One of the hottest new items made for metallic cartridge reloaders these days are ultrasonic cleaning machines. These units use a combination of high-frequency sound waves, cleaning solution and heat to clean objects inside and out with no scrubbing. They are especially useful for cleaning brass cases — including primer pockets and flash holes, but can also be used to clean gun parts. They are easy to use, inexpensive to buy, and accomplish a job that would otherwise be difficult or impossible.
Hornady's Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner makes three different sized models, and I had the chance to take a look at the largest, called the "Magnum" with a 3.2-quart tank. All three do the same work, just in differing amounts. If you are a high volume reloader, or would like to clean large gun parts, then this is the model for you. Additionally, it is made completely of stainless steel where the two smaller models have plastic housings. In normal use conditions, this should not make a bit of difference, but technically it is more durable and easy to clean.
When you open the box, you'll find the main unit with non-removable reservoir, mesh parts tray, lid, power cord and instructions. You will need to purchase one or both of the solutions to use with the unit for proper cleaning. They make one for brass cases and one for gun parts. They are different chemicals, but both mix with water and are pleasant smelling.
|Note: The solutions are a concentrate. I was uneasy about buying several quarts of the solution to fill my "Magnum" reservoir, but was happy to learn that this was not the case and that a little goes a very long way when diluted. I used about an ounce of solution for an entire tank full. Be careful and wear safety glasses when you are working with chemicals.
How to Use It
To get ready to use the unit, you need to fill it with water. Using distilled water is advantageous because it won't leave water spots from dissolved minerals when it dries. Distilled water is super cheap at the grocery store, so that is what I used. After adding water to a depth sufficient to completely submerge the parts tray, add the correct amount and type of solution concentrate for what you are planning to clean.
I set the heater at 100 degrees Fahrenheit to lightly warm the cleaning solution. Immediately after mixing, the solution temp was 67 degrees, and it took only about 15 minutes to get to the set point of 100.
The other adjustment is for the length of cleaning time, and I used 25 minutes as a starting point. I did notice that the temperature in the bath would climb above set point while the unit ran. I can only assume this is because of the ultrasonic mechanism or action since the heating element was not running. It did not cause any problems and the highest it ever got was 140 degrees after running batches in quick succession.
Hornady offers three sizes of Sonic Cleaners, with the Magnum (pictured above) being the largest with a 3.2-quart tank.
My first run was a batch of .223 cases. They were once fired, factory ammo and were pretty dirty. I decapped them in order to expose the primer pockets and flash holes so that they would be cleaned also. This is where the Hornady Magnum Sonic Cleaner really shines because simple tumbling would never get these surfaces clean. I tossed them into the parts basket and lowered them in. I started the machine and stirred them around a couple times during the cleaning session. As expected, the machine makes a high-pitched buzzing sound, which I do not like, but can deal with. When the digital timer on the front ticks off, the machine stops and it is time to drain the clean parts.
I raised the basket up over the liquid surface and let them drain, tilting it from side to side to move the solution out of the cases. Spreading the cases out on a shop towel seems to work well for further drying overnight. It was immediately obvious that the cases were well cleaned both inside and out. The flash holes and primer pockets were shiny and mostly devoid of carbon. The outsides were bright and tarnish free. I compared the ultrasonically cleaned cases to ones I had tumbled in the conventional manner and the results were clearly better on top of the fact that the pockets and holes were cleaned too.
After running some more cases and switching the chemical, I was eager to use the unit to clean gun parts since I hate cleaning guns! I was able to clean an entire Kel Tec PF9 slide and all associated parts, but on my pistols with fiber optic or tritium sights, I opted to ultrasonically clean only the barrel, springs, magazines and pins for fear the solution and sound waves might adversely affect them.
I was astounded at the results. Filthy barrels were completely cleaned inside and out. Dirty magazine springs and followers were cleaned to a like-new condition. I would venture to say that this machine is even more valuable to me as a gun parts cleaner than a case prep tool! I was able to hand clean frames and slides while the other parts were in the unit. When they came out, I simply dried them off, lubricated everything and reassembled. It was a definite time savings, and was easier than using jags, patches and cotton swabs as far as I am concerned.
I was very satisfied with the Hornady Magnum Sonic Cleaner. There are a couple small down sides, since you have to let the cases dry well before you can reload them, and the grinding buzz sound the unit makes while cleaning, but the ends do justify the means. Give one of these devices a shot on your reloading bench and you won't be disappointed. Remember, there are two smaller ones if you don't need such a large reservoir. I think benchrest and bullseye shooters will especially enjoy one of these because of the thorough cleaning it gives the cases, and folks like me who hate spending hours cleaning guns will benefit from it too. Ultrasonic cleaning — give it a shake.