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Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to alert you to a new threat to the craft of woodworking we love so well.

They are not as canvas- and perspective-deprived as the dreaded saw painters. Nor are they as destructive as the “make these moulding planes into lamps” crafters. But they are a threat nonetheless.

Today I visited my favorite jewelry maker to pick up some things she had made for my daughters. As with most craftsmen, she also has a side-line business, selling antiques. As we browsed her store I was stopped short by the following sight.

A bunch of perfectly good oilcans. Some with flowers stuffed in their spouts. Some…. painted.

I tried to look away, but I could not.

Despite the price tags on these little beauties, I decided to adopt one from this tin-can shelter, remove its “slave collar” – a blue and white ribbon – and put it back to work in my shop before it spent the rest of its days next to some Hummel figurines.

If you don’t have an oilcan, I recommend you do your part. They are approximately 6,000 times better than applying oil with a spray bottle. You can put a dab right where you need it. And you won’t spray your bench or your clothes.

And the little buggers will be so grateful.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 28 comments
  • tesla77

    I have an old Eagle oil can that I purchased at an antique store. Any tips on repairing these beauties? Assuming it is copper. Mine is leaking at the seam along the stem. And is it normal for the oil to drip out when not depressing the canister end? Perhaps the viscosity has something to do with it.



  • karincorbin

    My little antique oilcan came to me already painted red with tole style flowers on it. I have had it for many years and it works great. It think it might have even had a ribbon on it when I got it but that is long gone. The flowers certainly have not hurt the function of the object.

    I often paint my tools with splashes of bright pink to help quickly identify what is mine. It also helps them stay mine when attending classes or out on job sites where guys often borrow instead of buying their own. Now why didn’t I think about painting flowers on my tools too? That way guys would not even want to borrow them….lol.

  • Randy Fisher

    My brother and I inherited an old oil can from our father when he died. It is sitting on the radial-arm saw table, where it collects dust, because that is where I remember it always being.

    Unfortunately, neither of us remembers what the bluish-green oil that it is filled with is, so it has sat there, unused, for years.

    What do you suppose the oil is, and what method should I use to flush it so that I can refill it with something like camelia oil?

    And no, I would never put a bow on it.

  • tpobrienjr

    The thing I love most about an oilcan is the soft “ploink” sound it makes when I dispense a little oil into just the right place. My grandfather showed me how to use cotton waste (another disappearing technology) to wipe away excess oil and dirt.

  • IronWood


    Love your blog. And your books. I don’t see a link to contact you so I hope you forgive this means of asking your permission to link to your blog from the content in a book rewiew on your WORKBENCHES book at

    PS; vegatable oils for flattening planes?

  • David Keller

    Here ya go – oil cans and other by-gone products are being ruined on an industrial scale. There’s little accounting for taste (or the lack thereof):

  • renaissanceww

    Definitely ditch the bow, but I hear the oil can works better with a painted on racing stripe. Just a little pro tip.

  • JWatriss

    You can have art in your daily life if you want it.

    But you don’t.

  • planepassion

    That’s a beautiful oil can you got there Christopher. It looks a little like a Christmas ornament. I too was bitten by the small oil can bug…I think it adds some nostalgia to the workshop.

    When I put 3 in 1 oil in them and set them on my shelf they leaked oil everywhere. So I rehabbed them and they’ve been a joy ever since. I blogged about it for anyone who may need to “tweak the leak” of their new oil can treasure.



  • CWAndrews

    While I’m sure there are a ton of painted junk saws out there, and maybe if it’s one your grandmother painted you’d have to leave it, but seems to me that if you ran across a good saw that had been painted it wouldn’t be too difficult to strip the paint and return it to it’s rightful purpose! Anyone ever tried that?

  • mctoons

    Hmmm … Sounds like there might be a story for a movie there somewhere. “Tool Story”. Buzzzz and Woody and lots of characters under attack by the evil villain Art. A new hero arrives just in time – Chris. May the Schwarz be with you! Somebody call John Lassiter.

  • Recruiter

    And here I am, thinking I’m the only one that likes oil cans. I’ve got a couple dozen of them, ranging in size from 1 inch diameter up to a decent sized pump type. (Just don’t tell my wife. She hates them)

  • psanow

    Interesting. I performed a similar rescue in an antique shop while on vacation in Marblehead OH. The proprietor had five different cans and she said she was “running low”. Apparently there’s an oil can subculture that no one knows about.

  • ssayott

    What oil do you recommend to use?

  • Eric R

    You saved that little guy from a fate worse then death.
    I have an ancient one from my dad.

  • Gene

    For those of us in the Cincinnati area… Where’s her shop? I already have several oilcans, but I’m a sucker for a good antique shop.

  • miathet

    Awesome post the good one are hard to find for a price I can afford.

    At least around here I am usually grateful to the saw painters for getting a lot of crummy saws a good home. I’ve never seen a painted saw that was of a quality I would have saved and I love pre-WWII saws.

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