Interest in reloading ammunition has exploded in popularity — doubling in 2021 in part due to the increased demand for ammunition driven by COVID — but also due to the Great Ammunition Shortage of 2020. People don’t want to toss their brass these days, and for good reason.
The solution? Reuse that brass by investing in a dry tumbler! Dry tumblers are simple brass cleaning tools, which use a bowl, dry medium, and vibration to clean brass for reloading purposes — but which ones should you consider?
We dive into reloading basics, how a dry tumbler functions, the various media to use in a dry tumbler, and the best options available for those who want to tumble their brass.
In This Article:
Comparison of the Best Dry Tumblers
Below is my list of the best dry tumblers for 2021. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of dry tumblers.
The dry tumbler generates vibration by pairing a motor with an offset weight that causes the vibratory case (or bowl) on top to shimmy at high rates. Media and brass go into the bowl, and the lip caps it off. The vibrations cause the brass and media to “tumble,” moving upward against the bowl and back down toward the center.
The process is simple, can run on its own for hours, and does all the brass cleaning for you.
Why reload ammo anyway?
Reloading ammunition is done for several reasons. In shooting sports — such as precision rifle shooting, cowboy action, or making Major Power Factor in USPSA — loading your ammunition is sometimes the only way to produce ammo that will run in your firearm or to produce consistent rounds that shoot the same velocity each time.
Specific cartridges used in rifles for PRS are not mass-produced, and even factory ammunition may not run reliably or consistently through the firearm. Usually, a shooter has to develop a specific load to optimize the control and function of the gun.
In cowboy action shooting, the black powder division requires shooters only to use black powder ammunition, which can be tricky to load and is rarely sold — except by other reloaders.
Also, in cowboy action shooting, .38 Special ammunition that shoots flawlessly through a .38 Special revolver may not feed correctly in a .38 Special lever-action rifle due to differences in the cartridge lengths. Reloading individual cartridges keeps both the pistol and rifle shooting optimally.
Lastly, competitive shooters can benefit from specific loads. Major Power Factor scoring for USPSA allows shooters to get more points for less accurate shots than shooters with ammunition only meeting Minor Power Factor loads. Shooters using hotter loads (think .40 cal and 45 ACP) are essentially rewarded for managing recoil better.
You’ve probably been taught when picking out a concealed carry handgun, for example, to pick one chambered in a commonly found caliber for which you can easily find defensive rounds. For owners of rare or collector pieces, many calibers are no longer mass-produced or — so hard to find that the only way to shoot your gun is to hand load ammo, making those casings worth their weight in gold.
Lastly, reloading ammunition is cheaper than buying new factory ammo. This became particularly true as a lack of availably drove ammo prices through the roof in 2020.
As long as you stock components and pick up your own spent brass, there are savings to be had by reloading.
The elements that you need to reload are brass, primers, bullets, and powder. Sounds easy, right? There are different primers for different cartridges, including small pistol and small pistol mag, large pistol and large pistol mag, small and large rifle, and large rifle mag.
Some spent brass expands with the amount of pressure expended, which requires you to re-size the brass through a process such as roll sizing, for example.
The Importance of Clean Brass
We can all agree that having a functioning firearm is something we want, correct? What you feed your firearm in terms of ammo plays a considerable role in whether or not your gun will run.
That process all starts with clean brass that will feed into the ramp and perform reliably under stress.
The main goal of dry tumbling is to clean your dirty brass and polish it. One pro tip is to de-prime your brass before tumbling to get a deeper clean inside of the case and primer pockets. Untarnished, polished brass will feed more reliably and ensure your primers and bullets seat correctly.
Depending on how old the brass is, the external surface may be corroded and rough. Tumbled brass should be shiny, and you should toss out anything that is not deburred and or corroded from years ago.
