3 in 1 Yes, Boiled or Raw Linseed Oil? NO!!!!!!!!!

Re oil-soaked rags and using linseed oil, whether boiled or raw

A few posts back I told of rolling up a rag and stuffing it in a can to use as an applicator on hand tools. I omitted to emphasize the use 3-1 light machine oil or light machine oil for which i apologise, but because he had a wooden plane he thought Linseed oil would be more appropriate. The problem of course is that vegetable oil-soaked rags burn spontaeously and machine oils don’t.


Check this website and the work they did to make people aware and convinced about oil-soaked rags and spontaneous combustion.

Here is another that talks about light machine and machine oil being quite safe because they don’t spontaneously combust. As I have had my can and other cans wadded up and oil soaked for decades, I can vouch for the safety issue with this.

Here is my reply with the Q&A from the Comments Section of my blog for you and others:

In reply to:
  • Ryan 49 minutes ago

     Mr. Sellers,

    I have something of a novel situation that I would love to hear your thoughts on. As a woodworker, for whatever reason, I have developed something of an addiction to building wooden handplanes. At present, I have two smoothing planes I just finished with full-size Hock irons bedded at 50 and 55 degrees respectively. I am presently soaking a rag to try the oil method you suggest (I used boiled linseed instead of machine as it is a wooden plane) however, I like your solution of inserting vibration dampening material. On a wood plane, the blade needs a very slight ability to slip to change the depth without removing the wedge entirely. What would you suggest to accomplish this? I think the silicone will probably prove to be a grip that is a tad too effective. Felt? Leather? Thanks for your help and I appreciate you posting this article.

    I’m bookmarking your blog right now so I can read over it!


    Hello Ryan,
    3-1 light machine oil is not spontaneously combustable and Boiled and Raw linseed oil is. Wadded rags soaked in linseed oil are the source of fires as they ignite spontaneously according to certain conditions existing such as warmth, atmospheric content and so on. Even cloths laid out with no folds have been known to set on fire. This is the same with Danish oils and many more.
    I think that tapping on the cutting iron on the silicone shelf liner would most likely work and is worth the test.
    Re dampening planes
    I think perhaps felt and leather may be too thick and cushioning for what we want here, unless you have some super thin material for this. The silicone shelf liner compresses markedly and is barely detectable when the lever cam (bench planes) or cap iron (spokeshaves) is installed.



  1. As an ex-firefighter and plenty of construction on the side, I can vouch that you don’t want any rags that have been soaked in linseed oils, or any other thinner, cleaner, or poly type substances to be compacted together, they will spontaneously combust. When I built my log home I was shingling the roof and kept smelling smoke. I finally climbed down to see what it was. I had my rags stored in an enclosed metal can, that was made for that purpose, smouldering. Luckily, I caught it and luckily it was outside the house.
    Don’t trust the cans that are supposed to take away the oxygen from the fire tetrahedron, I’m glad I didn’t, if it had been in the garage, it could have been bad, Now, I always store them as Paul said, laid out flat and by themselves. Usually on the driveway, weighted down with a rock.
    Paul, thanks for putting this message out there.

    1. Odd timing for me to find this thread again. The house across the alley from me nearly burned down yesterday. The landlord had been doing a lot of work there for weeks. All new carpeting, full inside paint job, some repairs and cleaning the bejesus out of the place. But Saturday he left a pile of rags from the painting and by Sunday morning the house was full of smoke with a nice little fire burning away in the kitchen where the cleaning/painting supplies were. A neighbor smelled it before any real structural damage occurred but all that work he’s done has to be either redone or extensively cleaned.

  2. Maybe I need to change what I do. I keep camelina oil in a sponge (not a rag) and use it just as Paul uses his tomato can with 3 in 1 oil. Since it is a vegetable oil, it sounds like it is a risk. I’m careful with rags but did not know this was a risk from all vegetable oils.

      1. I tried camellia oil for a while but felt that it evaporated to quickly. Perhaps it was a weak blend of some kind. 3 in1 has worked for me for 50 years so I will likely stay with that now. I liked the look of the bamboo pot though.

  3. I keep an old galvanized metal bucket in my shop area when working with linseed oil or any other vegetable based oil, thinner, etc. The bucket is half full of water with some Simple Green (might as well start cleaning them) solution in it. As soon as I’m done applying the linseed oil the rag goes in the bucket. Same thing for the wipe off rag. They stay in there until I take them to the clothes washer to clean them.

