Pistol Maintenance: Key Lubrication Points

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Pistol Maintenance: Key Lubrication Points

Pistol Maintenance: Key Lubrication Points

We all recognize today how important it is to regularly and properly clean and maintain your handguns. The cleanliness and proper maintenance of your gun is directly related to its effective and efficient function for any use, as well as, perhaps, your survivability. It’s real inexpensive life insurance. However, just two decades or so ago some were advocating to NOT lube any handgun because it could make it jam, malfunction, and stop working. This is not true now. Today’s lubricants are far superior to previous ones and their sticky and hard-setting paraffin. Reliability, accuracy, and durability of firearms are certainly influenced by proper maintenance. One of the questions I get asked regularly by students is “Where do you lube the handgun?” They want to know the main points to lubricate. Where are the specific locations where you put lube? Do you use oil or grease? How much lube do you use? What kind? So, here are my ideas in brief, summary form and strictly my opinions. Others may not agree with me or think it overkill, but I know what has worked for me over the past 45 years or so.

Certainly, you lubricate almost every metal part of the handgun, especially if you see signs of wear and shiny contact spots. Know that I am not a certified pistol armorer or gunsmith. Some handguns, like a 1911, may require a different lubrication approach and different lubrication points. I tend to lubricate my 1911s more often for crud buildup. However, one tendency for shooters is to over-lubricate their guns. Old school thinking was to very thoroughly oil all components of your gun (just short of dipping and soaking the entire gun in an oil vat), then oil them some more, and then oil them some more. I even recall the first handgun I received as a kid from my Dad back in 1960 and how slippery and excessively oily it was, almost sliding out of my hand. I learned the hard way that excessive oil attracts a lot of dirt, dust, grit, unburned powder, and carbon fouling…. and that usually only ONE DROP per area smeared around there is sufficient. Like Mickey Mantle said in the old Brylcreem Advertising Hall of Fame jingle “A little dab’ll do ya!” So, a very light coat and small amount. I do not use a Q-tip swab because it leaves cotton fiber residue. Of course, one person’s definition of “excessive” may not match another’s.

I re-lube my pistols regularly and certainly just right before use, if they have been stored for about 3-4 weeks or more without use. Oil especially has a tendency to seep out, dry up, dissipate, and not be where you want it to be. Some even say to re-oil after every 50 rounds to ensure proper functioning, but I do not. I believe that most quality pistols of today which are clean but free of most lubricant will function through several magazines before a problem or stoppage is encountered, but I still do NOT wait until after that second range trip to lubricate my guns.

My personal handgun maintenance policy is to clean and properly lubricate my handguns after EACH range trip use (no matter how many rounds were fired– which is usually 200 rounds or so) and within 24 hours, before excessive lead hardening and buildup occurs, for ease of cleaning, protection, and preservation.

Just like some prefer only synthetic oil (like Mobile 1 motor oil or sewing machine oil), others want only high temperature grease (like found in auto stores for wheel bearings). Your preference. Personally, I have observed that grease does stay put where you apply it, but that also means that it will be in place to attract more dirt, grit, and grime, etc. Some strongly believe that grease should be the main lubricant and others that oil should be mostly or solely used. There are many factors to consider and it boils down to mostly personal preference I believe. Grease is especially useful for the high friction-high load areas, such as the bore area of the slide and the rails. Some say it is a little too heavy for the small parts which function with only a light friction-light bearing load.

Recognize that colder temperature thickens most oils and greases and as the lubricant becomes thicker, the energy required to move a pistol part becomes greater. If the energy is not sufficient, the shooter will encounter a malfunction or stoppage because of the thickened lubricant. Also, severe dust conditions can cause problems with lubrication, so protect your pistol from dust daily as much as possible. I know that In the desert the dust may be as fine as talcum powder and blow into everything, mix with the lubricant, and form a paste that will cause accelerated wear and problems. It may combine with oil and form a very thick, tacky mixture that can actually stop the function of firearms. As you shoot, your pistol is getting dirty with carbon fouling and residue and the lubricant will keep this fouling and gunk in a suspension with it instead of becoming hard and slowing down cycling, if it were dry.

