Why Steam Cylinder Oil?

  • 738 Views
  • Last Post 30 August 2016
Eutectic posted this 24 August 2016

One of the things I did on vacation was to visit a maritime museum. My interest was focused on the large steam engines over 1000 horsepower which are still operational. Steam Cylinder Oil is an ingredient in many old bullet lubricant recipes. It would not have been used repeatedly by many knowledgeable shooters if there was not some tangible benefit.  Unfortunately Steam Cylinder Oil is no longer available, so WHAT are people using when running steam engines today, and why a special oil? The steam cylinder in a steam engine is different your car's cylinders because it is constantly bathed in hot water and steam. The hot water has a much higher affinity for the metal surfaces in the steam cylinder than any petroleum oil or grease. Normal petroleum lubricants are quickly washed off, causing the piston and cylinder to wear out. Experience in the 1800's showed animal lubricants ”€œ tallow of various types worked well. In fact Steam Cylinder Oil is sometimes referred to as Tallow Oil in old books. So what is being used in current steam engines? Tallow, no surprise there, it is even solid in the lube cups but liquefies when the engine is running. Canola oil is also used, it is easy to find at the local grocery and has no salt which sometimes contaminates tallow. It turns out during WWI there were a lot of steam engines in ships. Tallow was in short supply because it was used to make explosives. A search was made for a replacement. Rape seed oil was found to work nicely. Rape seed oil is canola oil, just a different name. Modern canola is a bit different and I expect a lot cleaner than the old lubricant oil, but canola should be a good replacement if you want to try some of the historic lubes in Ralph Schneider's list which worked well for many shooters. The polar component effect. The difference in lubricants in steam engines is because of the polarity of the lubricants. The lubricants used in the other bearings in steam engines are normal petroleum lubricants. Most operators today use modern lithium greases, some with added molybdenum disulfide. Lithium greases are more polar than straight petroleum grease, but not enough to use in the steam cylinder. Water is very polar, what is needed is a polar lubricant with more affinity for metal than water. Why is this important? We are not using steam powered guns, but what we do want is a bullet lubricant with high affinity for the steel barrel which will prevent the lead from adhering to the steel and spoiling accuracy. Polarity is perhaps the most important physical property in bullet lubricants. ALOX 50/50 is still one of the best lubricants, it is a mixture of beeswax (polar) and ALOX 2138F (polar). Attempts to replace the expensive beeswax with cheaper microcrystalline wax (non-polar), gave poorer lubricants which were not commercially successful. Some commercial cast bullets are lubricated with colored microcrystalline wax. Microcrystalline wax is available in arrange of hardness form very soft to very hard and a wide range of melting points. Usually a hard high melting point variety is used to allow shipping in a bulk box. This lubricant is adequate for light pistol and revolver loads at 800 fps, perhaps up to 1000 fps if gun/bullet fit is perfect. Use in magnum revolvers or rifles can be disappointing, leading builds up and accuracy goes down. A coating with any of the liquid ALOX lubes adds a polar lubricant and makes the bullets useable at higher velocity.      Petroleum products like Vaseline, Ceresin paraffin and microcrystalline wax, have no oxygen and are non-polar. Organic oils and organic waxes are polar because oxygen is part of the molecular structure. ALOX compounds are produced by controlled oxidation of petroleum at high temperatures which forms oxygen containing compounds which are polar. Some homemade lubricants include a “cooking” step where the lube is stirred at high temperature for a long time, this causes partial oxidation, forming polar compounds. If you want to experiment with bullet lubricants you need to pay attention to polarity. Fortunately the internet has made chemical structures easy to find.  Look for the big O in the structure, you might be onto the next great lube. Steve Hurst

Attached Files

Order By: Standard | Newest | Votes
RicinYakima posted this 24 August 2016

Thank you Steve! That is the most complete explanation I have ever seen for the non-chemist bullet caster who wishes to play with lube formulae. I think the most important thought is that “slippery” does not make a bullet lube. Lubes don't work by reducing bullet friction. Ric document.write('/images/emoticons/bowsmilie.gif');  

Attached Files

Westhoff posted this 24 August 2016

I'd like to echo Ric's applause. Steve's explanation of the importance of polarity in bullet lubricants is very clear, and something I don't recall hearing mentioned before.

However, Steve's treatise mentioned (in passing) that tallow was in short supply during WWII because it was used to make explosives. I looked up smokeless powder, and found no mention of tallow as one of the ingredients. I'm wondering if it was used in the process of making explosives (because of it's polarity) rather than as an ingredient.

I was around during WWII (Merchant Marine Radio Officer during the last part of that scrap) and I don't recall tallow being something critical to the war effort.

Now I'm curious. How was tallow used in the manufacturer of explosives?

