Proper Gun Care With Oils & Lubes. A slippery Subject.

An Introduction

Gun care products like oils and lubricants are something we all take for granted. No big deal. But use the wrong kind, and things can and will stop working fast! With so many different brands and types available today, the choices are overwhelming. There are mineral oil based lubes, fully synthetic oils, and natural environmentally safe lubricants advertised as safe to eat. We're not going to discuss the best brand to use, but instead talk about the proper use of, and more importantly misuse of firearm lubricants.

Your Average Gun Stoppage

Failures to feed and failures to extract are the most common types of stoppages that plague gun owners. The good news is that the implementation of a proper lubrication technique goes a long way to help eliminate these issues; assuming there are no mechanical breakages or operator errors. Extreme temperatures will always exacerbate any lube failures, whether hot or cold; and in Wisconsin, mostly cold. These stoppages are usually caused by failures of the slide or action assembly to either fully extend to their rearmost position in the action, and/or their ability to go to their furthest forward "lock-up" position in the action. Common reasons for this happening are:

  • No lube - dry gun
  • Too much lube - gun wet with lube and filled with debris
  • Wrong type of lube for application

Actually the more serious problem is the application of too much lube, as it causes the build-up of debris and carbon fouling. We'll talk about how to fix these conditions in a moment but first lets discuss the oils.

Types Of Lube

The amount of available gun oils on the market today can be staggering. And of course every single one claims there's is the best. So just what are the different lubes available anyway? Here's some of the most common types you'll find.

  • Traditional oils such as Hoppes #9
  • CLP's (which mean Cleaner Lubricant Preservative)
  • Synthetic gun oils. Usually a CLP
  • Storage preservatives - not to be used for general lubrication
  • CDLP's (Cleaner Dry Lubricant Protectant)
  • Gun greases - generally not used on modern firearms

So those are the basics, now lets talk about where and how each is used.

Proper Use Of Gun Oil, And Where To Put It

Traditional oils like Hoppes #9 have been around since the beginning. Bottled in either oiling cans or aerosol cans. This type of oil is good for all firearms when used appropriately. It leaves a wet film on the surface and is a non-drying type of lubricant. I like it for all around oiling of firearms and especially on older styled guns like 1911's or a Browning A5. It is a great oil, but you need to be careful not to use too much, as it can wick a lot of dirt into an action and cause a failure. Either blowing out excess oil with compressed air or wiping the extra off is a good practice. Do not use a lot near gas ports as it can add to carbon build-up.

CLP's like Breakfree or Remoil, are generally found packaged in an Aerosol dispenser. These lubes are designed to be a cleaner, lubricant, and protectant. I prefer these lubes on newer styles of firearms that have modern heat treating and are manufactured with polymers and alloys. They do a great job for lubricating and generally are a drying type of lube (once the carrier evaporates). Again like always remove any excess. I do not like their use however in older firearms which like to have a lubricating film left on sliding surfaces (think 1911 frame/slide relationship).

Synthetic gun oils like Birchwood Casey are found mostly in old styled squeeze cans. Most seem to be like (and probably are) a CLP with a different type carrier. They do stay "wet" longer upon application compared to an aerosol applied "synthetic".  Again, this is another one of those products that is a very good all-around lube for most firearms. The same technique of lubrication application should be employed with this product as with the CLP's. Wiping off any excess is always a good practice to employ regardless the type of lubricant used.

Storage preservatives like Birchwood Casey's Hopper Spit or Break Free's Collector are found bottled in Aerosols and squeeze containers. Do not use for general lubrication! Most of these products when used get quite tacky and sticky after the carrier evaporates. They are truly made for long term storage to prevent any rust and corrosion damage to metal. Firearms that have been treated with these products will usually require at least a minimal cleaning and re-lubrication for general service.  A great way to protect a firearm for long term storage and totally seal it from moisture is to vacuum pack it in plastic after the application of these storage preservatives.

CDLP's (like Sentry) are quickly becoming the next the new standard for firearm lubrication. This product goes on wet and then the carrier evaporates leaving a dry lubricant behind. So what exactly is different about these lubes that make them better? These products are a micro-bonding lubricant that are impervious to heat or cold, and also moisture displacing, corrosion inhibiting, and provide easier cleaning when done shooting. The smaller particulate size of the lube makes it more or less "in" the metal as much as on it.  Our military is becoming heavily invested in their use for small arms as well recently.

Gun grease products such as Rig have been around a long time. Generally I do not recommend the use of any type of gun grease on firearms, ever! We see many failures every year due to the misapplication of grease on or in guns. The logic behind its use is sound, you more than likely really want to protect your gun. The problem is while it may be working OK while it's warm outside, as soon as the temps start to drop, the grease starts "acting" thicker. There is no firearm whether it's a pump action or semi-automatic that is going to work properly with grease in cold temps. Now there are some very appropriate uses for grease, and two common ones are for lubricating hinge-pins and fore-end iron assemblies (only where the iron rides on the frame) of a double guns, and the other is for choke tubes (there are special greases for that as well). I can also think of some special applications for grease in older military firearms, but those are limited in application.

The Final Squirt

That's a run down of the basic types of lubricants available and a general application guide. As for recommendations as to which brand is best, It depends. I find it's more important to use the correct type for the application thank the particular brand itself.

We have not used much of the CDLP type lubes yet, but will certainly be giving them a thorough testing in the near future. However, I can say that for the hundreds of firearms we repair and re-finish each year, we use a lot of Hoppes #9. We have personally tested the stuff to -20°F on semi-auto's and they worked perfectly. We've tested CLP's in the same exact manner, and they also worked equally as good. The Hoppes #9  type lubes do have an advantage over others in that it makes the action feel smoother, which undoubtedly has to do with it's viscous film that stays wet on the surface of the metal.

Originally I wanted to include a section on cleaners and proper cleaning, but soon realized that should really be deserving of it's own discussion.

As always, if you have any questions on lubes, cleaners, types, and what or where to use them, fell free to give us a call. Our lubrication specialists are more than happy to help get you lubed!

Happy Shooting!

R G S

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