The history of lubricants P1 OilChat#53

In a world that depends a great deal on machines, lubrication is absolutely essential. The science of tribology has advanced significantly in recent times, but the roots of lubrication extend back further than one might imagine. Lubrication in simple form has been in existence at least since the beginning of documented times. In this issue of our newsletter we will delve into the ancient history of lubrication.

lubricant is a substance introduced between two surfaces in relative motion to each other to reduce friction (and consequently wear) between them. Our forefathers first became familiar with friction in the Stone Age, when they discovered that they could create fire by rubbing pieces of wood against each other. We do not know for sure exactly when they mastered the art of making fire, but indications are that it was approximately 400,000 years ago.

Man’s search for effective lubricants and lubrication technologies has a colourful past, going back as far as the recorded history of humankind. Water was probably the first documented lubricant. The Egyptian mural on the right shows a statue being dragged along the ground. A man can be clearly seen on the leading end of the transporting sledge pouring a liquid (water?) on the ground in front of it, presumably as a lubricant. To learn more visit

It is impossible to list all the milestones in the colourful history of lubrication in a condensed publication like this, but the following fascinating highlights are worth mentioning:

4000 B.C. to 3500 B.C. Indications are the Chinese made use of the lubricating properties of water earlier than 3500 B.C.

3500 B.C. Wheels are an example of primitive, caveman technology. It was, however, so ingenious for those times that it took thousands and thousands of years for someone to invent it circa 3500 B.C. Evidence indicates they were first created to serve as potter’s wheels in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

3200 B.C. It took another 300 years before it was figured out how to use wheels on carts to transport objects. Wheels of the era were made of a solid piece of wood or stone with a hole in the centre for a wooden axle. The earliest ‘vehicles‘ were probably ox carts. The use of the wheel spread fast throughout Eurasia (including the Middle East) and the earliest images of wheeled carts surfaced in the remains of Slavic settlements in present-day Poland. It has been speculated that water was initially used to prevent the hubs of wooden wheels from becoming charred as a result of frictional heat.

3000 B.C. Wheeled carts were now in extensive use in the Middle East, although few traces of lubricant materials have been associated with remnants of such vehicles from that era.

3000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.  It was finally discovered that smearing a lump of animal fat or bitumen (black viscous oil seeping out of the ground) on the dry and squeaking parts made the wheel run quietly and cooler, but without scientific knowledge of friction, no one knew why.

2000 B.C. The invention of the spoked wheel allowed the construction of lighter and faster ‘vehicles’.  The earliest known chariots have been found in the Sintashta burials in Russia. The technology spread rapidly throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare.

2000 B.C. to 1650 B.C. The advent of high speed horse drawn chariots could possibly be seen as the birth of ‘Tribology’. Experimentation at the time led to the use of more sophisticated lubricants, including olive oil and other vegetable matter. The Egyptians discovered that some of the more viscous liquids not only dissipated heat better, but also prevented much of it from forming in the first place. At the same time, they observed that the wheels were turning more freely. These early discoveries marked the dawn of machinery lubrication.

1650 B.C. Olive oil appeared to be a lubricant of choice at the time. The grave of Egyptian king Tehut-Hetep was found to contain a description of the application of olive oil to reduce friction.

1400 B.C. Compounded lubricants have been identified on the axles of Egyptian and Roman chariots dating back to this age. The lubricant was most probably prepared by combining olive oil with lime.

1200 B.C. When metal replaced wood as moving parts in machinery during the Iron Age, crude chunks of animal fat or bitumen became inadequate lubricants. A next generation of lubricants were developed using fatty and oily substances derived from animal fats and vegetable extracts.

780 B.C. The Chinese discovered the friction-reducing properties of a mixture consisting of animal fats or vegetable oils and lead which resulted in the development of a new generation of compounded lubricants.

1760 A.D. to 1840 A.D. The increased demand for animal-based products as lubricants, and also as illuminating oil, during the First Industrial Revolution almost had disastrous consequences. The sperm whale was almost hunted to extinction to meet the demand for sperm oil. This, and the increasing difficulty to obtain other bio-based oils, triggered the search for alternative lubricants, especially petroleum (mineral) oils.

Many things have changed since the early days of lubrication, but machines and tribology endure in our modern technological world … a tribute to the true significance of these early achievements. In the next issue of our newsletter we will look at the modern history of lubrication.

Air Tool Lubrication OilChat#52

An air tool or pneumatic tool is a type of power tool driven by compressed air supplied by an air compressor. Air tools come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from small hand tools to jackhammers (paving breakers) and powerful rig mounted units used in the mining and quarrying industry. General grade air tools with a relative short life span are less expensive and are considered “disposable tools” in the tooling industry.  Industrial grade pneumatic tools are amongst the most indestructible power tools available and yet many of them ‘die at a young age’. To understand why this happens one must first look at the way pneumatic tools operate.

An air compressor is the starting point for any pneumatic circuit. A compressor is a machine that converts ordinary air into compressed air as discussed in OilChat #20. The compressed air delivers potential energy (via a flexible hose) to the actuator at the business end of the pneumatic circuit. The actuator turns the potential energy stored in the compressed air back into kinetic energy and movement. In short, the actuator is the tool that does some or other useful mechanical work for us. Actuators may move back and forth in a straight line (reciprocate) or deliver a rotary motion. Linear-action (percussion) tools like jackhammers typically employ a piston-type actuator. Rotary-action tools such as air-driven drills and grinders use a geared or turbine type motor to do the job.

