Lubricants and Solvents
In order to maintain equipment, a variety of
lubricants and solvents are required. Below is
an idea of what to use where, but it is not an
all-encompassing guide. Presented is a short
outline of the types of, and the uses for, the
products we use in our shop. Also included here
are safety procedures and tips.
THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR ©
- Fluid Film: A wonderful Canadian product, this oil is solvent
free, and has a viscosity higher than WD-40. We use it for caster
lubrication because it maintains a good layer between ball bearing contact
points. This product is excellent for corrosion protection, especially
outdoors. Because it can handle 175 degrees C, it's an easy choice for
threaded hardware on theatre lights.
In the shop, Fluid Film lubricates the grinder, and our drill press
and portable drills. It's a tap & die assistant, and it is the best
wipe-down fluid to prevent corrosion on stored steel tools.
- Liquid Wrench: When parts have corroded and must be disassembled
or made to work freely again, a penetrating oil is required. Liquid Wrench
fills this need. Its very low viscosity (less than water) enables it to
run into tight areas where it breaks the bond between metal and
This product comes in spray cans or squeeze bottles, and in bulk. A
small squeeze bottle is a great way to apply penetrant because one can
slowly introduce the oil to the desired location wthout spray back. Let
it sit for a period of time determined by how badly seized the parts are,
and then try to loosen. Tapping with a hammer may serve to persuade really
stuck objects to separate once the oil has done its work.
- WD-40: A general-purpose, oil-based lubricant that leaves
less residue than most oils, WD-40 comes in aerosol and pump sprayers,
as well as bulk containers. We like it because, being less greasy than
other oils, it is a good general lubricant and rust inhibitor where
surfaces are exposed to the touch. WD-40 displaces moisture, so it
creates a protective coating on surfaces that are likely to corrode if
exposed to dampness. Because it's a light oil, it works well as a
penetrant for freeing rusted parts.
We also use WD-40 in electrical outlets and on connectors. It prevents
tarnishing and allows them to slide & glide allowing for easy operation
when connections are made or unmade. Finally, in the office, it is used on
chairs, cupboard hinges and file cabinet drawer mechanisms to keep them
- Mineral Oil: A clear, light petroleum oil, it is used
to coat the internal surfaces of telescopic towers, especially
those driven by compressed gas. This oil will aid in maintaining
the gas seals' integrity and keep such towers in the air longer
without leakage. In the office, the same sort of seals on chair
height adjustors benefit from this lubricant.
Otherwise, it can be used anywhere a clean, viscous oil is needed
that won't evaporate quickly: rack cabinet door hinges, pipe
threads, drilling coolant/lubricator, heavy casters, tap & die
lubrication, and so on.
- Silicone: A better lubricant to use when surfaces slide past
one another. On ellipsoidal shutters and on tripod stands, we have
industrial-level brands from LPS and Sprayon. The former is rated for high
temperature, so it lasts longer than cheaper, commercial silicone
lubricants. As such, we use it in fixture sockets to prevent "lamp stick"
-- the dreaded seizing of lamp bases after their length of time in service.
Since silicone also displaces moisture, we use it on surfaces that are
likely to corrode when they are exposed to dampness where the oiliness of
WD-40 in unwanted.
Silicone loves wood so use it to make wooden drawers open and close
easily. Spray the runners and sides of the drawer where it touches the
runners or cabinet/drawer frame. Don't forget to spray farther back along
the top sides of the drawers. These touch the top of the frame when the
drawer is opened and it leans downward allowing the top sides to contact
the upper frame. Be sure to empty the drawer so that contents don't suffer
from overspray. An empty drawer can also be turned upside down to better
cover the bottom rails.
An additional usage: At the first sign of below-zero temperatures,
spray silicone on rubber door surrounds in company and employee vehicles.
This prevents sticking in winter when moisture can freeze them shut.
Otherwise, the door seals can get pulled off if a door is opened when
frozen. Clean the rubber first with lacquer thinner, then generously
- Graphite: Essentially pencil lead, this dry, powered lubricant
is useful in locks or on other surfaces where dirt attraction is a problem
if "wet" lubricants were to be employed. Do not use it where unwanted
electrical conductivity is an issue because current can flow through it.
Some service techs use it on shutter plates, but we don't recommend
this because graphite can work its way on reflectors and lenses, impairing
- Petroleum Jelly: Use this where dirt adherence and build-up
are less of a factor, and where the lubricant is required to remain for
a long period of time without evaporation and without flowing away from
the desired point. Typical uses are on caster and motor hubs,
moving-light gear systems, and anywhere a clear, light grease is
- White Lithium Grease: Used as above where heavier application
and greater longevity is required than can be handled by petroleum jelly.
White grease also remains more viscous when heated. A spray version is
available that makes for easier application because it goes on as a liquid
and then congeals into a grease. This can get into tight areas so it may
serve to grease inaccessible areas when one does not have the time to
disassemble a piece of equipment for its lubrication schedule.
- Methanol: Usually used to remove fingerprint oils from lamp
bulbs, but in addition as a general cleaner and degreaser. It can also
remove some inks and some label and tape glues from surfaces that would be
destroyed by the solvents discussed below. In addition, it can clean tape
and computer drive heads, and it is a disinfectant.
