Most pneumatic tools require air tool oil for optimal functionality. This oil is often expensive and sometimes hard to come by, hence the need for viable alternatives.
This article unpacks potential alternatives and how to use them.
5 Pneumatic Tool Oil Alternatives
Pneumatic oil is essential for all forms of pneumatic equipment since it provides lubrication while the equipment is in use. Here, the oil ensures less friction between moving components, prevents moisture and rust build-up, dissolves sludge, and protects O-rings.
The moving parts in air tools don’t touch. Instead, got a thin film of oil between them and they have various seals and O-rings to ensure airtight sealing. Compressed air moves the parts back and forth. To ensure proper operation, these parts require lubrication, ensuring that the seals and O-rings move as they should without getting damaged.
Following are some of the effective air tool oil substitutes. Check the tool manual before using any of these alternatives to ensure that the specific oil is safe for your application.
1. Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)
The transmission fluid works well for air tools, acting as a lubricant and generally allowing it to work as it should. ATF reduces wear and tear in air tools without creating residue on surfaces.
Automatic Transmission Fluid contains several useful additives including anti-oxidation additives, detergents, anti-foam compounds, etc. ATFs are inexpensive and are perhaps the best air oil substitute.
I suggest the Dexron Automatic Transmission Fluid as a cheaper alternative to air tool oils. Before using this oil, check for compatibility with your air tool.
2. Marvel Mystery Oil (MMO)
Marvel Mystery Oil is suitable for most applications and can be used with most pneumatic tools. It contains a strong solvent, which will help lubricate nearly any tool under most conditions, dissolving any gummy residue inside the tool.
It’s slightly more expensive than other all-purpose air tool oils but works really well and lasts long.
3. Hydraulic Oil (ISO 32 or 46)
Hydraulic oils are ideal for high-pressure hydraulic applications, but they can also be used to lubricate lightly loaded compressors.
However, hydraulic oils usually have high viscosity and you cannot use oil with high weight on pneumatic tools.
Go with the ISO 32 hydraulic oil. This oil has a low viscosity at low temperatures, making it compatible with most pneumatic applications.
4. The 3-in-1 Oil
3-in-1 Oil is a petroleum-based oil that’s been in use for generations.
Generally, petroleum-based lubricants are not ideal for power tools as they can cause damage to elastomeric rubber sealings. The 3-in-1 oil seems to be the exception to the rule when it comes to petroleum-based oils and air tools. This oil is thin enough to work well in pneumatic power tools and doesn’t leave a gummy residue.
It’s perfect for most household applications with moving parts, like hinges, tools, nuts and bolts, and sewing machines.
The 3-in-one air tool oil also dissolves sludge and gummy residue in your tool, operating it more smoothly. Make sure that you get the pneumatic tool oil and NOT the multipurpose penetrating oil.
5. Motor Oil
As a last resort, you could use 10W 30 low-weight synthetic motor oil. Make sure that it is non-detergent and paraffin-free to avoid the build-up of wax inside your tool.
The above listed are some of the common alternatives to pneumatic tool oils available, and these work well in most applications. Power tool equipment manuals should always indicate which pneumatic tool oil to use with the equipment, how much of it, and oil top-up frequency. When in doubt, always refer back to the manual.
Is Air Tool Oil the Same as Compressor Oil?
Air tool oil tends to be thinner than compressor oil. It also contains anti-rust agents. You can use a low viscous compressor oil to lubricate your air tools, but not the other way around.
Sewing Machine Oil
This is a common lubricant found in many households since a sewing machine needs to be oiled on a regular basis. So, can sewing machine oil be used for pneumatic tools?
If you have no other alternative, you could use sewing machine oil as air tool oil, although it is not recommended.
Unlike air tool oils that are mineral oils or synthetic, the sewing machine oil is a petroleum-based lubricant. Sewing machine oil may react with the rubber sealing and has a higher viscosity.
Your power tool only requires a couple of drops of oil, and one-time use of sewing machine oil is unlikely to cause any damage. However, continuous use of this lubricant can disintegrate the O-rings and will result in air leakage or jammed pistons.
Types of Oil You Should Avoid
Lubricating oil alternatives are legion, but some options are detrimental to your pneumatic tool’s operation. Here are the two most common ones to avoid:
Diesel is petroleum-based and combustible. It’s never a good idea to use flammable, petroleum-based oils as lubricants in power tools. The petroleum reacts with the rubber made to manufacture the O-rings and other sealers inside the pneumatic tool, disintegrating them. This will create a gummy residue inside the tool, potentially damaging the tool.
Can You Use WD40 as Air Tool Oil?
No, WD40 oil isn’t designed for pneumatic tools and, as such, could potentially damage your air tools. It is a degreaser that is used for removing rust, cleaning, etc. WD40 is a penetrating oil that swells the rubber sealants and in the long run dries the moving parts and can result in wear and tear.
Hence it is not recommended.