  4. I don’t think it’s as easy as that for everyone, but perhaps burning is an option if convenient and safe.

  5. What about commercial Tack Cloth, which is a Cheesecloth soaked in oils? I thought it was Linseed. I believe I have one in a sandwich back in my studio right now!

    1. I’m not sure if we want thick oil but adding thin oil will thin the thicker oil anyhow.

  6. The flammability hazard from boiled linseed oil is caused by the fact that the polymerization reaction during drying is moderately exothermic. There are therefore two things that have to happen to achieve ignition:

    1. It has to actually be drying.

    2. It has to be a pretty concentrated mass to achieve high enough power density for ignition, as is the case with a wadded up rag

    Leaving a rag to soak in linseed oil as the original questioner described is therefore safe, because there was no drying – No need for YELLING as in your blog post. With that said there’s no rational reason to soak a rag like that, and if you forget about it for a very long time and it starts to dry then you will have a big problem.

    Also there’s no need to spread rags out “on pavement”, just don’t leave them wadded up. If you touch an un-wadded rag during drying you’ll find that it’s quite cool, which again reflects the fact that the power density is actually quite low.

    There’s a very real hazard here, but hysteria and exaggeration doesn’t help anybody.

    1. A lady in Colorado left a rag previously soaked in Linseed oil spread out on the deck of a newly built log cabin as directed. The house burned down. I think t was worth the shout here.

      1. If you’re referring to the well-known one in 2002 that took out a 7000 sq ft “log mcmansion”, it was multiple rags, wadded. The report cited “improper disposal”, and she absolutely did not dispose them “as directed”.

        1. Great, thanks for the update. I cannot say that this was the case but the one mentioned was one I read of in a magazine so I assume that the report was accurate.No need for further take up on this because the rag of any kind wadded or loose still poses the same great risk for woodworkers most of whom have never heard of oily rags spontaneously combusting. Combine the risk with the location in the shop and the hazard cannot be overstated in my view.

    2. I looked back over this comment and and feel that YES there is a danger that the rag WILL spontaneously combust at some point and therefore you should NOT use any type of linseed oil to soak the rag-in-the-can oiler because if the higher risk factor.

      1. We finished a new stone floor last night with linseed oil rubbed off with an old t shirt. We left the shirt in a bucket intending to use it the next day. We woke to a smoke filled house an a t shirt smouldering and blacked.

        We really had no idea but now realise what a lucky escape.

        1. Thanks for this, Lisa, and I am so glad you are safe. Could I ask you what it did say on the can by way of a warning, even an image if possible? I would like to see the SIZE/POSITION of the warning in relation to the can if possible.

  7. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your time and the quality of the courses you freely offer to us.

    It might however be an interesting idea to provide your readers, or videos watchers, with kind of oil you use.

    Unless I’m mistaken – please correct me whether needed – the “3-in-1” oil is a commercial name for Vaseline Oil.

    Vaseline Oil is a very product common and you can get 1L for the same price as 100ml of “3-in-1”

  8. Are Camellia or Jojoba Oil prone to Spontaneous Combustion?

    I’m about to make your oil can rags. I have both oils and just wanted to ask first before doing them.


    1. A lot of the “Camellia oil” sold in the west is mainly kerosine, with just a small amount of Camellia oil. It would be a lot cheaper to just use kerosine but I guess the Samurai didn’t have kerosine available to them. 😉

  9. My 2 cents worth: I don’t think linseed / flax seed oil (same thing) / walnut oil / tung oil, are suited to lubricating & protecting tools, other than very short term, as the are “drying oils” [ref. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drying_oil ]. We use them to protect wood because they conveniently go on as oil and soak in and then, over time, they dry leaving a light protective coat. They decompose as they dry (go rancid/polymerize), and give out heat while doing. If left on tools for months, they go sticky then solid.

    Personally, I would stay away from all non-mineral oils (e.g. olive oil, rapeseed oil, fish oil, cod liver oil, neatsfoot oil – although it seems pretty stable) for lubricating & protecting wood/metal working tools, as I expect most/all to decompose. They work ok on food knives, provided the are refresh regularly (but don’t leave them for months, they’ll go sticky then solid).

    Better to use mineral oils (3-in-1,light machine oil, parrafin/kerosine,WD40, etc.) on carbon steel tools, I think. The Americans even offer a food grade mineral oil!

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.