Saying and Understanding Are Not the Same

13-Sep-15 – 22:52 by ToddG

2Over the past few days, it has been all the rage for people who know absolutely nothing about chemistry to discuss the chemical composition of FireClean, a popular firearms lubricant/cleaner. Specifically, there are people who claim that it is nothing but a simple common vegetable oil.

As evidence, these people have provided videos showing it burning away at the same rate as vegetable oil or showing an alleged “infrared spectroscopy” comparison between a particular vegetable oil and FireClean.

Raise your hand if you’d ever heard of infrared spectroscopy before this.

Keep it raised only if you actually know how infrared spectroscopy is performed.

Keep it raised only if you know what infrared spectroscopy does and doesn’t show you viz-a-vis the complete chemical makeup of a mixture.

Keep it raised only if you think that infrared spectroscopy can prove that there is nothing whatsoever different between vegetable oil and whatever chemical mixture makes up FireClean.

Right now, no one honest has his hand raised anymore. The point being that just because someone uses a scientific sounding phrase like “infrared spectroscopy” doesn’t mean it’s telling us what that person assumes or alleges it is telling us.

Ask yourself this: Is the infrared spectroscopy of canola oil changed if you add food coloring to it? If you don’t know the answer without Googling it, then why are you assuming it has any relevance as far as a gun lubricant is concerned? In other words, if you don’t know what does and doesn’t affect the outcome of such a test, then why would you assume that the outcome of the test in this case tells you anything worthwhile?

A few things I’d like to be specific about:

  • One of the guys behind FireClean is a buddy of mine.
  • I personally don’t use (and have never even tried) FireClean because I have been a very satisfied user of Viking Tactics/Rand CLP.
  • I am not accusing the folks involved in this “FireClean is Crisco” claim to be dishonest or malicious.

Like other types of knowledge, a little science is a dangerous thing. The shooting community has been dragged down so many rabbit holes by other scientific-sounding terms like “gross motor skills” or “MIM” or “hydrostatic shock” … leading to conclusions that are often misunderstood and sometimes completely wrong. It’s no different than all of the uniformed anti-gun people who vapidly nod their heads when a politician talks about how a teflon coated cop-killer bullet will slip its way through a “bullet-proof” vest.

What’s in FireClean? I don’t know. What I do know is that infrared spectrometry can’t answer that question.

Also, look for my upcoming article, “The Application of Vectored Kinesthetic Force to Increase Friction as a Means to Obviate The Radians of Sine Partially As Experienced by a Handgun Front Sight Due to Single Dimension Positional Change as Caused by Sudden Internal Ballistic Energy Expulsion,” also known as gripping a handgun.*

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

 * That may not even make sense, because it’s just another example of a gun guy assuming he knows something about science when he really doesn’t. If it does make sense, I rock.

  1. 29 Responses to “Saying and Understanding Are Not the Same”

  2. Never used it. I also use Rand, which I have thought many times was like vegetable oil, but it works well. I will stick with Rand cause I trust it…..

    By Bob on Sep 13, 2015

  3. There are only so many things that can be used as the “base” product for lubricants. As best I can tell, all this has done is demonstrate something that most people already knew: the main ingredient (by volume) of FireClean is a plant-based oil.

    It’s like saying Vasoline and gasoline are the same because they are both petroleum-based.

    By ToddG on Sep 13, 2015

  4. I still prefer Militec1, because I’ve got 3 litres of it in my gun room.

    By Rob E on Sep 13, 2015

  5. I don’t know it. I use SLIP 2000.

    By Mohicane on Sep 14, 2015

  6. I’ll admit I was one of the dudes piling on FireClean. Not because I have a dog in the fight, I just kind of thought it was funny. I mean, if it is rapeseed oil, my lubrication costs just went way down.

    By Caleb on Sep 14, 2015

  7. Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) would be the best way to determine which oils exist in the mixture and any other additives. Friend of mine has access to one…sample on the way to him, along with my favorites lubes.

    By Cody on Sep 14, 2015

  8. You may find this additionally interesting: http://www.vuurwapenblog.com/general-opinion/lies-errors-and-omissions/where-theres-smoke-theres-liar/

    I thought the Vickers video was silly the first time I saw it, but I didn’t bother digging deep enough to see the con in action.

    There’s a difference between marketing a vegetable oil as gun lube, and intentionally conning people with false claims and fake science.

    As for the former, if it works, it works.

    And the latter, it’s obviously unethical.

    By JamesF on Sep 14, 2015

  9. I use motor oil for out of spite for both cleaning and lube. Screw the wannabe scientists and their “special formulations”. Bunch of know-it-all dildos.

