You’ve probably been hearing a little about this. Like any group of people that don’t have a computer overlord controlling them, we all have different preferences on lubricant. Some like Fireclean, others Slip2000 EWL, some appear to hate everything, and we’re sure Hernandez still has some whale oil left over from his service during the Khoikhoi-Dutch Wars. Today, Murr weighs in. Mad Duo
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Dirty and Wet, not Dirty and Dry: Idiotic “Lube Wars.”
Mad Duo Nate Murr
During the black powder era of firearms, shooters of all types were extremely limited when it came to available (and appropriate) cleaning materials. Hot, sometimes soapy water was often used to clean them, and Civil War soldiers would even urinate down their barrels. Oils and grease were rarely used. When they did they often came in the form of whale or lamp oils.
Battles were lost.
Wars were won.
There are few historic notes on weapon maintenance being a big issue.
The industrial revolution brought the emergence of more complicated weapons firing self-contained percussion cartridges. Machine Guns set the tone of war all the way to the modern era, with extensive use by all sides of WWI. Machine guns, pistols, rifles and artillery all saw the use of aggressive bore cleaners to kill corrosive solvents left over from the ammunition of the day. They required heavy petroleum-based oils and grease for lube. We don’t know much about what cleaners and lubes were used.
Rather more information exists establishing the importance of keeping weapons free of mud and debris.
WWII saw extensive deployment of fully automatic small arms, with prolific use of lightweight machine guns and sub-machine guns. Soldiers of all armies used petroleum products to clean and lube their small arms, with heavy weight liquid lubes and light grease remaining universally popular. In the Pacific Theater, rust was a daily concern. On the Eastern Front, savage winters froze both Soviet and Nazi weapons. There are reports that oil mixed with gasoline, or even sunflower seed oil, was used for lube. Soldiers would degrease their weapons and use a light coat of this acid-free, highly cold-resistant oil until the snow would melt in the spring. With the return of warm weather, they would return to heavier petroleum oils and grease.
Aside from the cold weather issues, there is little information to be found about weapons maintenance issues from this global war. Apparently the heavy oils, grease and bore cleaners which worked in the First World War worked just as well for the Second.
The famous WD-40 liquid lubricant was invented before the AR-15. This 1950s era “wonder lube” was originally developed for a variety of uses, most notably protecting the Atlas Nuclear Missile while stowed in its underground silo. It hit commercial shelves in 1958, and remains a frequently used lube on all forms of machines to this day. SEALS and MAC-V forces in Vietnam reportedly used this lube on their small arms, sometimes after washing the guns down in tubs of diesel fuel. While not recommended, plenty of shooters across America still use WD-40 as a firearms.
The M-16 was a new weapon for the Vietnam war, and was issued with separate bore cleaner and medium weight LSA oil. LSA and light weight grease both were used on a wide selection of small arms through the 1960s and 70s.
Aside from certain well known and infamous issues with the early M-16, there is little documentation on other small arms maintenance issues from this era either.
The 1980s saw the US military update and improve the M-16 while making a terrible switch to an “all in one” cleaning product, CLP. While streamlining the amount of cleaning gear issued to the individual soldier and certainly helping with logistical concerns, CLP has had a terrible track record. A Cleaner, Lubricant and Protectant, it is widely viewed by many as mediocre at all three. As a light weight lube, it burns off the M-16 and belt-fed weapons quickly, requiring a heavy initial coat as well as frequent additional applications during long strings of fire.
The Global War on Terror resulted in more complaints from servicemen using CLP in the desert, with many units pursuing alternative lubricating solutions. A wide array of lubes have been “issued” and used, regardless of what technical manuals and regulations might state. Nearly everyone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan will voice their preferred lube if asked, with a wide variance based on personal experiences.
