Lubricants

I saw this quote on a thread at PF.Com this morning:

I keep hearing and reading various lubricants and finishes “penetrate into the pores of the metal.”

How the heck did this get started? Does anyone actually think their gun has pores at its surface? Just for the sake of argument, lets say it does have microscopic pores (it doesn’t). And lets say the lube/finish (usually an epoxy based finish that continues to offer “corrosion protection” after it has worn off) does penetrate said pores….that mean the lubricant needs to have nearly no surface tension and no viscosity, both of which are necessary to act as a film layer lubricant. And if said oil has such a low viscosity, it will need to have a low molecular weight, meaning it will evaporate quickly. And this argument ignores the fact that the lubricant will need to overcome the bubble pressure of those microscopic pores before penetrating them (not gonna happen).

The author of said quote is a Certified Pocket Protector Science Bro; and an expert in the whole “metal stuff” field. I on the other hand am the gun industry Jeremy Clarkson, prattling about power while sliding around corners like a yobbo. “I don’t care why it does that James, only that it goes fast.”

Back to the point of lubrication and the sudden and massive increase in miracle gun lubes on the market. If someone is telling you that their new miracle lube “penetrates the metal’s pores” then they’re either 1) ignorant or 2) lying. Being ignorant isn’t so bad, because they’re probably just repeating the company line which is more marketing than science. Lying is pretty bad, and I generally don’t believe in attributing behaviors to bad intentions when incompetence is a better answer.

You miracle lube won’t penetrate the pores of your guns. In fact, your miracle lube probably isn’t better than engine oil at keeping your guns running, but don’t tell anyone that, because then they couldn’t sell you little bottles of ToadGoo for $20 for four ounces. Meanwhile, a quart of 5W-30 will do just as good a job at lubricating your gun and will last you nearly forever.

28 thoughts on “Lubricants”

  1. Careful! You invoked Riehl while at the same time advocating oil instead of grease for your gun lube. If you say that three times he’ll appear outside your window in an autogyro and shoot you with a $4,000 1911.

  2. I don’t know squat about “miracle” lubes or cleaners. Steel isn’t porous like a sponge, paper napkin or your girlfriend’s Tampax. But you might want to poke “porosity of steel”, or “steel pore absorption” or “cast steel porosity” into your favorite search engine.

    Or try this… fire a hundred rounds of old corrosive ammo through your favorite 9mm pistol. Brush, scrub and wipe the hell out of the bore with Hoppes #9 or your favorite petrol based solvent. Hold it up to the light and see how bright, shiny and sparkling clean it looks. Now put it away for a couple days, pull it out and take another look at the bore. What is that? Where did it come from?

      1. Must be the schmutz fairy who visits our guns in the wee hours of the morning when we’re sound asleep and defenseless.

    1. Fair enough. “Porosity” is a big word and common usage might not always be scientifically correct. A piece of steel does not have a 100% absolutely perfect and flawless surface. Whether you call them “pores”, “tiny voids” or “microscopic imperfections”, they are there.

      Might be wise to do anything from coating/covering them with light machine oil to chrome plating.

      Might be a “miracle” solution which adheres better/last longer than machine oil but not as well as plating. I wouldn’t pay orders of magnitude more for it. but that doesn’t mean I think it’s fake, I’d just rather wipe the part more often with another fiftieth of a cent’s worth of Rem Oil.

      1. “Might be wise to do anything from coating/covering them with light machine oil to chrome plating.”

        So the plating makes it so there are no pores? Or tiny voids, or microscopic imperfections, or whatever we’re calling it?

  3. If the surface of the bore is sparkling clean when you put it away, and it has no pores period, what caused the corrosion? If the cause was anything other than corrosive primer residue embedded in the barrel, why would it happen after firing corrosive ammo but not with non-corrosive ammo?

    1. Actually, a day or two later it isn’t corrosion, at least not to the naked eye. I don’t know what it could be except primer residue which has weeped back out through the surface of the bore. Warm water and dish liquid will prevent it in the first place, or fix it a day or two later.

      Same goes for black powder firearms.