    By T. on Sep 14, 2015

  10. Way to ruin it with science Todd. This is why you never get invited to parties.

    By David on Sep 14, 2015

  11. Well I tested it with my gas chromatograph, and it said that fireclean is made from goat snot and alien spooge.

    By CPD on Sep 14, 2015

  12. I’m still pretty upset that Frog Lube wasn’t made from real frogs.

    By TCinVA on Sep 14, 2015

  13. Next you’ll tell me Jiffy Lube dose not use peanut butter on my car & truck.

    By David on Sep 14, 2015

  14. I’m one of the guys who raised a hand. Actually, a properly calibrated near-infrared or infrared spectroscopy analysis would give you the answer down to the molecular level. Spectroscopy has been used since the 1950s as a reliable and accurate method for analysis of the composition of foods and other organic compounds. There is no arguing with this – assuming the spectrometer was properly calibrated – the oils are probably identical. Don’t argue with science.

    By Nuffsaid on Sep 14, 2015

  15. If you overlay the charts from the professor, you can see that they are not identical. They are clearly very similar, but they are not the same.

    Whatever the right side of the chart is measuring shows more differences than the left side.

    That said, I work in hydraulics. I see the massive (sometimes up to 98% reduced rated bearing life) de-rating of components (decreased max pressure, decreased max RPM, increased service schedule, decreased bearing life) required to use “food grade,” bio-based, or other unusual fluids. NO WAY am I interested in using ANY kind of bio fluid or vegetable oils as lubricant in any device I want to last. If Fireclean is a plant based oil, which looks pretty likely at this point, no thanks.

    By Ben C on Sep 14, 2015

  16. http://www.vuurwapenblog.com/general-opinion/lies-errors-and-omissions/where-theres-smoke-theres-liar/

    By Justin on Sep 14, 2015

  17. @Cody has it right. That’ll tell the differene.

    I tend to agree with Grant Cunningham that there is no “magic” lubricant that’s not been found or tried. One can mix and match for certain properties but…………

    By RickP on Sep 14, 2015

  18. Honestly I think this is being made a bigger deal than should be because shooters are getting sick of over hyped lubes. I feel that the gun oil industry is in the same position that ARs were before people started to pushing the AR builders to meet certain standards.

    Look at the website of most of the gun lubes (at least the ones without actual government contracts), few will publish any sort of specs. How can you truly compare two lubes without some sort of empirical data to base it on?

    I personally would like to see companies in this space, and that wish to enter the gun lube game to start putting out standardized testing. We don’t need to know your formula, but we need to know what is the operating temperature, smoke point, load rating, et al.

    By PPGMD on Sep 14, 2015

  19. Raise your hand if you’d ever heard of infrared spectroscopy before this.

    Well, I did work at Shimadzu Scientific briefly, albeit only as a secretary, so it wouldn’t surprise me if a layperson got his terms mixed up.

    It’d be as easy as a layperson getting ammo mixed up.

    By Tam on Sep 15, 2015

  20. PPGMD,

    I personally would like to see companies in this space, and that wish to enter the gun lube game to start putting out standardized testing. We don’t need to know your formula, but we need to know what is the operating temperature, smoke point, load rating, et al.

    Funnily enough, I was just talking to Bryce from Lucas Oil last Saturday, and he was mentioning the same thing. He’s hoping they can help establish an industry standard grading system so people can do the equivalent of shopping for 20W-50 or 30-weight or whatever, depending on their needs.

    By Tam on Sep 15, 2015

  21. Preface: I am sponsored by Lucas Oil via Team SIG.

    Actually that is one the things I like the most about Lucas Oil. Every product, including the gun oils, have a spec sheet attached to them on their website.

    But my desire for this extended well before any association with Lucas Oil. As I’ve always believed that 90% of the companies in the gun lube space do not have their own factories, and are just selling repackaged lubes.

    By PPGMD on Sep 15, 2015

  22. “That said, I work in hydraulics. I see the massive (sometimes up to 98% reduced rated bearing life) de-rating of components (decreased max pressure, decreased max RPM, increased service schedule, decreased bearing life) required to use “food grade,” bio-based, or other unusual fluids. NO WAY am I interested in using ANY kind of bio fluid or vegetable oils as lubricant in any device I want to last. If Fireclean is a plant based oil, which looks pretty likely at this point, no thanks.”

    Is your pistol hydraulically operated, Ben? Does it spin at high speed and need RPM-based lubrication? Is anything at all in its use pattern, wear, and internal conditions similar to the systems you’re speaking of?

    If not, you’re operating completely outside your domain of knowledge, and none of those heuristics actually apply.

    A consumer gun [perhaps not a chain gun or heavy machinegun in sustained use] can be lubricated just fine by a vegetable oil base in a way a heavy hydraulic machine – or, say, an internal combustion engine – can’t be, because the problem space is utterly dissimilar.

