I Like to Wipe

The first time I met Frank Klausz we were both demonstrating at a woodworking show outside Philadelphia. I was flattening boards by hand with a panel plane when Frank walked up, snatched the plane off my bench and walked away.

I stood there like a slack-jawed mouth-breather for a few moments, and then tried to finish up my demonstration.

About 20 minutes later, Frank returned to my bench with my plane. He had taken it apart and polished some corrosion off the chipbreaker. He had eased the sharp corners of the iron with some sandpaper. And he had wiped the entire body with a light coat of oil.

“A craftsman takes care of his tools,” Frank said with a serious look on his face. “No rust. No sap.” Then he gave me a great big smile and walked back to his bench.

That day was a turning point in my relationship with my tools. I stopped looking at them as just a chunk of something that held a pointy bit. Instead, they were something to be cared for, like a pet or a child. Every part of the tool became important, not just the cutter.

Why am I telling you this? Since May I have been on a marathon streak of teaching, and I have dealt with the tools of almost 100 hand-tool woodworkers. And I’ve spent a lot of time removing corrosion, oiling adjustment mechanisms and scraping crud off chipbreakers.

And so here is my brief guide to the care and feeding of tools.

1. Own the fewest number of tools possible. The fewer tools you have, the easier it is to keep them in good shape. Think of tools as cats. Do you really want to be the lady down the street with 63 cats and all the problems that 63 cats have?

2. Have some permanent tool-care products. Get a bottle of oil (any non-drying vegetable oil or light machine oil will do). A rag (I use a micro-fiber cloth, but an old sock is also good). A rust eraser (you need only one – the medium grit is fine). A paint brush for cleaning out the escapements of your planes. An old awl for dislodging fossilized gunk from corners. An old toothbrush for cleaning crap off threads.

3. Every time you take a brief break from your work, wipe the soles of your planes and remove any dust from the escapement and under the bevel. Wipe the dust and pitch off your chisels and saws. Clear any shavings from the mouths of your moulding planes.

4. When you are done for the day, break down your planes. Take apart the iron and chipbreaker, de-crud them and wipe them down. Clean out the mouth of the tool with your brush. Make sure the sole of the plane is clean and undamaged. File or sand off any dings. With your chisels and saws, wipe off all the sap and dust before you put them away. Same goes with your knives, awls, dividers – anything that’s ferrous.

5. Every month or so, oil the adjustment mechanisms of your tools. Students are always amazed at what a drop of oil on the threads can do to improve the way their tools work.

6. Store your tools so they won’t get coated in dust. A tool chest, wall cabinet or Tupperware will do.

7. If you are overwhelmed by all this, go back and read tip No. 1. Or bundle up your naked body in an old housecoat and haul the 50-pound bag of cat food out to fill the buckets on the front porch.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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37 Responses to I Like to Wipe

  1. Dan Pope says:

    Is woobbie making nice with a No. 51? It was a privilege to be among those 100! These lessons well taught.

  2. jverreault says:

    Thanks for the pep talk Chris. It struck a nerve…now where is that oil soaked “woobie”?

  3. Kevin Wilkinson says:

    The point about too many tools is a good one. When I started my investigation of old tools and hand tool woodworking this past January I signed up for the Old Tools email list and was going to join the Midwest Tool Collectors until I saw some pictures of peoples shops showing what is it now 75 or uh, 78 eggbeater drills, 33 no make that 37 braces and on and on. Number one, I don’t have the money, number two is I don’t have the space and number three is I don’t have the time to become a collector. Besides, all that time spent collecting is time not spent working the wood.

    • lostartpress says:


      I highly recommend becoming a member of Mid-West. I’ve been a member for many years.

      They are just a different part of the food chain. They do research, preserve the knowledge of the tool industry and save many many tools from complete decay.

      They keep the examples that are ideal for collecting and pass on the “user-grade” tools to us at the tailgates. I’ve bought many of my favorite tools at Mid-West meets. And they are a great group of people and impossibly generous — both with their knowledge and their tools.

      • Kevin Wilkinson says:

        I’ll check them out then ASAP. Thanks for the reply.

      • John Cashman says:

        Joining mid-West is worth it just for the newsletter and catalog reprint they publish every year. It’s a great organization.

  4. fitzpatm says:

    where can I find a 50lb. bag of cat food?

  5. ExCrusader says:

    Do you use the same type of oil to wipe down the plane as you do on the threads, or do you use a different kind of oil for that?

    • lostartpress says:

      I use this oil whatever it is for everything. I have not found that any of these oils interfere with finishing or gluing or anything. I suspect that sunspots might have a more detrimental effect on your finish and glue than oil does.

      Even WD-40 works. Yup, 3-in-1, too. Etc.