Wes

Attached Files

Ken Campbell Iowa posted this 24 August 2016

in our racing 2-strokes we found castor oil to be the best ( and most messy..it didn't burn and stinks ) ....in our high solvent alcohol and nitro-methane fuel .

i wonder if would retain its magic as a bullet ” lube ” component ?

i still have a little of our imported variation if someone wants to play . we used 1/3 of drugstore per centage ...

it is from the castor bean, not from beaver body parts ( g ) ...

ken

Attached Files

billglaze posted this 24 August 2016

Interesting essay, well worth the time to read.  Also tells me about the lubrication of  the steam cylinders on the old live steam locomotives; obviously they used some different oil for the steam cylinders form what  they used on the Timken bearing boxes on the cars.  My Dad used to be a fireman on the B $ O rr; I sure wish he was still around to tell me about it.  In Oct. I'm going to be riding a live steam-powered train; I'll try to talk to the engineer about the lubrication oils used.  (If possible to do so; dunno, I just might not ever see him.)  Bill 

In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. My fate is not entirely in Gods hands, if I have a weapon in mine.

Attached Files

billglaze posted this 24 August 2016

Ah, yes, Ken; good old Bakers AA Castor.....In WW 1 the rotary engines used on some fighters were lubed with castor oil which wasn't't burned, but carried back in the pilot's face by the exhaust and slipstream.The word was that the pilots needed no further help in staying “regular” if you get my drift. Bill

In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. My fate is not entirely in Gods hands, if I have a weapon in mine.

Attached Files

RicinYakima posted this 24 August 2016

Wes,

Tallow is used in making glycerin, as in nitroglycerin. By the end of the war, we had pretty much converted to TNT (trinitrotoluene). Thus to Composition B used in bombs and shells. Engineers still used dynamite and a wide variety of explosives all through the war, but for specific uses. They didn't require that much nitroglycerin based material. Ten tons a month was probably enough even with the CB's using so much in the Pacific theater.

Ric

Attached Files

j35nut posted this 25 August 2016

Charles Dell's book THE MODERN SCHUETZEN RIFLE

The chapter on Bullet Lube he believed bullet lubes that were polar in make-up were best.

He used castor oil in some of his lubes.

I believe the late Felix Robbins (Felix Lube) was based on one of Charlies formula's .

------J

Attached Files

Eutectic posted this 25 August 2016

Ric is right,  Tallow is an ester of glycerol and fatty acids. The fatty acids in tallow are mostly steric acid. When tallow is reacted with lye you get sodium stearate which is soap and glycerol. The glycerol can be reacted with nitric acid to give nitroglycerin. (Kids do not try this at home!) Now dynamite and blasting gelatin are just a step away, but this use is small. The primary use in the war was making smokeless powder for rifles, artillery and rockets. The use of double base powder in the war was in the millions of pounds.  By WWII a process was developed to make glycerol from petroleum, so the big need for tallow vanished.   Steve

Attached Files

Wineman posted this 25 August 2016

Another way to get glycerol was to add Bisulfite (Sulfur Dioxide) in large amounts to yeast fermentation's. Normally you get Ethanol (alcohol) from sugar (I love this business) but the Bisulfite changes the metabolism and you get glycerol. As stated above Nitric and Sulfuric acids, plenty of ice and gentle stirring, presto Nitroglycerin. It took Alfred Nobel (the prize guy) to figure out how to mix it with Diatomaceous earth (pool filter aid) also called Kieselgur, to make it stable for Dynamite. If you want a really interesting compound, look up Picric Acid. Chemically like TNT but just different enough. It was a favorite of the Japanese and Scuba diving on a Japanese wreck that has live ammo still on board is very hazardous. It does not age well and it can be very grumpy as it gets older.

Dave

Attached Files

joeb33050 posted this 25 August 2016

I've never been able to find a significant accuracy difference with differences in reasonable lubricants. I've asked before, and I'll ask again. Does anyone have or know of a report of significant accuracy differences between bullet lubes? Steam Cylinder Oil, along with Mutton Tallow, are in the Pope lube recipe. Why discriminate against mutton tallow? Are we drilling down into the minutiae here? Just, as they say, asking. joe b.

Attached Files

RicinYakima posted this 26 August 2016

And I'll tell you again Joe, there aren't any “significant accuracy differences” among bullet lubes. If it doesn't make lead stick to the bore, it is a good lube. Ric

Attached Files

45 2.1 posted this 26 August 2016

A note............. One has to be able to shoot very small groups to see differences when changing components. Following the crowd usually doesn't get you there. Minutia does sometimes, provided you pick the path (one that matches components to load) that delivers the goods. Can you shoot under 1/2 MOA? If you can, then you will start to see some items of interest when you change things around. Give it some thought, there are significant accuracy differences that can happen.... with lubes, alloy choice/hardness, loads, case shape etc.

