Cleaning Old Ammo.



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  • Cleaning Old Ammo.

    Alright Gentlemen, Not looking to get the next Darwin Award but, please give me your input on cleaning old ammo. I recently got my hands on 5000 rounds of NATO 7.62x51 Ball Ammo, some U.S. made, some British, all of it manufactured in 1969. Most of the brass is a dark color, with some having a fair amount of corrosion (some beautiful shades of green and brown). Wearing rubber gloves and using Neverdull, I am able to clean this ammo up to new looking. Problem is, I'll end up with carpel tunnel sydrome and I'll be supporting the Rubber Glove and Metal Polish industries all by myself. Is it, or is it not, recommended to put live ammo in a vibratory, corn-cob media brass cleaner. I would of course put it at the end of a 100 foot extention cord out on the "back 40" behind the shop and turn it on and off from cover. If something should go wrong, I won't really miss the case cleaner and I have no concerns about harming the neighbors Audi. My two concerns are:
    #1- chances of primer strike, resulting in some fireworks and getting to buy a new case cleaner, more rubber gloves and Neverdull.
    #2- Would or could the vibratory action of the machine, cause the powder in the cases to break up, resulting in faster burn rate and higher pressures upon firing?

    I appreciate anyone having experience with cleaning old ammo to chime in. Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Sort it, wipe off the badder stuff, and shoot it first.

    ????? about the tumbler.

    Smitty of the North
    Walk Slow, and Drink a Lotta Water.
    Has it ever occurred to you, that Nothing ever occurs to God? Adrien Rodgers.
    You can't out-give God.


    • #3
      Vibrating or tumbling loaded rounds

      Some folks I have talked to have conniptions just THINKING about cleaning loaded rounds. I also have known people who prefer to polish their brass after loading. Two sdes to the coin.

      I have heard that some people have a lot of trouble with the kernels of cleaning media getting stuck in the primer pocket or flash hole. Cleaning loaded rounds prevents that problem.

      I figure this: It takes a REALLY hard strike with a firing pin to set off a primer. Bounding around in the low amplitude movements of a vibratory cleaner or the low energy tumbling of a tumbler would be unlikely able to set off a primer. Use a lot of the cleaning media, the impacts should be well cushioned.

      You might consider in your rather extensive safety precautions, putting the whole assembly under a large wooden tub or something. It would tend to contain the pieces if something should explode, making cleanup easier. Also any unexploded rounds would be easier to find and recover.

      Short answer: Go for it.

      Your question #2 shows insight. I had never thought of the possibility that the powder inside might be changed somehow by the agitation. I have heard that some powders have a coating to control burn rate or other features. If the powder is a compressed load (fills the case completely and is compressed into place) I would feel completely comfortable. If the powder has enough room to slosh around, I might wonder that such a coating might be worn away or 'dusted" off. But that wouldn't stop me. Military powder is probably inured to rough handling.

      If I were very cautious I would tumble one batch, then fire one or two and see if there were signs of overpressure. If they check out OK then fire the rest of the batch. If they all show no signs of overpressure, I would proceed.

      Seems prudent. Also seem adequate. Any other opinions?

      The alternative is to pull the bullets, dump the powder (use it as firestarther when camping or as fertilizer on your lawn or flower garden-it is loaded with nitrates, but I would not eat the veggies- and then tumble the empty, primered brass.. I would not try to deprime military brass, as the usual crimp could make depriming dangerous.

      If you decide not to use a tumbler, you could chuck the bullet end in a variable speed drill and clean it by spinning the cartridge while holding a pad of cleaning cloth around it. That would leave the carpal tunnel question out of consideration, at least.

      I don't know about the chemicals in your cleaning chemicals, but you should avoid anything harsh (especially ammonia) as they can interact with copper/brass and make it brittle. Forty year old brass should probably be test-fired in any case, no matter how it has been cleaned up.

      My advice, clean it in a vibrator or tumbler and go shoot. The first few rounds should be held far from your face, maybe with the action under a pillow or/and a board and examined after ejection.

      A lot of the European brass may be berdan primed (Two flash holes and generally more trouble than it's worth to deprime for reloading), so take that into account if you are thinking about reloading these.

      Good luck.

      Remember, only believe half of what you see and one quarter of what you hear. That goes double for what you get from the internet.

      Lost Sheep


      • #4
        You should not tumble or vibrate loaded ammo. You will break down the powder, changing its characteristics unpredictably. Ammo running around in a military environment is NOT the same as constant, steady vibration for hours. Also, if you read the directions in loading manuals and the directions that come with vibratory and rotary tumblers, there are specific warnings not to polish live ammo. I doubt they just made this up. Just shoot it the way it is and clean your rifle regularly. Thats what we should do anyway.
        "A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind."


        • #5
          You have to keep in mind that all ammo, military included, can ride in the back of a truck for hours on end going from one place to another before it gets to its final destination. The vibration from tumbling for an hour or two will do nothing to the powder.

          While I generally only tumble my brass when I come back from the range, I have in the past run live rounds through my vibratory tumbler for several hours with no issues whatsoever. It was .30-06 ammo in Garand clips (took them out of the clips when I put them in the tumbler) in a bandolier that I had moved for some reason and stupidly left on my concrete garage floor, and then some water got to it (snow melt from the wife's car) resulting in some corrosion after a couple months. The load was a 150 grain FMJ over 47 grains of IMR-4895 in LC match brass, and when I fired it after tumbling it gave me the same velocity as that load usually does. That indicates to me that the powder didn't break down or change characteristics in any way.



          • #6
            I concur about the possible detrimental effects to the powder as a result of cleaning in a vibratory “tumbler” if you intend to shoot the rounds. For cartridge collectors, cleaning them in a tumbler, loaded or not, is in fact standard practice. As stated previously, the energy potential that exists in the operation of a vibratory tumbler is widely regarded as insufficient to discharge a loaded round thru primer contact. That said, tumbling a brick of tarnished .22 long rifle’s with your kids rock collection might not be a good idea…

            Also, as mentioned previously, you will want to avoid anything that contains ammonia as it will cause to brass to become brittle in a relatively short period of time. It is not simply an old wives tale, but scientific fact that ammonia and ammonium salts induce cracking in copper alloys. “Ammonia has a specific and selective action on material in the grain boundaries of brass and cracking always begins in the surface layers that are under tension, irrespective of whether the stress is applied or residual.” Ref. Copper by Gunter Joseph, Konrad J. A. Kundig, International Copper Association.

            I have read on numerous other forums that cartridge collectors are obtaining very good results in cleaning their tarnished and corroded brass with “lime a way” house hold cleaner. There have been no reports that I am aware of, that would indicate any detrimental results using this product, however I have not personally tried it.
            “You’ve gotten soft. You’re like one of those police dogs who’s released in to the wild and gets eaten by a deer or something.” Bill McNeal of News Radio


            • #7
              So Far...

              I run loaded rounds through my Thumbler's Model B with no ill effects noticed whatsoever.
              I also load the tumbler to within a half inch of the top, which limits the movement of the contents somewhat. Generally leave 'em in for 24 hours or so, and they come out looking like new ammunition and if there's damage from the deterioration, it's more easily inspected after it's cleaned.


              • #8
                Well here is a thought. What about soaking the rounds in a solution?

                Yeah I have never purposefuly tried it, but I have shot shotgun shells that were submerged in water before (and I mean submerged all day), put up to dry and everyone one of them shot a year later.

                I dont know, anyone tried? That liguid case cleaner actually has given me good results before. And it only takes a few minutes. Not an all day dunking.


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