While some folks speculate about roasted buckwheat and rice media, the two main options of dry media are corn cob and walnut shell. If you’re picking up your brass immediately after each range session and going home to start the tumbling process, corn cob is the better option because the brass doesn’t have time to tarnish or much polishing.
Walnut media is a lot tougher than corn cob and is ideal for tarnished and dirty brass — you know the kind — old casings from years ago that may have been on the ground or sitting in a bucket for an extended amount of time. Walnut is the medium of choice for these old-timers.
Treated vs. Untreated Media
When shopping for media, you’ll come across labels indicating treated or untreated media. Treated media adds shine to the finish on your brass you won’t get with untreated media. The downside to buying treated media is that you have no control over the amount of polish in the media, and too much polishing can speed corrosion in brass casings.
If you choose untreated media, you can add brass polish separately and control how much or little you want to use.
We’ll dive into rotary tumblers below, but one type of media you can only use in these types of tumblers is stainless steel pin media. Stainless steel pins go inside the drum with the cases, like corn cob media in a dry tumbler. After removing the brass casings from the tumbler, you will need to sift as many pins out as possible.
This step is the only tedious part of the process as the pins have to be re-collected for each subsequent use. The main reason to use pin media is it’s the most efficient way to clean inside the case and get a much cleaner primer pocket.
Dry Tumbler or Wet Tumbler?
The two primary tumbling methods are wet tumbling and dry tumbling with a primary difference of how well they address and clean the inside of casings. A wet tumbler uses more cleaning solvents and liquids that can deep clean primer pockets and the interior of the brass.
A dry tumbler is a simple setup — little more than a bowl with a lid that sits on top of an electric vibrating motor. Media, optional polish, and brass casings bounce around in the tumbler for anywhere between 4 and 6 hours for proper cleaning. The brass is then removed, sifted, and sorted (watch out for the .380s mixed in with 9mm).
The interior of a fully-loaded cartridge will always be in contact with gunpowder, with the primer and bullet both seated, sealing the cartridge from air and moisture.
The primary function of the brass is to hold the powder, allow it to burn, and direct the exploding gas — which pushes the projectile down the path of the barrel. If your preference is to have the inside of the brass perfectly clean a wet tumble life is for you!
So if wet tumbling cleans better why use a dry tumbler? Dry tumbling gets at all of your brass cleaning issues sufficiently while allowing for you to clean a lot more brass at one time, which is why dry tumblers are the go-to for most reloaders.
The Exterior Is What Matters
When it comes to reliability and performance the external qualities of the brass are really matter — and can cause significant issues with feeding.
If the brass is splitting in any way it won’t hold up to the pressure and can lead to failure to eject. It may not discharge appropriately if the brass has a defect in the bullet seat crimping. If the primer pocket is filled with debris and can’t seat a primer correctly, this will result in a high primer or even a twisted primer that will make the cartridge too long to feed or lead to a failure to fire.
Lastly, any external corrosion, burrs, or defects may cause the ammo to not load into a magazine correctly nor feed into the chamber.
Rotary vs. Vibratory Cleaning
As mentioned earlier, rotary tumblers use stainless steel pins and liquid media to clean brass. A rotary tumbler is a hollow drum (think of a tiny washing machine) laid on its side. Electrically powered rollers turn the tumbler.
Watch this quick video of cleaning brass with a wet method. This tumbler maxes out at 30 pounds. The recipe he used was to add 5 pounds of stainless steel pins and 700 rounds of brass casings, fill the tumbler with water, and add a tablespoon of detergent (he uses Dawn dish detergent) a tablespoon of Lemi Shine with a cook time of 3 hours — and that’s it!
The brass is clean inside and out, the primer pockets are deeply cleaned (more so than the dry tumbling process can achieve), and the brass is also polished. These machines take less time (especially if you have less brass to clean) and are quieter than most dry tumblers on the market.