So what then is maiming, crippling and killing those ’indestructible’ pneumatic tools? The most lethal killer is dirty air. If the air going into the system is not properly filtered, grinding grit is introduced into the moving parts inside the actuator. Moisture is another air tool killer. If you impel wet air into a pneumatic tool, you are spraying rust-promoting water right into the guts of the tool. It is therefore good practice to fit an airline filter cum water trap between the compressor and the pneumatic tool. It removes impurities and most of the humidity (moisture) from the air in the line. Perfectly dry air is not always delivered to air tools.

The moving parts of air tools, regardless whether the tool is of a reciprocating or rotary type, require consistent lubrication just like a car engine. The problem is that air tools do not have a sump for the lubricant, so it needs to be fed into the tool with the compressed air that powers the tool. To do this airline lubricators are fitted to the air supply hose. Almost all pneumatic tools perform better when lubricated with oil. Injecting an oil mist into the air-stream lubricate valves, cylinders, and air motors for proper operation and long service life. Locating the lubricator properly in the airline is important to ensure that the correct amount of lubricant reaches the tool. Too little oil will allow excessive wear and can cause premature failure. Excessive oil in the airline is wasteful and can become a contaminant in the ambient area as it is carried out of the tool by the exhaust air.


A cross-section of a typical airline lubricator is shown on the right. Airline lubricators dispense oil from a reservoir in the lubricator into the moving airstream. As high-velocity air passes through a venturi inside the airline lubricator, it draws oil from the reservoir through a capillary tube and then drips it into the airstream. The moving air breaks the oil up into a mist or fog, which is then carried down the air line into the air-powered device. The oil feed rate can be controlled manually with an adjusting valve. A sight glass enables the operator to monitor the oil output. A filler plug allows the reservoir to be refilled in situ. Lubricators are generally selected based on pipe connection size, oil reservoir capacity and acceptable pressure loss versus flow rate. Manufacturers usually recommend a minimum air flow rate at which the venturi will function properly.


Pneumatic tools are precision built units with close tolerance parts. Many of them operate under heavy loads in adverse conditions. During operation temperatures may vary widely from low ambient to localized hot spots inside the air tool, particularly in reciprocating type tools. Boundary lubrication conditions often prevail due to the sliding action of heavily loaded pistons, which is further accentuated by their reciprocating motion. Moisture in the compressed air can cause rusting and washes the lubricant from critical areas. Adequate lubrication is therefore essential to keep pneumatic tools out of the repair shop.

To ensure extended equipment life air tool lubricants must control wear, protect against rust and corrosion, resist foaming and prevent water wash-off from critical areas when operating with wet air. In addition pneumatic tool lubricants must have low carbon forming characteristics and prevent the formation of sludge and deposits.  Oil fogging can be a health hazard when working in mines and enclosed spaces and the oil must therefore also resist fogging.

The heart and weak link of pneumatic tools are the rubber “O” rings (seals) inside the tool. These need to be lubricated, but many lubricants may attack the rubber. It is thus essential to use a lubricant specifically formulated for pneumatic tools. Such oils are typically blended with highly refined mineral base oils, antiwear, oiliness and tackiness additives, emulsifiers/surfactants, rust and corrosion inhibitors plus antifoam and antifogging agents.

Equally important is the viscosity of the oil. The amount of oil picked up in airline lubricators, depends largely on the viscosity grade of the lubricant and the temperature surrounding the lubricator. Equipment manufacturers’ guidelines on viscosity selection should always be followed. In the absence of such viscosity recommendations the following ambient temperature guidelines may assist in ensuring that adequate atomization is obtained in the airline lubricator:

–  Small hand-held tools: ISO Viscosity Grade 32 will suffice for the majority of applications.
–  Larger industrial tools: ISO Viscosity Grade 100 for temperatures below 20˚C
ISO Viscosity Grade 150 for temperatures between 20˚C and 25˚C
ISO Viscosity Grade 220 for temperatures between 25˚C and 30˚C
ISO Viscosity Grade 320 for temperatures between 30˚C and 35˚C
ISO Viscosity Grade 460 for temperatures above 35˚C

When operators’ health and comfort are the prime considerations when selecting air tool lubricants, grease or emulsions are often the preferred option for larger industrial tools such as rock drills operating in underground mines. Blue Chip Lubricants (Pty Ltd have a complete range of lubricants for a broad range of pneumatic tools working in a wide variety of operating conditions. Please mail us at for details.

Chain Lubrication OilChat#51

It is almost impossible to imagine life without chains. We are familiar with bicycle chains and forklift trucks that use chains to lift loads. Chains are commonly used in conveyor systems, to transmit power and all of us are acquainted with the irritating sound of chainsaws.  Many chains in use today fail prematurely due to inadequate lubrication. Chain lubrication often consists of applying a heavy oil or grease to the chain. While this may lubricate the sprockets and the outside of the chain, it does little to protect the most vulnerable areas, i.e. the contacting surfaces inside the chain. In dusty environments sand may get trapped in such heavy lubricants to produce a fine grinding paste that will shorten the life of the chain dramatically.

