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Author Topic: Conductalube, Wahl clipper oil, etc.  (Read 4815 times)
James in FL

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« on: March 23, 2009, 09:47:23 PM »

Conductive lubricants.

How many are truly?
Has anybody really tried to measure the resistance of these products with an ohm meter?
Or are we just accepting hearsay from a manufacturer’s claim, or worse yet, internet chatter?

Wahl clipper oil?

I understand a micro coat of oil will inhibit oxidation, both on the wheels and the track. This does not make it conductive
The supposed conductive lubricants from Atlas, Aero-Car, Bachmann, etc.?
Has anybody confirmed these claims using an ohm meter?

How about if you own some of these supposed conductive lubricants, you put them in a glass vessel and measure the resistance with an ohm meter?

How about posting your readings here publically?

Yes, don’t kid yourself; I am fully aware of the lead content in glass. I understand many don’t own Pyrex, or even know what it is.

Commercial glass will do in this test, just use the same vessel.

Better yet, just put your probes in the factory container. 


FWIW  I’m not in any of these camps, however, a fellow modeler at the club advocates automotive bulb grease, and I will give it a fair trail.

I remain skeptical.

Any takers?



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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2009, 10:04:19 PM »

Shouldn't WD-40 be dropped before starting?

Chief Brass Hat
Virginia Tidewater and Piedmont Railroad
"Only coal fired steam locomotives"
Jim Banner

Enjoying electric model railroading since 1950.

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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2009, 11:03:54 PM »

James, you seem to be confusing bulk conductivity with thin film conductivity.  The bulk conductivity of oils is, of course, zero.  But coat two metal plates with a conductive oil and touch them together.  As you know, even if you press hard, you cannot squeeze out all the oil.  There is always a thin film of oil left between the surfaces.  This is how lubrication works. 

Now start over again, but solder wires to the backs of your metal plates.  Connect an ohmmeter to the wires.  Then oil the front surfaces as before, and touch the oiled surfaces together.  What happens to the ohmmeter?

I assume you have tried both tests, the bulk and the film, before posting.  And I assume you found the same thing that I did many, many years ago.  Bulk conductivity = zero, nil, nada, nothing for all oils.  But the film conductance tests were quite different.  With light oils (Wahl hair clipper oil, Singer sewing machine oil) only light pressure on the metal plates was needed to swing the ohmmeter needle up to zero.  With heavier oils (3-in1, engine oil, hydraulic oil) more pressure was required.  With very heavy oil (Hypoid oil) squeezing with a pair of pliers (insulated, of course) became necessary.  With axle grease (it was probably the old, fibrous type) no amount of pressure would cause the plates to make contact. 

I will be particularly interested to hear your results with the "bulb grease" which is, I suspect, the usual silicone Dielectric Grease used in various plugs and sockets to keep out water.  Great stuff - smear it on the inside of battery connectors and on the outside of battery posts, clamp the connectors on the posts, and never touch them again until you replace the battery.  But it is probably too thick to put on your tracks and hope the locomotive is heavy enough to push its wheels through the grease and into contact with the rails.  The very thin oils work best here, and if applied in thin enough layers, have little or no effect on traction.

Now as far as the conductivity of leaded vs. non leaded glass is concerned, you are on your own.  Pyrex glass has contained no lead since it replaced Nonex in1915, and I suspect you are confusing it with "crystal" glass which does.  Crystal is affected by highly alkaline substances like sodium hydroxide and dishwasher detergent which could conceivably leach the lead out of it, so if you are worried about the lead, don't drink dishwasher detergent or liquid oven cleaner out of crystal glasses.

Don't feel bad about being skeptical.  There are many, many people out there who would rather clean their tracks over and over again rather than try oiling them very lightly even once.  For those of us who know the secrets of conductive oil, we have more time to enjoy our trains and spend less time in drudgery.  I estimate that I have saved at least 2000 hours of track cleaning since trying oil on my rails some 40 years ago.  That is all it took - one try - and I have been using it regularly ever since.

Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional.
James in FL

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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2009, 01:25:58 AM »

Most of your assumptions are correct Jim.
I have, in fact, conducted some home tests as you correctly assumed.

Please enlighten me as to the specific “conductive oils” you use.

Brand name? Where to buy?


Not to worry Jim, I won’t drink the water.

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« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2009, 01:37:54 PM »

I have only used Aerocar lubricants ACT-6006 Track Cleaner & Conditioner on my layout for the last 6 years there web site  claims "Cleans your track and lays down a non-slippery conductive film that will improve current flow. Will enhance the operation of DCC and Sound Systems" I think its great and only have to put it on 2 times a year and never have dirty track. All the local Train clubs swear by it. There other Lubricants are good too.


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« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2009, 03:03:27 PM »

Since the discussion has to do with good wheel-to-rail contact, then I offer my experience with it over the last 44 years:

1.  Humidity and oil on the rails collect dust, which, when combined, ultimately turns into the crud that wheels pick up.

2. Both metal wheels and plastic wheels equally pick up crud, although porous (sintered) metal wheels seem to collect it faster.

3. A wiper makes better contact to a rail-head than does a wheel tread.

4. Flywheels (either mechanical or electronic) work better than anything else at avoiding erratic operation; however, they will not start a locomotive that is not electrically in contact with the track.

5. Rail heads that are scratched during the cleaning process collect more dirt than those cleaned by chemicals or by wiping with a fine-grit pad.

