Threatening Note? Or Greasy Gift?


This week John stopped by to pick up a pile of books left over from the Handworks show and tossed me a bag packed with computer cords and a silver bullet.

“Uh dude,” I said. “You left some ammo in my bag.”

“Nope,” John said. “Someone gave me that to give to you.”

“Oh great,” I replied. “Another death threat.” (Note: This is an exaggeration. I haven’t gotten a good solid death threat in 20 years. However, people do regularly threaten to beat me up.)

I examined the curious ribbed capsule and turned it over. Yup – the base looked like a shotgun shell. OK, time to open it up and read the threatening note inside that is no doubt written in all capital letters.

I twisted the top. It came off and I laughed. Inside is a nozzle. It’s an oilcan.


It turns out to be a Perfect Pocket Oiler, patented in 1889, that was manufactured by Cushman & Denison of New York. The little gizmos were sold to dispense tiny drops of oil on household machinery, such as bicycles and sewing machines.

Unlike typical oilcans, the Perfect Pocket Oiler has some nice details.

  1. The oil reservoir is all one piece so it cannot leak. Most oilcans are made from a base piece that is folded together with the sides. And they leak.
  2. Instead of the oiler being just a reservoir and a nozzle, this has a clever spring-activated pump and seal. Nothing comes out of the tip until you press the ring around the nozzle down. Then capillary action dispenses a drop of oil.
  3. A lid. So you can put it in your pocket without getting your privates oily (I realize some of you will actually see this as a disadvantage).

I don’t know who pressed this oiler into John’s hand at Handworks, but thank you. It’s getting some good use already because I loaned my two favorite oilers to Thomas Lie-Nielsen.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to Threatening Note? Or Greasy Gift?

  1. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    That’s cool. Time for some really daring maker to try and reproduce this. That’s going to be a tough one.


  2. toolnut says:

    Remember to leave that at home when traveling by plane.

  3. These pocket oilers now triple in price! I went on eBay to see how many were for sale, and I saved them in my watch section. After a couple hours 6 have sold and two are up to almost 30 dollars . This makes me laugh all the time. Next blog post will be on envelopes of glitter.

  4. Eric R says:

    Mighty handy item.

  5. Aaron says:

    I have a modern equivalent from McMaster-Carr.
    It looks like a fat metal pen, and comes in very handy. It would be great for travelling tool chests. Doesn’t have the provenance of something from 1889, but I’ll hang onto it for the next 40 years (I hope) and see what the kids think then.

    • Sweet. Thanks for the link!

      Has it ever leaked?

      • Aaron says:

        Leaks? Yes and no. I’ve got it hanging vertically in my tool chest so an occasional drop will escape the nozzle, but this is pretty minimal. The web image doesn’t show the screw on cap, which has an O-Ring seal. So it may leak a little into the cap, but oil doesn’t escape to the exterior. The reservoir also has an O-ring at the top and the plunger has always been dry for me. This image should help clear up any confusion.

        In practice, leaks are not an issue. I’ve been using this since last August and the only mess I’ve made is taking the picture today. Plus, less than $11 is nice.

      • davelouw says:

        Here’s the same item on Amazon Prime:

        Titan 15200 Precision Oiler

  6. Mark Lauer says:

    …and here is the same item from Lee Valley. They are great.,43456

  7. Omg these are now selling for $40 plus dollars. Last week they were selling for$9. Haha.

  8. c15571 says:

    I just bought one of these in an antique store outside of Charlottesville, VA while on vacation. The top is a bit corroded but looks like it will work. I won’t know until I get home and put oil in it. Oh, it was only $12.00!

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