The majority of chains fail from the inside. They lengthen or kink up due to wear and corrosion inside the pin and bushing area. To lubricate them properly, the lubricant needs to be applied to penetrate and protect the inside of the chain and leave a solid film of oil behind. Lubrication is essential between the rollers and bushings, but other important areas to lubricate are the contact surfaces between the pins, the bushings and the link plates, which articulate while the chain is in motion.

To provide effective protection chain lubricants should be formulated to have the following characteristics:

  • Sufficiently low viscosity to reach all internal moving surfaces
  • Enough ‘body’ to maintain the lubricating film under high pressures
  • Effective protection against rust and corrosion
  • Good resistance to throw-off
  • Ability to maintain lubricating qualities under all operating conditions

Chain lubricants are formulated with relatively high viscosity index base oil to penetrate into critical internal surfaces at low temperatures and yet maintain an effective lubricating film at high loads and temperatures. To provide the desired lubricating qualities under all operating conditions, chain lubricants are fortified with antiwear and/or extreme pressure additives, rust and corrosion inhibitors and tackiness agents. Antifoam additives, pour point depressants and solid lubricants may be added to the oil if required by the application. Food grade chain lubricants should be used in food processing plants. Suggested viscosity grades for various ambient temperature ranges are shown in the following table:

-30 to + 25 32
-20 to +30 46
-15 to +40 68
-5 to + 50 100
0 to +55 150
+5 to +60 220

Equally important is the method of lubricant application. The recommended methods of lubrication for chain drives are indicated in the power rating tables published in ASME B29 Series Standards and in various

manufacturers’ manuals. The methods normally listed are manual, drip, oil bath, slinger disk, brush and oil stream. Regardless of the application method, the lubricant needs to be aimed into the pin and bushing area as shown in the visual on the previous page. To reach all the moving surfaces, the lubricant should be applied to the edges of the link plates on the inside of the chain shortly before the chain engages a sprocket (as illustrated below). As the chain travels around the sprocket, the lubricant is carried by centrifugal force into the clearances between the pins and bushings. Spillage over the link plates supplies lubricant to the interior and the end surfaces of the rollers.

Chain manufacturers often use grease or petroleum jelly as an initial lubricant, but grease should not be used to lubricate chains in service, because they are too thick to penetrate into the internal bearing surfaces. Grease should only be used when fittings for injecting the grease into the chain joints are provided.

To maximize chain life requires attention to detail. Operating conditions (load, environment, temperature, speed, etc.) must always be considered when selecting a chain lubricant. Tailoring the lubricant to the specific operating environment may be required.  At Blue Chip Lubricants we have the people, products and proficiency to keep the chains of industry moving. Simply mail us at  and put us to the test.

Base Oil Classification OilChat#50

This edition of OilChat commemorates the fourth anniversary of our newsletter. In the very first issue we addressed the various types of Lubricating Base Oils. Base oils are of prime importance since they are the foundation of all lubricants. Considering the number of new visitors to our website and the amount of enquiries we receive regarding base oils, we have deemed it appropriate to revisit the topic, synthetic base oils in particular.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) categorizes hydrocarbon based oils into four main groups. The classifications are based on the refining method and the properties of base oil, including viscosity index (VI), saturates and sulphur content. Base oils that are not included in the first four groups are incorporated in a fifth group.

Group I is the least refined type and consists of conventional petroleum (mineral) base oils, normally produced by Solvent Refining i.e. a solvent extraction process to remove various undesirable compounds and impurities from the base oil. Group I base oils are straw to light brown in colour and typically have a VI somewhere around 100.

Group II represents a better grade of mineral base oil and is normally produced by Hydrocracking. One of the advantages of hydrocracking is its ability to remove most of the remaining unstable aromatic (unsaturated) hydrocarbons and sulphur. With the majority of the undesirable compounds removed they are more stable and have a much clearer colour. Group II base oils typically have a viscosity index of 110 with some high quality oils having a VI of more than 115. They are becoming very common on the market today and are priced very close to Group I base oils.

Group III is the best quality petroleum base oils. They are produced by Hydrocracking, Hydroisomerization, and Hydrotreating which make them much purer than Group I and II. Group III base oils have a VI greater than 120. Although they are produced from mineral feed stocks, high quality Group III candidates closely mimic the characteristics of Group IV synthetic base oils.

Group IV is chemically produced synthetic hydrocarbons (SHC) based on polyalphaolefins (PAO). These base oils do not contain any unsaturated hydrocarbons, sulphur and nitrogen components or waxy hydrocarbons. The absence of these materials results in a very stable base oil with a VI greater than 125, typically 130 or more. PAOs have excellent low and high temperature characteristics, good oxidation stability and are compatible with mineral oils. Polyalphaolefins are by far the most common true synthetic base oil used in automotive and industrial lubricants.

Group V comprises any type of base oil that is not included in the four groups above. Typical examples are esters, polyglycols, naphthalenes, polybutenes, silicones and biolubes. Group V base oils are used for special applications such as gas and refrigeration compressors, very high VI industrial fluids and environmentally-friendly lubricants.  They are often blended with other base stocks to enhance the properties of the oil. A typical example would be a PAO based compressor oil that is mixed with polyolester. Ester oils can endure more abuse at higher temperatures and will provide superior detergency compared to PAO synthetic base oils.