6. Heavy locomotives do not stall as much as light-weight locomotives.

7. Brass rail tarnishes faster than nickel-silver rail.

8. More wheels electrically connected to the pickup system mean better contact.

9. Track wiring must be designed so that there are no dead spots (such as switch frogs) nor possibility of shorts (such as switch points of opposite polarity to the mating stock rail).

So, to keep my stuff running smoothly (and that it does), I do the following:

I run heavy, flywheel-equipped, wiper-equipped locomotives with all wheels wired for pickup on dry, nickel-silver track that has been cleaned with a low-abrasive cleaning pad in a room equipped with a big dehumidifier that includes a dust filter.

I avoid oiling my rolling stock journals unless they squeek, and, even then, very sparingly.

There is no miracle cure. I had to do all of the above (combined) to get smooth operation. Leave out one thing, and the contact chain is broken.

James in FL

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« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2009, 06:38:53 PM »

I think that the resistance created from oils put on the track is, to some, negligible. However, it is there, minute as it may be, it’s there.
I believe the benefit to those who use these oils, is more so as an oxidation inhibitor.
Less oxidation = less cleaning.
Because the track may require less maintenance, some might perceive that the oil they applied is “conductive”.
When, in fact this is not the case.

Will other oils work equally as well (supposed) as Wahl oil?
Some of my home tests show excellent promise, none of which is truly conductive oil.
As I stated earlier, I am not an advocate of putting anything on the rail head.
However, I must say, I am growing fond of a product I am currently experimenting with.
The manufacturer (Sanchem®) claims it to be conductive grease.
I am more so looking to use it at contact points internally in locomotives, rather than on the rails. Although it was recommended to apply it to the railhead.

My earlier comment about using bulb grease…
I am testing this type product in axle point cups.
IMO it’s a bit on the heavy side but I will see how it works out over time.
The Sanchem product is too light for this application.

If you like Wahl oil, great.
If you are pleased with it, hey, that’s all that counts.

On my next visit to the LHS, I will look for the Labelle 105 and give it an equally fair shake.

I live less than 2 miles from the Gulf.
I guess I must be lucky.
I have never had a cleaning issue with my rail.
If someone is having an issue, as Jim suggests, with cleaning over and over again, to them, I would suggest polishing the railhead.

Jim Banner

Enjoying electric model railroading since 1950.

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« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2009, 06:49:08 PM »

Morris, those are very interesting observations.  Mine over a similar time span have been somewhat different but then so have the environmental conditions surrounding my railroad.  I do not have a dehumidifier or special filter in my H0 train room, so it shares the usual dust and pet dander with the rest of the house.  Yet I rarely if ever clean wheels.  I suspect that is for two reasons - (1) I have only metal or Delrin (brand of acetal/nylon) wheels and (2) My locomotive wheels all have a mirror bright shine.  My outdoor layout exists in an even worse environment and runs on aluminium track to boot.  When dry, aluminium rails are a major headache that gets worse and worse as the locomotive wheels get more and more pitted.  Eventually the point is reached where no amount of cleaning rails and wheels will give satisfactory operation.  Again, oil to the rescue.  Not only does it improve operation immediately but if applied regularly, it restores the wheels back to a mirror shine after 10 to 20 hours of operation.  You still have to clean track - dog doo in the spring and leaves in the fall, and pick up the larger branches after wind storms.  But the pole sander has to come out only once in the spring.

As far as brand is concerned, I use Labelle 108 and Wahl hairclipper oil the most, but all the brands of light weight hobby oil advertised as 'conductive' seem to work.

A little different slant on the use of oil on outdoor railroads comes from the only person I have ever heard of who claims to have no problems running both electric and live steam locomotives on the same rails.  He coats his track (rails, ties, ballast, the whole works) with used engine oil from his diesel highway tractor.  Mostly he sprays it on with a pump up garden sprayer.  He claims the blacker the oil is, the better it works.  He figures the black is carbon from incompletely burned fuel, and the more carbon, the better the electrical contact and the better the traction.  And the amount he puts on is enough to wash away the usually troublesome steam cylinder oil from the live steamers.

There are oils that you do NOT want to use.  These include any type of oil that can oxidize.  Hair clipper oil and sewing machine oil are both specially formulated so that they will not oxidize and gum up their target appliances.  Several years ago, I tried some air tool oil on my outdoor layout.  The brand I use is water white and just about as thin.  It worked wonderfully, the day I put it on.  The next week, none of the trains would run at all.  I later found out that this brand of air tool oil is designed to oxidize so that it will not interfere with wood finishes.  Well, oxidize it did, effectively varnishing the tops of the rails.  Had to use the pole sander twice that year.

Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional.

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« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2009, 08:17:36 PM »

I have had excellent results electrically with the "Contact cleaner and lubricant", FKA :"TV Tuner cleaner and lubricant" sold by Radio Shack.  I don't care what its ohmage is, it works!  Wink

OTOH, "Neolube" is graphite suspended in alcohol, and it most definitely conducts electricity.


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« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2009, 11:16:14 PM »

I have also found the Contact cleaner and lubricater from Radio Shack to work very well . Radio Shack here is now called the Source which I understand to be disappearing from the market place in the US. There is also an automotive product for cleaning electrical systems that works as well . I apply it to a cotton swab.
« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2009, 08:29:21 PM »

LGB recommended using their smoke fluid on the track to keep things running smoothly. So i am wondering, where does smoke fluid rank on the list of "conductive" oils?
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