Let’s Talk Grease and Grease Guns

I don’t know anybody who really gets excited about talking about grease, do you?

But if you grease your equipment, it’ll last longer. And if you’re new to tractors and equipment, it’s important for you to know how to use a grease gun and how to grease your equipment. It’s not a big deal to do, but nobody really enjoys doing it. Anyway, I get lots of questions about greasing, so I’m going to tell you 12 things you may not know about grease and grease fittings. Here we go:

1. Why do you need to grease the tractor?

The bearings on the tractor need grease to keep running smoothly. The fittings the grease goes into are called zerks. It’s a funny name, but the inventor was a Wisconsin fellow name Oscar Zerk who worked for Nash Motor Company.

2. How does a zerk work?

Inside the zerk is a little tiny ball with a spring behind it. When there’s no grease coupler on that fitting, the ball is out at the front and it keeps it grease from coming out. When you put that coupler on, it pushes the ball back and allows you to apply grease through the fitting. Simple and effective.

3. What does the grease actually do?

Did you know that grease is actually oil with a thickener in it? The grease comes out of a bearing when it’s in use, to keep the fitting lubricated and eliminate friction. But since the grease is coming out, you’ll need to add more as you use the machine. If you don’t do this regularly, you’re going to have excessive wear.

4. What about a grease fitting that won’t take grease?

If you’re trying to apply grease with your lever gun and the grease just won’t go in the zerk, you may have some rust accumulated down in there. Might even be a little grease or dirt that’s preventing the ball from coming out of the zerk. A little bit of grease coming back out is normal, but it’s important to keep it clean around those grease fittings so you won’t be pushing nasty stuff into the zerk. All those components in there are very, very small and just a little bit of dirt and grime can really hose the zerk.

And unfortunately, it could even be a cheap grease zerk installed by the manufacturer, meaning your new tractor might have a zerk or two that just won’t take grease. In that case, you’ll have to replace those zerks with quality ones that will work for you.

5. Is there a set greasing schedule for all the tractor fittings?

No, there’s not. Not all grease fittings need to be greased at the same intervals. Some you can just touch maybe once a year because they’re not used that much.
On the other hand, if you’re using your loader a lot you may want to grease it more than the recommended intervals. If you are using our brush hog, tiller, or anything with a PTO shaft, I recommend greasing the U joints every time you use it, just to be on the safe side. The more a PTO shaft spins and the more pressure it’s under, the more often you need to grease it.

6. How do you know when you’re done greasing?

If you didn’t grow up on a farm and you’ve never been around grease fittings, you might not be familiar with how to use a grease gun. Or you might wonder how to know when you’ve got enough grease in there. Well, that’s simple: When it starts coming out of the grease area, you’re done. Now, a lot of times I’ll be trying to watch, and the grease will be coming out on the back side. Yup, I look around and there’s a glob of exuded grease that looks like a slug. That’s just wasted tractor grease, so you want to stop before that happens.

7. What if I can’t see the grease zerk or grease area?

In that case, if you can’t see it you can probably hear it. When you’re pumping, it’ll make a crackling sound when that that old grease material is starting to come out it it’ll make noises that you’ll learn to recognize after you’ve greased that area a couple times.

8. Can you grease with one hand?

If you’ve got a hand or wrist problem and want to spare that hand, you can definitely can get a quick coupler like this safe lock device (LINK)and lock it on with your good hand. Then with a pistol grip grease gun you lock it on and just let it hang there. It won’t hurt anything, and you can then pick up the grease gun with the other hand and you can grease.

9. What’s the best kind of grease?

For nearly all of us with small tractors or lawn mowers, a good-quality, basic multi-purpose grease will work fine. If you’re using a combine, or a skid loader, or a hay bale–anything that takes a lot of pressure and will be running all day long, then you may need to move up to a synthetic or a polyuria. You can see my selection of greases here.

10. When I take delivery of my new tractor, how do I know if it’s been greased?

Most of the time those grease zerks will get a little paint on the top of them during the painting process in the factory. So you can look at the zerks, and if there is still paint on the top of it, it’s not been greased. Scrape the paint off, make sure it’s clean, then grease it up.

11. If a used tractor has a lot of grease around the zerks, is that okay?

Actually, if you’re shopping for a used tractor and the zerks have has a lot of grease around them, that’s a good thing. It means the person who owned the machine knew how to use a tractor grease gun and kept the thing greased. Maybe maybe overdid it a little bit, but then again, I I’m not sure you can really over-grease a tractor. If everything is dry and it’s all clean and you have no evidence that they’ve ever greased a tractor, that’s bad.

12. What sort of grease gun should I use?

If you do a lot of greasing,consider an electric or battery-powered grease gun, the way the do in dealerships. Lube-Shuttle offers one with a screw-in canister. An electric Lube-Shuttle with the screw-in canister may well be the best grease gun for tractors, and will make your life a lot easier. They’re not cheap, but but they will really make you not hate greasing.

Tractor Mike


  1. Steven K. on at 14:33

    I recently got my first tractor!! An LS Mt5.73 with those new Good year R14 tires. Question on greasing. At the rear of the three point hitch I have the”old style”?? Turnbuckle that has a long length of threads on each end of the handles. On the handle is a grease zerk. My question is the unused threads on each end being dry. Should I keep those open threads dry, thinly greased, or occasional WD-40 coating so it is not dry in the future if needed where the zerk would only cover the part inside that “handle” if I understand that principle correctly. Would appreciate a response.

    • Vance Baugher on at 12:24

      Unless you are using the tractor in a corrosive e;vironment, fertilizer, chloride based snowmelt, long term damp, leave the threads painted and clean. You can use silicon or graphite as they won’t collect dust to the same degree as petroleum based lubricants. Just clean the threads and a dab of oil before tightening the turnbuckle. Keep the turnbuckle greased.

  2. Mike Wilcox on at 16:35

    Hey Mike. Great video and tips on greasing! Thought I would share a recent experience. I had a couple of zerks on my brush cutter that would not take grease. When I took the zerks off, I could push grease through them, but still could not push grease when I put them back on, which was puzzling and a little frustrating. After doing a little research, I found the IPA Grease Fitting Cleaner, Model #7862H at Northern Tool. It works by forcing light oil (by tapping a plunger with a hammer into a cylinder filled with the oil) into the zerk and grease fitting. It works like a charm! The light oil comes out of the joint just like grease is supposed to. Then I filled it with grease.

    Please keep the great tips and videos coming!

  3. Craig on at 00:48

    Our David Brown 995 tractor has some smaller than usual grease nipples on the back trailing arms and the standard Kincrome brand grease gun doesn’t fit them. Do you need a special grease gun for smaller nipples?

    • Tractor Mike on at 09:31


      I didn’t know the answer but I forwarded your question to Wes at Lube Shuttle and he’s very familiar with what you have. His answer is below, hope that helps:

      We had this exact tractor on our farm when I was growing up and yes they had non-standard zerk fittings. I’d recommend replacing them. That said, they also had “oilers” which look like a zerk fitting but have a much larger center hole where the oil can be squirted in. The outside of these will look like a zerk, but vary greatly in size.


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