The API categorizes lubricating base oils according to their chemical and physical properties as shown below:

PROPERTY Gr 1 Gr 2 Gr 3 Gr 4 Gr 5
Saturates <90% >90% >90% P O
and/or and and A T
Sulphur >0.03% <0.03% <0.03% O H
and and and E
Viscosity Index 80 – 120 80 – 120 >120 >125 R

We rewind the clock some twenty years and replay Mobil litigating Castrol in the USA for ‘falsely’ promoting Group III based motor oils as synthetic lubricants. During 1999 Castrol prevailed in proving that their Group III base oil was

modified sufficiently by hydroprocessing to be qualified as synthetic. Subsequently the API has removed all references to synthetic in their base oil classifications and synthetic has become a ‘marketing term’ rather than a measurable quality of base oils.

Fast forward back to the current scenario and we find that hydrocarbon base oils are typically assigned the following descriptions:

Mineral: Group I and II oils are generally referred to as mineral base oils. Occasionally they are simply described as highly refined base stocks.

Semi-synthetic: Group I and/or II mixed with Group III and/or IV. Such mixtures are also referred to as part-synthetic, synthetic based or synthetic technology.

Synthetic: Based on the 1999 ruling in favour of Castrol, Group III based oils are generally tagged synthetic.

Full Synthetic: The description most often used for Group IV Polyalphaolefin base oils.

Group V base oils are normally specifically identified by their chemical name i.e. polyolester, alkylbenzene, polyalkylene glycol, polyisobutylene, etc. The chemical name is sometimes preceded by ‘synthetic’

Dispute raged in 1999 and still does today. You find all kinds of purists who are populating internet forums and who refuse to recognize Group III oils as “synthetic.” To them it is PAO or nothing. It is best not to get caught up in the synthetic base oil debate. The performance that comes out of lubricating oil is just as important as the base oil that goes into it.  Rather look for oils that offer performance claims backed by industry and original equipment manufacturers’ (OEM) testing. Q8 lubricants are blended with the highest quality base oils available and are supported by a wide variety of industry and OEM approvals.

Aeration and foaming in lubricating oil OilChat#49

Foam and air entrainment problems are quite common in lubricating oil circulation systems. Problems that may arise as a result of foaming include fluctuations in oil pressure, oil pump cavitation, loss of oil through breathers and dipsticks and decrease in lubrication and cooling efficiencies. The presence of air bubbles in the fluid can also lead to excessive oxidation. In extreme cases foaming can result in the breakdown of a machine or system.

Most lubricating oils are formulated with antifoam additives. Unlike the name of the additive suggests, foam inhibitors do not prevent the formation of air bubbles (aeration) in oil circulating systems. Air is always to a greater or lesser extent present in circulating oil. Foam is a collection of closely packed air bubbles surrounded by thin films of oil. Antifoam oil additives (usually silicone based) work by reducing the film strength of the air bubbles at the oil/air interface. This results in the rupturing of the air bubbles in the oil causing them to break down and agglomerate. The larger bubbles rise more rapidly to the surface of the oil where they burst readily as illustrated below:

Mechanism of Antifoam Additives

The foaming properties of a fluid are usually determined using the ASTM D892 test method, which measures foam by three sequences that differ only in testing temperature:

  • Sequence I measures the foaming tendency and stability at 24°C.
  • Sequence II measures the foaming tendency and stability at 93.5°C.
  • Sequence III uses the same conditions as Sequence I, except that it is performed on the fluid that has just been measured in Sequence II (See Note Below).

Note: The fluid sample from Sequence I is not used in Sequence II. The fluid sample used in Sequence III is the same sample that was used in Sequence II.

The results are reported as two numbers for each sequence.  For example: 20/0 means 20 milliliters of foam tendency was measured after 5 minutes of aeration followed by no foam stability (0 ml) after a 10 minute settling time. Most new oil specifications require 10 to 50 milliliters tendency maximum after 5 minutes of aeration and 0 milliliters stability after the 10 minute settling period.

Figure 4

This photo of two oils was taken during the five minute aeration period of the ASTM D892 Foam Test. Excessive foam formation can be seen on the surface of the oil on the left which contained no antifoam additive.  The oil on the right was fortified with a foam inhibitor and exhibits negligible foam formation. The photo also shows the larger oil bubbles (that migrate to the surface more readily) in the oil with the antifoam additive.

Although the majority of lubricating oils are formulated with antifoam additives, foam and air entrainment problems are quite common and are usually hard to treat. Traditionally the standard procedure was to run an ASTM D892 foam test on the offending oil, and then indiscriminately add an aftermarket antifoam additive. Generally foam went away quickly, only to return shortly afterwards. More antifoam was added, and the cycle was repeated until the system became so overloaded with foam inhibitor that the oil had to be dumped. Today, there are more practical methods of establishing and treating the source of foam problems and it is therefore usually unnecessary to use aftermarket antifoam additives.

Foaming can be difficult to troubleshoot and for this reason accurate testing to determine the root cause of the problem is essential. The causes of foaming are many. The most common ones include:

  • Water contamination.
  • Solids contamination.
  • Depleted foam inhibitor (possibly due to the use of excessive fine filtration).
  • Mechanical issues (causing excessive aeration of the fluid).
  • Over- or under-filling of the oil sump/reservoir.
  • Cross contamination of the oil with other fluids.
  • Contamination of the oil with grease
  • Too much antifoam additive by adding aftermarket foam inhibitors.

