Through the years the author has used many brands of reloading equipment, all dependent on the direct application of what was being loading for. The only constants in those reloading efforts were that a beam scale was utilized to check powder load weights and a tumbler to clean the spent brass. (TPF uses the common incorrect term of weight as “load mass” sounds very odd to nearly everyone that reloads). Today “weighing” of powder is not the topic for today, but brass cleaning is. Currently there are a multitude of methods which exist for cleaning brass; such as the following:
- Vibratory Tumbling – Dry (Media can be corncob, walnut, ceramic pellets, etc…)
- Rotary Tumbling – Dry or Wet (Dry media as above, or liquid based with other waterproof cleaning media such as stainless steel pins)
- Chemical Cleaning – Wet (A common method is soaking in an acidic based solution like vinegar, warm water rinse and air dry)
- Manual Cleaning – N/A (Polishing inside and outside via brushes, scrubbing pads, and cleaning cloths)
- Ultrasonic Cleaning – Wet (High frequency sound waves through a liquid solution)
Out of these listed the most efficient in terms of time and efforts are the use of tumblers with dry media setups due to the level of effort required from the individual cleaning the brass. Manual cleaning is by far the cheapest solution, but also requires the greatest amount of efforts and can be nearly impossible with some smaller necked rifle calibres (imagine trying to manually clean the inner walls of a 22-250 case). In this installment of TPF we look at a specific product family from Hornady; Ultrasonic Cleaners as offered by one of the leaders of reloading companies.
Hornady started the launch of their ultrasonic cleaners back in the beginning of 2010 with the Lock -N- Load Sonic Cleaner. With a 0.95L (1.0 qt) capacity and a 5 level duration timer, the Sonic Cleaner can clean your volumes of spent brass to new levels with ease. Described as being able to hold 200 pieces of .223 Remington brass or 100 pieces of .308 Winchester, the Sonic Cleaner has a decently sized capacity, although many dry tumblers can hold more. The benefit to water based cleaning, is the elimination of fumes and dust particulate which can occur when dry media types are used, and the ever elusive clean primer pocket can be obtained without any consideration of media size, nor are plugged flash holes an issue.
Hornady’s marketing would have you think that the Sonic Cleaner creates “microjets” of water in the stainless steel tank which blast off the carbon, dirt and grime from the brass. The true definition of how ultrasonic cleaning works is as follows:
Ultrasonic cleaning is the rapid and complete removal of contaminants from objects by immersing them in a tank of liquid flooded with high frequency sounds waves. These non-audible sound waves create a scrubbing action within the fluid. The ultrasonic energy enters the liquid within the tank and causes the rapid formation and collapse of minute bubbles: a phenomenon known as cavitation. The bubbles, travel at high speeds around the tank causing them to implode against the surface of the item immersed in the tank in an enormous energy release, which gently lifts contamination off the surface and innermost recesses of intricately shaped parts.
DISCLAIMER! Ultrasonic cleaning does not mean that cases will be shiny and bright in finish, just clean. If you want bright gleaming cases, you will need to either play with the contents of the liquid solution used in order to get the desired results, or perform a post dry tumbling once the cases have been dried after ultrasonic cleaning & rinsing. Hornady recommends using one tablespoon of “One Shot Sonic Clean Solution” for every quart of water and states that three full cleaning cycles (3 x 480 seconds) should get most brass clean. TPF reads this performance meter as being in regards to spent brass which is collected at the time of firing opposed to that which would be classed as range brass which has been exposed to elements and is more than likely tarnished and possibly even corroded. TPF decided to perform two tests.
Test Number One:
This consisted of 100 pieces of various headstamped .308 Winchetser range brass. This brass consists mainly of maintained reloading brass plus a dozen or so pieces of range brass in various levels of condition. All brass was deprimed prior to being immersed and subject to the cleaning process. As Hornady claims, 100 pieces of .308 does indeed fit into the basket for the cleaning tank, in fact stacked right, you could get probably 105-110 pieces. Three (3) sessions of 480 seconds (24 minutes total) were done using One-Shot Sonic Clean – Case Cartridge Solution, mixed with tap water in the ratio described on the bottle (40:1). Once the trio of cleaning cycles were completed the basket filled with brass was removed and drained into the Sonic Cleaner as best as possible and the and the brass was flushed with hot water to clean off any remaining cleaning solution.
The results were impressive and what was expected. Non-range brass came out extremely clean with much of the carbon removed from the primer pockets and the internals of the case. In some instances the outside of the cases had bright/shiny spots at various points on them, which TPF attributes to the vibrational forces rubbing cases together. In the case of range brass, it too was cleaned of all carbon, and as expected, basic surface discolouration and corrosion areas wer indeed cleaned of all dirt and deposits, but the visual appearance shows how the solution is not meant to make brass pretty. As evidenced by several pieces of range brass, the cleaning does NOT remove tarnish and discolouration unless it is strictly from accumulated surface grime and debris. Rusted areas are still corroded, but all loose scale and corrosion does get cleaned off the case surfaces.
Test Number TWO:
Nearly 200 pieces of .40 S&W, all Speer headstamp. All brass was maintained reloading brass with no range brass included. The cleaning solution from test number one was reused and made up for with additional tap water. Unlike the previous test, all brass had not been deprimed which meant that the primer pockets would not get full cleaning action due to the cup and anvil being in place. As was done with the previous test, the brass was cleaned with three (3) sessions of 480 seconds (24 minutes total) in the Sonic Cleaner and then were rinsed with hot water. The results show how well the Lock -N- Load Sonic Cleaner removes carbon deposits left from burning powder.
TPF has added a very basic and simple video which hopefully shows the noise levels and cleaning action of Hornady’s Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner.
The only real drawback is similar to that of wet tumblers, rinsing and dry time for cases. In the case of ultrasonic cleaning, capacity is an issue as well and that is usually due to the mass of the cleaning solution (Water is actually quite heavy). On the topic of capacity, Hornady also has a Magnum version which triples the capacity of the Sonic Cleaner. However, that is for a separate review…
Hornady’s Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner does indeed get brass clean, inside and out, and while other mixtures of cleaning solutions are available on the internet, the factory solution seems to work pretty well. The LNL Sonic Cleaner has an MSRP of $134.12 USD from Hornady, but is available at all firearm stores that stock Hornady products. The Hornady ‘One-Shot ‘ case cleaning solution makes approximately 32 batches of solution and has a MSRP of $25.00 and has availability akin to the Sonic Cleaner.
As always, TPF poses the question to our readers to make the determination for yourself:
Hornady’s Lock -N- Load Sonic Cleaner – Tactical, Practical, or Fantastical?