3-in-One Oil is (still) OK for Guns
by Kirk Lawson
[1915 advertisement from Arms & The Man]
Invented in 1894 by George W. Cole, ostensibly as a bicycle chain lubricant, 3-in-One is the original "CLP" oil. The "3" part of 3-in-One actually stands for "Clean, Lubricate, and Protect."
By at least World War I, Cole had expanded his usage-case recommendations to include firearms. The ability to penetrate and loosen even hardened carbon and grime to clean, then to further act as a lubricant has obvious applications to firearms use.
When the transition was made to include marketing as a firearms maintenance product, the target market was mostly sportsmen, hunters, and target shooters. Advantages, beyond the standard 3, supposedly included the ability to migrate into hard to reach areas which needed lubrication, resistance to attracting dust and dirt, preventing leading of a barrel, improved firearm reliability & function, and, somehow, promoting accuracy.
You could even write in to get a free sample.
In the modern context, there is often great concern that the oil will become gummy, harden, or turn into a varnish. This is partially attributable to the fact that 3-in-One is now owned by WD-40 corporation, who's flagship product, WD-40, has been known to harden or become gummy when improperly used due to additives in WD-40. Part of this fear is attributable to the belief that everything old is inferior and must suffer shortcomings that modern products do not. And part of the fear is attributable to the fact that, quite literally, all oils will harden or become gummy over time as a result of volatile elements evaporating and the oils oxidizing. Many, but not all, machine oils have additives to help prevent oxidation.
This is not a modern concern. 3-in-One oil does seem to have some, unidentified, anti-oxidant additives from the very beginning. Period advertisements specifically claim that 3-in-One "Never gums, dries out, or gathers dust." These additives remain part of the product formula today.
While official recommendations as a firearms appropriate product continued into the early years of the 21st Century, WD-40 corporation seems to have focused on other applications for 3-in-One oil. Nevertheless many people still trust 3-in-One to clean, lubricate, and protect their firearms today. It is safe to use on your guns and it still works, often at a much more attractive price tag than lubricants and protectants specifically marketed to the gun owners of today. Although it seems that many of the new generation of gun owners prefer to spend a lot more on products marketed specifically too them, nevertheless there are a lot of people still walking around who claim that 3-in-One has never failed them, always worked, and protected their firearms from corrosion in very inhospitable environments.