Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More DIY lube: Make your own Ballistol

Ballistol has been popping up increasingly in stores, magazine articles, forums, and blog posts over the past few years- enough so that I thought I should check it out. I'm usually very skeptical of the CLP-of-the-month frenzy that preoccupies a lot of shooters, but Ballistol has been around since before the First World War. Products don't usually survive that long unless they have something to recommend them, so decided to check it out.

If you go to the commercial Ballistol web page you can read this breathless history of the product:

In 1904, Dr. Helmut Klever succeeded in producing the special compound, which he named “Ballistol” (from the words “ballistic” and “oleum”, the Latin word for “oil”).  It soon became obvious that this new “ballistic oil” had truly amazing capabilities, and in 1905 the Imperial Army tested and adopted Ballistol, which stayed in use until 1945.  By then, however, word had spread and within a decade, hunters, boaters, hikers, and outdoorsmen in Germany, Austria and Switzerland had converted to using this new “miracle oil.”

So what is Ballistol, exactly? The ingredients aren't secret. There's the MSDS, of course, and the formula hasn't exactly been kept secret for the past 113 years. Like all lubricants, it has as its base an oil- in the case of Ballistol, mineral oil. This is the same lightweight petroleum distillate that is used as baby oil, transformer oil, or microscope objective immersion oil. It's clear, nontoxic, and cheap- about 87 cents per pound in drum quantities. (Walmart has pharmaceutical grade mineral oil for $1.98/pint). It lacks the tenaciousness of polarized oils or greases, but if you regularly clean and lubricate a firearm it works just fine, which is why so many commercial gun lubes have mineral oil as their base.

The second ingredient is oleic acid, which makes up around 10% of Ballistol by volume. This is not a corrosive chemical, as the name might suggest, but a monounsaturated fatty acid. It's also a major component of many soaps, and when combined with mineral oil it allows the oil to mix with water in suspension. That means you can dilute it with water and make "moose milk," a favorite cloning solution for black powder shooters. When used undiluted as a CLP, it helps keep carbon and dirt in suspension so it can be flushed out.

The third main ingredient is benzyl acetate, which also makes up about 10% of Ballistol. This compound is commonly used as a component of artificial fruit flavors and aromas. It's also an effective solvent for nitrocellulose, which is why it's in Ballistol.

The last ingredient in Anethole, a plant extract that gives Ballistol its characteristic anise/licorice scent. Some find this scent very off-putting. I used in in my mixture for authenticity, but frankly, I'd leave it out as it doesn't contribute anything functional to the mixture. I suspect its presence in the original formula may have been for some assumed medicinal purpose as it was commonly used to clean wounds, according to some sources. I mixed up mine in a mineral oil bottle with a flip-up spout that I think was sold for applying oil to wooden cutting boards, but you could also use a spray bottle of the sort I used for my Ed's Red experiments.

Having mixed up all the ingredients, I wetted a few patches an pulled them through a .22 that had been to the range recently, and as you might expect, it left a clean and shiny barrel. I also used it to clean carbon deposits form the cylinder of my S&W 14-3 Masterpiece, and again, it worked just as well as the Break Free I usually use.

So there it is: Mineral oil, soap,  and nontoxic nitrocellulose solvent.  Total cost for a pint was under $3, which compares very favorably with $18 that Midway gets for a pint can of the commercial product. If you'd like to try mixing it up on your own, you can get mineral oil almost anywhere, and I've found vendors selling small amounts of oleic acid, butyl acetate, and anethol on both eBay and on Etsy. Anethole can also be found in health food stores and various new age apothecaries at ridiculously inflated prices. Shop around, as prices vary widely.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Williams WGRS-RU22 Peep Sight for the Ruger 10/22

I've experimented the stock leaf sight and with scopes ranging from 4x to 18x and various red dots on my 10/22, but never a peep sight- until now. Scopes are the default choice for almost all rifle shooters these days thanks to the availability of inexpensive scopes. But before rifle scopes were common, the shooter looking for accuracy used a peep sight. Those who've never used a peep might wonder how accurate a non-magnifying scope can be. They should take a look at the rifles used by high power competitors, who shoot targets at 300, 600, and even 1000 yards using only peeps. I had an adjustable William peep on my Beeman R7 pellet rifle for the first year I owned it and found it was as accurate as any scope at the 10-30 yards distances where a low powered airgun is most useful.

