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.

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