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AR-15 Gunsmithing Shooting Tips

AR Lube Advice From The Experts

by James Tarr   |  June 5th, 2012 27

With all the gun lubes on the market, you might be surprised to learn how many knowledgeable AR operators use a variety of automotive lubricants to keep their rifles running.

My daily carry pistol is a Glock, and Glocks are pretty much unique in the firearms world in that they seem to work just as well whether dry or well-lubed. On the other end of that spectrum is the AR-15, which is universally acknowledged to run better “wet.”

Over the years I have accumulated a dozen wonder lubes, some of them specifically formulated for the AR-15 platform. Out of curiosity I recently asked a number of shooting acquaintances what they preferred for lubing the AR-15. What I found fascinating was not just the number of home recipes, but how no two answers to my question were identical.

I consider RifleShooter contributor Dave Fortier one of the most knowledgeable tactical rifle guys around, and he told me the best stuff he’s found is Joe Bruch’s Masters Gun Oil. I first met Joe years ago when he was working as a volunteer range officer. He’s one of those quiet, unassuming guys, and you’d never know he’s a chemical engineer who has developed his own line of lubes.

Alan Adolphsen is the owner of Teludyne Tech and inventor of the StraightJacket barrel system. Adolphsen is a former competitive rifle shooter as well, and he has two preferred AR lubes, both of them home brewed. The basic recipe consists of 10 parts tool oil to one part Hoppe’s No. 9, the only difference is whether you want to add automatic transmission fluid.

How much automatic transmission fluid does he recommend? “Enough to make it good and red,” Adolphsen told me.

The “red oil” a lot of gunsmiths talk about is homemade lube that contains automatic transmission fluid, but everyone seems to have his own recipe.

George McCleary is a former Marine sniper and member of the Marine rifle team.

“Back in the day, the red oil we used on the M16s was one quart automatic transmission fluid, one quart HD-30 motor oil, one pint Marvel Mystery oil, one pint STP Oil Treatment and one small bottle of Hoppe’s No. 9,” McCleary told me. “Mix it in a gallon milk jug. If you had a stencil brush you could apply it on everything inside and out, wipe it down, and the rifles wouldn’t rust—even in the Carolina heat and humidity. The guns cleaned easy with any solvent because the carbon wouldn’t stick with the Hoppe’s in it.”

“Today,” McCleary explained, “a lot of the training gurus honestly use a light Mobil 1 in a spray bottle.”

Gus Norcross is the founder and owner of Angus Arms, former National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit armorer and a state service rifle champion. His red oil mix is similar to McCleary’s, except he prefers multiviscosity oil instead of HD-30.

“You want a light oil that won’t burn off,” Gus told me. “I’ve also been using Militec for four or five years, and I’ve had very good luck with it.

As a commander of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, Dillard “CJ” Johnson and his crew got involved in a near-nonstop four-day running gun battle in the first days of the Iraq war, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. Johnson did a second tour as a sniper and has been shot and blown up enough times to earn his weight in Purple Hearts.

As commander of the Bradley, he was credited with hundreds of kills just in the first few days of the Iraq war,  many of which were made with an M4 carbine. His preferred lube? Simple 15W40. “Ask the Iraqis how well it worked,” Johnson remarked.

I found it amusing that all sorts of fluids not designed as gun lubes were being used as such. But think about it—what are motor oil and automatic transmission fluid but lubricants designed for rapidly moving, sometimes very hot, metal parts? Why wouldn’t they work well as gun lubes? How many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on improving the lubricating properties of motor oils and transmission fluids?

Since I’d never tried “red oil” I mixed up a batch of my own with 10W30 Mobil 1 synthetic oil, automatic transmission fluid and a dash of Hoppe’s No. 9. Sometimes you never learn until you do it yourself, and making my own red oil taught me a few things: One, the mix results in a medium-light lube that is thick enough to stay in place but not so thick it gums things up; and, two, cheap spray bottles designed for water will work when filled with oil, but not very well.

Heading out to the range with an AR lubed with red oil will give you dissociative flashbacks if you’ve ever worked on a car. Normally when I start smelling warm transmission fluid it’s time to pull over to the side of the road and pop the hood. I kept pulling my head off the stock and looking around for my old Impala.

In addition to the lube preferences of my expert associates, I know two well-respected firearms instructors. One of them uses basic 3-in-1 oil (what my mother called “sewing machine oil”) on student ARs, and the other swears by high-tech Slip 2000EWL. As long as the rifle is well made and maintained, it seems to me that as long as it is lubed, which lube you use seems to be more a matter of personal taste than anything else.

  • 762x51n8o

    I've seen on many of the gun forums that Mobil 1 is pretty popular as a lube. One thing to keep in mind though, those car lubes are not great protectants — they are good, but not great. They are not nearly as good of a protectant as BF CLP, but they are better than some of the other gun oils, such as rem oil.