  4. Actually it’s a semantic issue. The surface of all metals is irregular, from porosity at the surface to molecular irregularities. Porosity sealing is the act of removing the air from the pores or pits or irregularities and filling it with something that prevents oxidation of the metal and seals it. While not removing the air or even all other contaminants, lead and copper do this for the inside of the barrel. Blueing of steel or stainless steel and anodization of aluminum are similar in that they modify the surface of the metal to protect against oxidation. For steel, a little bit of rust is a good thing! Well, if done correctly. Blueing and oiling a steel gun surface properly does that. The regular application of oil and grease does two things–first, it serves to maintain the condition of the metal, and secondly, it reduces friction between moving parts. As Caleb said, motor oil will suffice for most weapons. Certain weapons such as the M1 and many machine guns require grease, either or the way they were designed (the M1) or the conditions of heat and sustained action as in heavy machine guns. Grease and oil are basically the same, with grease simply being thicker at lower temps than oil. All greases and oils become waxy and dry out with time. So in many ways, things have not gotten much better than the days of slapping animal grease on wagon hubs constantly to slow down wear and tear. We still have to regularly clean and lubricate firearms. Other finishes such as nickel plating do indeed oxidize with time but at a level that we don’t notice. Thermoplastics are also subject to changes at the surface level under certain conditions but not in any way any of us will see or appreciate. In the end, it all comes down to the problem of entropy–things in this universe just don’t last and are always moving in the direction of decay and destruction. Of coarse, this makes lots of people money, such as manufacturers of paints, lubricants, and spare parts! As for the hype of many lube products in the gun world, most of it is hype. There is some difference in the area of protection, however. CLP products are ideally created to do a better job of removing fouling, lubricating moving parts without attracting excess crud, and protecting against oxidation. This can and has been demonstrated by subjecting steel samples to moisture and rusting. Some will protect better than others. But does the lab translate to real life? I’m not sure anyone has shown that for military purposes, CLP products do better than 10W30. The real issue is cleaning and lubricating with whatever lube you want, regularly and as needed. Sort of like the action of a toothbrush on the tooth surfaces is more important than what toothpaste you use. Regularly brushing without toothpaste will do a far better job than less frequent brushing with the best paste on the market. This is particularly true for guns that are kept in vehicles during hot weather. They are easily forgotten and the lube dries out quickly. Such guns, carry guns, and unused guns in storage are often neglected because it is easy to equate “I haven’t fired the gun recently” with “it doesn’t need to be cleaned and lubed.” Modern ammunition doesn’t require the cleaning that it used to. Primer materials are free of the salts that used to encourage rusting in corrosive ammunition. This buys more time but it won’t eliminate care. I clean and lube more for function and protection than I do for accuracy in normal shooting. Leading and copper fouling is rarely the beast it is made out to be, and as I mentioned earlier, they help take out irregularities in the surface of the bore. I’m not concerned with scrubbing the surface to death but I am concerned about keeping it protected. I don’t use any gun cleaning solutions other than CLP. When I break down my guns all the way, I wet them with hot water and spray with Simple Green and let them sit for a while. Then I rinse, throw them into an ultrasonic cleaner, rinse, and either then an ultrasonic lube or BeakFree. The only reason for ultrasound is that I’m lazy!

    1. “Actually it’s a semantic issue. The surface of all metals is irregular, from porosity at the surface…” etc.

      Thanks, Mike R. You beat me to the punch and explain it better than I can.

  5. There is a good argument to be made for non-toxic gun lube, especially if you’re carrying / shooting / cleaning frequently.

    The fact that Frog Lube is edible (and minty) is just kinda fun to weird people out with in class.

    I’ve been using many of the new “non-toxic” products without a single lube-related (heh.) failure yet.

    I’ve also been told Mobil1 works really well in tight competition pistols but isn’t as edible 😉

  6. Never really bothered….just throw on the rem oil and away we go. Or, in the case of my glock, I just don’t.

  7. Using motor oil made in the last 40 years on your guns is a bad idea. There’s a lot more in it besides “oil”, and those additional ingredients weren’t designed to be used in guns, or to be in contact with skin.

    http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/whats-in-your-motor-oil/

    Not saying you need to buy into the FrogLube hype. There are plenty of dependable gun-specific lubricants to choose from. BreakFree CLP, for instance.

  8. I use sewing machine oil. I clean the gun with it and leaves a slight film when wiping it off.
    It’s light, clean, leaves a thin film and doesn’t smell bad. I use a little extra on wear points and it
    cleans up easily on the next cleaning. It doesn’t attract residue and I haven’t had any failures.

  9. Don’t believe oils can soak into metal?
    …Then perform this experiment:

    1) Get a metal part that has been soaked in hot oil for hours (an old engine part is ideal).

    2) Degrease it thoroughly with whatever product you prefer (brake cleaner; dish-soap; acetone. Let it dry.

    3) Put it in an oven set to 225°F for 1 hour…
    Where did those blotches of oil come from? Magical oil oven fairies?

    The training/instructions for applying Cerakote have you carry out those exact steps, then degrease and heat again if oil/lubricant does seep out of the pores. They tell you go repeat the process – and not to paint the part until there is no sign of oil seepage.

    1. From a private forum:

      “Per a request in another thread (Link Here) I’m going to combine some posts I’ve made on various forums related to lubricants for your weapons (and cars, etc). I’ve got degrees in materials engineering (metallurgy) and 6 years in a professional materials lab for experience. I’m not saying that to be a pompous ass, but just so you know that I’m not hand waving this stuff, and that there is real science to back up what I’m about to say. We have lots of very smart guys around here, and this is my one little area of solid technical knowledge from which I can talk sort of legitimately. Feel free to take it for what it’s worth. I’m happy to contribute and answer any questions that I can about this stuff if you are still curious after going through it.

