Recycling 4oz bean or tomato tins





Update: please read this post before you make this.





Know what this is?


Yes it’s rag-stuffed 4oz tin can, but obviously the use of the can has changed.






I made my first rag can 45 years ago and still have it. Filling the rags with light machine oil continues for several weeks and after a while you will not need to fill it more than once a year.

I think that baize makes the best stuffing, but it’s not always easy to get hold of so an old T-shirt works equally as well.








Here are the new and old side by side and you can see how it’s used. Sometimes the plane sticks, vibrates or squeals in the work. A quick wipe lubes the sole and gets you out of the stick-grip straight off the bat.







More than that, this coats metal surfaces with just the right amount to prevent rust yet without leaving trace on the wood itself and so its ideal for all tools, especially saws and planes.



  1. Hi Paul,
    I finally made the rag/oil can and it works great. I purchased a 4 oz can at a craft store. It has a lid which is nice. I used felt as the cloth, from the same craft store. I think it was .29 cents X 2 for the felt.
    My lubrication is turbine lubricating oil. So far it works well.

    1. I just made my second. The first one worked fine but I used it on some dirty/rusty tools so the planes I used it on left a smudge on the wood after used it. I’ll keep the old one for rough work but the new one (old flannel sheet in tomato sauce can) will only go on clean metal.

      I find it takes about 1 1/2 cans of 3 oz 3-in-one oil to fill up a can that size but Paul’s right, once it’s loaded it lasts a LONG time without any more oil.

  2. WOW ..You guys are great .. thanks for the how to and all the pictures that helped me understand just how to make one of these .. and To use it … I can’t thank you enough for the quick reply and response.

    1. Nothing but it doesn’t coat the surface neither does it stop rust as well as lubricate.

  3. Does the oil not stain / dry the wood you’re planing? I was always taught to keep mineral oils off wood…

    Thank you.

  4. I’m just planning to build my own rag can 🙂 Woodworking is just my hobby and way to relax, but I talked to one actual woodworker who is using camellia oil to prevent rust – he likes natural products.

    Any other thoughts/experience with camellia oil from anybody?

    1. Personally I found that it didn’t work near as well and it didn’t last long enough so I didn’t really rate it that well. On the other hand 3 in 1 has been with me for fifty years, I have tried other proprietary brands and some work well and others don’t.

      1. I looked into Camellia oil: the stuff I found, when I read the description carefully, was actually mainly kersonine. I expect using neat kersosine would give similar results at much lower cost (about 45p a litre when sold as heating oil). Probably a bit too thin to leave lasting protection.

        BTW 93 year old Swedish carver/author Wille Sunqvist reckons kerosine can be used as honing oil on oilstones (but prefers using it to thin mineral oil for honing).

  5. A lot cheaper than 3-in-1, and a generic name that should work in any country, is dewatering oil, which should have all the properties claimed of 3-in-1 but just check before buying. Price currently in the UK, around £4-£6 per litre.

    1. You really want something that has ‘oiling’ qualities which mineral oil doesn’t really have. Light machine oil works best as it doesn’t gum up like heavy oils used on engines for instance. I haven’t used mineral oil because as I said it seems to lack the viscosity needed and seems not to create the subtle lubrication quality of light machine oil like 3-in-One.

  6. See my post above, apparently thicker mineral oils can be thinned down with kersosine – if you can be bothered! 😉

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