Like most ML shooters, I have tried any number of lubes and methods, including the much-maligned (or praised) Wonder-Lube. Until now, I had the best luck loading wet patches soaked with Hoppes #9 Plus. However, when the weather got cold, the 9+ jelled and didn't load well at all. I switched to Lehigh Valley patch lube, which works well in the cold, but to me it did not seem like it had any real lubricating properties, since the patched ball loaded very roughly, even in a clean bore. I next tried W-L coated patches plus the Lehigh. This allowed the balls to load smoothly, but the groups opened up a lot. I then decided to try something a little more radical.
John Whiscombe is a builder of custom, high-powered English airguns. His .22 caliber airguns are the world's most powerful spring-powered airguns, capable of delivering pellets with energy equivalent to that of a .22 rifle. The problem with this type of airgun is that it is very difficult to effectively lubricate the pellets. As the gun is fired, the air compression raises the breech temperature to over 2000 degrees F, igniting standard lubricants. To powder burners, this might sound like a good thing, but it seriously degrades the rifle's accuracy. On the other hand, if no lubricants are used, barrel leading occurs. Thick, non-igniting lubricants create a viscous drag on the pellet and also degrade power and accuracy. After years of experimenting, Mr. Whisomb developed what he calls "airgun honey", both because the product looks like honey and has the same viscosity, and because it makes the gun shoot sweetly. It provides excellent non-viscous lubrication and does not cause ignition problems. Because it worked so well in my Whiscombe airgun, I thought that I would try it in my .45 caliber Pedersoli flinter.
Traditionalists may not like the mixture since the ingredients were not available in days of yore, but the preparation is very simple. Mix 2/3 parts of Hoppes gun oil (or any good grade gun oil) with 1/3 part of STP motor oil treatment (do I hear groans?). Mix it thoroughly and let it stand for a day, until it develops a uniform honey-like consistency; it will keep forever. Since a little bit goes a long way, this "honey" is best used in a dry-patch system, My simple technique for preparing "dry" patches is as follows:
My idea for making dry patches occurred to me after I noticed how a drop of oil had spread through several layers of a rag on my bench. As shown in the picture, I take a quantity of pre-cut patches and place them between two trapezoidal maple blocks, compressed in a C-clamp. The blocks serve to evenly distribute the pressure. Turn down the clamp with about the same pressure you would use to close your whiskey bottle (for those who ever close it...), and then dribble the lubricant around the edges of the stack of patches until the edges are sopping wet. Let stand for an hour or so, then tighten the clamp good and tight and wipe any excess lube from the edges of the stack of patches. Let this stand overnight to thoroughly and evenly distribute the lube. When they come out of the press, the patches are dry to the touch, but they should leave a thin film of lube if they are wiped on a surface. This methods works because the lubricant is drawn into the block of patches by capillary action. The lubricant will spread until all the material is uniformly coated, and the tight "squeeze" limits the total amount of lube that is absorbed.
My loading technique is as follows: After pouring the powder, I take a patch and saturate it with Lehigh Valley patch lube, allowing excess to drip on the ground. I then place the patch on the muzzle, drop on the ball and ram it with the wet patch. I find that the damp patch scours the excess fouling and allows me to shoot all day without ever having to clean the rifle. However, I use a relatively loose patch/ball combination - a .433" ball and a .010" patch. If you do the math, you can see that the combination is only .003" larger than the lands, so the ball can be easily started and pushed down with light finger pressure on the ramrod. This is a little unorthodox, but I get 1" groups or better at 40 yards, which is at least as good as I can see. I will say more about this, and some variations on my experiments with loading techniques in a later section.