    By Sigivald on Sep 15, 2015

  23. Sigivald, as a matter of fact there are many similarities in the sliding surfaces of a firearm and the sliding surfaces of a hydrostatic pump. Hardened steel, brass, and aluminum surfaces moving against one another at high rates of speed and high temperatures share some lubrication needs. Veggie oils and other exotic fluids break down faster and do not lubricate as well under high pressure and high temperature as well as mineral oils. This is a proven and documented fact.

    Pat Rogers says Vagisil is better than no lube, I’m sure Crisco is better than no lube. Being better than nothing does not make either one of these options necessarily good.

    Before you tell me about how wrong you think I am, please share your clearly immense “domain of knowledge” in hydraulic and hydrostatic component and system design and your decades of experience in my field. Thanks tons.

    By Ben C on Sep 17, 2015

  24. I was trained in the theory and practice of NIR spectroscopy in several university courses during my studies and use it every day for the identification of drug compounds. Hand is still up. If it’s not pure rapeseed oil, it most certainly is almost purely a triglyceride with virtually the same fatty acid composition as rapeseed oil.

    By Marc on Sep 19, 2015

  25. This is very interesting for my. Chemistry. Kind of my field of work. Originaly educated as water ecologist I work in laboratory chemistry for the last 7 years. Expecting mutch from GC-MS, Cody’s friend’s test (can’t wait for the results). Infrared spectroscopy does not show all the additives.

    By Raja on Sep 20, 2015

  26. My main problem with Fireclean: I don’t mind it being vegetable oil based as most non-toxic, biodegradable lubes are just that. After all, Rand CLP is marketed as a “high speed” vegetable oil with added nano technology stuff to make it better. I can “buy” that until I know differently. What really irks me (about FC) is the possibility that the complete recipe/formula may very well be within our reach (local supermarket). 80% of it is canola/rapeseed oil which we can easily get. What makes up the other 20%? Can we get it just as easily. Maybe I would pay for a premixed product like I sometimes do when buying 50/50 anti-freeze. But, certainly not $10 per ounce for gun lube. Furthermore, who’s the chemical engineer that formulated it? Check out the Vickers ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0OAsOCEJfQ ) video in which they say the formula was stumbled upon. Divinely inspired?!?! Don’t make me fucking laugh!

    By Frankie on Sep 21, 2015

  27. Hand still up. I’ve used mid IR for everything from detection of nerve agents to diver breathing air to polymer QC. While GC-MS is the best to identify mass numbers and verify complete make up an IR spectrum doesn’t lie.
    If it is a blend of products you should expect to see some variation from lot to lot.

    Do I care one way or another? No

    By Gerry on Oct 3, 2015

  28. Frankie – Teflon was stumbled upon at DuPont.

    By Gerry on Oct 3, 2015

  29. Gerry – I did know that PTFE was stumbled upon at DuPont by Dr. Roy Plunkett while trying to find a non-toxic alternative to refrigerants like sulfur dioxide and ammonia. However, these were actual chemists and engineers working at something huge, not some home alchemists intent on making a buck in the firearms industry. Also, a lot more money goes into the R&D of automotive motor oils and the end product is cheap as shit. FC is way too expensive. Again, my biggest problem with FC is the plausibility that it can be mixed at home using common products available to us all. I don’t like to pay 200% more for a product that is only 15% better. Although I don’t think I speak only for myself, this is just MY opinion.

    By Frankie on Oct 3, 2015

  30. ToddG,
    I deliberately stayed away from commenting on your blog post because I wanted to see where the story would go. It now looks like things have cooled off. Feel free to post this or not.

    I’m an engineer and I:
    1. know what IR spectroscopy is, and
    2. have used it on a couple occasions to compare samples of complex organic substances.

    Your post is factually correct. IR spec does not give you a compositional analysis. It’s more of a fingerprint.

    To use another analogy, it’s very much like mitochondrial DNA testing. It doesn’t give you a line-by-line identification, but I’m afraid it gives folks a pretty good idea of who the sample’s mother and siblings are.

    With a comparison of one control sample, if you say that the 2 samples are similar, the follow-up question immediately becomes, “Compared to what?”

    The guy(s) that started the discussion would have been much more credible if they had also run an animal fat/oil, a petroleum mineral oil and a synthetic lubricant before making a qualitative comparison. A comparison to other known CLP products would have been nice if the project had been a planned comparison.

    My 2¢ response was,”Hmmm. Interesting. More coffee, please”. Heck, Pat Rogers has posted a rather famous photograph of someone lubricating an AR15 with KY personal lubricant just to prove a point. If it works for ya, FIDO!

    By Davey on Oct 7, 2015

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