In order to maintain shop and rental equipment, a variety of lubricants and solvents are required. Presented are brief outlines of the types of, and the uses for, the products we use in our shop.
Also touched upon is some discussion of cleaners. In closing, there will be a full section regarding 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 our power tools such as the grinder, the buffer, 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. Finally, in the office, it is used on chairs, cupboard hinges and file cabinet drawer mechanisms to keep them operating smoothly and freely.
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 ellipsoidal shutter plates, but we don't recommend this because graphite can work its way on to reflectors and lenses, impairing their performance.
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 corrosion.
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 without 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.
Mineral Oil: A clear, light, low-odour 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 dry out quickly, and has little scent: rack cabinet door hinges, pipe threads, drilling coolant/lubricator, heavy casters, tap & die lubrication, and so on.
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 needed.
Silicone: A better lubricant to use when surfaces slide past one another. For ellipsoidal shutters and lens runners, and on the telescoping sections of tripod stands, we use a stage lighting level of silicone lubricant with brands from LPS and Sprayon. These are rated for high temperature, and so last longer than cheaper, commercial versions. 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 products such as WD-40 is 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 become splattered with overspray. An empty drawer can also be turned upside down to better cover the bottom surfaces.
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 and its contacted surfaces on the frame with lacquer thinner, then generously apply silicone when the surfaces are dry.
A caution to observe is that some silicone lubricants are flammable or contain volatile dispensing agents. Others that are labelled as "Silicone" are petroleum based or include petroleum products. Do not apply such types near open flames or on to hot light fixtures. In fact, it is recommended that they not be used for stage lighting purposes at all.
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 easily mate and disconnect, meaning faster, effortless operation. It also is used to re-hydrate grease if we cannot take the time to renew it.
White Lithium Grease: Used as discussed in the Petroleum Jelly section where heavier application and greater longevity is required. 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 lubricate inaccessible areas when one does not have the time to disassemble a piece of equipment for its service schedule.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Although not always considered a solvent
in the usual sense, this product can be used to dissolve grime and tarnish
from some surfaces. For such purposes, one must obtain an industrial strength
version. The type found in drugstores is rated at 3%; we use 35%.
Soak the surface in undiluted Hydrogen Peroxide for a period of time. This period will vary depending on the material being dissolved. When complete, rinse with water to remove the product. As always, test some unseen part of the surface to be sure it won't be affected. When it is, the usual result is a lightening of the surface's colour. However, it can also remove some paints.
Be cautious with this product; it will bleach clothing where ever spatter lands, and it will cause skin lightening and/or inflammation. Use rubber gloves and goggles. (See Safety Considerations farther on.
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 first. In addition, silicone lubricant can be removed with lacquer thinner, and of course as the name suggests, it can thin lacquer-based paints.
This solvent evaporates fairly quickly and leaves no residue.
Medical Adhesive Remover: Employed by hospital staff to assist the removal of bandages by dissolving their adhesives. It then is used to clear the skin of residue. Despite its intended usage, one should not allow this product to contact the skin for a longer period of time than is necessary to remove the adhesive. Wash skin with soap and water afterward.
Sold in medical supply places (a typical brand name is "Solvo-Plast"), we use it when other solvents won't work, or where those others might harm the surface from which adhesive is being removed.
Methanol: (Methyl Alcohol) Typically used by us to remove fingerprint oils from lamp bulbs, it is a general cleaner/degreaser. It can also remove some inks, and some label and tape glues from surfaces that would be destroyed by the solvents discussed elsewhere here. In addition, it can remove silicone lubricant from smooth surfaces, and can clean the magnetic or laser heads of audio/data/tape units such as CD/DVD players/recorders, computer drives, and audio and video tape players/recorders. It is also an excellent disinfectant.
Methanol's best features are its fast evaporation, lack of residue, and that it has little to no effect on so many of the surfaces themselves. In fact, it can even return a brilliant lustre to some plastics that have been dulled by grime and general residue.
Methyl-Ethyl Ketone: (MEK) This is the most powerful and effective solvent we use. It removes glues, inks, silicones, oils and solder flux, but unfortunately it can often remove the surface on to which you are applying it! See the Safety section for some special precautions regarding this potent solvent.
MEK evaporates very fast and leaves no residue.
Be extra cautious with this product; it can melt eye corneas in seconds. Use rubber gloves and goggles rated for MEK. (See the Safety Considerations section.
Mineral Spirits: 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. It is an excellent degreaser when mixed with dish detergent because it washes away with water.
This solvent evaporates slowly and leaves a light, oily residue for a long period afterward. (Methanol can often be used to remove this residue.)
Naphtha: This is a camp stove and lantern fuel, but can be used to remove grime and some glue types from cables when Mineral Spirits won't work. It also rejuvenates stationery correction fluids and rubber cement if they are solvent-based. Place a drop into the bottle whenever the contents become thick; allow it to sit so as to mix. Add more drops until the desired consistency is achieved. If you find that too much solvent has been used, leave the top off the product until some of the solvent has evaporated; do this in a ventilated area.
