Homemade wet tumbler for stainless steel media


December 2, 2011, 11:04 PM
The results using stainless steel media always impressed me; however, being accustom to the large batches my big Dillon tumbler can turn out the idea of only being able to 2 lbs of brass (only 230 rounds of 9mm) at a time just wouldn’t be worth it.

The Thumler’s tumbler despite costing almost $200 is only good for 15 lbs . Once you add 8 lbs (a gallon) of water and 5 lbs of SS media that only leaves 2 lbs of brass. You can also get a 40 lb tumbler as well but at almost $700...well if I wanted to burn money I would just buy new brass.

I started out ebaying parts, a 1/3hp 40 rpm gear motor ran $30, 1” pillow block bearings (1500lb load rating) for $8 and a Lovejoy coupling for another $10. I then made a frame out of ¾” to mount the motor and bearing box. Cut a disk out of 3/8” steel and mounted a 100 lb (12.2 gallon) bucket used to hold chlorine onto the disk using 10-32 bolts. I slid another bucket into the first one and cut slots into the outer bucket so the inner bucket would inner lock with it. I then cut 4 ribs 1 5/8” tall out of ½” thick plastic and bolted them in to the inner bucket, using 10-32 counter sink bolts, every 90 degrees to agitate the brass and media.

The media is pretty expensive at $25 for five pounds so I only bought 10 pounds for initial testing, so if it didn’t work I wouldn’t be out of too much money. So I started out with only a gallon Ziploc bag of .223 and a few hand full’s of 458socom for the trial run.

The mix was 2 gallons of water, 2 table spoons of Dawn dish washing soap, ½ teaspoon of Lemishine detergent. Even at over twice the capacity of the Thumler’s B model there is still a lot of room for more.

I ran the mix for 1 hour and separated the media/brass using my Dillon separator, rinsed the brass with clean water and dumped it onto a screen I built for drying dip lubed bullets. It was kind of cool today so I set a heated fan up to help dry them out. In about 15 min they were all dry.

It’s not much to look at but once I get a few more bags of media I figure it will tumble around 4500-5000 9mm cases at a time and I will have under $180 invested including the 20 lbs of media.







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December 2, 2011, 11:12 PM
almost as cool as your brass separator

December 3, 2011, 05:49 AM
Awesome Job, however, is this machine full of Brass make a lot of Noise when running?

December 3, 2011, 09:21 AM
Looks like it worked good with the volume you are looking at. A few more paddles may make it quieter if need be and turn over the brass more too.

Good Work....

December 3, 2011, 09:48 AM
It was a much faster build than my brass sorter and it makes less noise too. It sounds a lot like carrying a cooler with more water than ice in it around. I cut 6 vanes but only installed 4, it still gets them shiny inside and out in an hour.


December 3, 2011, 10:04 AM
I too want to be able to do large batches. Here is the direction I plan on going.

A small cement mixer like this:


To keep the inside of the drum from wearing out and to cut noise I'm going to coat it with bed liner material. A gallon of the stuff from the local Auto Parts house or maybe even a first class job by the local "Rhino Bed Liner" shop.

All that needs to be fabricated is a cover for the opening but a modified 5-gal pail lid should work.

December 3, 2011, 10:26 AM
dosnt a cement mixer seem a tad expensive copmpared to just buying a 80$ motor and another 25-40$ in parts to make a homemade one?

December 3, 2011, 10:26 AM
I have a cement mixer down at the farm, that is old enough it was made in America, I had thought about using. The bed liner is a good idea or you would first have paint and later on down the road rust mixed in with your brass. I had also thought of putting a bucket inside (as I did above) but I wasn't sure if the duty cycle would be high enough. They don't design them to run for hours on end as it only takes a minute to mix the cement. In the end it was the size that made me come up with a different machine. The one I have is so big I would have had to move the refrigerator out of the shop and that just wouldn't work.

December 3, 2011, 10:30 AM
Chineese cement mixers are under $200. Worth every penny I'm sure, pretty flimsy compaired to my old Sears mixer.

December 4, 2011, 01:27 PM
The "chinese mixers" are surprising in their durability. Especially if only "mixing" lighter product than concrete.

I've been amazed at how well they do work for the price. I used to sell compressors against the Chinese products. Aside from just plain looking cheap they were better performers than expected.

I'd like to be able to just run a huge batch of brass, all at once, and only have to do so once per month or so. With one of these I could run all my .223 and 9mm brass at one time and just sort the clean brass after it's dry.