Vegetable oil produces a sticky residue inside air tools, affecting their performance and causing damage. This residue attracts dust, creating a solid deposit inside your tool or machine.
Oiling Air Tools
Oiling air tools is a crucial step in tool maintenance. Choosing the correct oil and applying it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines ensures that your power tools function optimally and have a long lifespan.
What Kind of Oil for Air Tools?
Typically, two types of oils are available for air tools: mineral-based oil and synthetic oil.
Mineral-based pneumatic tool oils are the most commonly used and are considered the standard by most. However, this version is far more volatile than its synthetic counterpart. It thus leads to more significant oil loss during tool operation.
Mineral oil is generally more reactive than synthetic oil, and these reactions cause it to clump up. The tool life span shortens when this occurs, which counts against using mineral oil.
Synthetic tool oils are generally more expensive than their mineral-based counterparts. This increased expense is often worth it since it is designed as a high-performance oil. They reduce friction inside the tool, prolonging its lifespan.
Synthetic oils aren’t reactive like their mineral-based counterparts and thus won’t clump up inside the tools.
What is Special About Air Tool Oil?
Air tool oils act as a lubricant for pneumatic tools and thus have a low viscosity. They also act as anti-rust agents and clean the tools while in use. Air tool oils contain solvents that dissolve gum and sludge build-up within the tools. This type of build-up could potentially reduce the tool’s speed and power.
In short, the oil should have the following properties.
- Low Viscosity
- Good lubricating properties
- Rust prevention and
- Solvent to remove sticky residues and calcium build-up.
Viscosity and Weight
Air tool oils’ low viscosity allows them to be easily atomized, spreading throughout the tool by compressed air. SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) specifications govern the weight and viscosity. Typical applications call for ISO 32 grade or SAE 10 oil.
Here, the 10 represents an oil thickness rating under operating conditions, specifically how temperature affects it.
Oils with a viscosity between ISO 22 to 46 can be used for pneumatic tools, depending on the application.
How to Oil Air Tools?
Oiling air tools is an essential step in basic maintenance. It should be done as frequently as is indicated in the user manual. This differs between tools and applications. If you use your tools more often, you need to oil them more often. For regularly used tools, it’s best to do it according to a set schedule. This ensures that you don’t forget and skip a cycle, potentially compromising your tool’s functioning.
To oil your air tool, you need specific oil containers or tools. These vary depending on the tool and application, so it’s best to check the user manual for more information. The main aim of these tools is to release oil slowly, helping ensure that you add the right amount of oil to your tool. Adding too much or too little could damage your tools.
There are many methods for oiling air tools. The most common ones are outlined below.
If your tool doesn’t a specific oil reservoir, disconnect the compressed air pipe from the inlet of the power tool. Then you could complete the task by adding a few drops of oil to the air inlet. Once you connect the tool’s inlet to the air hose, the compressed air will distribute the oil from here.
Some tools have an oil reservoir. Use a screwdriver or hex wrench set to open the reservoir if yours is like this. Drip oil here until you reach the required volume as prescribed in the manual.
Air Tool Oiler
An air tool oiler is specially designed to add oil to pneumatic equipment. Fill the oiler with the correct amount of air tool oil to use this. Next, attach the oiler before the tool’s air inlet. The oil will be distributed through your tool as air passes through the tool oiler. Ensure that the air tool oiler is attached at the tool end of your air system, not at the compressor side. Typically, multiple tools will run off the same compressor system, which may have differing oil needs. Attaching the pneumatic tool oiler to the compressor side will distribute the oil to all equipment and thus potentially damage tools that aren’t compatible with that oil.
A lubricator is attached to the air system, similar to an air tool oiler. This tool releases oil into the air system at a controlled rate, ensuring that the tools are appropriately lubricated while in operation. Adjusting the drip rate (oil-fog or micro-fog) alters the rate at which the oil mist is released into the system – this rate depends on the application.
FRL is short for Filter, Regulator, Lubricator. This unit supplies lubrication to the air tool. It also contains an air filter and regulator. The air filter prevents dirt from entering the power tool’s system. At the same time, the regulator maintains pressure on your tool according to manufacturer guidelines. Attaching this unit is a slightly larger task, but it precisely manages the oil supply to your air tool.
Do All Pneumatic Tools Need Oil?
All air tools don’t use oil. There determining factor here is the driving mechanism. Generally, if the tool is driven by air, it needs air tool oil. If it’s only controlled by pneumatics, but not driven by compressed air, it doesn’t need to be oiled. There are exceptions to this rule, however.
Some pneumatic tools are made to be oil-less. These include oil-free nail guns for wood finishing, pneumatic screwdrivers used in clean-room conditions, etc. where you cannot have any oil on the final product. Check the user manual if you’re unsure whether your air tool needs oil.
- 5 Pneumatic Tool Oil Alternatives
- Types of Oil You Should Avoid
- Oiling Air Tools
- What is Special About Air Tool Oil?
- How to Oil Air Tools?
- Do All Pneumatic Tools Need Oil?