When it comes to gun care, it pays to spend a little extra on the right product, says Barry Stoffell
Choosing gun oil
The world of product marketing is a murky one indeed, and for those of us on the receiving end it can often seem like the art of adding a word or two to justify extracting a few quid more.
Unsolicited use of the word ‘artisan’ is an increasingly popular method of hiking prices these days, while adding the word ‘wedding’ in front of the word ‘cake’ is apparently carte blanche to engage in shameless profiteering — though your betrothed may disagree.
It is perhaps for this reason that I have been asked on numerous occasions by those new to the world of shooting if it’s worth paying the premium attached to oils and solvents sold specifically for use on firearms. Is gun oil any better than any other oil you’d pick up at the hardware shop? And what about gun cleaning products ? Won’t good old WD-40 or 3-in-1 do the same job for half the price?
To answer this, it’s necessary to take a closer look at what gun-cleaning chemicals are actually required to do, and what they should contain to help them do it.
The simple truth is that your shotgun is essentially a pair of metal pipes. Of course, there are the ejectors and cocking springs and a trigger that moves a few millimetres, but that’s basically it. Because of this, there is a very limited amount of metal-on-metal friction, and none of it at particularly high temperatures.
On the other hand, your gun has a large surface area and is regularly exposed to wind, rain, blood, sweat and, occasionally, tears. All this conspires to produce the greatest single danger to your gun — rust.
Many general-purpose oils — and indeed some budget gun oil — are some variant of bearing oil, which has a very high slip coefficient. These products are excellent for use in cars, bikes and even aeroplanes, but have little practical application in the average shotgun. This means there is really no justification for letting the can of 3-in-1 anywhere near your firearm.
Should you use WD-40?
If you look hard enough, it isn’t hard to find someone who claims to have been cleaning their gun with WD-40 for decades without any issues. WD-40 was one of the first general-purpose lubricants to appear in an aerosol can back in the 1950s. Unsurprisingly, the ease of use led to it being adopted by some people to clean and oil their guns, but regularly doing this to your pride and joy could result in serious damage.
Though the formulation of WD-40 does effectively drive out contaminants and moisture, it also strips away other oils and greases. A liberal dose prior to storing a gun stock-down in the gun safe will result in the surplus chemical dribbling down and into its action, eventually removing vital lubrication from places behind the sideplates where you cannot easily replace it.
Damage to the soft-solder that holds the rib to the barrel is also possible over time and, in extreme cases, this can result in the rib delaminating from the gun. The fine oil finish on the stock and, on automatics, any plastic or rubber part, can also be damaged. In general WD-40 is best reserved for the gears of your bike or that squeaky gate.
In fairness to WD-40, most gunsmiths will tell you that overenthusiastic application of cleaning products, even ‘proper’ ones, causes almost as many problems as neglect does. Among them are surplus oil soaking into the wood at the head of the stock, excess grease on the hinge-pin or ejectors attracting gunk and burned powder and forming a rubbing paste that slowly erodes the metalwork.
Rifles, both full-bore and rimfire, are in many respects the same. Though they are far more of a precision instrument than your shotgun, it is still rust that is the primary enemy.
While some hunters obsessively clean their barrel after each use, the average deer stalker might — if they’re lucky — fire one or two shots each outing. Therefore build-up of corrosive copper in the bore is minimal, only requiring a scrubbing with solvent every 30 rounds or so.
Chemicals developed to clean and protect the rifle bore will, after application, be easily removed with a bore-snake or a few runs through with a patch on a jag. But any product that leaves a residue behind will certainly affect the accuracy of the gun, sometimes by a surprising amount.
A rifle is a precision instrument and such things really do need to be kept clean if you expect them…
Like shotguns, there are parts of a rifle that can’t be easily reached, such as the trigger mechanism and safety catch. It’s vital that as little surplus product as possible gets into these places lest it cause problems that you can’t see.
Most purpose-made gun oils have a light, pure mineral base, and are also designed to be sympathetic to the oil finish on wooden stocks. Many products are now available as two-in-one cleaners and lubricants, meaning the spray contains a solvent to remove plastic fouling and powder build-up. In these dual-action products, the solvent evaporates and leaves the oil behind to do its job protecting your shotgun against rust.
Some products, for example those from Napier of London — used by both Purdey and Westley Richards — also incorporate additives specifically formulated to protect your gun.
Napier’s proprietary VP90 vapour phase inhibitor was developed in 1990 to address rust problems that emerged following the amendment to the 1988 Firearms Act that meant shotguns had to be stored in a gun safe. Guns that had never been a problem in the decades spent hanging above the fireplace were now locked away in a different environment.
VP90 exudes a chemical that adheres to and protects metal surfaces. In the vapour phase it will penetrate anywhere that air can get to, including the mechanism behind the firing pin, and forms a protective layer on metal surfaces.
A can of WD-40 in Halfords costs around £5; the equivalent-sized can of shotgun cleaner and lubricant from Napier UK is £8. Given the potential cost of damaging your gun, that’s an extra three quid well spent.
And if you spend the rest of the month avoiding anything with ‘artisan’ in the name, you’ll have made that £3 back in no time.