There are several peep sights available for the 10/22. One of the simplest and most rugged is the WGRS-RU22 from Williams, who have been making sights for around 90 years. The rear sight screws directly to the same holes used for mounting the scope rail:

There aren't any adjustment knobs or screws- just a pair of set screws for securing elevation and windage adjustments. There are some crude scales engraved in the sight, but basically zeroing this rifle involves loosening a screw, nudging the sight, and tightening the screw again. Elevation is accomplished by sliding the sight forwards and backwards along an angled rail. Windage is adjusted by moving the peep right or left. The sight uses a screw-in insert, so you can  remove the pinhole and use the mounting ring as a "ghost sight:" in low light.  As the sight sits a little higher than the leaf sight, Williams supplies a slightly higher front sight that can be installed with a sight pusher, or a brass punch- which is what I used:

This sight has the popular "fiber optic" insert which really does pick up ambient light and help the front sight stand out against a dark target. I was a bit sorry to remove the the stock sight as it has a  very traditional looking brass insert, but I have to admit the fiber optic sight is much more practical.

My only testing so far has been in my basemt 10 meter range, with Aguila Colibri ammunition, and I have found that the peep is certainly very accurate there. It may not be as fast as a red dot sight, but a peep sight has the advantage that it doesn't use any batteries.  At typical small game hunting distances of 20-40 yards a peep is about as accurate as you need. Those looking for a rugged, reliable, sighting system for a 10/22, or for any rifle intended as a survival gun should certainly consider the peep.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Aimtech APM-11 scope mount for the S&W 422

The Smith & Wesson 422 is an accurate, reliable, fun to shoot pistol, with many of the features that make the more expensive Model 41 so good. You can almost think of the 422 (and its stainless companion, the 622) as an entry level Model 41- in fact, they share the same magazine. They both have a very low bore axis, just above the grip. The ejection port is at the top of the grip, and the entire slide is actually above the bore and the port. That low bore axis means that recoil is almost straight back- there's very little rotation of the gun when fired. 

The 422 came in two versions, one with fixed sights (which I have) and a nicer one with adjustable sights and wooden grips. You can't just swap sights, either, as you can with many pistols. While the rear sight on the fixed model is simply dovetailed into the slide, on the adjustable model, the slide is actually milled longitudinally for the sight. I thought about fitting a a sight from another gun onto my 422, but that leaves the problem of the front sight, which I think is an integral part of the alloy frame, and can't be replaced. You'd have to solder or epoxy some sort of extension on. 

That led me to think about putting a dot sight on it. There's no provision in the pistol for mounting a scope, though some have milled slots into the upper part of the frame, just behind the front sight, or mounted a short rail there. The simpler solution is to get an APM-11 mount from Aimtech, who make scope mounts for all sorts of difficult to scope pistols. This will cost you around $65-68 with postage, depending on where you order it. I paid $68 from Optics Planet, as while there were cheaper listings out there, they were all from shops I'd never heard of, and I'd done business with Optics Planet and trusted them. 

As you can see from the photo at the top of this article, the APM-11 mounts by replacing the right hand side grip. It's a very secure mount, similar to Aimtech's mount for the Colt 1911. The mount itself is made of thick, anodized, aluminum that doesn't flex at all. It's a very high mount, that leaves plenty of room between the gun and scope- enough to use the stock sights, if you like:

although it does help make the gun more top heavy. The scope and mount add enough weight that the combined  assembly is a lot harder to shoot bullseye style than the gun alone. I spent a few hours this afternoon shooting 3 foot-pound Aguila Colibri rounds into my basement pellet trap to get a feel for how it handles, and had a real preference for two-handed shooting with this setup. I may try it with a smaller, lighter dot sight. 

