All moving parts generate friction, no matter how small. This simple mechanical issue has plagued mankind since the dawn of time, and the industry spawned in an effort to reduce it is immense, to say the least. In most cases, the weapon of choice is a wet lubricant, and unless you have lived under a rock for the last 100 years, you know that when something is squeaking or sticking, the go-to solution is a blast of penetrating oil. The problem with these wet-film lubricants is that you have to continue applying it on a regular basis to get the benefit. There is, however, another solution.
The main issue with wet lubrication is that it is oil-based. Eventually all oils dry up, and in some cases become gummy, making it even harder to operate the equipment you are trying to lubricate. Another issue with wet lubricants is that particles such as dirt and dust stick to the lubricant. This eventually turns into hard to clean gunk that, once again, makes the equipment harder to operate. What you really need is a dry film lubricant that reduces the friction without drying out or gumming up. The answer is graphite.
Graphite is a mined mineral made of carbon. It is one of the most stable forms of carbon on the planet, and it is inherently lubricious. This is because graphite molecules are stacked flat, much like a deck of playing cards. These cards glide over the each other, even under extreme pressure. Graphite has very high temperature resistance, and is hydrophobic, meaning it naturally repels water. All the characteristics you want in a lubricant, but in a dry form.
There are two ways of applying graphite to a surface: dry or wet. Dry application is what many of you may have experienced as a youngster building pinewood derby or similar cars. A small tube of powdered graphite is used to dust the wheels so that they spin faster. The problem with dry application is that there is nothing to hold it onto the substrate itself other than static attraction, it quickly falls off. Powder graphite is good for door hinges and key locks, where it can be contained. For everything else, wet application is the better solution.
Wet application uses a liquid binder similar to paint to adhere the graphite to the substrate. Once the solvent evaporates, the film left is a solid dry coating of graphite. Wet application lasts considerably longer than dry application and outlasts wet-film lubricants as well. This type of graphite lubricant can be brushed, rolled or sprayed on, and the benefits go beyond just lubrication.
Choosing your Graphite Lubricant
The most important part of any dry-film lubricant is the quality and quantity of the graphite in the mix. The number 1 dry-film graphite lubricant in the market is SLIP Plate by Superior Graphite. They make many different lubrication products, mostly for industrial and agricultural use. SLIP Plate contains the highest percentage of graphite in its products without using fillers, so you know that the product you are using is actually slippery graphite and not just carbon and extra binders. Additionally, SLIP Plate uses only the finest quality graphite and the most lubricious of the naturally-occurring graphite types. Superior Graphite is an American company; it sources its graphite from several mines across the world, which is then processed here in the United States.
Dry-film lubricants are used for a lot of different purposes. We have compiled a top-ten list of ways to use dry-film graphite lubricant around the shop. Some of these are no-brainers, such as door hinges and lock cylinders, but others might surprise you. Give this stuff a try; you will be impressed at how well it works.
Whether it is for the shop door, tailgate or driver door, squeaky hinges are annoying. Coating the hinge with a dry-film of SLIP Plate will eliminate the squeak and reduce opening/closing effort, which can be a big help with old cars and tailgates. Be sure to protect the paint from overspray and drip when applying the graphite.
Band saws and table saws have friction on the table surface. This can cause issues when making smooth cuts and intricate curves and corners. Coat the table with SLIP Plate, let dry and then buff the surface with a towel to bring a smooth sheen to the coating. This will greatly reduce the friction on the table top and as a side benefit, protect it from rusting. The one caveat here is that some materials may pick up some graphite markings (just like a pencil), which could require clean up later.
C-clamps, pullers, and vise-grips work great for their intended use, but sometimes they get bound up and crusty, causing all kinds of frustration. Ease your pain by painting the threads and joints with graphite.
Spinning an engine stand with a heavy big block on it is hard enough, but wet-film lubricants draw in so much dirt and dust, you are fighting that debris as well. Reduce the effort by applying graphite to the barrel of the engine stand and to the pivot points of an engine hoist.
Dry graphite works great for key cylinders. If you use wet-application graphite, such as SLIP Plate’s Black Ice, spray it in with a straw and then run the key in and out a few times, then let it cure and run the key in some more. You can protect the paint with some masking tape in case the liquid drips out of the key cylinder, but careful application should eliminate this from being an issue.
Why would you want to lubricate your wheel wells? While there is no real friction happening, there is a very real concern—ice and snow build up. Graphite repels water. During the winter months, snow and ice accumulate in the wheel wells of your car, which can in extreme circumstances, limit the ability of the wheels to turn to their full potential. Coating the inside of the wheel wells with SLIP Plate provides a barrier preventing the ice and snow from grabbing onto the wheel well. The moisture will simply slide right off, because it can’t hold onto the graphite. This will also work great on your snowblower chute and inside your lawn mower deck.
Garage door rails
Garage doors don’t get much attention until they break. The tracks on garage door should be lubricated for easy lifting, especially on non-power doors. Simply fog the tracks and wheels with dry-film graphite and let dry for smooth door-opening action.
Graphite is heat tolerant and naturally resists water, plus its color is dark gray, very close to fresh cast iron. One of the most unique uses for SLIP Plate is on unpainted cast iron parts. Components such as brake master cylinders, and calipers look great for years with a single treatment of SLIP Plate. The goal here is not to make the part slippery (though that is certainly a side effect), but to protect the cast iron from rusting. A rusty manifold or master cylinder looks bad, but when painted with SLIP Plate, they look brand new for years, and best of all, as the graphite eventually fades, it can be touched up without looking like it was touched up. SLIP Plate is also resistant to chemicals, so brake fluid won’t bubble up the finish like paint.
Along with the master cylinders, another great use for this stuff is exhaust manifolds. The heat alone will kill any attempt at painting manifolds, and the heat cycle (hot to cold, hot to cold) soaks in moisture to the cast iron, turning it all kinds of funky rusty-toned colors. End that with an application of graphite lubricant. Once the film is dry, it can be buffed out to a nice sheen that really does look just like cast iron and it won’t fade 30 seconds after starting the engine. For restorations and show cars, this stuff is perfect.
Wheels and casters
Heavy items such as engine stands, welding carts, and engine hoists typically have heavy metal casters with no bushings between the wheel and the axle. Wet-lubricants quickly wear away and leave a sticky film of dirt and grime that makes them even harder to move when loaded. The high-pressure resistance of graphite means there is always going to be a lubrication barrier between the wheel and axle, no matter how much you load it. Plus, there won’t be any greasy grime build up.
Wet film lubricant has its place in the home and shop, but it is not a magic cure-all. Graphite is the natural (and environmentally friendly) solution for many of the friction-induced frustrations we face every day. When we discovered this stuff 11 years ago, it quickly became a mainstay in the supply cabinet. It will become a fixture in yours as well.