      The Problem
      Tribology is the official name for the study of friction and wear. I don’t exactly specialize in that, but I encounter it in nearly every job I do. We have a guy on staff who is a dedicated tribologist. Imagine all of the different industries where friction and wear cost people money. Many billions of dollars per year are lost in the aerospace, military, public transportation, heavy equipment, shipping, delivery, over-the-road trucking, commercial automotive, fleet maintenance, highway/bridge, etc industries. Corrosion and wear is a massive – never ending problem that we all must deal with eventually. Materials have come a long way, but not nearly enough to negate corrosion and wear.

      What I’ve seen
      I work on quite a few different product lines from small valves to full scale jet engines. One of the biggest sources of work comes from aircraft landing gear. I’m talking about the big stuff: F15, F18, A380, 747, 737, A330, etc. These parts go through some of the most intense environments you can imagine. The navy stuff gets sprayed and washed with salt water, sand blasted in the desert, run way too hot, and over used between overhauls. The commercial stuff goes from freezing cold flying at cruising altitude to burning lava hot when using full power braking on short runways and overloaded with people. They get hit with rain, snow, sleet, and anything else you can think of. They fly through smog and acid rain. They get sprayed with complex and aggressive de-icing chemicals. It is definitely on the way towards a worst case scenario for complex metallic assemblies.

      R&D
      There is and has always been huge money dropped into R&D to slow or prevent friction, corrosion, and wear. If you think through all of those industries and the money they have to bring to the table, they are very interested in saving money. We use Timken bearings like most of the rest of the free world…because they are the best. They pride themselves on the best materials, the best manufacturing processes, and the most reliable bearings. If they tell you a lubricant to use on their products, you can take to the bank they’ve tested everything.

      Imagine you were tinkering in your garage one day and felt like you came up with a better lubricant than anything else on the market. You started selling it in little bottles online for $5 because you want to be friendly to your community. Do you really believe that these industries don’t have people out looking to buy the little bottles just in case you are right? They would buy the little bottle, run it through a series of chemical tests, and realize it’s no different than anything they’ve got and toss it out. Do you really believe that you could whip up something better than what these massive industries spend millions and millions of dollars on doing research every year? I highly doubt it.

      If you could go to the US Military (or any industry listed above) and tell them you had a lubricant that would save them money on replacement parts for their tanks, trucks, or aircraft you could retire to Hawaii and never work again. I’m not saying this to discourage people from trying to invent things. I’m simply stating that it’s unlikely.

      The Point
      If you take the service environments of all the industries (especially the landing gear one!) and compare it to the environment your pistols, rifles, and shotguns might see it’s sort of a worst case. The pointy spear guys may get closer than most of us, but let’s face it…many of our guns are babied. Lubricants that are recommended and used by these industries are probably good enough for the things we may encounter right?

      Guess what they recommend, nearly ubiquitously…Bearing Grease. It’s dirt cheap, it’s easy to find, and a small $4 tub will last you years. There are different kinds for different uses, but even the most expensive is still cheap compared to the fancy gun lubes. The one we prefer at my company is Mobil 1 Synthetic Bearing Grease. I picked up a grease gun size tube and use a syringe to apply it. Any of the high-temp greases will probably work fine.

      Grease is designed to trap particles of grit and stop them from bridging the gap between components. Imagine the small gap between your slide and slide rails. If a piece of sand is introduced and the sand bridges the gap it will cut scratches into both sides. This is called abrasive wear. As these scratches get deeper and more severe the surface area increases which leads to more corrosion. As the small grooves get deeper and wider the displaced metal can come off as small particles leading to even more abrasive particles. Finally these particles can roughen the surface so much they start to be in contact all the time. This is when galling happens and things get sticky and can eventually seize together. We see this often in bearing failures. Grit bridging the gap leads to abrasive wear which leads to adhesive wear. Grease is designed to encapsulate the grit and maintain the lubrication barrier on both sides. Oil in your car does the same with impurities. That is why oil is clear when you first put it in and black and thick when you change it. The oil is carrying the impurities so they don’t wear on the components while maintaining that lubrication barrier.

      When you put something like remoil on your gun you are making a very thin layer of protective lubricant. The gun may feel very smooth and nice after first cleaning, but it has very little ability to prevent grit from bridging. On a tight tolerance gun like a 1911 or AR-15, preventing grit is especially important. I’ve heard guys from Iraq say that grease on an AR attracts dirt and sand and requires more cleaning. I would suggest it was simply trapping the grit that was being introduced to the gun mechanism rather than letting it grind its way through and then exit. Grease will fill the gap provided and won’t be too thick. I’ve used it on all different types of guns and never had them seize in the winter or any other nonsense you hear to try and sell you other expensive products. On my Glocks I put a small amount on the rails and barrel and nowhere else. When I lube my sig, I fill the rails and then work the slide which will press out any extra leaving the gaps nice and full.

      Keep in mind the old saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” On that note, the next post will deal specifically with the newest and most dishonest snake oil I’ve seen…FrogLube.”

  10. Mobil 1 Synthetic and synthetic bearing grease.
    Buy once—and unless you shoot a LOT—it will be years before you need more.

  11. I’d rather not be breathing in atomized wheel bearing grease or 5W-30 when I shoot, the atomized lead is bad enough.

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