One thing that did strike me was the finish on this piece- it's rough. Take a look:

This isn't just an unpolished finish. It's as if part of their anodization preparation involves tumbling parts with  nuts, bolts and old metal roller skates. In fact, it got me to wondering if perhaps Optics Planet hadn't sent me a used unit, so I sent them a note asking about this. They replied with an apology, and an offer to send it back or accept an $18 price adjustment. I took the price adjustment. 

Overall, I'm impressed with the accuracy of the machining (and less so for the finishing) and how well it fits the gun. On the minus side, it's a bullseye sight mount that's not really a bullseye grip, though a clever gunsmith or shooter could screw or epoxy half a wood grip to it, I suppose. I can't imagine using it for anything other than bullseye or other target shooting at known distances, given how high the mount is above the bore axis. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ed's Red

What's your favorite all-in-one gun cleaner, lube, and protectant? An awful lot of shooters, as well as the US Military, use Break Free CLP. Some shooters like Ballistol, which was formulated for the German military around the time of the First World War.

There are also a number of expensive "superlubes" that show up on the market from time to time, like Fireclean, which sells for $15 per 2oz bottle ($7.50 per ounce) and promises to have all sorts of wonderful properties, like being biodegradable, non-toxic, removing baked-on carbon, and providing lubrication even when there's no visible lube left on the gun. Thanks to a number of dedicated Internet researchers, we know that Fireclean is mostly (or entirely) vegetable oil, which sells for about twenty cents per ounce at my local grocery. (If you follow this link, you can see Ian McCollum and Karl Kasarda frying eggs in Fireclean.)

Way back in 1947, retired US Major General Julian Hatcher published his"Hatcher Notebook,"  a collection of essays covering just about everything he knew about guns and marksmanship, and in that book he listed a formula for "Frankford Arsenal Cleaner No. 18," a mixture that dated back at least to the 1920s. Hatcher's formula consisted of equal parts sperm whale oil, Pratts Astral Oil, turpentine, and acetone, and optionally, some lanolin added.

Sperm whale oil isn't available today, but a modern substitute is: Automatic Transmission Fluid. Pratt's Astral Oil turns out to have been deodorized kerosene, which is sold today as lamp oil. Turpentine is expensive, can break down, and has a strong odor, but there's a modern substitute for that as well: Stoddard Solvent, also known as odorless mineral spirits. With all the plastic grips and other parts in guns today the use of acetone in a general purpose gun cleaner probably isn't wise. But the remaining ingredients still make for a good general purpose CLP formula, and in 1991 C. E. "Ed" Harris published his modernized formula, which has come to be known as Ed's Red. Very simply, it's composed of:

1 part ATF
1 part odorless kerosene or lamp oil
1 part odorless mineral spirits
200 grams anhydrous lanolin per liter of mixture. (optional)

Ed recommended adding 1 part acetone, as in the original formula, for removing plastic residue from shotgun barrels, or aggressive powder residue removal. I'd skip the acetone for the reasons I mentioned previously.

I mixed up a batch today from material on hand, although I did drop by my local hardware store to get a chemical-resistant spray bottle. Total cost worked out to be roughly $4 for 24 ounces, or 17 cents per ounce, making it even cheaper than Canola oil. If you leave out the lanolin it's cheaper still. The lanolin doesn't add any additional cleaning properties, but it does leave a more tenacious protective film against rusting.

So, you may ask, how well does it work? As good as any product Ive tried, I suppose. The truth is that just about any oil makes a fine gun cleaner and lubricant if you regularly clean and lube your guns. Rapeseed oil was used by the carload in large guns by the allies all through WWII. Ballistol is just mineral oil with some soap (oleic acids) and aromatic compounds. Use what you like whether it's some new wonder oil  that costs $40 for a tiny 4 ounce bottle, or canola oil that costs $2.75/quart at the Piggly-Wiggly. The important thing is to do the regular maintenance.

Footnote: More from Ian and Karl on magic formulas.