Naphtha evaporates fairly quickly and leaves only a slight residue.
WHMIS This is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. Pronounced "WHIM-iss", it has been the national standard in Canada since 1988. Documents are available that cover a wide range of materials, their safe handling and storage, things to avoid, and suggested medical procedures. For products that we sell, if you require in-depth technical information for a specific product beyond what is given in this article, please e-mail us.
Cleaners. Although not part of the primary discussion in this article, the handling methods of the products here apply to commercial cleaners as well. Some contain toxic chemicals that can cause issues if used in unventilated locations and with unprotected skin. This mainly applies to long-terms usage, but exposures to some may accumulate in the body over time.
In particular, hot water is often used with cleaners; the steam from it will carry product vapour into the air where it might be inhaled. Be vigilant if you use strong cleaners on a regular basis in your shop. Also, hot water on the skin opens pores; this will allow chemicals to be absorbed even more quickly into unprotected hands.
Label Everything. To prevent mixups of containers and their caps or corks, label each container clearly as to its content, then label each cap or cork with at least initials. This is to prevent a mixup that would contaminate at the minimum, or cause dangerous mixing at the worst.
Product Information Notices. At each station, post alerts regarding safety and other considerations for each of the products designated to be there. At a minimum, post general warnings regarding flammability, vapour and skin absorbtion, and eye protection requirements.
Do not Ingest. This should not need to be stated. However, since the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been reports of people swallowing a product containing a harmful chemical (such as those on this page), thinking it will kill the virus. They may be correct, but it also likely kills the person!
Swallowing any the items discussed in this article will cause issues to one degree or another. As just a few examples, Hydrogen Peroxide, Methyl Ethyl Keytone and Lacquer Thinner can chemically burn tissues, while Methanol metabolises as formaldehyde in the body, and so becomes poisonous. Read the product labels to see what to do in the case of ingesting any of these products, or call your local Health Line for advice.
Protect Skin and Eyes. Many lubricants and most solvents are dangerous if brought in contact with skin cuts, the eyes, or with other body openings. All can cause skin problems, some immediately; others will if left in contact for long enough. Many will dry the skin, and most can get absorbed into the body. If using for an extended period of time, frequently wash hands in cold water, or preferably wear rubber gloves rated for the product you are using. If splashing is a possibility, such as when refilling containers, then wear goggles or a face shield. Use a good skin lotion as a preventive measure regarding possible dry and broken skin.
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 it comes into contact with the skin, flush continuously with cold water. Seek immediate medical assistance if it gets into skin cuts or body openings.
Do not Breathe the Vapours. Solvents, in particular, can irritate and burn lung tissue, as well as cause other problems. One might get away with sporadic exposure to a small amount of vapour, but long-term exposure will eventually cause problems. So use these products in a ventilated area.
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 to provide notification if quantities of flammable solvents exceed more than a few litres per type.
Store them away from doorways in case a fire erupts and you need to exit quickly. 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! Keep other flammable items away from solvents storage so that if a fire does start, there will be minimal fuel for it.
Store the Bulk Product in its Original Container. Then pour some into smaller containers or into applicators for use at the bench or in field service. This keeps the main inventory clean, and it lessens the possibility of spilling large quantities. Label each container as to content and its cautions.
For solvents, we typically buy four-litre bulk quantities; then for usage, we transfer some to one-litre glass bottles or to smaller, 100- to 300-millilitre containers. The final size is determined by how dangerous each is, and also by how much of a problem is presented regarding contamination of the bigger containers. Generally, we prefer that methanol, lacquer thinner and ketone not be contaminated during service, so we dispense these from 250-ml or smaller bottles, and then keep the bigger ones for storage only. Should the smaller ones become contaminated, only little amounts of product are affected; plus, smaller containers get cleaned more often because they become empty sooner.
Use Separate Applicators for Each Solvent. This prevents cross contamination. Store each in-service applicator or cloth in its own container, and label it to show the solvent with which it is to be 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 used cloths, be sure to air dry them so as to prevent spontaneous combustion. Safeguard your shop by keeping them in a non-flammable box in a cool area.
Use a Funnel to Transfer Solvents. When filling smaller containers from stock jugs, have a selection of different funnels so that correct tip size will fit inside the smaller bottle's lip. It should be loose enough so that air can get out. Be sure the funnel is clean and also free of previously-poured solvents or lubricants.
Have a wide-mouthed storage container, such as a one-half-litre, glass preserves-style 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 simply use separate funnels, each stored in its own jar, with both labelled.
Light Translucent Containers When Filling. Shine a light from behind translucent containers when filling so the fluid level can be observed. This prevents over filling. Because getting a container exactly full is hard when filling one from a large, stock jug, back off before the container is full so as to allow the funnel's contents to drain without causing overflow.
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.
Test! Test! Test! Most solvents discussed here will dull, and some will damage or melt, some surfaces. Test in an obscure spot or on a scrap of the same material 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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