Welcome everyone to the TFB Armorer’s Bench! As mentioned in the little blurb, this series will focus on a lot of home armorer and gunsmith activities. In this article sponsored by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal, I decided to give the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite a whirl since the weather here in Minnesota has turned to springtime and long periods out in the shop will not be a grueling as they could be in the winter. I have been excited to try out the Rotary Tumbler Lite for some time now and I had some .30 Carbine brass on hand that needed a shine. So that being said, let’s dive right into using the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite!
TFB Armorer’s Bench: Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite
Welcome to our recurring series of Armorer’s Bench which is made possible and brought to you by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal who are our sponsors. Here, we at TFB hope to inform, entertain, and even inspire any would-be gunsmith or armorer out there. Ideally, with the information I provide and with the help of our sponsors, you can have some useful knowledge pertaining to the conservation and improvement of firearms technology while at the same time sharing experiences and teaching each other new tips and tricks along the way in the comments. Digging deep into what it is to be an armorer or gunsmith has significance but what is important is what those people do to show they’ve earned that title. I am happy to share my experiences and knowledge and hope it is informative!
Make your personal safety a priority:
- Practice proper gun safety. Always make sure before the firearm hits your bench that it is unloaded and safe to be handled.
- Wear the proper safety equipment. The main one would be safety glasses (decent ones) since parts are often under spring tension and you may work with high RPM tools. Other honorable mentions would be latex gloves or a respirator when working with potentially harmful solvents and oils. Also hearing protection when working with loud machinery or test-firing firearms.
- Modifications, alterations, and customizations will void your firearm’s warranty 9.5 times out of 10. Please take that into consideration before attempting any at-home gunsmithing.
- If you are unsure about proper safety practices, disassembly procedures, or warranty standards, stop, put down the tools, and consult a competent gunsmith.
My Intentions: Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite
My intentions behind wanting to work with a rotary wet tumbler are threefold. One, I like the idea of never really having to replace the media or worry about it wearing out. Two, I wanted to see how much a different the process is to dry tumbling. Three, after getting the hang of it, I want to see how well it will clean rimfire suppressor baffles versus say cleaning by hand or using an ultrasonic cleaner. With any good intentions such as these, I always highly recommend reading the manual. Wet tumbling has a big following (after getting the hang of it) for good reason. There are all sorts of hacks and quality of life accessories and tools out there dedicated to wet tumbling. I put my foot in the rabbit hole and ended up falling in.
Troubles in Wet Tumble Town: Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite
I wanted to start with this to get some things out of the way. I am new to wet tumblers. My knowledge is mainly from reading the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler Lite manual, browsing their website, and also a whole host of online sources from people who have more experience in this than me. Starting off the manual is vague but seemingly for a good reason. It explains perfectly the sequence of events as they should happen and how to achieve them BUT! the manual only mentions (understandably so) Frankford Arsenal products. That being said, if you do not have any accompanying solutions or accessories, you basically end up on your own and things may be harder than they should be. Having this in mind and only having the rotary tumbler, media separator, and 5lbs of magnetic stainless steel pins, I quickly went online and ordered Frankford Arsenal’s Brass Cleaning Solution (which is mentioned in the manual) off of Amazon hoping that it would get shipped to me faster and it did. Except my order was messed up and I was sent Frankford Arsenal’s Quick-N-EZ Brass Polish.
So, that is obviously not the same thing and my initial thought was “oh well this is for dry media tumbling and I already have something similar so I’ll return it”…and then I decided to double-check Frankford Arsenal’s website and the description did not mention anything regarding dry or wet (it does say vibratory so still leaning to dry). Still had my doubts and planned to send it back. After that, I looked at the Q&A portion of that webpage and was surprised to see people talking about using it in the wet tumblers with good results. Long story short, I decided to give it a shot thinking, worst-case my brass would not be very shiny. Little did I know it was going to be a major headache.
After following the manual up until the final long period polishing process, I added approximately two teaspoons of the Brass Polish and a little dish soap and tumbled for two hours. The result? A tacky dark gray thin layered sludge was stuck to all the cases. I could barely push it off with my finger. It was as if a sticker had been removed and the adhesive was still there. It was a nightmare and I apologize for not taking pictures beyond this tumbler of the stuff.
The end solution? I ended up having to spray all the cases with penetrating oil (this was the only thing that remotely washed off the sludge) and wiped 266 cases clean one by one. The tumbler and pins were also both coated and I let those also soak in some of the same penetrating oil and degreased a lot of stuff after the fact. After that, I did some reading and bought some automotive degreaser, Lemishine, and some dish soap since this was all time-sensitive and I wanted to properly give the tumbler its go.
The moral of this little nightmare is I am new to this and this was bad luck and user error partnered with wishful thinking. I would go as far as to say that the brass polish should not be used in wet tumblers but that is my own experience. I highly recommend getting Frankford Arsenal’s Brass Cleaning Solution along with all of the accessories for their wet tumblers because working with the tiny steel pins can get inconvenient and overwhelming without the help of those products. I will make sure to mention them below.
Using the Frankford Rotary Tumbler Lite
Note: Both tumbling times, amount of stainless steel media, and solution amounts may vary depending on the amount or weight of brass cases. The manual for this tumbler recommends 150 pieces at a time of any given brass or a max of 300 pieces of 223 Remington depending on where you read. I believe the actual “max” is 15 pounds of the material total.
