Viscosity is a measure of the relative flow characteristics of an oil an important factor in the design and operation of oil-handling and -burning equipment, the efficiency of pumps, temperature requirements, and pipe sizing. Distillates typically have low viscosities and can be handled and burned with relative ease. However, No. 5 and No. 6 oils may have a wide range of viscosities, making design and operation more difficult.

Viscosity indicates the time required in seconds for 60 cm3 of oil to flow through a standard-size orifice at a specific temperature. Viscosity in the United States is normally determined with a Saybolt viscosimeter. The Saybolt viscosimeter has two variations (Universal and Furol) with the only difference being the size of orifice and sample temperature. The Universal has the smallest opening and is used for lighter oils. When stating an oil's viscosity, the type of instrument and temperature must also be stated.

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