Vintage is to style what plastic is to bland-Oil can rehab

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Blog entry by Brad posted 05-02-2011 01:11 AM 2157 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I firmly believe in the motto, “Make life work for you.” That’s why whenever I travel, I find a way to pursue my passions. Wine, yummy unique food, running, photography and, most relevant to you, antique tool hunting.

So when I was last visiting my brother and his family in the Utah outpost of Ogden, I asked my sister-in-law to join me in visiting a local antique mall. Come to find out, that when she was a kid, her grandmother would take her and her two sisters to estate sales. They’d pool their money to buy unopened jewelry boxes—a grab bag of sorts. Those cool finds and fond memories translated to a hearty yes from Cheryl. She grabbed the car keys.

The outside of the antique mall didn’t look promising. However, the booths inside held a number of shelves devoted to vintage tools. Nestled among them were some mini oil cans that caught my eye. There were fat ones, skinny ones and copper ones. Ones with straight tips and slanted tips.

You know how when you’re out looking for tools and you come across something but aren’t sure how to put it to use in your shop…but you keep playing different scenarios in your head until you come up with a good use because it’s so cool that you just have to have it?

Hmmmmm. Insert sound of gears turning. This is the “oil can” that I had been using.

Ah yes. There’s just something about plastic that says, “I aint got no class or style.” And the crappy tip wouldn’t stay put. Nor dribble out liquid gold for my tools without a lot of coaxing from me.

That memory was all it took for this aluminum-looking can with a copper bottom (1 ¾” in diameter and 4 ¼” tall) to find its way into my carry-on luggage…which the airport TSA agent—who had to scan my luggage twice to find it—took out.

“Oh that’s what we were seeing,” the guy said as he shagged my luggage to the x-ray machine to scan it a third time. My heart sank thinking the frail, ice-pick-looking tip would doom the oil can to the confiscation bin. Only to lie entombed with corkscrews, penknives and finger nail clippers.

Apparently not. “Have a nice day,” said TSA guy.

So home it went with me to find a place of honor above my workbench. I filled it with 3 in 1 and proudly set it on the shelf to admire. An artifact from the past that some workman had used to maintain his own tools.

The next morning, I walked to my bench to find oil everywhere. Apparently, these things leak at the bottom seam and at the top where the tip screws onto the body. Shoot. A rehab was in order.

Rehabbing oil can to make it usable
First, a good cleaning. I poured the oil back into its original soulless container. Then I tried twisting a paper towel inside the can, using a toothpick as a push stick to rummage around the inside and soak up the decades of congealed gunk. This worked ok until I remembered the obvious choice for this task. Q-tips. Those worked like a charm.

Now that the can was clean, what to do about the leaks?

Why clear silicone caulking of course. My first effort amounted to putting silicone around the outside edge of the can base while tamping it into the seam with a toothpick. That got messy, leaving slimy dabs of silicon that glazed over the shiny metal surface. I abandoned this approach owing to its dubious value in sealing the seam.

Changing tack, I found that I could get the tip of the silicon caulking tube inside of the can and squeeze out a steady bead as I rotated the can. Then, using a Q-tip, I both smoothed the bead and pushed silicone into the seam at the inside bottom edge as I rotated the can in my hand.

On to the screw cap.

The original lid came with what looks like a dense cardboard gasket. At the local box home supply store, I found a similar-sized rubber gasket, which seated well in the tip.

I refilled the can and tested it by oiling down my #7 Stanley jointer. Nice. No leaks. And there hasn’t been so much as a drop dispensed devoid of style since.

So the next time you’re out at the flea market, antique store or garage sale, I encourage you to pick up one of these to adorn your shop. I think you’ll find they add a little pizzazz to your workspace.

Couldn’t help myself when I came across a nice copper can. Two will be enough for now :)

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

4 comments so far

View Bertha's profile


12989 posts in 2115 days

#1 posted 05-02-2011 01:24 AM

Super cool oil can! Now I must have one. Thanks for saving this little gem.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View swirt's profile


2107 posts in 2394 days

#2 posted 05-02-2011 05:11 AM

Nice restore…. and you get that nice “clink-clunk” sound when you press the bottom to squeeze out a few drops.

-- Galootish log blog,

View DIYaholic's profile


19140 posts in 2097 days

#3 posted 05-02-2011 06:54 AM

You’re right! A much more refined and traditional look, nice shop addition. Hmm…I wonder if the Tin Man would miss his oil can all that much?

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Brad's profile


1129 posts in 2162 days

#4 posted 05-09-2011 03:44 AM

Swirt, you are SO right about the “clink-clunk” sound of the oil can. Add that to the sound of planing a board, sawing stock by hand and drilling a hole with an eggbeater to the symphony of sounds that make a handtool shop oh, so special :)

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

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