Like any good piece of machinery, occasionally you’ll need to apply some sort of lubrication to your model trains. But what do you even use? And do you need to use it at all? We deep dive into some of the better types of model train lubrication and what you should be aware of!
What Do Model Trains Need Lubrication For?
Model trains are similar to cars. They are powered by mechanical components, i.e., gears that need to be lubricated for smooth operation, or wheels that connect to track.
Gears have to turn but they shouldn’t be locking or sticking together. This is where lubrication comes in and reduces the friction between these parts.
Naturally, lesser friction equals increased lifespan by way of just decreasing the amount of physical stress that you’re putting onto a part. All model locomotives need oiling from time to time to keep them functional.
What’s the Difference Between Oil, Grease, and Synthetic Lubricant?
For the most part, all 3 are going to do the same job and help to improve the longevity of your model trains, so if you’re in a pinch, dont worry too much about the differences
But, if you really want to get the most out of it, and do justice to your model trains, it couldnt hurt to make sure you pick up the right product for the right job!
Basically, everything you’re going to want to use on your train is some form of lubricant. Grease and oil are closely related in the sense that they are both lubricants, and are virtually the same thing.
Oil is found in liquid form whereas grease is generally oil that contains some additives to make it thick. This prevents it from slipping off surfaces.
However, when compressed, for example between cogs of gears, it still guards them and decreases friction, similar to oil.
Thanks to its thicker composition, grease holds a position much better and is normally used on internal components that are tough to reach and can’t be oiled daily.
Something like Synthetic Oil is essentially still just a form of a petroleum-based oil with increased additives to make sure it does a better job. Synthetic Oils and lubricants can outperform traditional oils up to 47% of the time, so if you can, we recommend finding some sort of synthetic blend to do the trick.
These lubricants also come in non-liquid forms. These have all the uses of fluid lubricants but are chosen in particular environments.
If the introduction of particles would hamper the operation, non-liquid lubricants are the top choice. A perfect example would be railway points.
What’s the Best Type of Lubrication for Model Trains?
Bachmann Trains – E-Z Lube – Conductive Contact Lube[amazon box=” B000BQ0904 “]
The light gear oil from Bachmann is great for gears, shafts, bushing, and bolsters. The heavy gear version makes it on the list too. This lube will not sling off and it’s non-shedding.
It works great on mech mod switches as well as body threading to maintain a smooth, silky performance.
Issues like hot buttons are reduced too. In comparison to other lubes, the consistency is very thin – similar to water.
You only need a small amount to see good results. The needle tip dispenser works great for accurate dispensation.
It features a standard Luer Lock needle-nose tip which makes it easy to replace if it ever needs to be.
The Bachmann Conductive Contact Lube can be removed with alcohol. So, if you over-apply by mistake or need to clean the threading, that’s super easy.
Liberty Oil Synthetic Lubricant[amazon box=” B075KFWCMX “]
This 100% synthetic model train oil is made to reduce friction between any moving surfaces. It’s techincally marketed towards grandfather clocks, although it’ll work on any machine with moving parts, or that needs reduced friction.
You can use it as an alternative to petroleum or spray-based lubricants.
With a medical standard 1 ½” stainless steel needle tip applicator, its super easy to be incredibly precise with your model train, no matter how small the scale!
The brand provides a 60-day no-questions-asked return policy so if you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase, your money will be refunded.
It’s extremely budget-friendly and you can use it on many household items, not just your model trains. A true bang for the buck!
3. Labelle Industries – Plastic Compatible Motor Oil[amazon box=” B001W8XD44 “]
According to Labelle, this lubricant is perfect for small HO, Z, and N locomotives.
In addition, you can use it on just about anything else including tiny bearings, smaller fishing reel mechanisms, small watch mechanisms or your RC cars or drones!
One container of this product will last you a long time if you only use it on trains and plastic models.
This seems to be the best of the synthetic oils that are designed specifically for plastic and work without making the plastic brittle or warping it over time.
Those thin tip applicators do a great job of delivering the model train oil where targeted.
Honestly, this is probably our favorite product on this list, based purely on price, ease of use, and the reviews in the community.
Bachmann Trains – E-Z Lube – Heavy Gear Oil[amazon box=” B0006O85FC “]
Heavy gear lubricants are formulated to work on the motor bushing, valve gear, side rods, and more. Honesty, there’s not a lot to say about this product except that it’s an oil that will help keep your train running for a lot longer than if you didn’t use anything at all.
Larger scale trains could benefit from Bachmann’s Heavy Gear Oil, not just because its a slightly thicker viscosity than something like the synthetic oils above, but also because the nose is a bit troublesome to work with.
The only issue we have with this one is the nose applicator. It’s not the most durable and will either let too much out at one time which is fine on bigger model trains, or will just up and break on you if you’re unlucky.
How to Apply Oil or Lubricant to Model Trains
Done the right way, applying lubricant to model trains is actually pretty easy and isnt something that you should be overly worried about doing if you’ve never done it before!
With that said, if you swamp the axles, motors, gears, or rods, you’ll end up with model train lubricant in unwanted places, including the motor as well as the rails so the train wheels could slip and slide. So just like cooking, its easier to add more as you go, rather than subtract after the fact.
Some lubricants feature needlepoint dispensers to make your life easier. All you have to do is aim the head at the points that need to be oiled and gently squeeze out a little lubricant. Alternatively, get a straightened paper clip or an or needle and dip it into the grease or model train oil before applying to the area you want.
We suggest placing it on the worn gears, coupling rods, and cogs where they connect to the wheels. You can squeeze a little amount inside those holes where wheels and axles are joined if you’re having trouble actually seeing them.
After that, run the motor for a few minutes before applying another layer. Make sure to run it on a piece of test track, or if you dont have any, just a nice straight bit of track on your layout, should you need to wipe up any spilt grease or oil.
Before all of that, place some tissue paper underneath the model train track so it doesnt permanently stain your layout though!
What model train lubricant Should You Not Use?
Although we mentioned that oil and grease are kinds of lubricants, you can’t just use any grease or oil.
The cogs and gears and moving parts of HO, OO, and N scale model trains are much smaller than the ones found in cars or other mechanical devices around a regular household.
Not only do normal oils not work in a case like this, but they can also be harmful to the sensitive paintwork and plastics of rolling stock.
They might penetrate the materials and dissolve them. So, this means that you can’t use cooking oil, 3-in-1 or WD40, despite what some YouTubers might suggest. You need to really make sure that the oils and lubricants that you pick arent going to damage any of the plastics or paper-based decals you have on your model trains as well.
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.