    For me, I'll just stick with CLP, or Shooters Choice.

  • Daffy

    Learned a lot about my AR's

    Nice article..

  • ron

    how about if i mixed mobil 1 with some hoope's # 9 ? has anyone tried that one? i am just trying to get some
    other opinion's. i have a new sig 223 [ have not fired it yet ] and want to use what you folks recommend.
    i am kind of scratching my head and not sure what to use.
    thanks in advance.
    take care. ron

    • Bryan

      NOOoooo, don't mix different chems and brands together. I had the same problem choosing one cleaner and lube for all my guns. Finally after talking to Ernie at Red Creek Tactical, he told me to get Slip2000 products. They are the best Non-Toxic Biodegradable products on the market. That is all Red Creek Tactical uses and Ernie swears by it. You can clean your guns in the sinks except don't clean lead cast bullets covered guns in your kitchen.
      The Slip2000 lube is regular lube and the Slip2000 EWL is their regular lube on steroids for ex stream heat and dirt, EWL is used in machine guns.

      1st, any new gun or gun with different lube is cleaned with Slip2000 725 degreaser.
      2nd, lube up with EWL, which I prefer for all my guns, just skip the regular slip2000 lube and go with the EWL.
      3rd, go shoot the gun and then when you clean it. Wipe down the gun with a rag, removing the dirty lube that has trapped the dirt in the lube and prevented the dirt from sticking to the gun. Use the lube to scrub the bore instead of the 725, don't use the 725, use the lube for cleaning and lubrication in the second cleaning and for the rest for a couple thousand rounds.

      • Tony

        I fully agree with what you say about the slip 200 EWL I live in the Phoenix AZ area and it can be perfectly calm one minute then a haboob (which is a monsoonal outflow dust storm) the next. when I clean and lube my AR,G3 and 1911's with the EWL the find flowery dust flows right out of the actions and I dont need to hide the firearms in my cases while I wait out the dust storm.

        • Bryan

          Slip2000 just works. I just bought a Sig p226 Scorpion 9mm Cerakote finish, CZ75 SP-01 Phantom 9mm and, a Glock35 gen3 made in 2012 with the new gen4 finish. Used Slip2000 EWL on them out of the box brand new and have not had one, and I mean not one jam or stove pipe. You can run the gun wet and dirty for thousands of rounds and then wipe the gun down with a rage and reapply the EWL lube and its ready to go again.

          • Eric

            That's specious reasoning…these are NEW guns, and high quality reliable ones at that. Your choice of oil/lube says nothing of their reliability as all would run well with WD-40. Now show me that you have taken a filthy jammo-matic and made it purr like a kitten with Wolf laquered case crap ammo and some super-duper wonder lube, and I'll be impressed.

  • Ed R Stiverson

    I have used Aquablock by Muti-Mist for years. Made for electronic components in salt spray. DC and AC motors as well to wash out the water. It leaves a light acrylic or wax coat. (Think it acrylic?) No I am not a salesman and have no idea where to get it. Address is 1618 E. Northgate, Irving, Tex 75062, but that was 1994. It is not cheap! Then once dried a touch only of 3&1 oil to moving parts. I learned from two old rusty single test guns hanging in the workshop. I coated them and they held good for 7 years. I use in bores with especially bright and long pipe cleaners soaked & draped over the edge of the bores/wraped around the site so you do not forget. Might consider!

  • Paul

    I've been using straight Mobli One for years, I think any lube will work. More than once in a bind I've had to use oil from my car or trucks dip stick. I personally wouldn't obsess about it and use what you have, there is no majic lube in my opinion.

  • Bryan

    Top 5. One being the best of the group and 5 being last that I would use.
    1. Slip2000 products works the best, call Ernie at Red Creek Tactical and he will talk your head off about the pros. Also you can call Slip2000. If you get slip2000, get the Value Pack marked 209.
    2. Mil-comm TW25B, because that is what Sig uses at the factory and recommends and, is proven.
    3. Break Free is proven.
    4. M Pro 7
    5. Hoppe`s Elite is ok.

  • Scot R

    What about the Lucas Oil treatment, Gun Oil ? Seems to work good for Myself, Hard to beat Lucas in anything!!!!

    • Rick

      Snake Oil rears its head!

  • marv

    I have used aircraft turbine engine oil in the AR for many years. Keeping an AR running is childsplay when compared to the hostile environment inside a turbine engine.

    • Bryan

      Guns are not Turbines, nor are they Car engines. Both are sealed and have oil filters. The type of dirt and carbon that build up in a gun from one range trip is different than what turbines or car engines face. Any oil designed and tested for non gun machines is not good for a gun or at least does not preform as well. It may also void your warranty. The gun company will say the gun broke because you used oil not made for guns. The oil company will say you did not use their turbine engine oil in a turbine.