In Florida and especially in the Summers, it can get very hot, so I use the 10W-40, 20W-50, or 5W-30 grade motor oils mostly for lubrication. They have nice thicker viscosities that won’t run off gun metal and do not dry up as quickly, like some of the branded and expensive gun oils. I have found them to be just as effective at a lower price. I do prefer synthetic oil and regularly use low-cost Wal Mart Super Tech Full Synthetic SAE 5W-30. Also, I buy high temp (and low-cost) wheel-bearing/disc drum grease from my local auto supplies store– about $6 for a 1 pound can) for occasional use with a syringe on high-contact friction spots. For me, it lasts a long time, is low cost, is very temperature resistant for a hot gun, and I have had my grease for over 20 years already. Recognize that I do know it certainly is necessary to lubricate a revolver also, but this article will focus only on semi-automatic pistols. There are similar strategies with different lubrication spots between pistols and revolvers. Perhaps, the revolver at another time.

After you make certain your handgun is UNLOADED and disassemble your pistol, there are three main areas that need lubrication: the slide, the barrel, and the frame and its parts and mechanisms. Each area with multiple spots to lubricate and spread around the lube.

LUBRICATION POINTS for Pistol- Marked in Yellow

LUBRICATION POINTS for Pistol- Marked in Yellow

SLIDE:

1.  One drop on inside of each slide rail groove and one on center rail that cocks the hammer;

2.  One drop on inside front of slide near ejection port where slide & frame touch on both sides (to reduce friction);

3.  One drop near the middle of the slide inside where the locking lug recesses for the barrel contact are located; also all along the curved surface near the locking lugs;

Note: Wipe off any excess lube that might run out at the rear of the slide/frame area

BARREL:

1.  One drop on front of barrel hood (which is exposed in the ejection port) on top where it contacts the slide;

2.  One drop near middle of barrel on each of the barrel locking lugs;

3.  One drop near barrel tip at outside front of muzzle (to ensure barrel bushing area is lubricated during firing) then smear it all around the barrel;

FRAME:

1.  One Drop near rear of frame by trigger bar, trigger spring, and Sear where the trigger bar contacts the trigger Connector;

2.  One drop on the Disconnector;

3.  One drop on Slide Stop pin;

4.  One drop on Recoil Guide Rod (not on Recoil Spring);

5.  One drop on Magazine Release button (each side if ambidextrous).

Note: If you have a series 80 style pistol, you might want to apply a very light coat of lube to the Firing Pin Plunger hole and to the Firing Pin hole. However, some disagree with this claiming over time it can clog the Firing Pin Channel causing problems. Your decision. Some handgun designs definitely keep gunk and buildup out of the channel better than others. My layman experience says that most Firing Pins can last to about 1000 fired rounds before being replaced or thoroughly cleaned. Of course, frequency of use is a major determinant. Simple Concept: If you do not lube your Firing Pin Channel, crud will stop sticking to it and causing reliability problems.

Magazines

Do not forget magazine maintenance. Remember the WARNING: Magazine Spring, Follower, and inner floorplate are under spring tension and can cause eye or other injury if not controlled during removal.  Be careful. Shooters should disassemble and clean their magazines regularly, usually at the same time they clean their pistol or as use demands. However, some handgun manuals say that mags do NOT normally need to be disassembled and cleaned each time your pistol is cleaned. They suggest less frequent cleaning intervals for mags, about every 3-4 months, unless the mags have been exposed to dirt, sand, or other adverse conditions or inspection indicates the need.  So if you drop your mags in a speed reload to the ground in sand and dirt, you probably need to clean them more regularly. Magazines need only the very smallest, minimum of lube… IF ANY AT ALL. The key words are VERY, VERY LIGHT MAGAZINE LUBRICATION… and not internally. Personally, I do NOT lubricate my magazines at all and do wipe them down to get the excess off both inside and outside, along with wiping down the breech face, after cleaning and lubrication. If you are going to be shooting pistol matches and will be dropping your mags in the dirt, you probably should use NO lubricant on your mags at all. Any lubricant will pick up and hold gravel and dirt which will cause the ammo to stick in the mags, causing failure to fire and contamination of primers.

Some Cautions

Firing Pin Channel - Lug

Firing Pin Channel – Lug

Too much lubricant collecting inside the gun’s Firing Pin Channel over an extended period of time may lead to problems. People who don’t regularly maintain their guns can end up with clogged Firing Pin Channels and perhaps at least slow fires. Personally, I do not put lube in the Firing Pin Channel, around the extractor, on the breech face, nor on the feedramp. If I use lube in the barrel chamber, I always wipe away the excess and almost all of it before putting the gun away. I look for gunk in the channel and if I see it I clean it out. These areas should be left clean from lubricant to prevent problems. It could cause a shell casing to become attached to your gun. In some cases it may cause the breech to deform and rupture due to the pressure created between the casing and the chamber. No oil or lubricant here.