      • William Duffield says:

        For long term protection of tools I don’t use all the time (Oops, see rule #1) I use Boeshield T-9. For removing rust, and for things I’ve dripped sweat on, it’s usually WD-40, but that’s not for long-term protection. For everything else including oil stone lubrication, I use SAE 20 Non-Detergent motor oil, from the discount auto parts store. You can even buy it from 3-in-1 in the blue and white can, but at a premium.

  6. Christopher Hawkins says:

    Seeing rust on one of my tools ticks me off so I’m pretty conscientious about their cleaning and care . I’m also one of those people who sweat a lot even though I’m not obese and do a pretty fair amount of physical activity. When I’m working hard in the shop my clothes and shop rags get drenched in sweat. Before I head to the house, I switch to paper towels for final oiling and cleaning. This is wasteful, but rusty tools are worse.

  7. Nice plane in the picture, Chris. You didn’t get another one, did you?
    /Bengt, another of the 100 lucky ones

  8. hikerobRob says:

    Camillia Oil really works well and feels great on your hands. It never gums.

  9. John Cashman says:

    I finally saved enough gift certificates and got my 51 a few weeks ago. Words fail me. And I had forgotten about the shipping container that Chris’ review mentioned. It’s a heck of a storage box. But Chris, pass along to Lie-Nielsen that Deneb should be dovetailing the corners of the box, instead of screws. Let me know his reaction.

  10. Michael Morin says:

    Great advise Chris!

    Since I have 150 planes this should keep me busy…I should sell those I do not use much…sound advise!!

    Merci beaucoup Bon ami!

  11. Graham Burbank says:

    Or learn to compartmentalize your excuses…I know of someone who uses his spare workbenches as living room furniture…….

  12. JerrySats says:

    Now I know why my Grandpops tools lasted so long . I’ll do my diligence’s at doing the same for my tools and his . Thanks I needed this motivation a long with the good tips to get my butt in gear.

    As for the rust erasers is it a good idea to keep a few different grits on hand ?

    • lostartpress says:

      I just have the one. I tried all the grits several years ago. The coarse is good for really caked-on stuff, but it leaves a really scratchy surface. The fine one is just really slow at removing stuff. So I settled on the medium. They are cheap, so you can also do these experiments.

    • J. Leko says:

      I have never bothered with “rust erasers”. Instead, I keep an assortment of sandpaper in various grits handy. Not only does it serve this purpose, but it’s useful for flattening/polishing plane bottoms, sharpening (or teaching people how-to), and general metal work. I feel that it goes along with the “…as few tools as possible…” mantra.

      • lostartpress says:


        Sandpaper is fine for the job, but I don’t buy much of it personally. So I don’t have a supply handy. I prefer the rust erasers over sandpaper because they last almost forever (unlike sandpaper). I have had one handblock for seven years and it is about 20 percent used up. That’s a good $7 investment.

        But each to his own!

  13. tman02 says:

    Chris –

    I agree will all of your guidelines, however I am very hesitant about #4 – breaking down my planes.

    For whatever reason I have a VERY difficult time getting my blades adjusted so they cut even all the way across. I have tried every method I have read about, and while they work, eventually, it takes me a really long time to get the adjustments done.

    Deneb’s method seems to make the most sense to me, and I’ve watched him get it done in just a couple of minutes, but 10 minutes seems to be about my best time.

    I could probably help myself out putting a camber on some of the blades, but that still leaves the one that are sharpened straight across.

    Thanks for the excellent advise.

    • lostartpress says:

      Overcoming that hesitancy is one of the keys to advancing to the next step.

      And a camber sure makes it easier. But that’s just me.

      • tman02 says:

        Well I do take them apart, but know that it will take me quite a while to get the blade set “square” to the sole, which often ends up NOT square to the sole to get it to cut evenly all the way across.

        I guess it is just one of those things that doing it over and over makes one more efficient, but it is just frustrating that it takes so long.

        Perhaps one day…..

  14. pete says:

    For rust protection, CorrisionX on your woobie. One of the few products that really works.

  15. mikeneves says:

    Reading this post makes me feel like a dirty meatball that neglects his tools. I’m inspired to do a better job caring for them.

    Anyone know where a Canadian can find camellia oil without ordering online?

    I’m now left wondering how often you sweep your shop floor. It’s done after each use, isn’t it? I should really do that too.

    • lostartpress says:

      You can get jojoba oil at any health food store. Even well-stocked grocery stores will have it in the “beauty” aisle. It’s used as a natural skin moisturizer.

  16. Andrew Z says:

    I had the same experience with Frank Klausz at the Wood Shows.
    He saw a small wooden spoke shave in my hands during his dovetail demonstration and asked to see it. He grabbed his sharpening stones, tapped the blade out, sharpened and oiled the blade and body then went on to taking shavings from his dovetailed drawer side. When he was finished he gave me the demonstration piece, so i asked if he would sign it so it wouldn’t turn it into fire wood. He replied “I would never put my name on something that ugly.”. Lesson #2 learned.

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