Sometime back in 1996 I took a piece of cloth that was cast off from my wardrobe. I cannot remember what the garment was. A sweatshirt perhaps? Long underwear? It’s a bit stretchy. And I soaked the sucker in WD-40.
Since that day, I have soaked that rag with every kind of oily substance you can imagine. Here’s the short lubricant list: Camellia, 3-in-1, Jojoba, mineral spirits, thread-cutting oil, spray-on “dry” shop lubricant and oil from various recesses of my personhood (yes, it’s true, and historically correct. Ask me over a beer sometime).
I use this rag to wipe down every tool after I use it. I lubricate my plane soles with it while working. I use it to wipe off the sharpening slurry from my tools after honing them.
And what I’m about to say will upset people who know anything about chemistry: I have never suffered any ill effects from this nefarious mixture when finishing my projects using any of the known finishing compounds: shellac, lacquer, oil, varnish, wax and all of their wacky combinations. No fish-eye has ever appeared in my finish. No orange peel. No silicone contamination.
So what gives? How have I cheated the finishing gods for 12 full years?
Probably because of the cutting action of all tools. When I wipe down a tool , a sawblade or a handplane , I leave the thinnest coat possible behind. This thin film is all I need to protect the tool from rusting. Then, when I apply the tool to the work, there is little doubt that some of this lubricant winds up on my work.
This first cut removes the lubricant from the tool. Then my next pass with the tool removes the wood that has the lubricant on it. Problem solved.
In addition to my magic rag (Lucy, my wife, calls it my “woobie”), I also am very fond of the Sandflex blocks from Klingspor to remove rare and errant spots of rust or staining that show up on my tools. These spongy “rust erasers” are like rubber that has been impregnated by a mild abrasive. The blocks will abrade your tools, but only slightly , in most cases less than steel wool. One block (I like the “medium” and “fine”) will last for decades of normal use.
As a result, I have had few problems with rust on my tools, despite the fact that I live outside a humid river city (Cincinnati) and my home shop is in a basement.
The bottom line is that diligence is far more important than the brand of lubricant.
P.S. Below is my latest project with a shellac and lacquer finish with no finishing problems. Maybe next project….