Although troubleshooting a foaming problem can be challenging, you should be able to identify and correct the root cause through a process of elimination.

If you have any questions regarding foaming or any other lubrication issues, simply mail us at Our experts are at your disposal and ready to provide you with advice and guidance.


Engine oil deterioration and engine deposits OilChat#48


The topic of OilChat #47 (Soot in Engine Oil) raised further questions regarding engine oil deterioration and engine deposits, sludge and varnish in particular. Engine deposits are an ever increasing problem. This is caused by global initiatives to increase fuel efficiency and to reduce pollution of the environment.

Modern internal combustion engines operate at higher temperatures to increase thermal efficiency, oil drain intervals are extended and oil sump capacities are reduced to minimise engine size and weight. To aggravate matters airflow around the engine is reduced as a result of better aerodynamics. All of these lead to increased stresses on the oil. In addition, fuel economy pressures have led to the introduction of lower viscosity engine oils. Thin oils are more prone to ‘breaking down’ at elevated temperatures, hence the introduction of the NOACK Volatility Test. This test determines the evaporation loss of lubricants in high-temperature service. The more engine oils evaporate (vaporise), the thicker and heavier the remaining oil becomes. The collective result of all this is poor oil circulation, reduced fuel economy, as well as increased oil consumption, wear and emissions.

Oil deterioration can occur in the best maintained engines. It can also happen when the oil is still fairly new and it can even occur with synthetic lubricants. A frequently asked question is what the difference between sludge and varnish is.

Sludge is best described as soft black deposits formed in engine oil lubricating systems. It consists primarily of oxidised lubricating oil components, water and carbonaceous residues (soot) from incomplete fuel combustion.  Severely oxidized and contaminated oil can thicken to the consistency of grease.

When hot oil mixes with air, it reacts with the oxygen in the air.  This process is called oxidation and it causes the oil to darken and break down to form acids and sludge.  The acids are corrosive to engine metals and the sludge increases the viscosity of the oil, causing it to thicken and even gel in extreme conditions.  This is significantly aggravated in diesel engines by the presence of combustion by-products. Partially burned diesel fuel (soot) gets into the oil as described in OilChat #47 and increases the viscosity dramatically. Once the oil additives are depleted the oil will break down into a gel that sticks to surfaces inside the engine. These sludge deposits restrict oil circulation and engine cooling, resulting in excessive wear, or in extreme cases, a catastrophic failure of the engine due to lack of lubrication.

Oil sludge usually starts in the top end of an engine (valve cover area) as shown in Figure 1 and in the oil sump (Figure 2).  Immediate damage begins to occur when the sludge or gel blocks the oil siphon screen, as depicted in Figure 3.  Once this blockage occurs, failure of the engine is inevitable.  The oil level may look fine but the engine is actually being damaged with every revolution of the crank as the engine loses oil pressure and is no longer lubricated effectively.  This is a serious issue for many cars built since 1996, hence the introduction of OEM oil specifications such as VW 505.00 and MB 229.3.

Figure 1                                             Figure 2                                          Figure 3






Varnish is a thin, insoluble, non-wipeable

deposit film occurring on internal engine parts. It is largely caused by oxidation of the oil. Varnish can lead to sticking and malfunctioning of close-clearance moving parts. Engine varnish is similar in appearance to lacquer.

Varnish is the result of engine oil degradation, once again largely due to elevated temperatures and the presence of oxygen in the engine. As the oil flows over hot engine surfaces, it heats up and reacts with the oxygen in the air to oxidise. Each time the oil passes over a hot surface, it oxidises a little more.  This oxidation causes the early depletion of antioxidant additives in the oil, and eventually leads to the formation of insolubles, which is the beginning of varnish. The insolubles agglomerate and sooner or later stick to metal surfaces as portrayed in Figures 4, 5 and 6.

Figure 4                                           Figure 5                                            Figure 6






Varnish build-up causes excessive wear of moving parts, can lead to bearing failures and may cause critical components to seize. Other common names for varnish are lacquer, pigment, gum, and resin.

Engine oil degradation is aggravated by several other influences as discussed in OilChat #26.  Poor filtration will allow contaminants, wear particles, and water to build up and infest the oil.  This in turn accelerates depletion of the oil additives and allows the oil to foam.  To worsen matters wear debris (mainly copper particles) act as a catalyst to promote oil oxidation.

Blue Chip Lubricants and Q8 high performance engine oils are formulated with the latest generation additive technology to control sludge and varnish effectively. Deposit formation in modern engines is an ever increasing reality, but the advanced additive chemistry in our lubricants minimises engine wear associated with oil deterioration during the life of the oil.

If you have any questions concerning lubrication, or need assistance to select suitable lubricants for your machines, simply mail us at Our experts are at your disposal and ready to provide you with advice and guidance.

Soot in engine oil, a by-product of combustion OilChat#47

Soot is a by-product of combustion and is present in all used engine oils. Soot is generated as a result of incomplete fuel combustion in engines. When the air and fuel mixture that powers the engine fails to burn completely there is leftover matter – partially burned fuel which is generally known as soot. It is a common misconception that soot does not occur in petrol engines, but it does. Soot is, nevertheless, not such a big problem in petrol engines because they combust fuel more effectively than diesel burners. There are several reasons why soot is a serious problem in diesel engines.


