The grease box story.
Chapter four: The grease.
So something I’m sure many have been waiting for;
What the heck is it you put in that grease box!
The grease, wax, tallow, fat or lard:
Yes here I will get in trouble no doubt!
Before I start this writing, I’ll tell you that it’s a personal choice at the end, so do not listen too much to what you hear or read around, find out what fits you for your use, or perhaps like me have several for different purposes.
There are many theories of what was in these boxes, and how they looked, but for me it’s quite clear what I think.
The grease was used for lubrication and rust prevention on the hand tools, so it was a need, not a luxury.
The carpenters were not highly paid people, so they would use what was the cheaper to get hold of.
So would they use wax?
No too expensive in the old days.
So what could they use?
It was cheap and right at hand!
Why was it at hand?
Because it was used for light in the workshop, it was used as a kind of petrol and would be in every workshop in big pots.
Here are a example of a old tallow lamp, that could be moved arround.
And here you can even buy it.
So I conclude that in the old days we were looking at tallow pots.
So the little boxes, were they common? No way! I’m sure it was rare, that we might leave more grease boxes for the future, than was left in the old days. My guess would be a little leather ‘wallet’ with the tallow, or perhaps a little simple clay pot with a wooden lit, or something like that, that would be available in the old days. Perhaps the craftsmen actually just greased the tools from home, and not any more if they worked out. At the work shop it would be a clay pot or so, nothing fancy.
I’m aware that Mr. Roubo have a bench mounted grease box, in his illustrations plate 11 I belive, but I doubt that it would be ‘normal’. Actually I think what people who study him forget are that this was kind of the ultimate, and definitely not the average wood worker in France having a bench like this. (French are masters of intellectualizing things, and this have for sure also been the case here). When I see the state and quality of old woodworking tools in France, there are a long way to this ‘optimal’ world some seem to belive.
Here are a later version,
So what can we use the grease for:
Lubricating woodscrews – they go in easier, metal once do not rust as easy, they are more easy to get out, the wood are less likely to brake.
Lubricating the hand planes, and other tools, for a ‘smother’ ride.
Will the grease not be a problem for later finish?
What I heart as feedback for now, is no, but yes if you use a thick layer, but it’s not the idea.
Does some of the ingredient actually make the metal planes rust?
Never heard some confimed talk of this.
So what is tallow:
Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.
So what can I put in my grease box?
Of course you can use tallow.
I use 100% natural bees wax, this lubricates, and even smell wonderful (I buy it).
You can buy this online already made, and in a nice consistence, but some melt their own.
Div use commercial floor wax mostly carnauba wax.
Topamax made his own beer tallow, but had little success, since it went rancid in his jars.
Alba’s grease recipes: http://lumberjocks.com/alba/blog/18172#comment-781470
Paraffin wax are fine.
And this leads us to the fact, the good old candles, this you will find in many tool boxes.
I think one thing is important: DON’T USE SILICONE!!! Make sure the products have no inside.
It will give you endless problems in the finish state.
Medieval London Guilds – Candle making guilds / Soapmakers Guilds.
Candle makers were called Chandlers in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages. there were two types of candle making guilds – the Wax candle makers and the tallow candle makers. The tallow candle makers were made with animal fat and therefore closely associated with butchers or skinners. The tallow candle makers also became soapmakers, although it is unclear whether there was a seperate medieval ages soapmakers guild. The Tallow candles were much cheaper, leading to chandlers laws being passed regulating the percentage of a candle which could be tallow. Rich people used the wax candles and poor people used the tallow candles. The wax candle makers, made predominantly from beeswax, were often quite wealthy due to the constant demand for their product. The church was one of their best customers. The incidence of widows taking over the family business and access to the Candle making guilds was high due to the profits made in such a business.
The travel grease box from Paul Dubois’s toolbox :
My first grease box post:
Carpenters grease box
My attempt to make the old English pocket box:
Old English pocket grease box (For my brother Div).
My try on the dovetailed grease box:
MaFe Overkill grease box (the ABDEL version) [Roy Underhill]
My for fun and love mini grease box:
Stanley 101 grease box (do not make this at home…)
I did not invent the grease box, I have just been trying to open up the interesting world around it, and are trying to be a ambassador for the use of this, now I will let this ‘a little messy blog’ be the last for now.
Thank you to all that took up the challange of making the grease boxes, I hope we will see many more.
Best thoughts, may the grease be with you,
The grease box in a blog series under this name, in this I try to explore the details, and to collect the inputs I already got on my posts, and blogs, so it will become the ‘Grease box story’ .
I will try to uncover:
The secret Abdel box, the names for the box, why use grease, what kind of grease, recopies of grease, the pocket box and the bench box, what countries are the grease box known in (from input), if possible how far back in history, what designs has been used, the Abdel / Roy Underhill secret box with drawings, the LJ grease box clubs models and list of members (please send me a mail if you are not mentioned when it comes)and more subject vill come as we go.
I will love to hear all kinds of input as I go, so feel free to post comments and info.
The blog will be a mix of facts and inputs, so I can of course not guarantee for the truth of all, but I’ll try and document the sources as well as possible. There will be no finish date to this blog, but it will be posted as it goes.
-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.