Speedcubing lubricants and modifications are ubiquitous aspect of current speedcubing, with a wide variety of lubricants available across the market. This has been true for almost all of speedcubing history, with people trying to make their cubes move faster or slower to help improve solve times. This blog will talk about the history of cubing lubricants and how they have changed over the years to what they are today.
What are Cubing Lubricants?
Cubing lubricants are substances that help change the speed of the cube by affecting the friction between the pieces and the layers. There are lubricants that help speed up your cube but also those which slow it down to make it more controllable. They can be based on many things, with common materials nowadays being water and silicone.
Early Days: Oils and Other Home Items
In the early 2000s and much before then, before the advent of proper cubing-specific lubricants, people used whatever was available at home. It didn’t help that the cubes at that time were also quite blocky and hard to turn, especially compared to today's sleek, breezy models. This was even before the invention of torpedoes which helped in anti-popping! One of these was actually Vaseline and petroleum jelly. While this did reduce friction and helped increase speed, it eats away at the plastic of your cube, making it much worse in the long term. I even know people who used coconut oil to the point where the cube became sticky and hard to turn! Livon was also in use, along with a very popular old cubing lubricant called WD-40. Another alternative method was using sandpaper to rub at the sharp edges of the pieces, making them smoother and easier to turn.
Silicone and Water-based Lubes
Once companies began to understand the importance of cube maintenance, they began to produce standardized lubricants specifically meant for speedcubing, and this is what branched into the variety of options we have today. Most of them are based on two substances: silicone and water.
Water is something everyone is familiar with, and water-based lubricants were an obvious choice. Due to their properties, these lubricants help reduce friction between pieces and layers massively, making cubes turn very quickly. There are, however, disadvantages to this. The first is that it does not last since the water cannot stay and act inside the puzzle for a long time. This results in the build-up of ‘dirt’ inside, making it harder to turn after some time, meaning it has to be cleaned and reapplied regularly. This is why people generally put a few drops of specific water-based lubes in their cube before official competitions if they want it to be immediately faster, but not for very long. Maru Lube is one example of a water-based lubricant that was very popular for many years and continues to be in use.
The problem of longevity was solved with the use of silicone oil-based cubing lubricants. Silicone is a chemical polymer that is used to make a variety of greases and lubricants. These had the advantage of being more effective and staying in the cube for a long time since they would harden on the pieces. This required cleaning less regularly and allowed for more versatility.
Weights and Viscosity
Now that cubing lubricants had some effectivity, specialization was the next matter. This began with the introduction of a weighted scale of viscosity. To understand this, we first have to go back to how a lubricant works. Viscosity simply refers to the thickness and ease of flow, meaning that a thicker lubricant with higher viscosity will lead to increased friction and vice versa. Hence, lubricants with a lower ‘weight’ would speed up your cube while those with a higher ‘weight’ would slow it down. This level of variety is now common, and what builds upon that is cubing stores and companies offering premium customization services, setting up your cube for you before you receive it.
Which Cubing Lubricant Should You Use?
Which one you should use really depends on what cube you are using and what you feel the most comfortable with. If you have a very blocky and slow cube, you should probably look to lower-weight lubricants, but if you have an exceedingly fast cube that you are unable to control, weight 3 to 5 is ideal. There are also lubricants specifically meant for the core, such as Nucleus. This also changes depending on the puzzle, since people tend to prefer thicker lubricants for 4x4 and above, since control and accuracy become more important. Personally, for 3x3, I prefer a weight 2 or weight 3 lubricant like Cubelelo Classic, which is a good balance between speed and control.
About the Author
Pranav Prabhu is the current 3x3 Fewest Moves (Single) National record holder from Chennai. He started cubing when he was 14 and has 5 years of cubing experience. Besides cubing, Pranav enjoys reading books, writing, and playing the piano. He has participated in 36 competitions and won 30 podiums including 8 gold medals and 1 National record.