The materials used to clean using the wet tumbling method are easy to find, cheap, and easy to dispose of. The last step to prep your brass is to dry it out (such as with a hot air dryer) and check for any leftover pins stuck in your brass. A magnet makes for a handy tool to collect all the stray pins that may be hiding.
Vibratory tumblers like dry tumblers are available in various sizes. The capacity of these depends on the cartridges, but generally, they can clean more brass than their wet counterparts.
The vibrations of the dry tumbling process are louder than wet tumblers — which is why many reloaders create dedicated reloading stations in a garage or somewhere out of earshot.
Media is also very dry and can act like fine powder or flour when sifting the media out of the brass. Inhaling media is not advised, especially for controlling the amount of exposure you have to lead.
Always sift outside, in a garage, and wearing a mask and gloves.
The Best Dry Tumblers Reviewed
1. RCBS Vibratory Case Polisher
RCBS has been a name in the reloading industry for a long time. They are the leading manufacturer of ammunition reloading equipment for rifles and pistols, offering reloading equipment worldwide. RCBS’s case polisher shines up to 110 9mm (or 75 .223) cases.
The motor is quiet but powerful and cleans brass fast. They also included a sifting lid to make media and brass separation easier.
2. Frankford Arsenal Quick-n-EZ Case Tumbler Kit
- Besides ensuring long life for the most valuable component of your ammunition, cleaning your bras
- Grit and grime from uncleaned brass can become imbedded in the inner surfaces of your sizing die
- The Frankford Arsenal Tumbler Kit includes all components necessary to tumble brass with profess
Frankford Arsenal focuses on making excellent reloading equipment and manufacturers tumblers, media, media separators, polish, primer pocket tools, scales, de-priming tools, reloading trays, and more.
This case tumbler kit by Frankford Arsenal comes with everything you need to clean your brass; a case tumbler, rotary media separator, 5-gallon plastic bucket, brass polish, and corn media. This tumbler holds explicitly up to 600 9mm or 350 .223 cases.
3. Hornady M-1 Case Tumbler
- Hornady M-1 Case Tumbler – Add to the quality of your reloaded ammunition by using the M-1 Hornady...
- Make Your Reloads Looks Like New – Coupled with Hornady Tumbling Media (sold separately), the...
- Large Capacity – The Hornady Case Tumbler has been designed specifically for cleaning and...
When it comes to reloading, Hornady literally wrote the book. Hornady was founded in 1949, and while it went through changes, it has become the largest independently owned maker of bullets, ammunition, and tools globally.
The Hornady case tumbler holds up to 400 .38 Special cases, 180 30-06 cases, or the equivalent of other sized cases. It includes a sifter to separate the brass from the media post tumbling. Something unique about this tumbler is its design allows for cleaning large quantities of cases quickly.
The sealed ball-bearing motor is quieter than other dry tumblers and fan-cooled.
The process of choosing a dry tumbler is just like anything else you’re looking to invest in when it comes to your firearms hobby. First, determine your purpose for the tumbler. Are you cleaning bulk loads of 9mm or cleaning up to 100 cases of specialty rifle cartridges? Where will you be putting this tumbler to run? In an oversized garage or on a small workbench? Knowing the size of your space will help you determine what capacity tumbler that you need.
Choosing the suitable media will be up to your level of standards of what “clean” brass looks like, as well as how much brass you’ll be cleaning for replacing used media. Always remember that a quality dry tumbler will last you a long time.
- Graf & Sons: Primer Size and Bullet Diameter Chart
- NRA Shooting Sports USA: What’s The Best Way To Clean Brass?
- Rock Tumbler: Which Brass Media Should I Use?
- Reloading 101: Primer Pocket and Flash-Hole Conditioning
- NRA Shooting Sports USA: Understanding The Power Factor
- Wikipedia: 2020 US Ammo Shortage
- Google Trends for Reloading: Reloading Trends
- Forbes: Soaring Ammunition Prices Prompt Gun Owners To Count Their Bullets
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