Get Lubed Up in 19th-century Style
Ever since Roy Underhill wrote about the joys of mutton tallow as a tool lubricant in Popular Woodworking Magazine in the August 2010 issue, readers have been asking where to purchase the stuff. Or, even more alarming, how to render it themselves.
The good news is that Lee Valley Tools has started to carry McQueen’s Pure Mutton Tallow for $2.95 for a 1 oz. tin. That’s quite a bargain – on the mutton tallow black market I’ve seen it go for as much as $11.
What’s it good for? Well just about everything in the shop. I like to use it on saw blades in particular. Tallow is slicker than paraffin and doesn’t seem to wear off the blade as quickly. (OK, it’s greasier. There. I said it. But greasy is good.)
It also works well on plane soles. And Roy explained that the black coating you will find on some old wooden-bodied tools was likely from tallow.
But doesn’t it interfere with glue adhesion, finish penetration and cause sunspots? The short answer: nope. I applied some directly to some cherry a few months ago and then applied oil-based stain and finishes over it. Even though I had smeared on a good bit of the stuff, the stain still penetrated and the finish still stuck.
When you apply any lubricant to your tools, chances are that little or none of it will remain when you get to the gluing and finishing stage of your project. Remember: The cutting tool is removing the wood that you just lubricated. So it’s a non-issue, unless you abuse the stuff.
By the way, mutton tallow is also a traditional remedy for chapped skin and is the foundation for a variety of traditional ointments. You also can slick up that mustache after a day in the shop. I hear nothing is more attractive to women than the smell of lamb chops.
— Christopher Schwarz
In addition to reintroducing the world to mutton tallow, Roy Underhill has written one of my favorite articles ever published in Popular Woodworking: “Roubo’s Folding Bookstand” from the February 2011 issue. The story caused quite a stir, and if you don’t have that issue, I think it’s one to own. Buy the issue here, or the 2011 CD of all the articles from last year here.