Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lanolin as a gun grease

A friend was showing me a jar of the latest new wonder lube for firearms, and the consistency reminded me of... something else. A check of the MSDS for the product showed that it was principally poly-alpha olefin, but I couldn't help thinking it felt a lot like lanolin.

Lanolin is a natural fat extracted from wool in processing. It's waht keeps sheep from getting soggy in the rain, what makes natural wool garments shed water, and in the days before modern lubricants, it was used widely for all sorts of lubrication and rustproofing of metal.

A lot of lanolin is marketed in the form of skin creams and lotions, usually with other oils and a lot of water; lanolin can absorb something like 80% of its weight in water. What you need for gun lube is the pure thing- anhydrous lanolin. Seen in the photo at left is a sample of pure anhydrous lanolin. It's sticky, and won't run. In fact, it has great affinity for metal, won;t melt and run off in hot weather, and keeps its lubricity in the cold.

Pure lanolin isn't always easy to find, but I found 4.8 (net) jars of pure lanolin at Amazon for $8.59, and that's a few years supply. It has a lot of uses beyond gun lubrication for the sportsman. Rub it on your hands when ice fishing, to keep your skin from drying out.  Great for chapped lips, too- it's the main ingredient in Carmex.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dixie Gun Works

I started reading the Dixie Gun Works catalog in the 1980s, when I was in grad school, and making a .45 caliber percussion muzzle loading rifle was the perfect distraction to take my mind off school and my downtown Detroit apartment. I don't shoot muzzle loaders much these days but I still order a copy of the Dixie catalog just about every year. DGW has been around since 1954, which makes it as old as I am, and the Dixie catalog reflects that history. In it, you'll find nearly 700 pages of every conceivable type of muzzle loading firearm, along with gun parts, period clothing, knives, shooting accessories and just about everything a muzzle loading enthusiast might want. Some of the entries and parts are probably unchanged from when Turner Kirkland founded Dixie. Here's a typical page:

That's just a small selection of the hammers and mainsprings they carry. You can find everything from basic unfinished castings to highly polished, finished hammers. Same goes for locks, barrels, kits... you name it. Even if you don't currently shoot a muzzle loader you owe it to yourself to get a copy to spend a lazy afternoon thumbing through. It's only $5, and basic Media Mail shipping is free. Of course if you're like me you'll spend the extra $2 to get it sent UPS.

You can find DGW at

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gun Lubrication

There are a million wonder oils and greases for guns out on the market, and most of them are no better than some very simple, inexpensive, and common lubricants you can buy. Some are actually harmful. The best source of information I've found on lubricating guns comes from legendary gunsmith Grant Cunningham's "Lubrication 101" essay.  I recommend you read it, but I'll summarize it briefly:

You need two products: An oil, for small parts that carry a heavy load, like triggers, hammer bushings, and pivots of all sorts, and a grease, for parts that slide or rub together, like slides, bolts and sears. The oil should be thin enough to migrate into bushings and around pin, and the grease should be thick enough so that it stays where you put it- and no thicker. There are further requirements, having to do with corrosion resistance and so forth, and if you're interested, read Grant's piece. He explains all the details, as well as why you should never use any chlorinated compounds anywhere on your guns.

Back in the 18th Century and well into the 20th, the preferred oil for small parts under high loads, like clock movements, was whale oil- specifically, sperm whale oil. It has great lubricity, handles very high loads, and never gums up. It was also a major component of Dexron, the first automatic transmission fluid for cars! Whales are no longer hunted for their oil, but there's an excellent substitute- yep, automatic transmission fluid. Any Dextron-type fluid makes a great gun oil, and you can get it for as little as $4/quart- which is a lot cheaper than the $15 or so you'd pay for a 4 ounce bottle of someone's magic gun oil.

A good grease is cheap, too. Grant likes Lubriplate SFL in its lightest weight- NLGI #0.  For hot weather, a slightly heavier (but still very light) SFL is called for. Lubriplate's Lubriplate 10oz Low Temp Garage Door Grease, which is a NLGI #1 SFL, is a good choice and probably available at your local hardware store. That 10oz. tube will probably last you several years.

About that photo at the top of this post: If you haven't gotten it by now, it's a US WWII-era M3 "Grease Gun." Get it? Never mind.