December 4, 2011, 03:47 PM
Where do you get the stainless media for $25??

December 4, 2011, 08:12 PM
Call Kathy Reitz at 800-336-6017 for the stainless Media for reloading, she has sold a bunch of it & Knows the correct Size .041x265

December 4, 2011, 08:35 PM
I ordered it from here.


They ship two bags in one flat rate box.

December 4, 2011, 10:16 PM
Has anyone every tried SS media in a vibratory cleaner?

Does it have to be wet?

December 4, 2011, 10:29 PM
Does it have to be wet?

I'd think it would destroy the brass if used dry.

I also think the weight would kill a vibratory polisher in short order.

December 4, 2011, 10:54 PM
In a vibratory tumbler all of the pins go right to the bottom. If you don't have any water the soap and lemishine by themselves are not going to do anything.

December 4, 2011, 11:24 PM
I've heard that some of the "cheaper" mixers use a heavy duty plastic drum rather than steel. Plastic sounds ideal for this application.

A quick search found <this> (http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/214348119/Plastic_Concrete_Mixer/showimage.html), but not a price. Just an idea.


December 4, 2011, 11:39 PM
Great post.

Anyone who says American Ingenuity is dead...hasn't spent much time on THR.

My initial thought was that I don't process enough brass to justify the expediture, but I appreciate the thought that went into this.

Upon further review, I spend way too much time separating my range brass by caliber, and then tumble batches by caliber.

Being able to toss everything into one bucket and have it all come out perfectly clean inside and out has a certain value. Still not sure I understand the bucket-within-the-bucket...and the pics don't help. What am I missing?

I need to look into this further. Mostly, I need to find space to set it up :)

December 5, 2011, 09:09 AM
I built a brass sorting machine (the one Deavis referd to) to sort brass before tumbling so I don't have a problem with cases nesting inside one another. It's a bit more complicated and takes up even more space.

The bucket in a bucket part is so you don't have to handle the entire machine to fill and empty. Just slide the driven bucket into the drive bucket. If you look at the 4th photo above and the one below you can see where I notched the drive bucket to enguage the driven bucket's handle gussets to work as "drive keys". It would work using only one bucket but would be a real pain to have to stand the whole thing up to fill and even worse to have to picke it all up to empty.


December 5, 2011, 09:38 AM
This is a wonderful idea!!! I also want to go stainless, but the small Thumlers is the stopping issue. Can you put up some more photos please? Wide overall shots, different angles, motor details, rollers, etc. I'm especially interested in the size and angle of the whole thing. I'd like to build the same, but maybe smaller. I can't tell how big your whole rig is.

December 5, 2011, 01:21 PM
I too want to be able to do large batches. Here is the direction I plan on going.

I can tell you from experience that the cemebt mixer is only okay. In the end, I found that I could tumble brass faster and have a better finish by using ordinary vibratory cleaners. 5 Dillon tumblers can turn out shinier brass in less time than a cement mixer.

December 5, 2011, 02:37 PM
For convenience, you might consider a Gamma Seal lid for your bucket. They're air tight and work with almost all 5-7 gal buckets.


December 5, 2011, 03:29 PM
his was my solution a few years back...
(Scroll down to post #25)

The SS media is new to me, haf'ta look into that. Am I correct in assuming that one can wash the media and reuse many times?? What is the life span (observed? expected?). $50 for walnut shells will not last an entire multi-gun season.

December 5, 2011, 04:29 PM
Ron, I'll upload some more photos tonight.

Otto, I looked for other lids but I couldn't find anything different for the 12.2 gallon bucket I used. Silicone lube on the O-ring helps quite a bit.

Jr, everything I have read makes me believe it will last forever when used with brass; however, only time will tell. They haven't lost any diameter that I can measure (mics only go to .0001) but they are shiny now so some amount had to be removed.

December 6, 2011, 09:58 AM
Here you go rondog, no rollers just one bearing block. The frame runs the entire length so it won't tip when loaded and it's not sitting on the motors fan cover when I lean it upright for storage. I also included a photo of the motor ID plate but any 40 +- rpm motor with enough torque would work and if you had to buy one new it wouldn't be worth it as it's over $600 new.





December 6, 2011, 10:42 AM

I see no supports for your bucket. Not suggesting that you don't know what you're doing, but that's quite a bit of weight, and over time, it's going to fatigue the plastic. May also take a toll on your bearings

If it were me, I'd mount a couple of small casters for the bucket to roll on.