      Try throwing sand in a turbine or car engine and see if those lubes then work.

      • Kyle

        What? Why wouldn't motor oils work? All I've ever used is Mobil 1. Motor oils lubricate hot metal parts that are moving rapidly. Think of how hot a car or turbine engine gets, and then stays at that high temperature for hours on end. Filters don't matter, your going to clean your rifle after you shoot it anyway. I clean mine every time I shoot it. The mobile 1 stays in place and doesn't burn up and smoke like other gun lubes sometimes do. I like it because it stays in place the entire time, and the rifle feels like it operates a lot smoother compared to CLP. Besides, I've never heard anyone blaming motor oil for ruining their ar.

  • marv

    I dont put sand in my AR or in the HumV motor, but thats just me, what ever blows your horn.

  • ron

    some really great advise and i will check into the slip 2000 products. thanks for all your help guys
    i appreciate it very much. take care.

  • Dennis Bauer

    1) What did people use to clean and libe their guns in the 1800's? in the 1900's?

  • Dennis Bauer

    2) Can deer, bear, and other animals smell any of the lubes mentionioned in this article? All of the commercial cleaners and lubes I have used smell terrible, unnatural, and rather strong. With all the emphasis on hunters using scent-blocking camo clothing, do hunters ever use a scent-blocked or scent-free gun lube? Vegetable oil? lanolin? In hind sight, this question sounds obsure and obsurd, but I do get curious about this from time to time.

    • Jim D

      I can assure you vegetable oil is a no no. A friend of mine was in a tizzy one fall because his rem 06 pump was set up tighter than a drum. Could not get the action to slide at all and thought the release pin was broke. After I finally pounded the thing open with hammer and brass rod i found everything was glued together with what looked like gorilla glue. After I accused him of using glue instead of gun oil I finally got him to admit he had oiled it with vegetable oil at the end of the season. That stuff is awfull nothing cuts it, I had to actually scrape it off all moving parts with a x-acto knife it was like varnish. And the answer to your last question is even though petroleum products were invented in the 1800s most did'nt waste the money they used bear grease, animal lard or axle grease thinned with wiskey, turpentine or kerosene for a lube and protector.

      • Dennis Bauer

        @Jim D Thanks for the vegetable oil warning! Bear grease and animal lard might help my dogs loose their dislike of guns….

  • Edward Smith

    Any AR-15 or M-16/4 should be washed in soapy water, dried, field stripped and lightly oiled with CLP unless you're in blowing sand; then, use nothing.

  • Bryan

    Finding a product that Cleans, Lubricates and, Protects all in one is not easy task and only a few really exists.
    Breakfree CLP is ok at Cleaning most people would say. As a Lubricator it is to thin and will ether run out or burn off rather quickly. As a Protector it is one of the top 5 best, along with BoeShield.

    Slip2000 EWL (Exstream Weapons Lubricant) was originally designed for use in machine guns and other heavy weapons. It was also designed from the start to be non toxic. Its cleaner called 725 is water based, non toxic and has biodegradability. Slip2000 EWL Gun Lube is great at Cleaning as well, in fact you just use the the lube as cleaner like the Breakfree CLP. Slip2000 EWL as a lubricant is the best because the regular EWL is thicker than regular Breakfree CLP, it will not run out or burn off like Breakfree. Also they make several thicker EWLs, EWL 30 weight, similar to the consistency of honey. If that still to thin for you, they make a 50 weight similar to petroleum jelly and if that's still not enough they have a EWL grease identical in weight to Molly grease.
    Slip2000 EWL is great as a water displacer and because it is not petroleum based it will not attract dirt, instead it displaces or traps contaminates in the lube so that the dirt and carbon does not stick to the metal.
    Check out Slip2000 website.

  • Margus

    I have discovered that, using logical mind and many tests, the best results got using MOLLY CREASE (in automotive used for joint lube) for bolt carrier and for buffer spring also, but in very gold clima have to be carefull with reducing with gases, if you have reg gasblock otherwise it do not reload. For bolt gas rings lubed with spry chain oil for offroad motorsycle and for fully cleaning results used brake cleaner . Also can be used MOS2 oil for barrel cleaning, (in automotive using this for rusted bolt opening).
    I think you all know these items and you have these in garage.

  • Joe

    Give the masters gun care products a try, you wont be disappointed.

  • Randy

    leaving this as a question as I have heard a lot of good about it, Frog Lube???

  • Mike Smith

    Using Automotive oils and transmission fluids may not be a good idea from a health point of view. They have many chemicals that should not stay in contact with the skin and are known to cause cancer. Ever wonder why mechanics started wearing rubber gloves like doctors ? Well, its not because they are trying to protect their fingernail polish.

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