A lot of people suggest that you can use straight oils – lard, tallow, coon or bear oil to lubricate your period firearm. I wholeheartedly agree.
One concern people have is with the fat going rancid. That can be the case, especially with tallow or the oils. Lard seems to be okay, in spite of what many ‘render your own’ sites suggest (see previous post on rendering here)
First off, the sites that say you have to refrigerate it must be talking about homemade. The box I have in my fridge says “Does not require refrigeration”, and it sits out on the shelf in the store. Commercial lard has some additives usually — BHA, citric acid, and propyl gallate are in the stuff I have (but no salt). Salt is also added both as a preservative and flavor enhancement, so finding salt free lard can be a problem. I use it to cook with occasionally, so am picky about brands. I won’t buy any that has hydrogenated Lard in it too. Luckily, lard packaged for the Latin customer (“manteca de cerdo“) is sometimes salt free, and seems to be the widest selection/best quality around here.
Because I want to carry it around with me and not get it everywhere, I rarely use straight lard or bear oil like I once did. I mix roughly half and half beeswax and lard to make my “gun grease”. If it sets up too thick, I add a little olive oil. All this is done either in the oven or a double boiler, using a tin that started life as a 35mm film spool can as both heating and storage container. You can heat it in the oven too, but start at a really low temp and put a pan under it to catch any splashing. (the oven is actually easiest and doesn’t get water splashed in).
You mess with proportions until you have something stiffer than the little tins of lip balm you get at the store (Bert’s Bees brand sort of stuff). Mine is completely solid at room temp (60-75 degrees), but a little can be rubbed up with a cloth to wipe your gun (or axe handle). I actually douse a roll of patch material in it, then cut off pieces when ready to load — voila, a pre-lubed patch (no, it’s probably not “PC”).
I have kept the same tin in the house, unrefrigerated for going on 10 years, adding a little wax, lard or oil as it needed it. It smells kinda like beeswax right now, and I’ve never noticed any smell (that would be a bad thing, since I hunt with my BP guns). It WILL get liquid if you keep the tin in your car during the summer. (So does lip balm/ChapStick), so put the container in a plastic bag and keep it upright if you transport it by car in the summer and don’t have a really tight fitting lid. Speaking of lip balm, I use this same stuff for chapped hands, lip balm, even hair grease at events.
If you’re really worried about smell, get some pine or cedar essential oil, or even a little rosemary leaf and add a couple of drops to your gun grease (filter it if you use rosemary). That means it won’t work for lip balm though. I guess you could use any scent (Lavender gun grease?).
The one time I had an issue was when I made a smaller container to travel with and mixed some old bear oil that had either started or gone “off” into that small container. That didn’t make my gun smell, but the tin did. That bear oil was too funky to use for paint, so I shoulda known.
You can obviously start with a smaller tin, just make sure it is big enough to handle while melting/mixing, and has a nicely fitting lid. If you’re making it for home, a small wide mouthed jar would even work. Melt your wax and lard in a can — a tomato paste can would be fine.
Other variants: Paraffin replaces the beeswax, use olive oil and beeswax (I don’t like this one; melts too easily), use plain lard/tallow/etc (melts too easily too).
There are commercial versions of the beeswax/oil mixture – feel free to experiment and test if you’re using it as patch lube.