• Frankford Arsenal Platimum Series Rotary Tumbler

    I have to admit that as a shooter and hand loader one of my least favorite activities is cleaning cases. It's just one of those tedious jobs that we all hate but still have to do. Like most people, when I first started reloading I simply cleaned each case by hand. It was a slow, time consuming process but it got the job done and at the time I wasn't shooting/reloading nearly as many rounds as I do now so it was relatively effective and practical. As time went on and I started shooting/reloading more I realized that it was time to upgrade or streamline my process a bit to make it easier on me and save time in the process. I started researching the different processes - dry media tumbling, wet media tumbling, ultrasonic, etc. and found that each process had it's pros and cons. Dry tumbling means having to deal with dust and often times prying small bits of media out of the primer pockets. Wet tumbling requires a water source and a place to drain off. Ultrasonic cleaners are generally small limiting how many cases you can do at a time. In the end I opted to go with the wet tumbler option for a couple reasons I will discuss a bit later.

    I opted to go with the Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler mainly due to the fact that it was on sale and I preferred its tumbler drums simplier configuration compared to that of the Thumler's Tumbler drum. I also purchased a Frankford Arsenal's Quick-n-EZ Rotary Sifter Kit and Media Transfer Magnet at the same time to complete my new case cleaning kit. In the end I had just shy of $200 in the whole setup. The sifter kit and media transfer magnet are pretty self-explanatory and in my view don't require their own reviews, so we will just be focusing on the rotary tumbler and how well it cleans cases in this review.

    The F/A Rotary Tumbler consists of a motorized base platform, five pounds of stainless steel tumbling media, a 7-liter tumbling drum, screw-on drum caps, two rubber seals, and two styles of inserts for the caps - sifting screens or solid clear polycarbonate. The base platform houses the motor, timer switch, two drive wheels and two idler wheels; it is also available in either 110 and 220-volt depending on your needs/local. The drum is a thick polymer material that features a thick rubber lining to help protect your brass and reduce noise during the tumbling process. Unlike the drums used on most other brands, the Frankford Arsenal drum has removable caps on both ends for a flow-through design which is a very nice feature when rinsing and separating the media.

    Rather than spend several paragraphs outlining the process of using the rotary tumbler I'm just going to include the brief video below from Frankford Arsenal which covers it from start to finish.

    You might have noticed above that I didn't buy any type of cleaning solution when I purchased everything else. This is because I planned on using a much cheaper home-brew option - Dawn dish soap and Lemon Shine dishwasher additive.

    For testing I did two different batches of brass. The first batch consisted of roughly 450 pieces of 22-250 Ackley Improved brass that had been loaded/fired 2-3 times without any cleaning other than to just wipe down the exterior of the cases. As such the inside of the cases and the primer pockets were pretty much filthy and crusty as you'd expect. After dumping the brass and stainless media into the tub and filling it with water as outlined in the instructions I added two tablespoons of Dawn dish soap (I hadn't purchased the Lemon Shine at this point). I then tumbled this batch for one and a half hours.

    The results were very good, but not perfect on this first batch and I attribute that to three things: 1) how dirty the cases were to start after multiple firings; 2) only tumbling them for 1.5 hours; and 3) not having the Lemon Shine in this batch.

    As you can see in the following photo's the cases cleaned up very well other than some cases still having some more stubborn residue still lingering in the primer pockets. The inside and outside of the cases are nicely cleaned, but without the Lemon Shine they have a somewhat dull, unpolished appearance. It's purely cosmetic and doesn't really bother me, but I know some prefer their brass to have that brilliant shine which is where the Lemon Shine comes into play.

    You will also notice some water spots in the primer pockets as I didn't dry these in the oven like many folks who wet tumble or use an ultrasonic cleaner do. Again, I'm not that anal about how my brass looks so a few water spots here and there really don't bother me at all. As such all I did was placed the brass upside down in my plastic loading trays so any residual moisture inside the case could drain out during the air-drying process. I may make up some sort of dedicated drying rack that's oven friendly in the future, but right now it's just not that big of an issue for me.

    The second batch I ran was a hodge-podge of pretty much everything else i had on hand. There was .38 Special, .357 Mag, .40S&W, .222 Remington, .250 Savage, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and probably a few others I'm forgetting. To the best of my knowledge all of this brass was once fired so it wasn't nearly as caked up as the brass from the first batch was. The process was the same for this batch as the last other than I ran it for a full three hours and added one tablespoon of powdered dishwasher detergent. The dishwasher detergent was only added to see if it helped any with the water spots as it had an anti-spotting agent in it and I still hadn't made it out to pick up some Lemon Shine.

    As the photo's show the longer tumbling time did a much more thorough job on getting all the primer pockets clean. There were still a few that had some minimal residue in them, but they were few and far between. The dishwasher detergent didn't help any with the water spots in the primer pockets, but again that's a purely cosmetic thing. Like the first batch the inside and outside of the cases are thoroughly cleaned and have a nice satin sheen to them.

    Overall I'm very pleased with how well the wet tumbling works with the stainless steel media and am glad I went this route over a dry tumbler. As for whether it's better/faster than ultrasonic cleaning I can't say, but I can say you wouldn't have the hassle of separating the media with an ultrasonic setup. Like I said in the beginning, each system has it's pros and cons.

    Getting back to the equipment itself, there are two key features that are unique to the Frankford Arsenal unit that really set it apart from the rest in my opinion. The first is the use of a timer switch on the unit rather than your typical on/off switch. This is great because you don't need to make a note of when you started it, set a separate timer or remember to go back and turn it off after so long, you just turn it to the duration you want it to run and forget about it. The second feature is the included sifting screens for the drum as they allow you to do a few things you really can't do with other rortary tumblers.

