We invest a lot of money in purchasing the perfect firearm, and we trust our live's in its ability to do what it is supposed to do when we pull the trigger. So naturally, when it comes to cleaning and lubing our firearms, we want the latest and greatest product out there. Depending on if you're a half-empty or half full type person, you may or may not appreciate the fact that there are many gun lube manufacturers producing ‘the best product imaginable.'
I am a half full kind of person and think more options are great for competition, prices, and entrepreneurship. The tough part is deciding what is truly the best. You can look for the highest price, but sometimes what is most expensive isn't the best. You could ask your friends, but that is subjective. You can look to reviews, but how do you know you are not watching a cleverly disguised infomercial?
The Challenge of Comparing Gun Lubes:
The trouble is its hard to compare apples to apples when comparing gun lubes. There are products that are specially designed solely to lube your firearm, and there are some that serve a dual purpose to clean and lubricate. And of course, the old standby, the products designed to do all three, CLP- clean, lubricate and protect.
After that, we need to consider the application of these products. Some of them are designed to work in specific climates, where temperature or humidity is excessive. And of course, you have to take into consideration price. There may be an unbelievably perfect product out there, but if the cost is not affordable, not only will no one buy it, manufacturers will not produce it.
And, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the fact that there are many people who swear that gun lubes are useless. Not in the sense that they don't work, but that they are overpriced concoctions that do no better than readily accessible products you probably have in your garage. Are these people on to something that those of us spending more money on dedicated gun lubes don't know?
Well, just like you, I want to find out what the best product to lube my firearm is, without breaking the bank. I watched plenty of Mr. Wizzard as a kid, and science class was actually one class I stayed awake in during high school. So I thought I would put together a controlled scientific experiment instead of just trying each gun lube out individually with random external factors. I searched the internet for some ideas on how I could perform a fair, side-by-side comparison, and voila I came across a great video by the fellas at Red Neck Gun Works.
In their comparison, they used a drill press and pennies attached to dowel rods to determine how various gun lubes held up under friction. I read the comments and found there were some people who had ideas on how to make the experiment more scientific. I also had some ideas of my own that I thought may be interesting to include in the test. So I took their process and just tweaked it a little to come up with the test I performed.
The Gun Lubes Tested:
I tested 5 gun lubes, 2 household products and had one control (no lube at all). The gun lubes used in the test were:
- Pig Lube
- Hoppes #9 Lube Oil
- Frog Lube CLP (PASTE)
- SAE 30 Motor Oil
- Rand HAWG Grease
- Ogre HP Gun Oil
- Control (no lube)
I started with 8 pennies of similar condition with the same minting design. I attached each penny to a wooden dowel rod with adhesive. I then used flat, galvanized metal electrical switch covers and divided them into 8 sections. Each penny had a consistent and specific lube applied to it and then was placed into a drill press.
I clamped the galvanized metal to the drill press and took an initial temperature reading of the metal using an IR temperature gun. I then started the drill press and lowered the penny applying the same consistent pressure for each test. I ran the penny in the press until I heard obvious metal on metal squeaking (with the exception of the control which obviously squeaked right away.) I also took IR temperature readings at 1-minute intervals and a final temperature reading when the press was stopped.
After all were completed, I compared the pennies and steel plates for wear. A few of the products left a black residue. This obscured being able to see the actual wear marks, so I wiped it off using only my finger, so we could see the actual wear marks.
The Interesting Results:
Obviously, I recorded all the data, and once placed into a table, there were several interesting things I noticed. Some of them were somewhat expected, and some very surprising.
As far as initial results, it looks like Pig Lube and Rand Hawg Grease lasted the longest before starting to break down. These products also did the best job of controlling the temperature. I imagined these two numbers would be directly related as the friction is causing the heat, and less friction should result in less heat.
In the next tier was Ogre Mfg. and Frog Lube. They performed surprisingly similar. Slightly behind was Hoppes #9. The last two spots were filled by the motor oil and WD-40. Motor oil is a tremendous lubricant, and it surprised me a little to see the temperatures spike very quickly. Perhaps this is because motor oil is designed to work at much higher temperatures. And WD-40 coming in dead last, that was really no surprise. It is great for oiling hinges and penetrating rust but as a gun lubricant, there are far better options. It burned off more quickly than any other product tested.
As you can see from the results, there were several lubes that performed similarly in length of time before there was an obvious metal on metal squeaking noise. What was interesting to me is that there were similar temperatures at which this began to occur, right around 95-97 degrees Fahrenheit. I know this may sound like a low temperature for the lubes to start to break down. But when actually thinking about the application for these products, it is probably just fine. Unless you are running a heavy automatic firearm, the parts that are actually running against one another are not likely to sustain temperatures in the mid or upper 90's for minutes on end.
The Metal Plates
The temperature and time stats listed above only paint part of the picture. So here are the photos of the pennies and the metal plate each penny was matched up with. All pennies showed some wear, some more than others. The galvanized metal plates were actually more interesting in some ways than the pennies.