To start off diesel fuel is ‘heavier’ than petrol and does not burn as readily as petrol. Secondly, the fuel/air mixture in a petrol engine is ignited by an electric discharge at the spark plug. In a diesel engine the fuel and air ignite spontaneously (auto-ignition) as a result of the high pressure and temperature in the combustion chamber. Furthermore, diesel is only injected into the compressed air in the combustion chamber towards the end of the compression stroke, resulting in poor mixing of the diesel and air. This creates fuel-dense, oxygen lacking ‘pockets’ that produce soot when ignited. Some of this soot comes into contact with the oil film on the cylinder liners. As the piston moves down, soot that is trapped in the oil film is scraped down into the oil sump by the oil control piston ring.

Soot can also reach the oil in the sump via blow-by, i.e. the leaking of partially burnt fuel and combustion gases past the piston rings into the crankcase. This occurs more frequently in engines with worn piston rings. Other factors that can lead to abnormal soot loading of the oil are:

  • Frequent stop/start operations.
  • Extended periods of idling.
  • Incorrect injector spray patterns.
  • Rich fuel/air mixtures.
  • Blocked air filters.

Individual soot particles are minute and impose little danger to the oil and engine. The soot particles, however, have the tendency to agglomerate (clump together) and form larger clusters. These large clumps of soot can cause damage to the engine, but the dispersant additives in engine oil prevent them from agglomerating and keep them finely suspended in the oil.

When the soot concentration in engine oil reaches a level that can no longer be dissolved by the dispersant additive, the soot particles clump together to form sludge.

The sludge attaches itself to engine surfaces, impedes oil flow through the oil filter as well as the engine and increases oil viscosity with the following devastating results:

  • Agglomerated soot negatively impacts the performance of anti-wear lubricant additives and leads to accelerated engine wear.
  • Build-up of soot and sludge in the grooves behind piston rings causes rapid wear of the rings and cylinder walls.
  • High viscosity results in cold-start problems and risk of oil starvation. This often results in premature engine failure.

Blue Chip Lubricants and Q8 heavy duty diesel engine oils are formulated with the latest generation dispersant additives to keep increased concentrations of soot in suspension for extended periods of time. The formation of soot in modern diesel engines is an ever increasing reality but the advanced additive technology in our engine oils minimises soot induced wear, controls sludge build-up and resists oil thickening associated with high soot levels.

If you have any questions concerning lubrication, our experts are at your disposal and ready to provide you with advice and guidance. Simply mail us at and put us to the test. You can trust us to take care of your lubrication requirements which will allow you to concentrate on your core responsibilities – managing your assets.

Two-stroke engine lubrication Part 3 OilChat#46

If you take a close look at the label on a two-stroke (2T) oil container, it is very likely that you will come across specifications such as API, ISO/Global and JASO. In this final issue of our three part series on 2T oil we will endeavour to explain what this is all about and how to select a suitable lubricant for a specific two-cycle engine.


If you take a close look at the label on a two-stroke (2T) oil container, it is very likely that you will come across specifications such as API, ISO/Global and JASO. In this final issue of our three part series on 2T oil we will endeavour to explain what this is all about and how to select a suitable lubricant for a specific two-cycle engine.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) was the first organisation to define a classification system for 2T oils. Of four originally proposed API two-cycle classifications, only one (API TC) is current. Two (API TA and TB) are obsolete, never having been developed further than proposals. The fourth (API TD for water-cooled 2T outboard engines) has been superseded and is no longer recommended.

API TC: These oils are designed for various high-performance engines, typically between 200 and 500 cc, such as those on motorcycles with high fuel-oil ratios. These oils address ring-sticking, pre-ignition and piston/cylinder scuffing problems.

Japanese motorcycle manufacturers found the limits demanded by the API TC specification too slack. API TC oils produced excessive smoke and could not prevent exhaust blocking in high performance Japanese 2T engines. In response the Japanese Engine Oil Standards Implementation Panel (JASO) introduced the following specifications:

JASO FA: Original specification to regulate lubricity, detergency, initial torque, exhaust smoke and exhaust system blocking.  These are medium to high ash mineral based 2T oils.JASO FB: Provides increased lubricity and detergency, reduced exhaust smoke and exhaust system blocking compared to FA. They do not require any synthetic base oils to meet specifications.

JASO FC:  Lubricity and initial torque requirements same as FB, however, far higher detergency, exhaust smoke and exhaust system blocking requirements over FB. These oils may be described as semi-synthetic, low ash lubricants.

JASO FD: Same as FC but with more demanding detergency requirements. Qualifying lubricants are synthetic or semi-synthetic, extreme temperature, anti-scuff, high lubricity, low smoke, and low ash oils.

During the mid-1990s it became clear that the JASO Specifications could not satisfy the requirements of the high performance European two-stroke engines of the time. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) classifications listed below were developed to address these shortcomings. The ISO basis is the corresponding JASO standard plus an additional three-hour Honda test to quantify piston cleanliness and detergent effect.

ISO-L-EGB: Same requirements as JASO FB plus the piston cleanliness test.  It is generally accepted that API TC rated oils are equivalent to these oils. They do not require any synthetics to meet specifications.

