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Cartridge Case Cleaning

If you are getting ready to enter the world of reloading, you need something to clean your cartridge cases prior to loading them.  Granted, if you purchase new brass for everything and never recycle it, you don't have to worry about this step.  However, reloading provides you the ability to reuse your brass, which is an expensive component in an assembled cartridge.  Doing so reduces the cost of your reloads significantly.  Yes, you still have to purchase new primers and powder....and you'll need to either purchase or cast your bullets.....but it does reduce the cost of reloading.

Reloading dirty brass is....well, it just isn't right.  I take pride in both the accuracy and the appearance of my reloads.  Pulling a box of reloads out of your range bag that looks like rejects from WWI just doesn't work for me.  Also, running dirty brass through your resizing die won't help it at all and could scratch the resizing surfaces.  A scratched die can then scratch each and every piece of brass that passes through it. 

When I started reloading some 30 years ago, I used what everyone else used back then, a Tom Thumbler rotary rock tumbler.  It had a hexagonal shaped barrel (with circular rings welded onto the ends) with a removable lid.  Brass and crushed walnut shells (with a bit of polishing compound) when into the tumbler, you turned it on, and several hours later your brass was clean (albeit with a red tint from the polishing rouge).  To reduce the noise, the barrel had a rubber liner that did deaden the clinking brass sound a fair amount.  

With the recent purchase of some new reloading equipment, I opted to upgrade my brass case cleaning equipment too.  I stopped by Dillon Precision and picked up their CV-500 Vibratory Cleaner (as they call it).


Unlike my old rotary tumbler, the CV-500 doesn't roll the brass round and round through the cleaning media.  Instead, it sits there and vibrates.  The power cord has an inline switch to turn the electrical motor on and off .  The motor is mounted in the base of the unit.  The base has rubber feet on it to prevent it from "walking" around.  I have a small piece of plywood I set mine on when using it.  This helps the air circulation since the openings are right at the bottom of the base. 


The CV-500 also has a big brother, the CV-2001.  Essentially, the capacity of the larger unit is between 2 and 4 times that of the CV-500....depending on the type of cartridge being cleaned. 

To clean your brass, first fill the bowl about 2/3 full of cleaning media.  Do NOT add the brass yet.  The two most common medias are ground corn cop and ground walnut shells.  The later is recommended for really dirty cartridges while the corn cob is used for lighter cleaning or final polish (if walnut shells were used initially).  I've been using the corn cob media with good results.

With a fresh batch of corn cob media in the bowl, add a couple of capfulls of Dillon's Rapid Polish 290.  I didn't use it initially and quickly found my cleaning time was greatly increased and the finish on the brass wasn't as good.  I've heard of some folks using a similarly small amount of automobile polish.  Never tried that one myself. 

With the polish added, turn on the power and let the unit run for several minutes to absorb and distribute the polish, then just add the brass.  You won't need more of the 290 polish until you have "used" the media and replace it with new.

The photo above shows some .30-06 brass ready for cleaning.  It was in a box that has been sitting on a garage shelf for the past couple of decades. 


After about 90 minutes in the CV-500 cleaner, this is what those same .30-06 cases looked like.  The vibration cleaning makes for notably shorter cleaning time when compared to the old rotary tumbler method.  I can go through quite a few batches of brass in a day using the Dillon cleaner.

When the media changes to a dark gray color (and it will), it is time to replace it.  Before putting new media in the cleaner, wipe down the bowl with a damp soapy rag.  (Do not pour liquid into the bowl)  When the bowl is a nice blue color again, add new media, some 290 polishing juice, and you are ready to get started again.


So now that you have all that media inside of your cases, how do you remove it?  Easy.....use the CM-500 Case/Media Separator.  I picked this up at the same time I got the cleaner.  After your brass is clean, just pour the entire contents into the plastic bingo cage, close the top, and crank the separator a dozen times or so.  The cases tumble around and dump the media which falls out of the slots in the bingo cage.  The big blue tub is supplied with the separator which makes it super easy.  Pour the slightly used media back into the cleaner and you are ready for the next batch.

The CM-500 separator also has a big brother to go with the CV-2001 cleaner.  Each of the separators will handle a full load of brass from their corresponding cleaner. 

I've found the smaller cleaner to satisfy my needs just fine.  Even though I had a pretty good supply of once fired brass (kept since my time in the Navy) that needed some attention, I didn't see a problem doing a few extra loads because of the smaller capacity.  I couldn't justify the price difference between the large and small cleaners (and separators) when I looked at my anticipated use.  If I were collecting range brass and cleaning it before selling it, I would certainly have opted for the larger setup....in that case, time is money.

Well, there you have it.  It doesn't get much easier than that.  A number of companies have vibratory cleaners on the market.  I did some research on the net before making my decision as to which one to purchase.  One prominent reloading company seems to have changed brass cleaner manufacturers and their cleaners have been going belly up in short order.  Do your homework and don't get a crappy unit.  A few hours of research can pay big dividends in the end.

Updated:  01/01/2013

I've been using the Dillon vibratory cleaner for several years and it continues to do well.  I've had zero problems with it and look forward to many more years of use. 

I've picked up a couple of tips along the way and will share them with you.

1.  Keep those throw away dryer sheets that accumulate in the waste basket in the laundry room.  Cut the sheets into quarters and include several pieces (4 to 6) in the cleaner when you do a load of brass.  You'll find a lot of dirt/contaminates are trapped in the material.  Discard them after each load of brass. 

2.  Some of the residue from the spent primers contain materials you do not wish to inhale.  Additionally, there can be small particles of lead, especially if shooting cast bullets or FMJ bullets with an exposed base.  Using the above mentioned dryer sheets helps reduce the dust buildup in the cleaning media.  Regardless, don't breath any of the dust.  I've read where some folks perform their cleaning on the back porch or some other outdoor area to reduce any particulates from getting into the reloading room.  Obviously, it never hurts to be careful.





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