The pictures tell an interesting story. I tried to show the wear patterns in the photos, but some things are difficult to show in a photo. So I will describe what I can see when I inspect the pennies and plates close up, but you can make your own call. Here is how I rank the products:
1. Rand HAWG Grease leads the pack
This product not only held the longest exposure time but showed the least amount of wear after such a lengthy time. It also controlled the temperatures extremely well.
2. Pig Lube and Frog Lube
Pig Lube and Frog Lube showed similar wear patterns, but Pig Lube lasted a bit longer on its exposure. Both products controlled the temperatures quite well.
3. Motor Oil
The wear marks shown with the motor oil are surprisingly minimal but that could be partially due to the shorter exposure time. But the fact that the wear marks are minimal adds credence to the argument that motor oil can be used to lube your firearm. That being said, the high temperatures motor oil is designed to work at are much higher than the temperatures produced in most handguns. Maybe in a pinch I'd use it if I had nothing else to lube my firearm, but I don't think motor oil will be my go to firearm lubricant.
4. Ogre Mfg.
For probably the least known gun lube product on the list, this one performed very well across the board. The wear pattern was minimal, exposure time respectable, and it controlled the temperatures well.
5. Hoppes #9
I was honestly expecting more out of the old standby product. But the Hoppes didn't perform as well as the others tested. It showed considerable wear marks even though it lasted a pretty decent amount of time on the drill press.
Honestly, if you are using WD-40 as your standard gun lube … stop. It is easy to see that as a gun lube it is just no good. It shows the deepest wear marks, and at the shortest exposure time.
7. Control (no lube)
It is important when looking at the control to remember that it was run for four minutes and thirty seconds. It does show considerable wear, and while this really doesn't come through in the photos, the only exposure that actually shows copper coloring on the steel plate.
What Does All This Mean?
I think we can see that repeated, unlubricated metal on metal friction is not an ideal thing. So gun lubes are important for the obvious reason of protecting the metal from wear. But gun lubes also perform some other important roles. In their reduction of friction, they also reduce the operating temperature of the firearm. This is especially critical in fully automatic firearms, or firearm designs that already operate at high temperatures, your AR-15 is a great example.
Additionally gun lubes, can serve as an important barrier to the corrosive compounds expelled in the combustion of the cartridge. This protects the firearm and makes it easier to clean. And finally, some lubes, or dual purpose products also provide a layer of protection from moisture and corrosion. So it's safe to say, gun lubes can be tested in many different ways, depending on what aspect of performance you are interested in. This test focuses only on the lube's ability to protect against wear.
I think we can all agree that no lube is not great for your firearm. Similarly using WD-40, is barely a better option. What about motor oil? I think it's difficult to confirm or debunk this product completely. This test only looked at a few factors, temperature and wear based on the length of exposure. The additives in various products can change consistency due to heat or cold, and in a firearm could create a gummy situation. Being that the products are designed for different applications, I would imagine that this would be one area that using a product that is application specific may benefit, but this would be a test for another time.
As far as the other gun lubes, it appears that the grease and paste type lubes performed better, than the straight oil products. This may be a coincidence, but the numbers speak for themselves. I know some users of the paste version of products like Frog Lube complain about the product gumming up under extremely cold conditions. I use the Frog Lube paste product quite a bit and live in Ohio (yeah, it occasionally gets chilly here.) I have not experienced this issue, and yet again this could be something that could be tested at another time.
Between the straight oil products, Ogre Mfg. worked tremendously. As stated above it was a solid performer across the board, and outperformed the historic Hoppes #9.
Criticisms and Questions Still Lingering:
As noted, there are some questions and factors that this test could not and did not answer. An additional one being the ability to be cleaned up easily. Some products claim they make it easier to clean the gun after use. I found the paste type lubes to leave a darker residue, but it wiped away just as easily as the residue from the other oils. I suspect testing what is the ‘easiest' to clean up is highly subjective.
I also know that there are many gun lubes I did not test. For obvious reasons, I had to limit the number of products I used in the test. This doesn't mean there are not other great products out there that would perform similarly to the ones I used.
This comparison was as non-biased and scientific as I could get it. I am not endorsing any product with this article, just presenting the numbers and pictures from a test I thought would be extremely interesting and useful. When looking at the results of this test, it is important to remember that the amount of pressure I placed between the penny and steel plate is likely far greater than that of a slide moving along a rail or a barrel passing through a bushing. So while I feel this is a great test, does it replicate the exact conditions of a firearm's operation? In a word, no.
Additionally, I know different firearms operate differently, and what works in a pistol, may not be ideal in your AR.
A few other notes about how I conducted this test
All the lubes were applied evenly and consistently. I realize the amount of lube applied to the surfaces is important and made every effort to apply the same amount to each penny. The amount of downward pressure was applied as evenly and consistently for all exposures as I possibly could, which is obviously important when trying to get fair results. The drill press was run at the same RPMs for each exposure. The temperatures were all taken directly on top of the penny during the exposure time, and on the area of the steel plate for the initial reading.
I want to make sure I thank Red Neck Gun Works, for giving me a foundation from which I could set up this test. I hope this test answers some questions about gun lubes, even though in doing so, it may raise others.
By the way, we do sell a couple of these gun lubricants in our online store. If your trusty gun lube is running low, it may be a good idea to try out one of the ones our American-owned, small business sells.