Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler

By Dr. Jim and Mary Clary

Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler
Illustration courtesy of Frankford Arsenal, Inc.

In the old days, we used rotary tumblers for everything from polishing rocks to cleaning our range brass. They did a fine job, except were pretty noisy and had a tendency to leak or break a belt after extensive use. We used them extensively.

When vibratory case tumblers arrived on the market around twenty years ago, we decided to switch. While they did a good job of cleaning the brass, we still had to clean the primer pockets by hand. If you put de-primed brass in the tumblers, the media never seemed to clean the pockets. Not to mention the nuisance of having to pry bits of media from the flash hole. As such, we tumbled our fired brass, deprimed them after cleaning and manually cleaned the primer pockets. A lot of extra work, if you had cleaned several hundred cases in a single load.

Vibratory tumblers will quickly wear out if you overload them, which is all too common with those of us who are impatient and want to clean a lot of brass at once. Okay, that is a personal problem and our fault. However, we believe that we should be able to clean large lots of brass at once without worrying about the machine dying in the process, so when Frankford Arsenal introduced their new rotary tumbler, we had to give it a try.

The first thing we noticed about this new tumbler was its heavy duty construction. The drum is double layered. The one piece polymer outer layer has no seams to split. The inner rubber layer serves as a noise dampener and cushion for the brass during the tumbling process and the end caps are fabricated from the same material. Unlike most rotary tumblers, which have a gasket or O-ring inside the end caps, this unit utilizes separate sealing inserts with thick gaskets to insure a water-tight seal.

The two drive wheels on the cradle are gear driven. There are no belts to break or wear out. The cradle's design is such that, once positioned, the drum remains in place throughout the cleaning process. You never have to worry about it going off center or becoming unbalanced.

Frankford Arsenal recommends a two step cleaning process. This is not just to clean the brass, but to reduce the wear and tear on your reloading dies. However, if you are not cleaning brass scavenged at the range, but rather your own reloads, the first step is probably unnecessary, as your brass is already fairly clean. Under those circumstances, we recommend going directly to step two.

First Step: Frankford recommends tumbling brass that has not been deprimed. Dump in your dirty brass, fill the drum with water to the bottom of the mouth opening, add their cleaning solution (about one or two ounces per load), install the sealing insert with its gasket and tighten the end cap. Place the drum on the cradle and set the timer for between one and two hours.

After tumbling, remove one end cap and the sealing insert/gasket and replace with the Sifting Insert and tighten down the cap. Pour out the dirty solution into a bucket, rinse the brass in the drum with fresh water (we actually use a colander) and let dry on a paper towel. Now you have clean brass that, when properly lubricated, will not cause excessive wear on reloading dies.

Second Step: After depriming and resizing the brass, repeat the above process, except add the five pounds of steel pins that are included with the tumbler, instead of the cleaning solution. Set the timer for between two and three hours. When it is finished, your brass will be nicely burnished and the primer pockets clean enough to re-prime.

Most readers are probably thinking this takes a lot of work. Granted, it is more labor intensive than vibratory tumblers. However, given the time saved by not having to clean the primer pockets individually, it is worth the effort; especially for reloaders who do a lot of shooting.

We don't recommend this tumbler for the casual reloader who only shoots a few dozen rounds a year. In fact, it would be rather inefficient to clean a few dozen cases with this rotary tumbler. If you fall into this category, a vibratory tumbler is still your best option.

However, if you are a serious shooter who burns through several thousand rounds a year for target practice, competition, or hunting, then this unit makes a lot of sense. It is capable of handling 1,000 pieces of .223 brass at once, without bogging down.

The instruction manual included with this machine is user friendly, very detailed and well illustrated with photos. With a 2014 MSRP of $239.99, the Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler is not for everyone. However, we have found it listed on the internet for around $189, not a bad price when you consider the cost of new brass.

Frankford Media Transfer Magnet
Frankford Media Transfer Magnet. Illustration courtesy of Frankford Arsenal, Inc.

If you do decide to buy this tumbler, you should consider picking up the Media Transfer Magnet for an additional $24.99. While not absolutely necessary to gather up the steel pins after use, it sure makes the job a lot easier. It is worth every penny.

Back to Reloading Information

Copyright 2014 by Jim Clary and/or All rights reserved.