Found a Problem – More on BLO – Based Fires

Found a Problem – Be the Solution

That’s what my Dad said with his life. He took flaws and made them seamless.

In case you missed this response to the last blog on BLO and spontaneous combustion, I thought I would open with it here:

Safety First. I work for the US Park Service and we just had a bulletin come out describing the dangers of Linseed Oil. As a woodworker I already knew the dangers of oil finishes, but the incident happened with a tree crew. After a long week of cutting trees they use a rag to wipe their tools down with Linseed Oil. They did everything right and even laid the rag out flat, outside, and on a flat surface. Just like they always did. Problem was, the table, with a plywood top, had accumulated enough oil over time that the rag still caught fire and nearly burned down there facility. It just proves that even when you do everything right, you still might have an accident.
I always ball my oil rags up and through them away, its just that I through them into a burn barrel so if they burst into flames it doesn’t matter. Still haven’t had one catch fire yet, even balled up. But, when it does it can burn away safely in the barrel.


Very quickly, this is a product I have used for almost 50 years. Today’s on the right, old on the left. Don’t ask me if the oil  affects applied finishes after use because my answer is always the same. After using this piece of equipment all of my working life I have never had it affect any finish I ever applied. Silicone on the other hand will cause fisheye because as a contaminant it causes small craters in surface finishes.

Step 1: Eat a small can of beans, tomatoes or similar.


Step 2: Roll up a woven, folded rag so that the rag stands about 1/2″ – 3/4″ above the height of the can and so that it fits tightly inside the can. Make sure the surface stands evenly as possible.

DSC_0861Step 3: Stuff the roll into the can and poke to the bottom so that it stands evenly.

DSC_0862Step 4: Use the vise to compress the rolled rag into the can. It will mushroom on the rim if you have enough fabric rolled up.

DSC_0863Step 5: The rag will spring back out to a lesser extent than before and this is perfect. Now soak the rag with light motor oil.

DSC_0867Add more oil each month or as needed. It’s best to allow the oil to seep in before use. Use it on plane soles and sides. It stops chatter  much, much more than thick irons do for a fraction of the cost. Don’t believe me? Do one thing. Try it! Also use it on saws and chisels not in use and in use. It will stop rust.


  1. bob easton on 11 August 2013 at 3:01 am

    Mine uses an small tomato sauce can … and it works.

    Thanks Paul for reminding us yet again about the hazards of some natural oils, especially linseed.

    More on oily rag fires … I noted an unfortunate experience from 2010 in two postings, the original incident, and a follow-up on the trial that resulted.

    Be very careful folks, and other than for finishing switch to Paul’s suggested method of oiling tools. It works well.

  2. Eeyore on 12 August 2013 at 11:41 am

    In Japan, they call it an “aburatsubo”.

  3. wondrin' on 13 August 2013 at 8:45 am

    If the linseed oil was used for axe and other wooden handles then I don’t think that tool, handy as it is, would be the right one for their oiling needs. Linseed oil makes for a very nice handle finish, I use it frequently. On the other hand, I hate my ball pein that has become soaked with machine oil.

    • Paul Sellers on 13 August 2013 at 9:54 am

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting not using BLO for handles. That’s fine. It’s the wadding up in cans and such that is the common danger. Just use a rag and wipe on the oil and then dispose of the rag safely. Danish oil is just as dangerous as are many, many other oils. Read on the can. It should say if they spontaneously combust. I am not sure

    • Bill Schenher on 22 August 2013 at 2:16 am

      The BLO is used for cleaning the metal parts of saws and axes. Keeps the rust away.Not for the wooden bits of tools in the case above. I was the one that wrote the comment quoted above.

  4. Jeff Polaski on 20 July 2015 at 1:13 pm

    I asked the question before finding this comment section, and Mr. Sellers said that machine oil safe, like 3-in-1 oil. I have two or three small honing oil cans sitting on a shelf.

    Question: Is this also of the machine oil type, and safe from spontaneous combustion?

    To be sure, I will never use oil for sharpening, and waste not, want not.

  5. zach hauger on 30 March 2017 at 5:10 pm

    I know this is an old forum but there seems to be some confusion. BLO is used on wood and is combustable. 3in1 is used on metal and is not combustable.