Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Roy's Grease Pot

Ever since I saw Roy Underhill's grease pot at the WIA conference in October, I've wanted to make one. Roy puts tallow in his box, but you can also use beeswax to lubricate your saws and handplanes.

Roy shows you how to build this box on his show, and I basically followed his suggestions step-by-step. But for a drill press, I used only hand tools.

It's a neat little project and one that can be made in an afternoon when you're trying to get out of doing housework or cooking dinner.


Larry Marshall said...

Since watching Roy build this box I've wanted to build one. It's got a cute factor that's off the charts. I'm really not sure what I'll do with it but now that I've seen yours I'm even more motivated to build one. Thanks, Kari.

Cheers --- Larry

Extremely Average said...

I saw this video somewhere too. I really want to build one too. It looks really fun and I think I may be able to pull it off with my skill set. Maybe.

Great post, as always.

EMBO said...

I remember playing with the one Roy passed around at WIA. Yours turned out so nicely! I'm also a fan of the super-macro function. :)

Vic Hubbard said...

Now I understand practice of cutting someone's pinky off. If you'd send me yours, I'd have more talent than most people I know.

Craig Ambrose said...

I just watched Roy's show on this box recently, and while I pretty much want to make one regardless, I'm keen to know more about the actual practice of lubricating tools.

What are the pros and cons of using tallow vs beeswax? What was the woodworker's routine with this? Did they lubricate each day? each use? each month? Does the tallow start to go rancid? Isn't beeswax a little hard to get some out of a box like this? Was it thinned with something perhaps?

Being a masterless apprentice (like many of us), I have to figure out for myself the basic everyday practices of the hand tool woodworker. Some of these things are just too obvious to write down, and so of course I'm left somewhat without guidance.

Anonymous said...

DO NOT quote me on this, but I *think* I heard that tallow does not interfere with the finish the way beeswax might.

Grover said...

That is a beautiful box. You executed that flawlessly from what I can see.

Dyami said...

Nice box, Kari. As I've not seen the video, could you tell my how the grease works with the box? Do you just fill it?

Erik said...

I worked in the living history/ traditional trades business for awhile. I was carpenter/joiner, a blacksmith, and a ship’s rigger at various points in my life. I used both beeswax and tallow for lubrication. So I have some opinions that come from experience.

First, I wouldn’t count on tallow not to mar or interfere with either modern or primitive wood finishes. Tallow is beef or mutton (sheep) fat that has been rendered (melted and strained/skimmed) to refine it. The closest thing I can equate it to, that most folks have some familiarity with, would be the suet bird food for woodpeckers (suet is unprocessed beef fat) or bacon fat that has cooled (lard.) I can’t imagine ANY fat/oil that wouldn’t have adverse and unpredictable effects on a wood finish. Tallow is a great lubricant. It works well for metal-on-metal, metal-on-wood and wood-on-wood contact. It also is the traditional lubricant/protectant for steel wire rope on sailing ships. And it makes your hands really soft (seriously.) A drawback is that it gets soft and will run when the weather gets warm. Oh, and it CAN go rancid (and even fairly fresh tallow is an acquired taste, errrr smell, as it were.)

Beeswax, ahhhh, beeswax. I love the stuff. I love the smell, which will be released every time you use whatever you are lubricating with it. I love the feel, even the taste (it won’t hurt ya.) It is the best hacksaw (for metal) cutting lube I’ve used. When working on ships I used it to lubricate sail twine for sewing and whipping rope ends. Beeswax (in and of itself) is waterproof and can form a water resistant film on wood (and cloth.) Beeswax can be sticky, which is counter-intuitive for something used as a lubricant. If you need a lube that is slippery from the start, at all temperatures, I’d stay away from beeswax. It does really well when the surface you are lubricating is warm or will get warm through friction fairly quickly.

One of the best traditional lubes I’ve used is to blend these two together. I can’t remember the exact ratio (I’m sure some Google whiz could find some,) but we used to keep a tub of tallow/beeswax blend that was used as a lube, metal protectant, hand cleaner (I still don’t know why that worked,) foot cream (really softened the calluses,) and make-shift coffee creamer. OK, so maybe not the last, but it was awesome stuff. Throw in a little pine tar to cut the tallow smell and add some color and you really had something special. Oh, pine tar… don’t get me started on THAT heavenly stuff.