Attached Files

Eutectic posted this 26 August 2016

Many lubricants will provide freedom from leading and accurate shooting in low pressure, low velocity loads. Any difference in accuracy can be so small it is only possible to detect using a machine or bench rest, several hundred shots and statistical analysis. Only really poor lubricants, this includes some of my 'great ideas", will be bad enough to easily see a difference. The real test comes as pressure and velocity go up, bullet fit is neglected, or bore condition is poor. Here we can begin to separate out the good lubricants. Here there can be a differences between rifles, pistols and revolvers, your gun and my gun. Here the differences between good lubricants depends on the shooting conditions, the particular gun and load and may be small enough to take a lot of careful shooting to show it.  Buy a good commercial lube and be happy. Avoid experimenting and especially homemade lubricants - insanity lurks there. Steve  

Attached Files

RicinYakima posted this 26 August 2016

What Steve said. I don't see anybody shooting at matches under 1/2 MOA on demand, in any class. Keyboard groups do not count.

Attached Files

45 2.1 posted this 26 August 2016

RicinYakima wrote: What Steve said. I don't see anybody shooting at matches under 1/2 MOA on demand, in any class. Keyboard groups do not count. :dude: Whether or not any shooting is done in front of you doesn't count for beans. Said things happen whether you witness them / believe them or not. The CBA doesn't have a large following in the shooting world. There has been a lot said on this forum about stagnation in progress........ and you wonder why. Just keep up what you're doing and see whether you see improvement or not.

Addition: As far as your statement about “anybody shooting under 1/2 MOA” groups, nothing was said about on demand nor whether they were 5 or 10 shots....... But if you check the national records on this site, they're a bunch of them listed in both 5 and 10 shot. The clue being the ability to produce them so you are actually able to discern what changes actually control.

Attached Files

TRKakaCatWhisperer posted this 26 August 2016

RicinYakima wrote: And I'll tell you again Joe, there aren't any “significant accuracy differences” among bullet lubes. If it doesn't make lead stick to the bore, it is a good lube. Ric Except for one.  Guarantees under 1/2 MOA 10 shot groups.  It's based on snake-oil.

Attached Files

joeb33050 posted this 26 August 2016

TRK wrote: RicinYakima wrote: And I'll tell you again Joe, there aren't any “significant accuracy differences” among bullet lubes. If it doesn't make lead stick to the bore, it is a good lube. Ric Except for one.  Guarantees under 1/2 MOA 10 shot groups.  It's based on snake-oil.I don't understand, please explain. Thanks; joe b.

Attached Files

RicinYakima posted this 26 August 2016

45 2.1, Sorry, I think we are miss-communicating. "The clue being the ability to produce them so you are actually able to discern what changes actually control." That is my point, exactly. I don't see anyone doing that. I have National Records with the CBA, and they are combinations of groups that I can not reproduce on demand. Also shot a 0.550” group with an '03 Springfield at the Nationals once (2014). Records are fun to shoot and all, but not relevant to research, at least in my opinion. As for people who don't shoot in front of unbiased folks? Too easy to forget the bad groups; I pulled that shot it doesn't count, etc. Match shooting with the CBA is about shooting small groups or precision shooting into the X ring. Lots of people say they can shoot faster bullets, but they aren't playing the CBA game. Best wishes, Ric

Attached Files

joeb33050 posted this 27 August 2016

Eutectic wrote: ...The real test comes as pressure and velocity go up, bullet fit is neglected, or bore condition is poor. Here we can begin to separate out the good lubricants. Here there can be a differences between rifles, pistols and revolvers, your gun and my gun. Here the differences between good lubricants depends on the shooting conditions, the particular gun and load and may be small enough to take a lot of careful shooting to show it. ...

Steve  

Is this an opinion, or do you have any data? Which lubes fail and which work at what pressures, what velocities, what incorrect bullet fit, what bore condition? Do you have any data showing the differences in accuracy as lubes are varied? Do you know of any? Thanks; joe b.

Attached Files

Eutectic posted this 28 August 2016

Joe,I have data on my guns, one 308 would give ~100 FS more velocity with LBT blue than ALOX 50/50 and hold 1inch groups. Another 308 found the ALOX more to its liking. If I reduced the velocity I could see no difference, both are great lubes. Making a blanket statement on which is the best lube is not possible. Even if I had 100 guns and an unlimited budget it would mean little. Look at the number of different lubes in the top 20% of CBA match results. All of those lubes would be worth trying to find the best one for your gun, provided it has a good bore. As for the rough bore old military guns, I would try moderate moderate velocity and Liquid ALOX first then regular ALOX 50/50, after that ???. My experience with dark bores is limited. Some  of the other members who like shooting guns with some history may have some ideas about lubes and getting an old warhorse to shoot.  Steve

Attached Files

Wineman posted this 28 August 2016

Just read an old TFS #122 J-A 1996. The article was on the chemical basis of lube for function. It was well written but the author had only a paper knowledge of Organic Chemistry. That said his points fit well with your points. Most of us don't care how a watch is made, just what the time is. Bullets lubes are analogous to motor oils: they have to function over a wide range of temperature and pressures; function whether clean or dirty; be reasonable in price; and be safe to use and dispose of. If CB shooters had the user base of cars and trucks, we might have some really interesting products to use.

