To reduce friction on saws and planes I use a tomato or bean can stuffed with a rag and impregnated with 3-1 oil to lubricate the contact areas of my tools. I have used this for 50 years with no problems but woodworkers raise this question from time to time. Here is an original blog post:


Mr.  Sellers :  

I stumbled upon your you tube channel a few weeks ago, have watched most of your videos and am very much inspired by them. 

I’ve been curious as to what oil is in the can that you use to lubricate your planes and saws.  In one of your son’s sharpening videos which I watched earlier this week, he mentioned that it is 3-in-1 oil.  I’ve no doubt seeing the care with which you undertake matters that you have determined that this oil does not contaminate your finishes. Do you have to do anything to assure that this is the case? 



The oil on the rag in the way shown in the blog post will not affect finishes in general, but this another good question. In general, not all finishes are affected by oil unless the oil is excessive or some has penetrated the surface and prevents the finish from adhering to the wood. Many oil finishes will be unaffected except that machine oil or the like will perhaps have changed the colour in a localised area and thereby show as a blotch when the final appearance is done. I think most people are more concerned that they have read of problems occurring by silicone which causes ‘fisheye’ in the finish. Silicone is in most furniture polishes and such and so when refinishing, if silicone is on the surface before applying finish, even a small amount, the surface tension of the finish is broken in that area and causes the ‘eye’ or ‘eyes’ to appear in the surface. Not pretty and very undesirable. In 50 years of using the 3-1 oil I have never know any problem with finishes. That said, I also know that the impartation of oil to the plane is so minimal you can scarcely get it to colour your fingertips. Only when the oil is put into the rag is the amount more than needed. When the pad-can stands on the bench for a short while the oil is dissipated into the rag more evenly. Once you use this tool you will never want to be without it.


  1. Richard Olson on 20 December 2013 at 5:15 am

    I would worry about spontaneous combustion. I had a very bad experience with boiled linseed oil once.

    I wiped the excess off with some paper towels then threw them in the garbage can. About 30 minutes later I saw smoke, no flame, but smoke rising from the can. That was 40 years ago, I’m not much smarter today but at least now I soak the towels/rags in water then seal them in a Ziploc bag.

    • Bill Schenher on 20 December 2013 at 5:30 am

      BLO and 3in1 oil are not really the same. 3in1 oil will not combust like BLO because it doesn’t cure, or to state it another way, BLO reacts to the air because it oxidizes, where as 3in1 oil does not. SO, as long as you don’t use it around open flames you should be just fine.

      • Richard Olson on 20 December 2013 at 5:54 am

        Great, although I was going to make some joke about the fact that I plane so fast the mere friction may well ignite the three in one oil. I guess I’ll save it for another time.

  2. Paul Sellers on 20 December 2013 at 9:58 am

    As with everything, you must make certain there is no risk of Spontaneous combustion safety issues. I don’t know if there is a risk here. I like to use the 3-1 or light machine oil.

  3. Jon Emmons on 20 December 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I avoid all of the above and use a bar of paraffin wax. Scribble on the plane like it’s a crayon and go nuts. I haven’t tried it on saws yet, but I imagine it would work about the same.

    I buy the paraffin bars in the canning section of the grocery store, but an unscented white candle should do the same. I may try the 3-in-1 just to see if it lasts longer, but I can use paraffin right out of the box and a bar seems to last forever.

  4. Steve Massie on 20 December 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I have all ways had a can of 3 – in – 1 oil on my bench, have used it all my life. Having said that though I used camille oil in the “can” until a year or so when I ran out. I now use 3 – in – 1 since seeing Paul’s video’s and blog and it does a fantastic job and a lot less expensive and have not had any finishing problems. Plus it smells good, another great tip provided by Paul.


    • Paul Sellers on 20 December 2013 at 5:23 pm

      I know that this works too, the missing ingredient is the smear coat to counter rust when the tool’s not in use that’s all. If you are in a damper environment and you can’t afford a spray can of Boshield T-9 the 3-1 helps.

      • Steve Massie on 20 December 2013 at 5:44 pm

        One thing I should have noted as well, living in Central Florida all of my tools get a good waxing with Johnson’s paste wax. And of course my tools are brushed clean form dust and shavings and then wiped clean after every use with my oily rag which is separate from the can. No rust so far.


  5. Raj on 21 December 2013 at 4:57 pm

    One option is a tallow. Lee Valley up here in Canada has one that’s good. I use it mostly on hand saws and a couple of planes but it works very well.,43415,43440

  6. Derek Eder on 26 December 2013 at 10:02 pm

    I’m starting to use mineral oil (aka paraffin oil) because it is handy and also as a major ingredient in skin creams likely to be non toxic.

  7. Brian J. Stafford on 26 January 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Mr. Sellers,

    I am happy to have found this post as I have ben curious about that oil rag/can of yours. I have an excess amount of jojoba oil and almond oil from when I worked at a health food store. Do you see any issues with me using one of these oils instead of the 3-in-1?

    • Paul Sellers on 26 January 2014 at 9:26 pm

      I do not know whether these two oils are self combusting as some natural oils are. I would do some research first.

  8. Jake Gevorgian on 12 June 2016 at 12:50 pm

    The oil rag in a can has become my mate on the bench. I even use it on chisels when cutting mortises.

    By the way, I think that 3-in-1 has a pleasant smell.

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