I have asked World War 2, Korean, and Vietnam vets the same question, usually to be given a confused look in response. With the exception of M-16 toting grunts from Vietnam, most said they have no idea what they used, just that it worked well enough to not be an issue, or wasn’t even worth remembering. Having learned personally from my own service to despise issue CLP and the armorers that hoard it, I have my own point of view on the issue of cleaning and lubrication. Having used plenty of issue CLP, LSA, LAW and TW25B on all common issued weapons, I’ve learned this:
Lube matters. What you use, not so much.
The secret to keeping your M4 or AR running is to keep it wet with lube. This means a healthy coat right off the bat, one that won’t burn off fast. WD-40, rem oil, CLP, and other light lubes won’t last long once the gun gets hot. The M4/AR will run an impressively long time without cleaning if it’s a good quality rifle, you use good ammo, good mags, and a long lasting heavy weight lube. For this reason I have used thicker petroleum based lubes and lightweight grease.
Yes, that’s right. Grease. Grease on an M4 bolt.
TW25B worked great, and to this day I use similar cheap white lithium grease from the auto store. Originally designed for the aeronautic field, white lithium grease is a semi solid substance that does well in both high and low extreme temperatures. It’s also dirt cheap. When not using WLG, I will often use Synthetic Mobile One engine oil for the same reasons. When a rifle needs cleaning, I blast the receiver and barrel with brake or carb cleaner, wipe everything down, and relube. All my gun cleaning supplies come from the local car shop, and cost under twenty bucks.
I’ve watched people clean weapons with kerosene, gasoline, lamp oil, diesel fuel and JP-8. In a pinch, I’d do the same. Over the years, I’ve seen and used just about every type of lube known to man on firearms, and I’m not impressed. Go spend your money on snake oil, unicorn semen, or the latest Superlube3000, it doesn’t matter.
These “lube wars” are ridiculous and tiresome, and frankly I’m sick of hearing about them. Go shoot your damn gun. See what works for you and your firing cycle. If you try something, and it works, use it.
Mechanically complex firearms have existed for over one hundred years, with little complaint. The same can be said about what was used to clean and maintain them. Yet here we sit in the modern era at our key boards, arguing about dead dinosaur fluids and crushed up plant matter.
Keep your weapon clean and free of carbon. Use any lube you want, as long as it works and don’t be shy when applying it to your favorite blaster. Lube that sucker up like it’s the first time your girl cleared you hot for “butt stuff”, and go to town. The AR and M4 will run dirty and wet, but not dirty and dry. Most non-AR type guns, like AK pattern rifles and nearly all modern pistols, require a lot less lube. So hit up the auto supply shop. Go grab a stick of butter, bottle of KY, can of bacon grease and some sewing machine oil. Go hit the range, and see what happens.
Like with most things in the gun world, you will learn more by trying and doing than speculating and debating.
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author: Nathan “Mad Duo Nate” is a former USMC Sergeant who is now a nasty civilian. He lives largely on nicotine, whiskey and hate and can be frequently found orating Kipling poems to frightened hipsters. Inventor of the Gripstop, renowned procrastinator and renowned adventure protagonist, Murr is a graduate of the Camp Lejeune School for Wayward Boys. A combat veteran of multiple tours in Iraq and Africa, he was a Marine NCO, Infantry Platoon Sergeant and Scout Sniper team leader. Murr is a fully qualified American Jedi, handsome badass and world-renowned field barista (true story – he’s brewed great coffee on at least four continents). As anyone who has spent any time talking gear with him, Murr is something of an idiot savant when it comes finger-fucking stuff to make it work better. Mad Duo Nate only chain smokes when he’s drinking and only drinks every day. We reckon he is probably best described as a sociopathic philosopher with vestigial cutthroat (though poetic) tendencies. Thus far Murr’s writing has appeared in such places as here on Breach-Bang-Clear, on Military.com, in field shitters and portajohns on at least 3 continents, in RECOIL Magazine and of course Penthouse letters. (Grunts: vestigial) You can contact him at Nate(at)breachbangclear.com or follow him on Instagram @gripstop.