Dave

Attached Files

mtngun posted this 29 August 2016

Eutectic wrote: "what we do want is a bullet lubricant with high affinity for the steel barrel " Steve, your focus is on the LUBRICATION qualities of bullet lube.   But what if the lubrication qualities are not very important?    What if other things are at least as important, if not more important?

Unfortunately Steam Cylinder Oil is no longer available.

Dunno whether it is still in production or not -- http://southernsteamtrains.com/misc/steam-oil-hwade.htm>some googling suggests that it is still readily available -- but I still have some Texaco “Taurak” grease, allegedly used on steam locomotives back in the day.    While some CB'ers are fond of it, it didn't do anything special in my tests.

It's my understanding that one of the characteristics of steam cylinder oil is tackiness, to make the lube clingy.    Tackifiers are still available and used as addititives in some industrial lubes and in some bullet lubes.   I.e., Rooster HVR (sadly out of production) is very tacky.   It's not the least bit slippery, yet it's an awesome bullet lube.

prevent the lead from adhering to the steel and spoiling accuracy."

Certainly we don't want leading, but what causes leading, and what role does “lube” play in preventing it?   

I suggest that fouling near the muzzle may indeed be related to sliding friction, because velocity is maximum at the muzzle.   Sometimes we do experience leading near the muzzle.

But more often when there is significant leading, it's at the other end of the barrel, near the peak pressure point.    I don't think that type of leading is caused by sliding friction. 

"ALOX 50/50 is still one of the best lubricants, it is a mixture of beeswax (polar) and ALOX 2138F (polar). Attempts to replace the expensive beeswax with cheaper microcrystalline wax (non-polar), gave poorer lubricants which were not commercially successful."

My experience is just the opposite -- the NRA lube is a mediocre lube, OK for low velocity rifle loads but easily bested by lubes with a lot of microcrystalline wax in high velocity loads or in magnum revolver loads.

Microcrystalline wax is available in arrange of hardness form very soft to very hard and a wide range of melting points. Usually a hard high melting point variety is used to allow shipping in a bulk box. This lubricant is adequate for light pistol and revolver loads at 800 fps, perhaps up to 1000 fps if gun/bullet fit is perfect. Use in magnum revolvers or rifles can be disappointing, leading builds up and accuracy goes down.

Again, my experience with hard lubes containing microcrystalline wax is just the opposite (though not all hard lubes are equal).    Hard lubes rock in magnum revolvers and in high velocity rifle loads.   I have posted many shooting tests demonstrating this.   Other people have also published worthwhile lube shootouts and came to similar conclusions.   http://www.mountainmolds.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=505>Here is one.

I have my own theories about bullet lube, but I can't prove them.   But I can do shootouts in magnum revolvers and high velocity rifles and say that in general terms, certain types of lube work well (best accuracy, highest velocity, and lowest velocity variation) while certain other types work less well.   

Attached Files

Eutectic posted this 29 August 2016

It is not the hardness but the polar compounds in the lube. You need to have some polar components.  Carnauba wax is polar and as hard as concrete. Hard lubricants work very well in high pressure loads. This has been proven many times. Do you need to have 100% polar components? No, Lithi-Bee or homemade lithium grease / beeswax is about 40% non-polar and works very well. 

Attached Files

mtngun posted this 30 August 2016

Eutectic wrote: It is not the hardness but the polar compounds in the lube. You need to have some polar components.  Carnauba wax is polar and as hard as concrete. Hard lubricants work very well in high pressure loads. This has been proven many times. Do you need to have 100% polar components? No, Lithi-Bee or homemade lithium grease / beeswax is about 40% non-polar and works very well. Polar ingredients may indeed help, no argument there.  

In my experience hardness does matter, just as viscosity matters in most lubrication applications.   

My main point is -- lubrication qualities may play a secondary role in the job of a so-called “bullet lube."   

What if we changed the name to “bullet sealant?"    What if we filled lube grooves with o-rings rather than with “lube"?    Why do some revolvers shoot unlubed bullets tolerably well, with little or no leading, while other revolvers lead no matter which lube is used?

Attached Files

Close