Wednesday, January 28, 2009

19th c. Grease Box

Dennis Kunkle, Director of Facilities at the York County Heritage Trust , was last night's speaker at our woodworking club meeting. Dennis made a replica of the 19th c. grease box on display at the Historical Society of York County and brought step-by-step examples of the building process. Grease boxes, he surmises, may have been used by mechanics to lubricate machinery. His contains beeswax instead of grease, which he uses to lubricate screws. Needless to say, my love of boxes was roused and I plan to build my own someday.

1. Layout the rough shape on a block of wood. Dennis suggested using a nice piece of figured walnut.
2. Rough cut the shape with your tool of choice.
3. Saw the lid off.
4. Clean it up with a shoulder plane so it's seated perfectly when closed. Remove saw marks made within the kerf by laying a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface and scrubbing the workpiece clean.
5. Lay the lid in place and realign the grain. Because of the kerf, the lid will sit lower that the top surface of the box, so you may need to reposition the lid slightly in order for the grain to match.
6. Drill, countersink, and screw the lid to the box.
7. Plane the top of the box flush with the lid.

8. Inlay a decorative diamond or other shape on the lid. Dennis cut the inlay piece first (curly maple) and cleaned up the edges on sandpaper that was laid on a flat surface. Rub the piece's edges on the sandpaper at a very slight angle to create a bevel. Trace the outline of the inlay piece onto the lid and use a chisel to remove the waste. Glue the inlay piece in the recess. Plane flush.
9. Use a large forstner bit to drill the cavity for the inside of the box. (You may also choose to chisel this out instead so you can match the outside shape of the box.)
10. Trace the box outline onto the workpiece.
11. Cut the shape with your tool of choice. Dennis used a bandsaw.
12. Clean up the rough edges with your method of choice.

Dennis sprayed Deft as a finish and did not finish the inside. He melted beeswax and poured it into the cavity. He also brought to the presentation a set of matryoshka grease boxes, the smallest of which was approximately 3/4" long, complete with inlaid diamond.

It's a neat little project—one that can be made in a few hours and still has a useful place in the shop. I was not able to find any historical information about grease boxes, so if you have any info, please feel free to share.

Final dimensions of the grease box are approx. 4.25" long x 2.25" high.


DKinYORKpa said...

A few minor corrections are in order. The diamond is, of course, curly maple. The original may be seen at the Historical Society of York County, 250 E. Market St. in beautiful downtown York. You'll have to find me if you need to see it up-close, though. I enjoyed my visit to SAW and was amused at the dismay from many of the members that I had 3 1/2 hours tied up in the completion of a grease box! I guess I'm slow! ha-ha

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Dennis--corrections have been made. :o)

DKinYORKpa said...

Our museum's curator gave me a friendly reminder that artifacts in the collection cannot be handled by visitors in a moments notice. In some cases, of course, they may not be handled at all! For this grease box, there's really no reason to see it up close, because it looks exactly like the one pictured here. Uh-oh, now I'm in trouble for an unauthorized reproduction of an accessioned artifact. I'm always in the dog house around here. ha-ha

Woodbloke said...

Kari - good project and an excellent way of using up those little bits you don't want to shove through the bandsaw! Something similar could be made to hold a linseed oil wick. When wooden planes were used a lot more, a linseed oil pot was at always at the far end of the bench, so that when the 'push'stroke had finished, the sole of the plane ran over the wick (soaked in the oil) which then lubricated it for the next stroke - Rob

Hand Made Matters said...


Salaman describes a ‘Grease Pot’ and some design variations used by differing trades in his ‘Dictionary of Woodworking Tools’ page 215 in my 1990 edition.

Something similar to the one you show is illustrated as a wheelwrights pot.

I regularly use a linseed oiled wick rolled inside a block as a plane aid. Screws going into Oak sometimes get a wipe on the edge of a candle.


Kari Hultman said...

Thanks for the info. I just googled Wheelwright's Pot and found this excerpt from "The Wheelwright's Shop" by George Cook:

"But, come to think of it, every bench had this. A big auger-hole in a shaped-out block of tough beech served the purpose admirably. You could thrust your finger into the grease-pot close at hand and easily take out grease for anointing both sides of your saw or the face of your plane."

Anonymous said...

I have a similar one but it is screwed to the underside of the end of my workbench. The bench top acts as a cover when the grease cup is under the top. Pivot it out and it is ready for screws and Nails.

I mix 25% tallow (lard) and 75% beeswax, works great.


Vic Hubbard said...

This is perfect for a big chunk of wax my ex-beekeeper neighbor gave me. What a cool little box.

Woodfired! said...

Very nice. And some handy tips too. Soon as I saw the swivel top design I remembered a box that Matty made for his mum many years ago. It was shaped as a human heart and swivelled open to reveal a place for his mum's heart pills. It was, of course, made from purpleheart. As I can't post pics here I've done a little post over at my blog with some pictures. You're welcome to have a look.