A Little Dab Will Do You

I like non-drying vegetable-based oils. Not just for frying up chicken, but for keeping rust at bay in my basement workshop at home.

What’s not to like? For nearly 14 years these oils have kept rust at bay on my hand tools in a damp below-grade space (with the help of “woobie,” and “spawn of woobie”). Well, I hate the little plastic spray bottles that these oils come packaged in. The spray mechanisms get gummed up. And the oils that come in lotion bottles end up depositing their load if you tip them over.

So years ago I went old school: tin oilcans. These little fellers were used for oiling sewing machines and the like and cost me all of $4 (I paid a premium because I bought one that wasn’t all gummed up). They work great with camillia and jojoba oils, the hippie-style hair tonic and skin moisturizing oils of choice these days. The oilcan shown in the photos is about 2″ in diameter at the base.

Have you ever used an oilcan? They are brilliant. Turn them upside-down and … nothing happens. Turn them upside down and gently press their little tin bottom and oil comes out the spout. After a few squirts you’ll become a master at dispensing just enough oil for a saw, a block plane blade or a handplane sole.

And best of all, antique stores and eBay are littered with oilcans. Heck there are probably a few in your attic.

Throw away the gummy plastic spray bottles. Turn to the tin side.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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6 Responses to A Little Dab Will Do You

  1. Pete Owen says:

    If you want to go new you can check these guys out:


    Made in USA!

  2. David Hite says:

    What’s a "woobie"?

  3. Christopher Schwarz says:

    Sorry David.

    It’s a rag that has been soaked with oil to the point that it is perpetually moist.

    "Woobie" is a term from the movie "Mr. Mom" that refers to a security blanket.


  4. Dave Pearce says:

    So what vegetable based oils do you like the best? Mineral oil and Castor oil are both fairly low cost and handy, and don’t turn rancid, but those are the only two that come to mind.

  5. Christopher Schwarz says:

    I like mineral oil. It’s a little greasy. Mostly I use jojoba and camillia.


  6. Andrew Lewis says:

    I remember my dad had one of those when I was growing up. I loved using it on my bike chain – I still remember how precise it was and the satisfaction of that little "click" when you pushed on the bottom. Good to see that someone’s still making them – I’ll have to pick up a couple!

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