Need some new gun oil? Ready to shoot a lot of rounds in bad conditions? Looking for a long term cost effective solution to lubrication concerns for your arsenal?
At some point, every shooter wonders if they can beat the system in some way. At some point, every shooter wonders if the “wonder oil” is just snake oil. After all you can get a quart of motor oil that will protect your car for thousands of miles for a few dollars, why do you need to use highly specialized and high priced lubricants on your guns, which don’t see nearly the action that your car will see?
Well you aren’t far off if you are realizing this gunsmithing article is going to be about choosing a lube from the recipes of homemade lubes that are out there. The goal here is to help you find a suitable long term solution to at least one rising cost in the firearms industry: lube solutions.
The Usual Suspects: Gun Oil
First, let me start by saying, as a gunsmith growing up (I started really early in my grandfather’s shop), we had a plethora, yes a plethora of lubes, from WD-40 (something most people would never ever put on a gun) to KROIL (a perfect solution to removing rusted screws) to white lithium grease (an almost suitable lube for a Glock or other polymer gun’s rails) to choke tube lube, and even dry lubes like powdered graphite and molybdenum disulfide. I told you we had a plethora (this is a reference to the movie The Three Amigos by the way). I’d like to believe that part of the proprietary knowledge I held as a gunsmith, the game changer in some cases, was my knowledge of lubes. Insert bad joke here. But in the end, I think I got caught buying into the marketing hype of something that would never quite do what it claimed to do, or which could be achieved far more easily and for less money.
I remember using a combination oil and cleaner for years and swearing by it, and it wasn’t until my grandfather cleaned a gun with good old Hoppes number 9 in front of me, that I realized I was lacking with my choice of cleaners/lubricants. It’s not impossible to get a combo working for you, but it takes a bit more thought that the industry put into it 10 years ago.
The lubrication industry is a big business, the military is a huge consumer of many high-technology lubes especially high temperature greases, and while messing around doing some research on military equipment, I began to start experimenting with some lubes of my own (and there’s the punch line from earlier…). I had done it before, but nothing too crazy and nothing that could be considered cheap. Mostly I had worked with exotic lubricants and mixes of exotic lubricants. That sort of defeats the purposes of this article, as it’s about finding economical and hard working solutions to the gun oil issue.
*Note: there is an upcoming article that talks about lubrication as a whole, and the desirable properties, uses, recommendations and products to look at.
So designing an all purpose gun oil is the point: let’s get to understanding what’s important in doing so.
First of all, we want protection of the mechanical action of the firearm, by reducing friction; secondly we want corrosion resistance; thirdly we want a low fouling lubricant, and one which does not attract additional crud into the gun; lastly we want something that is easy to apply, and easy to deal with.
Mystery recipes for gun oil are interesting fixes for these uses.
For years I used simple Starrett tool oil: super refined clear oil which is incredibly thin, but has good rust resistance properties and doesn’t gum easily. It’s $7.50 for a couple ounces. If you are shooting in heat and humidity or in dirty areas, you are doing a lot of cleaning and reapplying lube. I have since started using a red-oil secret recipe that I devised with input from some Army Ranger guys who had been in Afghanistan and Iraq a long time, when we discussed whether the M4 was too outdated to be carried anymore. They used a mixture of motor oil, Hoppes #9 and automatic transmission fluid; they quipped about the insurgents and the friendly infantry soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who would use motor oil (sometimes used motor oil) to keep their AK’s running. The AK is a bit of a different story as we all know, being all steel and prone to having perfect functioning. The AR-15/M-4 is one made of dissimilar metals, more prone to debris and harder to keep clean, even while shooting cleaner cartridges.
It makes a lot of sense though, as you need a ton of lube in the desert for when you are cleaning often, and for when you cannot. You don’t want something that attracts too much dust, so that’s a problem, but it’s tough to be without any lube with extended firing. Motor Oil and its associated lubricants are made for handling extreme duty engines and heat very well. It’s abundant and easy to understand what you are working with.
Gun Oil Recipes
My first gun oil concoction in preparation for this article was as follows:
For Friction reduction:
A high quality motor oil additive (like a motor oil treatment: I used a powdered supplement with molybdenum disulfide) ¼ of a cycle treatment
For corrosion resistance:
A synthetic Mobil One with a low viscosity. 1 Bottle
For fouling control:
A bottle of Hoppes Number 9. 1 bottle
For overall consistency and ease of use:
I added slip control gear oil that wasn’t gummy: Lucas Oil Automatic Transmission fluid semi synthetic fit the bill. I added approximately ¾’s of a bottle
The total cost was about $27, which might seem ridiculous, but I used about ¼ ounce for the entire day, including seating (conditioning) a new barrel. The mix made roughly 60 ounces. Yes, sixty ounces.
I shot 400 rounds out of an AR-15 in the hot Arizona sun, and despite smelling like my car was overheating, there was not one problem with functionality excess fouling, gumming or anything else.
The mixture above is a bit thicker than I would usually use, but the gun doesn’t foul easily, it stays working and there is nothing to damage the finish in it.
I am currently experimenting with these recipes also (in smaller quantities):
Gun Oil Recipe #1:
Anti Friction: Lucas ATF, 2 ounces
Corrosion: Starrett Tool oil, 4 ounces
Anti Fouling: Hoppes number 9, 1 ounce
Consistency and ease of application: Mobil 1, 1 ounce
This makes 8 ounces; cost adjusted it was about $12 (the Starret oil is expensive).
This recipe is thinner, lighter and seems less prone to gum up eventually.
Gun Oil Recipe #2:
Anti Friction: Cheap dexron ATF, 2 ounces
Corrosion: Mobil 1 full synthetic, 4 ounces
Anti Fouling: Hoppes number 9, 1 ounce
Consistency and ease of application: STP oil additive, 1 ounce.
This makes 8 ounces; cost adjusted it was about $2.75 for this quantity.
The recipe is thicker than both of the above, and is perhaps a direct reflection of the STP additive, which I assume breaks down eventually to improve the consistency for connected parts.
All three of these work incredibly well, and all three smell badly (well, like a car transmission on a long trip uphill).
The addition of the Hoppes Number 9 to these different homemade gun oil replacements makes it infinitely easier to clean, usually with a wipe down of a lint free cloth or a brushing off with a good quality toothbrush. I always apply liberally wipe; and then reapply a tiny amount to key areas with a dropper. Many guys use a spray bottle and a cloth, I just can’t fathom doing that. Sure it’s fast, but it’s messy and the ATF bakes off in the sun which smells even worse.
I am unsure yet of the benefit of using this type of lube to help seat a rifle barrel, and I will be experimenting with that (seating a rifle barrel is when you take a new barrel and clean it, oil it, wipe it clear and then fire a single shot before re-cleaning fully, followed by another shot, another cleaning and so on for about the first 25-75 rounds). By the way another article is coming out this week regarding seating a barrel for precision work and ultimately for accuracy and cleaning purposes, like snipers and match professionals do with their rifle bores.
So in the end, this is just the start to the “Red Oil” gun oil experience for me, and I will keep you posted on the results as I test a variety of firearms with it. B y the way as a final note, while you CAN wipe down the gun with this gun oil on external, finished parts, I don’t personally do it, as the additives can make it tricky to refinish in the future. I would also avoid using it too often near wood parts without wiping down the excess gun oil.