Today we are going to take a look at the world famous Ballistol Universal oil. While Ballistol is usually associated with firearm maintenance, I have found that it works great for lubricating and protecting your tools.
Just a little short history on the product. The oil was developed in the early 20th century under the necessity for the German military to have a universal oil that could not only be used on metal, but also on wood and leather. The formulation was developed by Helmut Klever, who at the time was a university chemistry professor. He is credited with giving the formula the name BALLISTOL, which was formed by combining the term ballistics and the Latin word for oil ‘oleum.’
Listed on each product is a general guide for the application and use of the product.
Note the first bullet that indicates that Ballistol will dissolve brass and copper due to it being a highly alkaline oil, so keep this in mind when applying it to certain objects. As indicated, it is advertised to work on variety of surfaces include metal, wood, plastic and rubber.
A non-toxic solvent
One feature I feel that Ballistol has an advantage over many other cleaning solvents is that it is 100% non-toxic. Unlike chlorinated brake cleaner, Ballistol does not contain any components classified hazardous by OSHA. As noted from the Ballistol documentation, in feeding experiments with rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs it could be demonstrated that Ballistol does not have any acutely toxic properties. There is even a story that Ballistol notes that a two year old child who erroneously drank a 50 ml bottle and “did not show any pathological symptoms apart from a little hangover like it appears after drinking too much alcohol.”
What is in Ballistol?
While the actual Ballistol formula is a trade secret, from the safety data sheet and other disclosures we can determine a good number of ingredients. The primary ingredient is white mineral oil, which accounts for around 70% of the total composition. White mineral oil is typically found in a medical grade form that is used for all types of things from wood conditioning, to lubrication and cutting fluids.
The second ingredient is oleic acid that accounts for around 10% by volume. Even though it has the word ‘acid’ in the name, it is not a corrosive chemical, but is instead a monounsaturated fatty acid that is found in many soaps. It is added to the mineral oil to prevent separation with water, that in turn allows it to be diluted with water and thereby water soluble.
The third ingredient is benzyl acetate, which also accounts for another 10% by volume. From the research I have done, this is a chemical that is commonly used as a solvent for nitrocellulose. You would often find nitrocellulose in explosive munitions, thereby making benzyl acetate a good cleaner for firearms.
The final known ingredient is Anethole, that is commonly used as a sweetener and gives the Ballistol its licorice scent. The unique odor definitely takes a bit to get used to it, but after a while you hardly notice it anymore. Anethole also has some antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which is also a characteristic that Ballistol claims to have.
The aerosol versions of the product would also have an additional ingredient, propane, to act as a propellant. This is pretty common for any aerosol spray due to the fact that propane remains a liquid when under compression as opposed to air which remains a gas under compression.
Methods of Delivery
For those in North America, the most common forms of the oil are in either a liquid, aerosol or pre-moistened wipe.
The most common sizes for the liquid version are in 4oz and 16oz. Depending on where you get it from, some versions of the 16 ounce bottle will come with a spray adapter that screws onto the top.
I have found that this sprayer is much too powerful for precision applications so it is better suited for doing applications over a very large surface.
I have found some success with using these miniature oilers that I found off Amazon. This little kit comes with two with different size stainless steel applicators.
I actually think Ballistol is missing out on a market here by not offering a version with a precision liquid applicator.
Ballistol Use on Tools
While I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Ballistol for use in firearms, I can definitely speak to its effectiveness in cleaning and maintaining tools. Here is what a screwdriver handle may look like after doing a job, particularly one with a lot of old dust and debris.
It does a great job at cleaning any plastic, rubber or metal surface on hand tools and will even remove grease and oil.
The only type of tool you have to worry about applying this oil to one made of brass or copper, which usually isn’t very often for most people. I wouldn’t say it would destroy a brass tool by applying oil on it, but it would most likely tarnish it.
The way I typically maintain my tools is to keep them out until I get a job done and then oil all of them with Ballistol before putting them away. It also prevents any cross contamination on the tools for the next project.
Ballistol Water Solubility
Another interesting property of Ballistol is that it is a water-soluble oil meaning that you can mix it with water to produce a slightly less effective solution in applications where you need substantial volume but using 100% Ballistol would be cost prohibited. There is a small table on the liquid version that acts as a guide to diluting the solution for specific circumstances.
While I’m sure there are plenty of products that you can use to maintain your tools, the reason I use Ballistol is that 100% non-toxic and has been able to tackle everything I’ve thrown at it in terms of contaminants on tools.
DISCLOSURE: I receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Buying tools using these links is a great way to support the channel!