnut shell and lead dust are not good for your lungs.

The wet (stainless steel) process captures much, much more of this detritus and sends it down the drain. While I still need to wash my hands and clean out the sink as well as the tumbler when the wet process is done, I’m quite sure my lead intake is significantly lower.

So, here’s my goal: Modify the wet stainless steel media process so that a 2700’s worth of shells can be cleaned in two hours. And while the result doesn’t have to be as spectacular as what you see here, it does need to be as good or better than what the dry vibration method provides.

Healthier and less dusty.

But I have to admit, shiney is also really nice!

This first set of shells from which these pictures were taken is my “reference set.” They’re as clean as the wet stainless steel media process can possibly make them.

In a word, they are spectacular!

Indeed, even looking carefully into the primer pockets as you can see here, I only detected a very small number of shells with any residual dirt. This piece of Remington brass shows a small amount of residue deep in the primer pocket. The fact that the wet stainless steel method got *almost* all of it, well, that’s amazing.

So, if I can wet-clean 200+ pieces in two hours and have them come out better than the dry process, I’ll have a winner.

They don’t have to be spectacular. (But I suspect they will be!)

FYI: I bought an extra tool head for my Dillon 650 and put in a Lee Universal Decapping (de-priming) die in position #1 but no other dies. With the brass feeder going full tilt, I can de-prime about 45 shells a minute. Therefore, depriming after a 2700 will add 4-5 minutes to the cleaning process. But, based on my tests with dusty brass and the garden hose with and without depriming, such treatment will substantially improve the drying time.


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