Thanks for allowing the short high-jack and the stroll down natural lube/protectant lane. Maybe next time we can visit lanolin (still used commercially) our friend pine tar, and the absolute BEST natural lubricant (although I would never advocate the harvesting) spermaceti (after which Sperm Whales get their name.)
Thanks again for the great blog Kari.

Darnell said...

Erik, excellent response. I hear your love of beeswax. In my experience if it needs lubricant, it will heat up enough to get slippery.

Craig, masterless apprentice! Great line! Beeswax as a lube is easiest applied by rubbing a chunk on your blade, were it mine I'd use that box to hold a piece rather than filling it with molten wax. It can be "thinned" with a solvent such as turpentine, but I prefer to smell a July clover field rather than a used paint brush.

Speaking of which, Kari, what are you going to use? I'm an ex-beekeeper who still has plenty of wax around, and I'm pretty sure I saw some with your name on it...

John Cashman said...

This is now my favorite post. Great post, and great responses. I'm picturing a bunch of slippery ronin with bees buzzing around them.

Where does one find mutton tallow these days?

Kari Hultman said...

Larry, are you going to build a full-size and a miniature one? That would be cool!

Brian, you can definitely build this box. :o)

Emily, I couldn't figure out how Roy's opened at the conference. Now it seems so simple!

Vic, I'll trade you some woodworking knowledge for environmental and green-building knowledge. ; )

Craig, thanks for the great questions! I didn't know the answers so I consulted a friend last night, but haven't heard back from him yet. I see that a nice samaritan chimed in a little further down the thread, though.

Anon, I just use parafin wax at this point, but have always been reluctant to wax planes on final passes for fear that it would affect the finish. I don't really know if it does or not.

Grover, thanks!

Dyami, Roy just stuffed the box full with tallow and would use his finger to dip some out to put on his tools. This box could be a little larger, actually. It would make it easier to dig some wax out.

Erik, excellent answers to the wax questions. Thank you for offering your expertise.

Darnell, I like your idea of putting a chunk of beeswax in the box rather than thinning it and filling the cavity. This box could actually be a little larger if you plan to fill it, so you can get a finger or two in it more easily. Sure, I'd love to have a piece of your beeswax. Shoot me an email and we'll work out the details. :o)

John, I did a quick google search for mutton tallow and found a bunch of suppliers. The first one is Dixie Gun Works, Inc., who sells a jar for $3.50. I bet you could also find it and other types of lubricant from living history suppliers.

Anonymous said...

That looks like a fun little project! And I love the photos.

Thanks, Kari.

Federico Mena Quintero said...

Lovely instructions and photos. The Village Carpenter never fails to impress!

Maybe it is obvious once you have the physical box in your hands, but what is the purpose of the topmost lid? Does the undercut somehow make it wedge the second lid for extra tightness?

Anonymous said...

You don't need to buy tallow, you can make it. Follow Pete Culler's guidance, excerpted below from his superlative 1974 book "Skiffs and Schooners". This is the recipe I use and it works quite well.

"The fat trimmings from (meat), saved and tried out, will make your own tallow. Heat the fat scraps slowly in an iron skillet; don't get it smoking too much, if any. Pour off the grease into a container. It will be somewhat dark. Later on, simmer this grease in a big pot with plenty of water for quite awhile; the dark stuff will settle out. Don't boil, simmer. Like all good things, it takes time. Then let it get cold and the solid tallow can be lifted out. There are, I suppose, three kinds of tallow that are common. Mutton, which is said to have the best properties of all for some uses, beef, which may be most common, and pig.
A can of tallow kicking around the shop does not spill like oil, and is just the thing to dip an auger in..."

Interestingly, he doesn't address using tallow as a lubricant on planes. I usually use beeswax. I can see where the use of any lubricant might interfere with a finish later on. I've never had any problems, but I like to use teak oil mixed with a dab of pine tar as a finish, too.

Culler says if rendered properly, tallow won't smell (he mentions having a handful over 40 years old). I've made tallow several times, usually from beef, and keep it in the fridge (which isn't really necessary here in the Pacific Northwest) and even after three years, it doesn't smell bad.

I'll keep tallow in the little grease pot I make following Kari's directions.

Hope this helps.

David said...