Also, as I sadly discovered, frequent excessive oiling of grips can cause deterioration and rotting of your wood grips and in cold weather might somewhat freeze your action.

If you are going to store your pistol for a long time over months, a coat of Grease MAY be applied to the chamber and bore for storage, BUT…

CAUTION: This is FOR LONG-TERM STORAGE ONLY IN AN UNLOADED CONDITION. The Grease MUST BE REMOVED before you load and fire the pistol. Failure to remove lubricant from the chamber and bore can cause excessive pressure which can cause damage to the firearm and yourself! Be very careful if you decide to do this!

I hope this information about proper maintenance, cleaning, and lubrication of pistols will help you maintain your handguns so they will effectively function and enhance their reliability and accuracy, while keeping you safe.

Continued success!

Photos by Author and Glock Instruction Manual

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2014 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]
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  • Larry Davis

    I find Col. Findley’s article right on the money. Haven’t seen motor oil discussed as a firearm lubricant since my active duty days and working with the M-60 machine gun. That thing was notorious for burning off the authorized lubricant LSA at which time the bolt would seize. Gunners always kept a quart or two of 30wt oil at hand; dump it in the feed tray and on the bolt; work the bolt a couple of times; rock ‘n rolling again with rounds down range.

    For my personal firearms, I am still a big fan of WD-40, despite all the critics. Began using it while on active duty to clean my M-16 and .45. It works to release the gunk and float it out of tiny little crevices, and doesn’t leave an oily mess. Don’t get me wrong; WD-40 won’t clean barrels well, but it sure works wonders on softening carbon build-up and clearing out powder reside. Once cleaning is done, I then apply a light application of good quality oil (RemOil or Texaco Synthetic are my favorites) using a small tube with a needle applicator; the needle helps me place just a drop or two in those places where I need it and none where I don’t. I even lubricate the trigger. Others who have handled my pistols want to know where I got the trigger jobs done because all are noticeably lighter and smoother than “standard factory” triggers. Truth is, all are “standard factory” triggers. Haven’t done anything to them other than a light lubrication.

    These methods have resulted in trouble-free operation for years, and like Col. Findley, my trips to the range always mean at least 200 rounds through any single weapon. I have never had a weapon-related malfunction, not even with my active duty arms; I have seen a few FTF, but those were definitely ammo-related as it would be one or two rounds from a specific lot of ammo.

    LTC (Retired) L. Davis
    USA, Infantry

    • Hoss Nelson

      Agree with the above. I also shoot 200-300 a week, as a Range Master its all to easy to. If you haven’t tried it SEAL1 is worth a look. Its made by the company that was producing frog lube. When frog lube switched to another company, they felt they could make a better product and came up with SEAL1 Cleaner & lube in one. It is eco and bio and even smells nice, remember the old Pepsodent Tooth Powder? Smells just like it. And I use exclusively on the whole gun including magazines and trigger assembly. It has the added benefit over petroleum based that it attracts less fine sand and dust.

  • Robert Smith

    Good article, I have been using Brian Enos product called Slide Glide. Comes in several viscosities, I use the red one and keep a toothpick in the little cup of it. Just touch in rails and anywhere I see shiny spots. Bob Smith MAJ USA-Ret, Aviation Branch

  • Hoss Nelson

    With todays guns, the old tricks are not always the best. Especially not in the extreme cold or hot and dusty areas. Oils attract dirt, sand and dust, but products like SEAL1 actually cleans and lubes your gun in one step with out adding oil or grease. It also actually seals the metal at the microscopic level.

