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The best gun oil: Why you shouldn’t skimp on cleaning your gun

When it comes to gun care, it pays to spend a little extra on the right product, says Barry Stoffell

Drying shotguns

Regular cleaning is one way in which every owner can help to prolong the life of their gun

Choosing gun oil

I have been asked on numerous occasions by those new to the world of shooting whether gun oil is any better than any other oil you’d pick up at the hardware shop? And what about gun maintenance products. Won’t good old WD-40 or 3-in-1 do the same job for half the price? (Read more tips on gun maintenance here.)

Let’s take a closer look at what gun-cleaning chemicals are actually required to do, and what they should contain to help them do it. (Read our tips here from a Bisley instructor on how to clean your gun.)

Protecting a gun from rust

Essentially a pair of metal pipes and not much else, rust protection is critical to keeping your gun in good shape

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.

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. (Read our advice on checking your gun for wear and tear.)

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.

cleaning a gun

Using quality products to clean your gun will ensure it gives years of reliable service

Don’t use WD-40

Some people claim to have been cleaning their gun with WD-40 for decades without any issues. 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. (Read why you should store your gun muzzle down.)

gun oil selection

WD-40 is great for many things but cleaning guns is not one of them

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.

gun bore snake

While it’s important to look after your gun, overuse of cleaners can cause damage

Precision instruments

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.

Why gun oil is best

Most purpose-made gun oil has a light, pure mineral base, and is 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.

The best gun oil list

1. Napier Gun Oil 

Napier gun Oil

Best all-rounder for shotguns, airguns and rifles

+ Rust protector

+ Lubricant

+ Penetrating

Available in either a liquid or aerosol can, this gun oil penetrates the parts of a gun efficiently and also features a high grade mineral lubricant to keep parts moving easily. It contains VP90 corrosion inhibitors too. The VP90 vapour phase inhibitor was developed by Napier in 1990 to counteract 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 previous 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.

2. Browning Legia Spray Gun Oil and Lubricant 750ml

Browning Legia spray oil and lubricant

Best for precision mechanisms

+ Cleans, lubricates and protects firearms

+ Can also be used on wood and plastic elements

This popular gun oil has a new and improved formula. It’s very easy to use. You just simply spray it on the barrel and action, wait a few minutes and then dry off any excess with a cloth.

3. Napier Power Air Gun/Air Rifle Aerosol Oil with VP90 

Airgun oil

Best for air rifle maintenance

+ For spring powered or PCP air rifles

+ Contains VP90 corrosion inhibitor

This product is ideal for wiping down the exterior of an air rifle before putting it away. It has a popular following amongst airgunners and is safe to use on O rings and synthetic seals. Spray it down the bore to help loosen lead deposits before cleaning. You can also use it on the patches you use with the pull-through cleaner. (Read how to maintain your air rifle stock.) 

4. Napier Stock Shield 

Best for easy gun stock maintenance

+ Brings out wood colours

+ Nourishes and protects wood from water

In just a few minutes this product will bring out the natural beauty of the wood in your gun stock and enhance the colours. You’ll be left with a polished finish and a protected gun stock. The product does not contain wax or silicone so you don’t need to strip it off before reapplying.

5. London Gunstock Finish – 100ml bottle – to maintain and repair your gun / rifle stock 

London gunstock finish

Best for traditionalists

+ Enough for five guns

+ Easy to use

-Leave 24/48 hours before using gun

The more times you apply this gun oil, the deeper and better the finish you’ll get. Whatever type of wooden stock your gun features it will need to repel rainwater, moisture, sweat and sometimes blood, so it needs an effective coating. This gunstock finish will leave your gun tough and looking shiny. (Read more here on restoring your gunstock shine.)

6. CCL Gunstock Conditioning Oil 

gunstock conditioning oil

Best for weathered wood

+Perennial favourite

+ Easy to use

Use it to improve your oil finish,  revitalise weathered wood or make a completely new oil finish of a natural colour. A few spots simply applied by hand will fill the pores and produce a fine surface sheen to the wood.

Napier Super VP90 total corrosion sachet – protection for guns and metal objects

Napier anti corrosion sachets

Condensation can cause rust in a gun cabinet. Create an anti-rust atmosphere with these sachets.

Other tips and advice about gun and rifle care

  • To prevent rust, remove the fore-end and give the metal parts of your gun a wipe over with either an oily cloth or a squirt of spray gun oil as soon as you come out of the field.
  • Check your gunslip isn’t damp inside – if it is, open it up and dry it out thoroughly.
  • A combination of salt, moisture and warmth (even the warmth in your car compared to that outside) is a deadly formula for encouraging rust.
  • Remove the worst of grime and wet before a shotgun or rifle is encased in its slip.
  • If a rifle is to be stored for a length of time it is wise to remove the action/barrel from the stock to ensure there is no moisture or grime which might swell the wood, soften the bedding or generate rust in the trigger mechanism. (Read these tips on how to clean your rifle.)