Home » Paul Sellers’ Blog » Rag-in-a-can Oiler

Rag-in-a-can Oiler

From Journal Tuesday 14th February 2017

I’ve used my rag-in-a-can oiler for over 52 years to date. It’s for adding a super-fine film of oil to my planes and saws and so far as I know it knows no equal. The trouble is it’s prompted questions that come up all too often so hopefully the video we just made will help.

measuring the rag

 

 

#1 What kind of oil do you use?

#2 Doesn’t it affect the finish you apply?

#3 Does it affect the glue?

#4 Can you use boiled linseed oil?

fitting the rag in the can

 

So we made the video to show how I make them and address the questions. I hope it helps.

One thing that people really don’t understand is that plane judder, skipping and jumping (commonly and erroneously referred to by all modern-day plane makers in the industry as plane “chatter”) on the wood is eliminated by using the oiler. Though none of these conditions is the extremely rare phenomenon of actual ‘chatter’, which is an iterant reverberation caused by minute degrees of repeated flex in the blade of a plane that results in a super-fine wash-board effect.

Once you’ve made yours and used it you’ll understand why I’ve never changed it. Allow the 3-IN-ONE oil to soak into the cloth overnight before using it. Top up periodically, about once a month, and definitely avoid any oils that spontaneously ignite, BLO for instance is a good example, because you may find your shop, garage or house burning down. 3-IN-ONE is safe and works perfectly and with regards to affecting finishes and glue, it has never done so for me in my 50-plus years of using it.

33 comments

  1. David Duncan says:

    When I first started following Paul’s example i this, I simply could not believe what a huge difference it made. After learning to sharpen, this is the next step to planing pleasure – work without the toil.

  2. Brett says:

    I love this simple tool and have used it for years to protect my planes and other tools. The oil that I use is simple Mineral Oil. I use Howard Cutting Board Oil specifically. It’s used in all sorts of applications and works a treat.

  3. Alan Prescott says:

    A freshly sharpened plane and a skim of oil from the rag-in-a-can oiler – woodworking bliss!
    Such a simple idea and just so useful. If you haven’t already got one, make one now. Stick to the KISS principle and don’t get complicated, any small can will do – I made mine out of an old plastic vitamin pill tub because it was handy – and don’t worry about fancy oils – any light oil such as 3-in-1 is fine.
    I also use it to coat my plane blades etc. with oil when I sharpen as my workshop is in an unheated garage and I want to make sure they are rust-proofed over winter.

  4. Dave Parks says:

    Ordered the brushes from Tools for Working Wood. Just beautiful. Wonderful bristles. Thank you for the referal. Look forward to using them. Once again, Paul you offer the best advice.

  5. Allan says:

    I don’t know how many times the rag-in-a-can has saved me from myself. I hit a hard/tough part with the plane/saw and instead of being a brute and trying to force my way through I reach for the can. This simple little pause is enough time to settle myself and do things the right way.

    Many many thanks for that little bit of inner peace!

  6. Richard Villamil says:

    I am interested in making this useful tool however how does it compare to using paste wax that I have dutifully put on all my metal tools. They slide nicely when using them. Would this 3:1 oil have any benefits ? Convenience sure looks like a major plus. By the way, I attended your workshop in Saratoga, NY many years ago and you kick started me into woodworking and using manual tools – thank you!

  7. Roger says:

    At my bench, here in AUS, I have used the same small roll of carpet felt called “Feltex” in a bean can for 35+ years. It really needs a lid! But it’s still in good shape.

    What are the 3 ingredients in 3in1 oil? Is it one and the same as lite oil sold as sewing machine oil?
    Can unused motor oil be thinned down to do the job? If so with what?

    • Hal S says:

      The “3 in 1” is a trademark and refers to the oil’s ability to clean, lubricate, and protect. The base product is mineral oil mixed with citronella oil. It’s probably the same as any light-duty household oil you have at your local stores and very likely the same as the sewing machine oil you mention.

  8. Joris Kempen says:

    Anyone know what oil this is in the Netherlands?

    Tried some silicone spray on my plane as I don’t have 3-1 oil and seemed not very effective.

    So very curious if this is a U.K./US specific product?

  9. Wooden Thumbs says:

    I’ve been laid up for over a month. This was the first project I was able to do. I had help, but I’ve got it on my makeshift living room workbench. It was a life saver. I thought I’d never be able to do anything again.

    • Roger says:

      Wooden thumbs, your story sent tingles down my spine in AUS. Best wishes to a satisfying recovery.
      I change hands with my tools for a few minutes just before lunch or a cupA so as to develop new muscle memory.
      I haven’t suffered from a stroke. Should I succumb to one that adversely affects one side I may still be able to be an effective woodworker with the other and over time, complete the incomplete projects! – Roger

  10. Mani says:

    Any problem using a plant oil, like jojobo? Asking because I prefer this to machine oils for my hand tools. Less toxins to clean off my hands before playing with my baby daughter.

    • You really don’t have contact with the oil once used in the can and no, veggie oils don’t last long at all and some are prone to spontaneously combust. Oh, and all my kids have grown to adulthood with no health issues at all.

  11. Mark says:

    A repeat comment I am afraid, I find the oiler super useful. I find three in one quite smelly and so I use motor oil, either ten forty or five forty, it doesn’t really matter.
    As previousy commented I would avoid silicon which is an enemy of glue, varnish and paint.
    I only need to use the oil on the steel planes, the wood ones glide well without any help.
    If only I could find wood planes with the fully adjustable blade setting gear….

  12. Ben says:

    How much oil do you put on the rag? In ml for example. I understand soak the rag but how much oil does that usually take? And how often do you add more oil?

  13. brian crout says:

    When I started my trade back in 1957 most of the joiners had a small finger dip filled with linseed oil on the bench . These consisted of a metal bottle top let in flush into a block of wood ( just to keep from spilling ).
    You just dip your finger in the oil and onto whatever needed it .

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