    First, you can wet rinse the brass and media right in the drum multiple times. Simply replace one end cap with a screen and pour out the water/media into your bucket. Then refill the drum with clean water and again dump it into the bucket. You can repeat this process as many times as you feel necessary to get a good rinse of your brass and media - just dump excess water from the bucket as necessary while being careful not to dump any of the stainless steel media with it.

    Second, once you have done the above you can put the sifting screens in both ends and do a flow-through rinsing of the drum and your brass as well. This helps to get rid of any suds and residual gunk that manages to cling to the inner walls when you poured before. Just set the drum inside your bucket and with a hose or faucet rinse from the top.

    Last but not least, once you have finished all your tumbling and thoroughly rinsed out the inside of the tub you can store it with the screens in place to allow air to circulate and prevent any chances of residual moisture leading to mildew problems inside the drum.

    That said, the whole sorting/rinsing/reclaiming of the media process is a bit tedious - almost as tedious as having to check each and every primer pocket for stuck media when dry tumbling. After separating all of the media from the brass, you then need to drain off any remaining water (as much as possible) and then use the media transfer magnet to reclaim it. Since you can't get all the water drained out of the bucket without possibly loosing some media, I would transfer the media to a towel spread out on my workbench so I could spread it out and allow it to dry. However, this then requires using the magnet to pick it up a second time to transfer it to a Tupperware container. Since the magnet can only pick up so much at a time it tends to take awhile. I have a possible solution in mind that will greatly speed up the process in the future, but I'll safe that for a later update after I find out if it works as well as I think it should.

    Build quality of both the motorized base and the drum seem to be top notch and I can't see either causing any problems in the foreseeable future. You will likely loose a little media each time you do a run, but that's to be expected and if you're careful it's less than 1% so it will be a good while before you need to purchase any additional media. And that has to be one of the biggest benefits of this system in that you don't have to regularly change out your media like you do in a dry tumbling setup. The stainless steel pins will last a lifetime, and even if by some fluke they start to rust, that thin layer will be removed the next time you run it through the tumbler. There's also really no need to buy any special cleaning solution or formula as common household cleaning products will get the job done - another big money saver.

    So if you're in need of a way to clean your spent cases or you're just looking for a faster/cheaper/cleaner way to clean than dry tumbling I would definitely recommend giving wet tumbling with stainless steel media a try.

    UPDATE: After extended use on various sizes of brass I have found that the stainless steel pins are just the right length to get lodged in the thicker webbed area of some .223 sized cases blocking the firing pin hole. So if/when cleaning .223 sized brass (17 Rem, 222 Rem, etc) keep an eye out as it can and will wreck a decapping pin if you miss a stuck pin.

    Additional Photos:

    Contact Information
    Battenfeld Technologies
    2501 Lemone Industrial Blvd.
    Columbia, MO 65201
    (573) 445-9200

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. gruising's Avatar
      gruising -
      Hi, I have been using stainless steel pins for about two years to clean my brass. I reload for several people so I have a lot of brass. Over the years I have used about every way there is to clean my brass. At this time I have a walnut shell/rouge tumbler, a two gallon ultrasonic cleaner and two different pin tumblers. Hands down, the pins are the best. The ultrasonic works too good and the brass will tarnish almost as fast as you can dry it. First thing I learned with the pins is to do a pre-wash with a bit of dish soap in a bucket to remove most of the sizing lube, otherwise it is transferred to the pins. I just use warm water and Dawn and hand stir them then rinse. Into my home made tumbler with a very small amount of Hornady "one shot" cleaner. I do mean a small amount. I use one teaspoon to 200 or 300, .308 cases. This keeps the foaming down. I will tumble them for three or four hours and they are better than new. My biggest problem has been separating the brass and pins without spilling pins everywhere. At this time I dump them in a 1/4" wire mesh basket in a kitty litter tray with water in it and shake it a bit to leave the pins in the tray. It would seem to me that the Frankford unit has solved that for the most part with the strainer end caps and a bucket. Use cold water to prevent tarnish and air dry on a large towel. Heated drying is faster but will tarnish the cases. I just use a small fan and they are dry in a couple of hours. Gary
    1. J.Baker's Avatar
      J.Baker -
      I've actually been looking for a wire mesh strainer that's big enough to fit a 5-gallon bucket so I can just dump the water/media over and separate the media in one quick/easy step. Worst case scenario I'll have to throw something together using screen door wire mesh.
    1. michaelnel's Avatar
      michaelnel -
      If I didn't already have a Thumler's Tumbler, I would buy one of these in a heartbeat. Looks like a way superior design at greatly reduced cost. The TT is truly an example of backyard engineering. It works, but it's crude and nasty and difficult to deal with.
    1. 35Whelenshooter's Avatar
      35Whelenshooter -
      I have been looking at using one of the fine screen vegetable strainers to separate the pins. I think that I found it at Wal-Mart in the cooking section, the mess that is used in it is very fine, like screen door screen. Mr. J.Baker just an idea that I have, have not tried my new tumbler yet.
    1. sparky123321's Avatar
      sparky123321 -
      Just fill your RBCS or Dillon media separator with water and spin the brass submerged in the water. This method removes 99.999% of the pins and helps to rinse the brass. I normally dump and refill with clean water 3 or 4 times and I'm good to go. Fully rinsed and all the pins are out of the cases, even smaller cases like .17's. In warmer weather I just put the garden hose in the separator and let it run while I spin the brass.