ISO-L-EGC: Same requirements as JASO FC plus the Honda piston cleanliness test. These oils are high lubricity and high detergent, low smoke, semi-synthetic, low ash lubricants.

ISO-L-EGD: Same requirements as JASO FD plus the test for piston cleanliness and detergent performance.  These lubricants are internationally recognized as the highest performance air-cooled 2T oils available in the market place. Qualifying lubricants are synthetic or semi-synthetic, extreme temperature, anti-scuff, high lubricity, low smoke, low ash oils.

Low Ash detergent additives are used in higher performance JASO and ISO 2T oils. These oils are designed for air-cooled, high performance engines that operate under severe load and high temperature conditions. Low Ash detergents keep deposits to a minimum at high temperatures. After these compounds have performed their task, they burn off and are swept away during the normal combustion process. Ash type detergents depend on higher combustion temperatures to clear away. Consequently the use of high performance air-cooled oils in water-cooled outboard or other mildly tuned 2T engines operating at lower temperatures is NOT recommended.

Two-stroke water-cooled outboard motors operate at much lower temperatures than their air-cooled counterparts and are ‘allergic’ to ash type oils. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has very specific lubrication requirements for water-cooled two-stroke marine outboard engines. Ashless oils conforming to NMMA TC-W3 specifications are the only lubricants recommended for use in all 2T outboard motors these days. TC-W3 superseded the NMMA TC-W & TC-WII specifications. It is also important to note that oils designed to meet TC-W3 requirements are not suitable for high performance air-cooled two-stroke engines.

Equally important as the oil specifications is the fuel and oil mixing ratio. Always mix the fuel and 2T oil exactly as the engine manufacturer recommends. Adding too much oil can lead to early ring sticking and plug fouling, whilst too little may result in a lack of lubrication, mainly piston scuffing.

Blue Chip Lubricants and Q8Oils have a complete range of two-stroke oils for a wide variety of 2T engines. If you have any questions concerning two-cycle engine lubricants, our experts are at your disposal and ready to provide you with advice and guidance. Simply mail us at

Two-stroke engine lubrication Part 2 OilChat#45

When it comes to two-stroke or two-cycle (2T) engine oil every two-stroke enthusiast is an ‘expert’. Some old-timers still believe castor based 2T oil is a gift from heaven, while lots of fanatics can’t resist the ‘pleasing’ aromatic odour of mineral oil being burned in an engine and these days many 2T buffs swear by synthetics. Amid all these opinions there still is a lot of smoke and mirrors and plenty of spin around the subject. In this issue of OilChat we will endeavour to clear some of the fallacies surrounding two-stroke oil.


Compared to four-stroke engines, two-stroke engines have far less moving parts. They are therefore less expensive to build, more compact and significantly lighter.  2T engines generally also have a higher power-to-weight ratio than four-strokes. For these reasons, two-stroke engines are ideal in applications such as lawn mowers, chainsaws, grass and hedge trimmers, outboard motors, microlight airplanes, karts, off-road motorcycles and two-wheel racing applications.

2T engines come in a variety of sizes and designs, ranging from tiny little engines for model airplanes to powerful marine outboard motors. Traditionally two-stroke oil was mixed with the petrol, but many recent designs pump the lubricant from a separate tank into the engine. These designs are often referred to as auto-lube systems.  It is still a total-loss system with the oil being burnt with the fuel in the same way as in pre-mix systems.

Considering that 2T engines are lubricated by a mere whiff of oil introduced into the engine in vapour form, two-stroke engine oil must have excellent lubricity. 2T oils must also be clean burning since the oil is combusted with the fuel/air mixture. In bygone days castor-based oils were the preferred lubricant for two-stroke engines due to its high film strength and “wetting ability” (the capability of the oil to spread out on metal surfaces). In addition the chemical structure of castor oil allows it to polymerise at high temperatures to form a sticky wax type material, often referred to as castor varnish. This wax has lubricating properties. In the event of oil starvation the wax separates the metal surfaces for a short period of time.

The down side of castor oil is it that does not burn completely. This results in fouled spark plugs, combustion deposits, piston rings sticking in their grooves and excessive smoke. Furthermore in modern engines where tolerances between parts are much finer, the build-up of castor varnish can lead to degradation in engine performance.

Modern two-stroke engine oils are generally blended using one of the following three base fluids:

Mineral Oils are primarily used for lower performance 2T engines. These oils are good rust preventatives and have great lubricating properties. Mineral oil does not burn all that well and leaves deposits behind when it does burn. Typically a 2T engine running on mineral oil will have gummy deposits in the ring groves and burnt carbon in the exhaust port and on top of the piston. This is a pretty big deal in modern two-stroke engines as gummy parts, fouled spark plugs and carbon deposits mean less performance and more maintenance.

Synthetic Fluids offer the best of everything, including good lubricity and superb combustion properties. With little of the mess that petroleum based oils normally deposit, synthetics leave a much
cleaner engine and therefore maintain maximum engine power for extended periods of time. Synthetic oils also produce much less smoke, but they come at a price premium.

Mixtures of Mineral and Synthetic (Semi-Synthetic) Oils are a compromise that meets in the middle. Semi-synthetics cost less than full synthetic oils. They offer reasonably good combustion and lubrication properties at a more realistic price.