Staring out the manual for the Rotary Tumbler Lite recommends cleaning your brass in two separate proceeders. The first procedure is simply once fired brass be put into the tumbler with water (all other instructions recommend filling to the bottom of the mouth of the container so I did that) and tumble it in order to release any dirt, carbon, unspent powder or other various debris from the brass to ideally extend the lifespan of both the brass and your reloading dies. After that you should dry your brass as best you can (I recommend letting it fully dry so it does not introduce water to your dies).
Once your brass is dry it can be decapped and sized. This process usually leaves case lube on the brass so they are recommended to be cleaned once more in the same “cleaning” process as before. They do mention the introduction of steel pins to be helpful in cleaning primer pockets.
Note: If you want to be more thorough you can add a splash of degreaser (like an automotive degreaser) to the water to better strip away any contaminants. I used 1/2 cup of automotive degreaser and let the tumbler go for 10 minutes. I have heard that if left in longer, the degreaser will start to change the hue of the brass to a rosier color. Make sure to rinse out the tumbler, pins, and brass after the fact.
After your brass is cleaned, deprimed, sized, and degreased, we can move on to the most fun step of all. Here we add our brass (in this case 266 pieces of .30 Carbine…after the first initial tumbling I realized that the nickel-plated looking ones were in fact Korean War-era steel cases so do not plan on reloading those) to the empty tumbler along with five-pound of the magnetic stainless steel pins. From there the drum is filled to the bottom of the mouth. Here we are supposed to add two cap fulls of the Frankford Arsenal Brass Cleaner (they also sell pods of cleaner). In the manual, it specifically states to only use their brass cleaner to prevent damage to the drum, caps, or gasket. That being said it was my choice to use a substitute given the short notice and the heavy use in wet tumbling circles. In lieu of the Brass Cleaner, I used three teaspoons of Dawn dish soap and 1/4 teaspoon of Lemishine. From there I let the tumbler tumble for two hours.
I apologize for the quality of the GIF.
After two hours, you are ideally approaching the finish line. Some sort of basin should be on hand to place in a bathtub, sink, shower, etc in order to drain the dirty soapy water, catch any brass or media, and also be able to rinse everything off. I used the Frankford Arsenal Media Separator and a hockey puck-sized magnet to help with cleanup and separation.
I used a rag covering the magnet to aid in prying off the pins.
With everything rinsed off, I left it all out to dry outside on a towel. Frankford Arsenal also sells a drying unit. It all looked great I might add, even the steel cases that I have considered making dummy rounds out of or just throwing away.
Conclusion: Using the Frankford Rotary Tumbler Lite
Having gone through the learning lesson with the initial difficulties and misunderstandings, I have decided that the Rotary Tumbler Lite is still worthwhile. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was looking for the most affordable setup but if you have the extra cash and can get the accessories and media (buy once cry once), I encourage it. I have it down very well now and have done a few different cycles and it’s been perfectly enjoyable. In brief, clean your brass, rinse, deprime and size, degrease your brass, rinse, polish it, rinse, etc. Very cool product and a well-working one at that. All seemed to be of quality material for the job and I am excited to see how it handles cleaning a rimfire suppressor! Until next time, take care and stay safe out there!
As always, thank you for reading TFB! Be safe out there, have fun while shooting, and we will see you next time for the TFB Armorer’s Bench brought to you by Wheeler, Tipton, Caldwell, and Frankford Arsenal! Also, let us know what you think in the comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.
Caldwell Pro Range Glasses, Clear
The Caldwell® Pro Range Glasses feature a stylish wrap-around design and are a great choice for all shooters. They feature an adjustable nose piece and temples for all day comfort. The scratch resistant lens meets ANSI Z87.1 standards and offers 99.9% UV protection.
Frankford Arsenal® Rotary Case Tumbler Lite
The Frankford Arsenal® Rotary Case Tumbler Lite is the compact version of the Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler. This tumbler can hold up to 300 pieces of .223 brass. The Rotary Tumbler Lite is especially great for reloading specialty cartridges and lower volume. One of the best features is its maintenance free, direct drive electric motor. The leak proof cap is clear to allow you to check up on the tumbling action while keeping your reloading area clean and dry. Frankford Arsenal®’s proprietary Rotary Tumbler Lite delivers unmatched accuracy at the bench and in the field.
Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Wet/Dry Media Separator
The Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Wet/Dry Media Separator is perfect for separating the stainless steel pins from your brass after rotary tumbling.
Brass Cleaning Solution
The Frankford Arsenal® Ultrasonic Brass Cleaning Solution was scientifically formulated to quickly remove carbon buildup, tarnish, and oxidation on brass. It was also specially designed to be used with the Frankford Arsenal line of ultrasonic cleaners. Frankford Arsenal cleaning solutions are so strong that they can be used for multiple cleaning cycles before having to mix new solutions up. Get the best cleaning results possible with the Ultrasonic Brass Cleaning Solution.
STAINLESS STEEL TUMBLING MEDIA
The Magnetic Stainless Steel Tumbling Pins are designed to clean brass cases giving a “like new” look. Unlike other media like corn cob or walnut, stainless steel doesn’t create dust and also cleans the inside of cases, primer pockets, and flash holes. Stainless steel also doesn’t damage brass and lasts for multiple uses.
Tipton POWER SWABS – PISTOL CLEANING KIT, 500 COUNT
Tipton’s new Power Swabs are an essential part of your cleaning kit. They’re disposable, fast, and easy to use, plus they provide no-mess cleaning with all your favorite solvents and oils. They also fit lands and grooves better than a patch for maximum cleaning.