December 6, 2011, 12:22 PM
If it ever needs it, I'll add them. The bearings are good for 1500 lbs each, should last forever with such a small load. The bucket is built to hold 100 lbs of a hazmat oxidizer and pretty stout itself, not your home depot type 5 gal bucket.

December 6, 2011, 06:05 PM
The bearings are good for 1500 lbs each, should last forever with such a small load.

Probably will, especially at 40 RPM. But they are carrying a lot more than the 30 or 40 pounds in that bucket, since they are positioned at the base. Two 1,500 lb bearings 1" apart with a 100 Lb. load centered between them are carrying 50 lbs/ea. But two bearings an inch apart supporting a 100# load on a shaft 14" from the outer bearing are just below and right at their maximums, respectively. The outer becomes a fulcrum, and the inner tries to act as a counterweight.

Kinda like wheel bearings that would last forever in a vehicle with factory wheels fail with monotonous regularity when someone puts severely offest wheels on the car. Vehicle weight doesn't change, but the load on the bearings does.

December 6, 2011, 10:59 PM
My money would be on the .093 wall 3/4 box tube frame folding up before the bearings give way.

GW Staar
December 6, 2011, 11:54 PM
I think MachIVshooter was more suggesting that the plastic bucket might give out first. Something like THIS (http://woodworker.com/fullpres.asp?PARTNUM=145-424&LARGEVIEW=ON) might be a quick and effective insurance against it. Not a table as shown, but a couple on each side and below the bucket, bolted to your frame, or to an appendage of your frame....like a a circle in a "V". They are 6 or 7 dollars a piece.


Nice Project jmorris! I saw a homemade unit on AR15.com a while back, but they used rollers and PVC cylinders. Your idea holds a hell of a lot more brass.

It never ceases to amaze me how you can find good used motors for your projects at a really cheap price.

December 7, 2011, 04:39 AM
Something that thin might work more like a pipe cutter blade than a wide caster. I'll have to wait and see how it holds up as I didn't face the plate off in the lathe, I didn't figure the bucket would have been true enough, so there is a bit of run out at the end of the bucket. I figured an end support would force the bucket to bend every revolution and it would fail for sure then. At that point a dual roller with a round bucket might be better (like a rock polisher).

December 7, 2011, 11:20 AM
there is a bit of run out at the end of the bucket.

Shouldn't take much to shim it true.

Don'tcha just love trying to get things straight on smaller, non-industrial machines? lol. This is a constant struggle with my little lathe and mill. I spend more time trying to make sure the stock is straight than actually machining it, I think. Almost invariably end up with final hand fitting of any part with close tolerances.

Striker Fired
December 7, 2011, 12:37 PM
Earlier someone asked if you can use the ss pins in vibrating unit.I have been for a while and so far haven't had any trouble with the motor or any part going out.It also cleans my brass in about 20min instead of 2-3hrs.You are limited to smaller batches(which works for me).

December 7, 2011, 02:46 PM
Striker, I tried the smaller 'Turbo 600 bowl for liquid use' (http://www.midwayusa.com/product/669612/lyman-turbo-600-case-tumbler-accessory-bowl) for my Lyman Turbo 1200 as well. My nephew has the Thumler setup so I borrowed his pins to see how it would do. But I wasn't satisfied with it.
It did a pretty good job but it wasn't worth the trouble for the so few that I could do in a load.



Striker Fired
December 7, 2011, 06:25 PM
I put approx 1.5lbs of pins(too many pins really reduces the amount of brass your able to do) in,just so cover the pins with water,lots and lots of soap(that was the key to it working better for me)just a sprinkle of lemonshine ,and for 45acp about 100pcs,9mm about 150.It can't handle the 300-500 pcs at once like the tumblers,but it does clen them in about 20-30min rather than 2-3hrs,so I can run more batches in that 2-3hrs and come out at about the same quantity per hour as the tumbler.It takes more messing around this way,but I didn't have to buy a tumbler this way.

December 7, 2011, 10:41 PM
Shouldn't take much to shim it true.

Don'tcha just love trying to get things straight on smaller, non-industrial machines?

These buckets are not made the same as your standard 5 gallon bucket. You would reduce a lot of contact with the base plate with a shim. All it would take is to remove the love joy, chuck up on the 1” shaft and face off the first few inches of the 3/8” plate, might even help with concentricity to turn to the ID of the inner ring. I’ll give it a try if this one lets go.


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