- Varsol: Mainly used to thin oil-based paints and to clean up
after painting with the same. It can also remove grime and some types of
glue from cables, and can clean some inks from some surfaces.
- Naphtha: This is a camp stove and lantern fuel, but can be used
to remove grime and some glue types from cables when Varsol won't work.
It also rejuvenates stationery correction fluids and rubber cement. Place
a drop or two into the bottle if the liquid becomes thick.
- Lacquer Thinner: It's the best all-round degreaser and glue
remover. It can also remove inks, so we use it to clean old felt-tip marker
designations from cable connectors before renewing the markings. It's tops
at removing duct tape glue from cables and other surfaces, but it is more
prone to dulling or melting some surfaces than the above solvents, so test
In addition, silicone lubricant can be removed with lacquer thinner, and
of course as the name suggests, it can thin lacquer-based paints.
- Methyl-Ethyl Ketone: This is the most powerful and dangerous
solvent we use. It removes glues, inks, silicones, oils and solder flux,
but unfortunately it can often remove the surface on which you are applying
it! See the "Safety" section (next) for some special precautions regarding
this potent solvent.
- Store the Bulk Product in its Original Container. Then pour
some into smaller containers or applicators for bench or field service.
This keeps the main inventory clean and lessens the possibility of
spilling large quantities.
For solvents, we typically buy 4 to 20-litre bulk quantities, then for
usage, use those to fill 1-litre glass bottles or the smaller, 100- to
300-millilitre containers. The final size is determined by how dangerous
they are, and also by how much of a problem is presented by contamination
of the bigger containers. Generally, we prefer that methanol, lacquer
thinner and ketone not be contaminated during service, so we dispense them
from 250-ml or smaller bottles, and then keep the bigger ones for storage
only. Should the smaller ones become contaminated it only affects a little
amount of the product, and smaller containers are more easily cleaned.
- Use separate cloths for each solvent. This prevents cross
contamination. Store the in-service cloths in separate containers and
label the latter as to with which solvent it is being used.
- Transfer and Use Fluids in a Ventilated Area. Lubricants and
solvents give off fumes that can cause health issues when used over a
long term. Naphtha, lacquer thinner and ketone can cause immediate problems
if the fumes are strong enough. Before storing any cloths used, be sure to
air dry them so as to prevent spontaneous combustion. Safeguard your shop
by keeping them in a covered, metal box in a cool area.
- Use a Funnel to Transfer Solvents. When filling smaller
containers from stock jugs, have a selection of different sizes so that
you can use a funnel with a tip that fits inside the smaller bottle's lip
loosely enough that air can get out. Be sure the funnel is clean and also
free of previously-poured solvents or lubricants.
Use an open-mouthed storage container, such as a one-litre, glass
mayonnaise jar, to hold the funnels after usage so as to contain drips.
Allow funnels to dry fully between usages so cross-contamination does not
occur, or use separate funnels.
- Back Light Translucent Containers When Filling. Shine a
light from behind translucent containers when filling so as to show
the fluid level. This prevents over filling. Because getting a container
exactly full is hard when filling one from a large stock jug, back off
long before the container is full to allow funnel contents to drain
- Stop Filling Well Before the Top When Transferring Foamy Fluids.
Many cleaners will bubble or foam as they are being filled. This foam
will over flow before the liquid reaches the top, so be sure to stop
at the 75% point to allow foam to dissipate. Then continue filling, but
at a slower rate to minimise foaming.
- Protect Eyes and Skin. Lubricants and solvents are dangerous
if brought in contact with skin cuts, the eyes or other mucus body
openings. All can cause skin problems, some immediately; others will
if left in contact for long enough. Most can dry skin, and all can get
absorbed into the body. Be sure to frequently wash hands in cold water,
or preferably wear rubber gloves rated for the solvents you are using.
If splashing is a possibility, such as when refilling containers,
wear goggles. Use a good skin lotion as an preventative of dry and
In particular, be careful of methyl-ethyl ketone. A Canadian military
safety report from the 1980s states that it can cause blindness by melting
the eye corneas within 30 seconds. If this or any solvents come into contact
with a person, flush continuously with cold water and seek immediate
medical assistance if any get into body openings.
- Most are Flammable -- Some Highly. Keep them away from potential
sparks, open flames, heat guns, or even focused light beams. Consider a
CO2 or chemical fire extinguisher be kept at hand if solvents are stored
in quantities large enough to be of concern. Some fire departments and/or
municipalities require users be certified or provide notification if
quantities of any flammable solvent exceed more than a few litres per
Store them away from doorways in case a fire erupts and you need to exit
quickly. Keep other flammable items away from solvents storage, and try to
keep them on metal shelving with doors -- metal for fire resistance, doors
so as to lessen the possibility of containers tipping out on to the floor
and also to protect bottles from breakage during other work. Realise that
some of the solvents discussed here can dissolve floor tiles or finishes!
- Always Test Solvents. Most will dull, and some will damage
or melt, some surfaces. Test in an obscure spot or on a scrap of the
same surface before using on the desired item.
A good selection of lubricants and solvents makes
for a complete shop. Their employment is paramount
when it comes to quality maintenance and servicing.
We supply some of the products
discussed on this page
Lubricants and Solvents
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