Mitchell Fishing Reel Lubrication
My hobby is fishing and collecting old fishing reels. But my career has been, for 37 years, a maintenance reliability engineer in the chemical manufacturing and power generation industries. During that time, lubrication of mechanical equipment has been an important part of my everyday work. So it was natural for me to apply basic lubrication techniques to fishing reels. I decided to write this article to convey some lubrication technology information in an easy to understand way for Mitchell fishermen and reel collectors.
The technology in oils and greases has come a long way since the days of the first Mitchell reels. Gone are the days when grease products dry up and gum up the inside of your reel. Gone are the days when we need to worry about corrosion inside the reel.
In this article I have outlined 3 categories of lubricant products. I discuss the latest technology in grease, oil, and protectants, that can be used in Mitchell reels, or any other fishing reel.
1. Anti-corrosive protectants/lubricants
In the course of overhauling or servicing the Mitchell reel, it may be necessary to assemble and dis-assemble it several times before the desired smoothness of operation is achieved. Shims may need to be added or removed from various components during these trial assemblies. At that time, a light penetrating protective lubricant should be used on the bearings, gears and slide mechanisms.
Almost everyone knows about WD-40. I has been around for many, many years. It was originally developed for the aerospace industry. It first appeared on the shelves of stores in 1958. For a long time WD-40 was the best there was on the market but it was discovered that if it were left on metal parts for a long period of time, it would dry up and leave behind a gummy film. This film was easily removed but required a re-cleaning of parts with a suitable solvent.
Today there are products that will never cause a film to be formed on intricate and precision fishing reel parts. One that I use and recommend is called “Corrosion X” in a 16oz spray bottle. This material has very low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) levels compared to WD-40. That means if left on a surface, it will virtually never “dry up”. It is an excellent corrosion inhibitor, penetrant and lubricant. It also displaces any water that may be present.
Grease in the fishing reel is one of the most important things that make the reel reliable and trouble free. It is also the most mis-understood of all lubricants. That is because there are so many “secret” or proprietary formulas. This secrecy can breed an attitude of distrust between users and sellers. As a mechanical engineer that has spent my whole career in equipment reliability, I have seen literally hundreds of these “cure all” formulas. The manufacturers would not release the specs. So I have learned to stick with the basics and stay away from these specialties for the most part. I always was faithful to manufacturers and sellers who are honest and are open about their products.
Grease is composed of two basic parts, plus additives which enhance performance. The lubricating part of grease is simply oil. The base oil is held into place in the reel by another chemical compound called the “soap”. There are many different types of soaps used to make grease and those soaps determine the application to which the grease is most suited. In order to select a proper grease for our Mitchell reel we should first determine what properties of grease are important in a fishing reel. These are:
- Good lubricating properties. As mentioned, this is a function of the base oil and the base oil additives only.
- Low separation of the base oil from the soap. This will slow down the caking or solidifying of the grease soap and grease will remain soft. The base oil will therefore stay on the parts where it needs to be.
- Good Corrosion Inhibiting properties with respect to Aluminum, Brass, and Steel parts.
- Water (and salt water) resistance.
The grease available in the days of the vintage Mitchell 300 reels was primarily “Lithium” soap greases. These greases were good but left some important properties on the table so to speak. The base oil tended to separate or bleed out of the soap. This is not good because when this happens, the lubricant (oil) is not present where it needs to be. The reel operation becomes stiff and needs to be cleaned and re-greased often. Also, corrosion and water resistance are not considered to be positive properties of Lithium base greases.
Since 1990, no other field of lubrication technology have experienced the advances that has happened with grease. Advances in grease technology have been tremendous. Now it seems there is a special grease for many different applications. Fortunately, of the many greases available, one type fits the application of fishing reels better than any other. It is called the “Aluminum Complex” soap grease.
Aluminum Complex greases have been known since the early 1970’s. Refinements in the methods of manufacture really started taking place in the late 1980’s. Global usage of AL Complex greases is still a very small part of total grease consumption but has been growing steadily since 1990.
I know of two brands of AL Complex grease available today that are excellent for fishing reels of all types especially in salt water applications.