Here is a link to the show:

I got to use the grease pot, when I took a class at the wood wright school. After watching the show, I will probably most definitely make two. One for me, and another slightly larger one, that can serve a travel sewing box for the wife.

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Klaus!

Frederico, I think the top lid is just for fun--to make it a puzzle box. However, if your second lid is loose, I suppose it could slide back and open up if the top lid weren't there to hold it in place. Roy didn't say why the top lid is beveled, and I don't know if it serves a purpose or not. I guess it must or he wouldn't have specified that it should be beveled. Maybe someone with more knowledge on the subject will offer advice.

Anon, thanks for the helpful tips. Sounds like bacon grease might work pretty well, since Culler mentions pig. That's a great excuse to make some BLTs! I've never heard of using pine tar as a finish or any other use, and yet two of you have mentioned it. I'd like to know more about that.

David, I thought about making a larger one, too, since the design is so neat. It could really be made fancier by using exotic woods.

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - nice little project...some fairly decent drive by hand tool gloatage as well! You'll still have to get back to the sink later though to peel the spuds... - Rob

Federico Mena Quintero said...

After looking at Roy's video more closely...

The top lid, when closed, keeps you from sliding the dovetailed lid back.

The top cut is diagonal to the long sides of the box so that the top lid will be able to open at all; if it were perpendicular to the long sides, the lid wouldn't open. By being diagonal, you can open the top lid and it just has a small "click" where it shuts closed.

The undercut is probably diagonal, not plumb, not really to wedge the top lid into tightness, but rather so that the lid won't have a tendency to pivot upwards and thus damage the hole where it is screwed.

Hmm, you could sink the screw and put in a little wooden cap and make the top of the box flat.

Federico Mena Quintero said...

I made one of these over the weekend. Some notes from my mistakes:

- Before you scribe the block, make sure the final size of the dovetail will actually be doable with your smallest chisel! My smallest one is around 6mm, which gets pretty uncomfortable when making the slots for the dovetail.

- Intuitively I wanted to put the screw on the trapezium, not on the flat part. D'oh.

- The screw needs enough clearance on the threadless section to fit both lids, otherwise it will want to unscrew as you flip the lids.

Kari Hultman said...

Rob, alas. Someone has to peel the spuds. Might as well be me. :o)

Federico, thanks for your insight and additional tips!

Jonathan said...

"Roy's Grease Pot"... What a good name for a restaurant.

Dyami said...

"Roy's Grease Pot" is a decent restaurant name, but I'll stick to Moe's Family Feedbag.

Kari Hultman said...

Come on down to "Roy's Grease Pot!" Conveniently located next to "Have a Heart Cardiology and Associates." :D

Anonymous said...

How did you make your upper box lid swing out reasonably easily? Did you leave a gap between the top lid and the overhang it swings under? Or, did you make a larger hole than usual for the shank of the screw?

Kari Hultman said...

Anon, there is a very slight gap, maybe 1/32" between the lid and overhang. It does stick a bit right at the corner as it swing out, so you have to push a little on it.

mdhills said...

What tools do you use to clean out the dovetail socket? (looked like a dental pick and a verities detail chisel in the background of the photo showing you chiseling away)

Also, I assume you needed to plane the lip of the middle lid flush to make it even with the top lid (which lost a kerf width between the two lids)?


Kari Hultman said...

Matt, I'm sure I would have used the small veritas dovetail chisel to clean out the socket, but I'm not sure that I used the dental pick (although it would work).

Yes, you will need to clean up the saw cuts on both lids and the lip of the box. I might have planed the undersides of both lids, but I probably laid sandpaper on my table saw and flipped the box upside-down to sand the lip flat.

peter kaupp said...

Its great for boars butter. I use for my muzzleloader.

Greg said...

Great description!

I made a couple of these based on this article and the WWS episode. If you use a steeper angle (around 1 in 3 works particularly well), you can actually drill the screw hole such that there is no noticeable kerf between the upper and lower lids, and it will produce just enough of a bind between the two lids that they will not slide apart accidentally, but they will easly slide apart with a satisfying click when you push.

Keith said...

Do you know where I can find images of original 18th century joiners tallow pots? I have searched the net & found nothing so far.
Regards, Keith.

Kari Hultman said...

Keith, I did a quick search and came up with this. Not sure it's what you're looking for. http://www.wkfinetools.com/contrib2/priceJ/tallowBox/tallowBox-01.asp