Oil: SAE 20 and variants

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I received an email from a gentleman who recently acquired a Universal I and is having difficulty finding an SAE 20 wt oil, the grade specified in most operator manuals. Like many printers, I first used 3-in-One oil. Some Vandercooks like, Daniel Morris’s 320, even have a plaque on the carriage reading “Use 3-in-One Oil” I later learned that it comes in two formulations: the well known multi-purpose household oil in the black and white bottle and a true SAE 20 in a blue and white bottle for 1/4 hp motors. The multi-purpose oil is sold in three sizes 3oz, 4oz and 8oz., but the 20 wt comes only in the 3 oz size. It’s priced between $2.50 and $3.50 depending on the retailer.

The 1/4 hp motor on my No.4 needs to have the oil topped off weekly. For this reason I sought a more economical substitute and tried an SAE 5W-20 automotive motor oil. A technician via the ASMOIL website told me that it should be a great replacement, and offered this explanation:

Oil viscosity is measured at 210 degrees F, which is the operating temperature of an internal combustion engine. The SAE 20 is the same viscosity as a 5W-20 motor oil at 210 degrees. Products with the “W” are tested using a different method at colder temperatures to measure the way an oil thickens.

Detergent additives in automotive motor oil neutralize acid build up from the exposure to the by products of combustion and keep particulate from becoming harmful to moving parts. This particulate comes from combustion of fuel. So these additives won’t have any effect on your application either negatively or positively.

Vandercook sold a High Pressure Dripless oil, which is still available from NA Graphics. I thought it much too thick. Fritz says that it is a “way oil” —the same type used for lathes.

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Casey McGarr
16 years ago

Thanks Paul, good information

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