Seasons Greasings: The Tribology of Santa Claus

If there is one man in the whole world who tribology affects the most, it would be none other than Santa Claus! The magic of delivering gifts to every corner of the globe in a single night comes with its own set of real-world challenges.

From the frozen Arctic to the scorching deserts, the journey is fraught with potential wear and tear on both the sleigh – and its reindeer team. We’ll be exploring how tribology would effect everything from sleigh runner endurance to reindeer hoof wear, and chimney navigation to toy-workshop machinery maintenance!

Read on to see how Santa’s operation could run smoother than ever with a bit of help from tribology!

Sleigh Runners

One of the most important parts of Santa’s blitz around the world is his sleigh – the runners of which would face some incredible stresses during their world-tour. From snow to sand, and tiles to concrete, Santa would be landing on a huge variety of different surfaces and rooftops.

This would mean the runners on the sleigh would need to be tailored to be lightweight and exceptionally durable to withstand the punishing journey. One way to ensure they stay in tip-top shape, would be through the use of lubricants and adaptive coatings, like those used on the bottoms of skis and snowboards!

With waxes designed to grip more on ice, and dry lubricants like graphite more suitable for dusty, sandy environs, Santa could use a variety of different lubricants to help ease the wear-and-tear of his sleigh.

Reindeer Hooves

Of course, the sleigh would be useless without its engine – the nine magical reindeer! Their hooves would need to withstand extreme conditions, and an entire night (and planet’s) worth of running without wearing down or losing traction.

Some tribological solutions might include designing special horse shoes and coatings that provide durability and grip, especially when landing on slippery surfaces or landing in rocky terrain.

In fact, Santa could even perform his own tribological research into his reindeers hooves, much like this article in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, which looks at the hoof properties of Blue Sheep and why it makes them such great climbers, to see how he could improve his reindeers hoof protection, and save some money on their pedicures!

Temperature Specific Lubricants

On his global next-day delivery run, Santa and his sleigh would travel through every country on Earth. The extreme cold at the North Pole and the searing heat in the deserts would challenge the performance of standard lubricants.

Low-temperature lubricants like esters and mineral oils make sure that machinery keeps working in freezing environments, and offers benefits like easy start-up and reduced wear. These would be perfect for flying over North America where Winter temperatures regularly average between -5 and -15°C.

Similarly, high-temperature lubricants are designed to withstand extreme environments, reducing friction and sometimes helping to dispel unwanted heat. As mentioned before, dry lubricants such as graphite could also work well in dry environments.

In any case, if Santa cruises high enough to be spotted by NORAD, he’s almost definitely at a similar cruising altitude to most commercial airliners, where temperatures vary from −40 to −57 °C!

Smooth Landings

Landing on top of someone’s house is always going to be tricky for Santa, as he needs to land a sleigh and nine reindeer on a roof without waking anyone up! To maintain the element of surprise, Santa’s sleigh would need to be near-silent.

Any noise of the metal runners against a roof could largely be suppressed and controlled using lubricants added directly onto the runner, helping them slip and slide on any noisy surfaces, while still maintaining grip (like ski wax!)

Luckily for Santa, our very own Technical Manager – Dr Matt Smeeth – has written a piece for Lube Magazine on how to keep noise down in metal-to-metal contacts. Although the article is mainly focused on top-of-rail contacts, Santa could surely use some of the findings within to help his stealthy gift-giving!

Chimney Climbing

Once he’s landed, Santa’s ability to smoothly descend and ascend chimneys in record-time is definitely hindered by friction. As he needs to be in and out of houses all night, and needs to be up and down before the kids (or parents) wake up, Santa needs the fastest and most reliable lubricants to help him.

Ironically, Santa could use the by-product of some chimneys to help him in this case! KCDL – or Kitchen Chimney Dump Lard – is the by product of large scale kitchen chimneys found in places like hotels, restaurants, and large scale kitchens.

As seen in this paper, KCDL is perfect for Santa’s chimney-lubricant, being environmentally friendly, wear-resistant and readily-available world-wide!

Reindeer Harnesses

Finally, once Santa has left the presents and taken the milk, biscuits (and maybe a glass of sherry), he’ll need the reindeer to lift the sleigh back off the roof. Here, Santa can do one more quality-of-life improvement for his antlered team.

The harnesses for the reindeers rubbing against them all night could cause sores or discomfort, which is where tribology would come into play. There are a number of tribological creams and products already available for pets and larger animals like horses that help reduce chafing and keep animals comfortable.

These creams are formulated to be resistant to moisture and sweat, while not clogging pores and allowing the skin underneath a harness to breathe. They often contain additives and ingredients that strengthen the coat’s structure, making them ideal for use under bridles and saddles. Additionally, these products have been developed to offer a non-sticky, friction-free surface, which would mean more comfort for the reindeer!

For every part of Santa’s journey, there are tribological solutions to challenges he may face. From getting stuck in chimneys, to having the runners of his sleigh wear down, Santa could make use of tribology to solve these problems, and make his mission even faster and smoother!

Keep an eye out for our upcoming Christmas Condiment King Competition, coming soon!

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