Freud to Gene Stoner, everyone loves to argue about lube; the symbolism of that lies on several levels. What’s funny is many people don’t have the slightest idea exactly what lubricant does or how it works, other than to make sure the gun goes bang. Today Mad Duo Merrill takes a break from his kegel exercises to weigh in – this should be a good one, because like many of you, lube is something our minions debate constantly. Get ready to get your learnin’ on. Mad Duo
Fake Science, Bullshit, and your Favorite Gun Lube
Mad Duo Merrill
Seems like every year there is a new, ‘must have’ firearm lubricant. Off the top of my head going through the years I recall hubbabalo (hullabaloo?) about Militec-1, FP-10, Slip2000, Weapon Shield, Slipstream, Gun Butter, Tetra, Liberal Tears, Frog Lube and sundry others. Now it’s Fireclean, Breakthough, and Italian Gun Grease. Facebook and forums are frequently inundated with praise and reviews and the manufacturers all spout the same claims of superiority and invulnerability. Samples get sent out, blogs throw out reviews and and and…..
No doubt next year we’ll have another expensive batch making the rounds.
How do you cut through the bullshit?
Let’s talk about oils. You know what you never see on the side of a bottle of firearms lube? An SAE or API rating (you know, ‘10W-30’ or ‘SAE 20’). You do find it on bottles of motor oil though. You find it because it’s legally required for engine oil, as outlined by a bigassed government document called Handbook 130, and has been since 1984. Let me give you a quick breakdown on what these numbers actually mean:
The rating on the side of that bottle of oil you find at Autozone is its viscosity rating; how thin or thick it is. The lower the number, the thinner the oil. Lower numbers mean that the lubricant will flow and populate more easily than others. Of course, as you may recall from your high school science class, temperatures usually have a direct effect on viscosity ratings. If you’re looking at an oil with a, ‘W’ rating, it means it was tested at two different temperatures (First one colder, and the second number being 100 degrees Celsius). If it has a single number, it was tested at the 100C operating temperature.
A 5W-20 oil and a 10W-20 oil have the same viscosity at 100C but the 5W-20 is thinner at colder temperatures. The change in thickness between given temperatures is the Viscosity Index (VI). Higher VI = less drop in viscosity at higher temperatures.
Now, thinner oil flows more easily and thicker oil prevents wear and tear better. For your car, there have been boatloads of research done as to what weight is the best for your particular engine. For your gun? Yeah, not so much. There hasn’t even been half of one percent the amount of research done on firearms lubricants compared to motor oil. Even if there had been, it would be specific for any given operating system.
What about Biodegradable Oils?
There are two main kinds of biodegradable oils: vegetable based and synthetics. There are some definite advantages to biodegradable lubricants in some environments, such as in mining where some environmental fouling can occur. Vegetable based oils can be good for cleaning because the crud tends to stratify in them but generally have lower flashpoints unless additives are used.
Many biodegradables interact negatively with other lubricants (like turn into a gummy mess). This might not seem like a big deal unless you don’t happen to have your uber-lube of choice when you need it, and instead have to supplement with something else.
The main thing to keep in mind is that biodegradable oils, well, they degrade when exposed to oxygen, water, microbes etc. A key piece of information that’s missing from many biodegradable firearms lubricants: percent of degradability and length of degradation. In the case of oil used for industrial purposes, this information is a selling point; not so for your rifle, apparently.
I understand the desire for something non-toxic. However, you have to remember that no one is asking you to fry your eggs in it or drink it. Remember, the guys who change your oil at Valvoline don’t do so wearing full CDC suits.
Then of course you have corrosion protection. Not all lubricants are great at this (some of them are dismal, in fact) but most of them claim to be. There are some good independent corrosion tests on assorted lubricants out there and I urge you to check them out. There haven’t been any widespread SAE/API viscosity tests or even anything definitive on flash points.
Compare any product or MSDS sheet produced by Mobil1 or Royal Purple with the factory information on your lubricant of choice. The differences are immediately obvious and staggering.
Why don’t lubricant companies give us this information? Because it’s easier to sell a do-all with dubious claims than to produce actual test results. The fact of the matter is, in the realm of firearms lubricant, one can make almost any claim if it’s worded correctly. Lacking on real science? Use a lot of filler and feel-good phrases. Rely on testimonials. It’s all very similar to what you’d hear on an infomercial for a kitchen gadget or shampoo—like a Tactical Billy Mays.
With all of that in mind, I am proud to introduce an all-natural biodegradable lubricant made from the most proprietary materials in the world:
Unicorn Dick Lube®
That’s right. Unicorn Dick Lube.
UDL is an odorless and glittery firearms solvent, lubricant, and corrosion inhibitor designed for military operators for use in field operations. It is made from real unicorns. Utilizing advanced technology and the newest materials, Unicorn Dick Lube® shoots out a layer of glistening protection with every application. We at UDL are committed to extensive research, detailed development, and rapid deployment of advanced weapon glittering technologies that will enable all Special Sparkle Operations personnel to effectively and confidently carry out their missions with the knowledge they have the best protection. The secret of UDL is in the magic nano-glitter (MNG). Our proprietary MNG is stronger than military grade glitters—can your lube of choice make that claim? I didn’t think so.
I’m aware some people will miss the sarcasm; hopefully you’ll get my point. (And hopefully someone will actually make Unicorn Dick Lube®, ‘cuz that shit would be awesome).
No, I’m not saying that you should just drop everything and just buy motor oil or ATF fluid–though I know for a fact there are professional pipe hitters and competitive shooters that do just that. There isn’t a, ‘do-all’ lubricant for your firearm, not really. Usage, weapon configuration, and environment are the major considerations. Guns that run hotter (like a suppressed M4) will do better with a thicker lubricant that doesn’t migrate as much when exposed to high heat and that also has a higher flash point. Your 10/22 may be better off with a different lube.
I suppose the good news is that whatever lube you’re currently using is probably just fine for general use, but you’re likely overpaying for it. Be wary of magic lubes, ask for actual, not anecdotal, proof of claims, and be a skeptical consumer. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
Put another way: If it sounds like bullshit, it probably is until proven otherwise.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
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: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at)BreachBangClear.com and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).