    • Col Ben

      Hi Hoss! I appreciate what you said. There are a lot of products today that have a combination of features and advantages for firearms. I know when I worked on the Titan missile systems over 40 years ago, WD-40 was designed and used effectively as a water displacer. Also, as a
      penetrating solution on rusted and stuck parts. For me, it served best then as a cleaner, but not as a lubricant. When it dries, I have found it does not lubricate or continue to protect a firearm, as it is lighter & thinner, does not have extensive corrosive prevention, and dissipates soon without a
      teflon-like additive. It is certainly good for many uses other than for firearms lubrication and protection, although it does break-down rapidly under extreme heat. Some have said with its penetrating properties, it easily gets in your cartridges and primers and can cause misfires and smells bad. Here are just some of the products available today, each with their own pros and cons. Success it making your decision. It depends on the quantity you want to apply,
      the long-term preservation needed, (yes even) its smell, the cost, the application time & effort (heating gun, reapplication, etc.), the coating or film feature desired, the degree of deep cleaning required, the additive desired, protection of plastics, wood, rubber, etc. preferred, its
      bio-degradable, non-toxic, non-carcinogen, & healthy properties, rust prevention, spray vs. liquid vs. foam, and desire for an all-in-one product that balances several features without excelling in just one. BE CAREFUL if you have a nick or scratch in your nickel-plated firearm, many cleaners/solvents will make them peel and eat away at the metal. Also, be careful with almost all
      cleaners and several all-purpose ones that eat soft metal, so don’t put them on your gold-leaf guns. Here are various products I have used for the 3 main gun applications:
      CLEANING/SOLVENT:
      Hoppes #9; Gun Scrubber; Remington Bore Cleaner; M-Pro 7
      LUBRICATING:
      Rem Oil; Mobil 1; Sewing Machine Oil; Militec (dry lube)
      ALL-PURPOSE: Break-Free CLP; Ballistol; Gunzilla; Frog Lube;
      Shooters Choice FP-10

      SUCCESS!
      Col Ben

  • Sir TuberKopf

    I like Mobile-1 Extended with a dash of “Tungsten Disulfide” (WS2) added.

    Tungsten Disulfide is the big brother to Molybdenum Disulfide, it is the most lubricious lubricant known and can handle dramatically higher temperature and pressures than moly. The price of moly has climbed over the years and now Tungsten Disulfide is only mildly more expensive.

    I do like WD-40 as a gun wash to remove crud and moisture. Completely wipe all cleaning chemicals, solvents and WD-40 from the gun and then just use well placed drops, or even just a wipe with a Q-Tip with a drop of oil WS2 mix on it.

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  • ross kaleolani

    Many people, including myself, overthink lube. A pistol is made for the slide rails to be the way they are.. Including all parts of pistol. All you need if you lube say slide at all is just a microscopic sheen on slide rails and barrel. The only thing I think including myself is how smooth the slide is, a pistol is made to be the way it is and if the manual gives you luring points like I said just a sheen very little is all you need. The steel is harden steel and if your worried about the shiny areas you see it is suppose to do that this isn’t wear it is what is called marrying. The lube is just really to prevent the steel from the events of the environment. Not how smooth the slide is. If your pistol was suppose to be smooth like glass the manufacturer would have made it that way. If you buy a 2 thousand dollar pistol you would expect it to be smooth but not really on a 4 hundred dollar pistol. The oil that comes with a new gun should be wiped of. Really just a clp is all you need and if the manual specifies for key lube point do so but with just a pin drop and use your finger to wipe the lube into the rails. One small bottle of lube for a pistol should last you a long time. For the outside of pistol just a wipe down rag treated with just a small amount of protectant. I actually use Super Quick Clean Guns and if I lube rails at all just a pin drop and rub it in. Slide rails and slide are made to rub against each other but they don’t rub as hard as people think. I, in my opinion don’t use grease either. And people who remove the nitric, whatever black finish on barrel and slide then they Polish it to make it look pretty are doing more harm than good. The black finish is there for a reason it is actually a self lubricating finish itself. Don’t over think it! Most lube is the same. My opinion is we are worried about how smooth the slide is, don’t worry about it. Just one bottle of clp and one bottle of lube, if any, is all you need in very small amounts and I mean small, just a microscopic about. Lube rails rub it in with a finger to protect the slide that’s it! I even have many oils and after a long time I learned. So don’t have a drawer dedicated to lube like you have a drawer dedicated to holsters! RK…

  • Jay F

    Haha, good write-up. My dad runs his pistols pretty dry while mine practically drip. Neither of us have any problems I guess, but he has acknowledged that I prob shoot more in a month than he shoots in a year.
    I think how much your shooting has a lot to do with quantity. But if you watch a HIkock video you’ll see he goes pretty liberal on the lube.There’s also a video on YouTube of a guy dunking a polymer in a bucket of oil, inserting the magazine and firing all 10 shots flawlessly. I tend to go just below the point where it slings on your clothes when firing.
    “Oils attract sand & dirt….” okay well fortunately I shoot/clean them often. But if that’s how you feel why don’t you just shoot it bone dry and not use any lubrication? I’ve ran 2-300 rounds of FMJ at the range with the gun oiled up, followed by a few mags of my SD ammo. The SD ammo fired as if the gun was clean. I’m pretty sure that amount of gun powder is more than than the dust accumulated in my safe/holster.

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