The prime function of two-stroke oil is to lubricate (i) the main bearings on the ends of the crankshaft, (ii) the big- and small-end bearings of the piston connecting rod and (iii) the cylinder walls. To prevent deposit formation in the combustion chamber and on the piston, there is no traditional ash type anti-wear (ZDDP) additive in two-stroke oil formulations and the lubricity is mainly provided by the oil film of the base oil. Many 2T oils contain a high molecular weight polyisobutylene (PIB) to enhance the lubricity of the oil, but this may increase carbon deposit.

Another important function of two-stroke oil is to keep deposits inside the engine to a minimum. High performance 2T oils are therefore formulated with a low ash detergent additive to remove such deposits. Many two-stroke oils are pre-diluted with a solvent to facilitate mixing with petrol at all temperatures. 2T oils are normally dyed blue/green to identify its presence in petrol/oil mixtures. Other additives that may be included in 2T oil formulations are combustion improvers and octane enhancers.

Even if a two-stroke oil has good lubricity, high detergency, resists exhaust system blocking and meets low smoke requirements, how does one know whether the oil is suitable for a particular 2T engine. If you take a closer look at the container or product data sheet you will most probably come across specifications such as API TC, ISO L-EGC, JASO FD, etc. More about this in the next issue of OilChat….

Two-stroke engine lubrication Part 1 OilChat#44

Two-stroke or two-cycle (2T) petrol engines have very specific lubrication requirements. The reason for this is that 2T engines have much higher oil consumption than four-stroke engines due to combustion of the lubricant with the fuel/air mixture. 2T engines also have a higher power to weight ratio than their four-stroke counterparts. To understand the specific lubrication requirements of two-stroke engines one must first look at the way a 2T engine operates.


A two-stroke engine completes a power cycle with two strokes (one up and one down movement) of the piston during one crankshaft revolution. This is in contrast to a four-stroke engine, which requires four strokes of the piston (Intake, Compression, Power and Exhaust) to complete a power cycle during two crankshaft revolutions. In a two-stroke engine the end of the combustion stroke and the beginning of the compression stroke happen simultaneously, with the intake and exhaust functions occurring at the same time.  Basic two-stroke engines do this by using the crankcase and the underside of the moving piston as a fresh fuel charge pump.

When the piston of a two-stroke engine rises on compression as shown in the illustration on the right, the underside of the piston creates a vacuum in the crankcase. The bottom of the piston skirt ‘opens’ an inlet port in the cylinder, allowing a mixture of petrol and air to flow into the crankcase from a carburetor. When the piston nears Top Dead Center, a spark ignites the compressed fuel/air mixture. The mixture burns and its chemical energy becomes heat energy, raising the pressure of the combusted mixture radically. This pressure drives the piston down the cylinder and rotates the crankshaft. While the piston continues down the cylinder, it begins to expose an exhaust port in the cylinder wall. As spent combustion gas rushes out through this port, the descending piston is simultaneously compressing the fuel/air mixture trapped beneath it in the crankcase.

While the piston descends further down, it begins to expose a transfer port which is connected to the crankcase by a short duct. Since the pressure in the cylinder is now low and the pressure in the crankcase higher, a fresh charge of fuel and air from the crankcase flows into the cylinder through the transfer port. The port and piston are shaped to minimize direct loss of fresh charge through the exhaust port. Even in the best designs there is some loss, but the simplicity of the 2T engine has its price! This process of filling the cylinder while also pushing leftover exhaust gas out through the exhaust port is called “scavenging”. While the piston is near Bottom Dead Center, fuel and air continue to flow from the crankcase, up through the transfer port, and into the cylinder. As the piston moves up again, it first covers the transfer port and then the exhaust port and the cycle is repeated.

If you are still not sure how a basic two-stroke engine functions, please follow the link below. It
shows an animated illustration of a simple two stroke engine and how the 2T cycle works.

Most late model two stroke engines have more sophisticated methods of introducing the fuel charge into the cylinder. These designs improve power and economy and include Reed Valves, Poppet Valves, Rotary Valves and Direct fuel injection.  An additional advantage of Direct Injection is that it eliminates some of the waste and pollution caused by carbureted two-stroke engines (where a proportion of the fuel/air mixture entering the cylinder goes directly and unburned out through the exhaust port). Direct fuel injection 2T’s are more efficient because the fuel is injected after the exhaust port closes and therefore more complete combustion occurs and more power is developed.

Since the fuel/air mixture is constantly being pumped by the crankcase and piston, it is not practical to lubricate the two-stroke engine with circulating oil from a sump (like a four-stroke engine) because the oil would be swept away by the mixture rushing in and out of the crankcase. In a 2T engine a little oil must therefore be mixed with the fuel (typically 2% to 5%) to lubricate the few moving components of the engine. Alternatively oil can be injected very sparingly, from a separate oil tank, into the engine with a tiny metering pump. The fact that there is so little oil dictates that two-stroke engines must employ rolling element bearings, which need only a whiff of oil for lubrication.

In the nexts issue of OilChat we will endeavour to clear some of the fallacies surrounding two-stroke oil.  If you have any questions concerning 2T oil in the interim, simply mail us at Our experts are at your disposal and ready to provide you with advice and guidance.