Both of these greases are a dark blue in color and are of the standard NLGI #2 consistency. They are so similar, it looks like they could be the same thing ! I have been using the Yamaha grease in my Mitchell reels.
So how do these Aluminum Complex greases match up to our requirements for fishing reels. Let’s take a look.
- Good Lubricating Properties. -- This is really where AL Complex grease, especially the ones shown above really excel. First of all, AL Complex grease has a higher percentage of base oil per volume of grease than the other soap types. There is more oil per ml of grease in AL Complex (remember, oil alone determines the lubricating properties). In addition, the greases listed above, use a synthetic Polyalphaolefin (PAO) w/ Pentaerythritol Ester as the base oil stock. This base oil stock has superior shear resistance and high viscosity index (very little change in viscosity with temperature) compared to petroleum but are mixable with all petroleum oils.
- Low Separation of Base Oil from the Soap. -- Even though AL Complex grease has more oil per ml than any other grease, the separation of oil from the soap is the lowest of almost all standard greases. It is because of this property that AL Complex grease is used in the food processing industry. Food contamination is minimized. AL Complex grease will never harden or cake up. Oil stays where it does the most good and will never “bleed” out of your reel.
- Corrosion Inhibiting Properties. Excellent or equal to any other grease. The synthetic stock used in the above recommended greases tend to cling to metal and thus protect the metal from corrosion. They are also fortified with rust and oxidation inhibitors.
- Water resistance. AL Complex greases have the highest resistance to water and salt water washout of any grease available including Calcium Complex Grease which was previously the best.
As a side benefit the AL Complex greases are very stable at low as well as high temperatures. That means your Mitchell 300 will not get “stiff” at below freezing temperatures. This is good for cold weather fishermen like me!
But what about Silicone grease or grease with Teflon additive? Here is my perspective. Silicone oil and grease are used in chemical applications because they are very stable compounds. They also prevent corrosion and are resistant to water and are insulating in electrical systems. However as a fishing reel lubricant, they fall short of standard petroleum and synthetic petroleum based products. At one time, I would have recommended silicone greases for fishing reels. With the advent of the newer AL Complex greases, they have dropped down my list.
Teflon fortified oils and greases are actually suspensions of solid TFE particles in the oil or grease. As a reliability engineer, I have experimented with TFE fortified lubricants, with miserable success. I have also seen truck fleet engine failures as a direct result of using Teflon fortified oils. The solid Teflon tends to separate out of suspension and get clogged where you least want to see it. In fishing reels ? I respond with “Why ?”. I would not use it. Stay with the basics.
Caution with Greases : NEVER mix two different greases, especially with the Aluminum Complex. The parts should be cleaned and fresh grease installed at every servicing. The soaps can chemically react with one another and many times will create a solid mass and cause metal corrosion.
How much grease is necessary? It is surprising how little grease is actually necessary in the fishing reel. A coating on the gear teeth and slides is sufficient. For the best corrosion protection in salt water service, you can apply a thin film on all internal surfaces. A soldering brush works well for this application. Just brush on a very light and thin film of grease. ALWAYS keep your grease and oil containers sealed shut when not in use. ALWAYS use a clean brush. This is very important. In fresh water, I just apply a light coating of Corrosion X material on all inside metal surfaces.
This is fairly simple. Sleeve bearings and rolling element bearings in Mitchell reels should be lubricated on final assembly with a good grade of pure light machine oil or a 5W-XX automotive PAO synthetic oil like “Mobil 1”, and not grease. I simply use Singer All Purpose Machine Oil, that is made for sewing machines. Mobil 1 is one of the best synthetic oils money can buy.
As an alternative, a product called Reel X marketed by Corrosion Technologies from Houston, TX (same company that makes Corrosion X) works very well in your Mitchell 300C roller bearings and is excellent for bait casting reels with ball bearings.
My objective in lubrication is always to keep it basic and always use high quality products. Avoid proprietary lubricants with TFE compounds. Remember, TFE does NOT dissolve in any oil. TFE always will remain a solid and can eventually cause caking problems and reel tightening.
Avoid Silicone oil. The actual lubricating properties are not nearly as good as standard petroleum oil or “PAO” synthetic oil. It is simply not needed.
Good Luck and Good Fishing.--- ED