The grease box story #1: Roy Underhill's grease box

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Blog entry by mafe posted 10-09-2010 04:06 PM 22942 reads 19 times favorited 30 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of The grease box story series Part 2: The 66 years old secret Abdel box from Lebanon. »

The grease box story.
Chapter one: Roy Underhill’s grease box

Before I begin, I’ll quote myself: ‘If Roy Underhill is a snow storm, then I’m a snow flake’.

Since I posted my first grease box here, there have been some discussions going on about the hen and the egg…
- Most people never heard about a grease box until Roy Underhill made the dovetailed grease box.
- Since I’m Danish and don’t have satellite TV, I never heard about Roy Underhill.
Since then my eyes was opened up, and I realized what a wonderful person Roy Underhill is in every sense.

My version of the Roy Underhil grease box.

Update 10-13.

Since I had quite a few mails asking how it worked with the second lid, I made this little drawing to explain.

I have been buying quite a few hand planes from E-bay UK, and here I always wondered why the old English wooden hand planes were almost black, from a thick layer of patina, ‘did they never was their hands in old England’? But one day I got the answer when there was a beautiful little grease box for sale there, and I looked up what a grease box was.
-and this was how my grease box journey began.

The old English box from E-bay.

My version of the old English grease pot.

I made a model based on the old English version, and commented that I liked the Dovetail version, but that I thought it was not meant as a tool, more as a gadget, since I found it too difficult to open, as a tool.

On my LJ posts and mails there began some discussions about the fact that Roy Underhill was the ‘inventor’ of this grease box, and some even asked me if I was trying to challenge him (this made me laugh – no I’m not is the answer – the only person I challenge in wood working are me, and my journey just began)…

The answers to this discussion are simple after Roy Underhill wrote me a kind mail the other day, with the following;

‘As I said on the show, I saw the antique secret box years ago at a tool exhibit. It did not originate with me at all’.

I send Roy Underhill a mail, where I told him the story about the Abdel box, I posted on LJ, and told him that he could use this story as a reference in the future if he wanted – and he was so kind to answer me back, and thank me for the information, a little story that he has been to Denmark, and also the quote above (so I guess he had seen the LJ post with the questions about this.

So that’s the end of that discussion.

Thank You; Roy Underhill.

Roy Underhill version can be found here on his web site, with plans along with other cool stuff.

My version of the ‘Roy Underhill’ box:

The Abdel secret box:

My try to make a user friendly and easy to make grease box, and my egg grease box:

Best thoughts,

MaFe 2010

I will continue the story of the grease box in a blog series under this name, in this I will try to explore the details, and to collect the inputs I already got on my posts, 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.

30 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4230 days

#1 posted 10-09-2010 04:28 PM

great start on a great idea Mads
of all my hart I wisch you good luck with the journey
you allready had started for so many of us :-)

take care

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 4997 days

#2 posted 10-09-2010 05:24 PM

You are a good man Mads. And a good friend and a scholar.

Thanks for the post,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4174 days

#3 posted 10-09-2010 05:34 PM

You are doing just as any good “rhykenologist” should do. I am intrigued and look forward to following along. I have seen the episode of the Woodwrights shop where Roy Underhill shows how to make his grease box. He indicates on the show that the dark color common on old wooden hand planes comes from the use of grease and he specifically mentions the use of sheep tallow, or sheep fat as the type of grease that was commonly used. Considering that the english were known for raising sheep, it makes sense that sheep tallow would be commonly available. Anyone for a nice rack of lamb or perhaps a bit of mutton?

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3971 days

#4 posted 10-09-2010 10:06 PM

Hi Mads,
I just love the attention that you are putting into this subject.
I still have yet to assemble the the components that you sent (including the brass screws) and feel bad about not having completed it yet.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough work to keep me busy. In fact a wee bit to much.
So my grease box is still an old Tupperware box with about a pint of my mixture in it.
I’m presently working on a project in Green Oak, so everything is smelling of my wax and turpentine mix. Cant take the chance of marking the Oak.

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View anon's profile


417 posts in 4011 days

#5 posted 10-09-2010 11:14 PM

really interesting mads :)
it’s certainly been a niche subject until you came along. now i feel myself catching the grease box bug! :D
if i find anything you’ll be the first to know.
à bientôt mon amie :)

View Napoleon's profile


788 posts in 3924 days

#6 posted 10-10-2010 12:43 AM

Okay Mads…i must make one soon. Your story and research is awesome and i catch me.

Its an awesome little box i simply need to make :)

-- Boatbuilder&blacksmith

View swirt's profile


6267 posts in 4087 days

#7 posted 10-10-2010 04:07 AM

Holy crap, you got a response from Roy. That is very cool.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Napoleon's profile


788 posts in 3924 days

#8 posted 10-10-2010 07:46 AM

Mads Underhill…..Awesome :)

-- Boatbuilder&blacksmith

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3981 days

#9 posted 10-10-2010 01:55 PM

Mads, I love your posts. Keep up the good work.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View mafe's profile


13202 posts in 4204 days

#10 posted 10-10-2010 07:35 PM

helluvawreck, thank you.
Napoleon, Mads overthehill… Go and make one, can’t wait to see it.
Swirt, yes hats of, he impress me more and more.
Flemming, yes it might be a Virus!
Alba, and I have to make one from your beautiful burl, so no hurry.
docholladay, thabk you, yes I’m writing on this now, they used to use tallow for the light…
Steve, thank you so much.
Dennis, yes I drag you all along my passions…
Smiles and best of thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4230 days

#11 posted 10-10-2010 07:51 PM

will it hurt when we cross the hurdles ….lol
don´t worry I will be there for you if I can :-)


View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 4133 days

#12 posted 10-10-2010 10:38 PM

Well Mads, I read in a book by Louis L’Lamour where he wrote of Mountain Men carrying a Bear Tallow pot for greasing up metal objects, namely rifles, to keep them from rusting. Supposedly, bear tallow is among the best to prevent rust. Now he did not mention what kind of pot was used but typically a piece of animal horn with a plug type cap was used. Thought you would like to know of another kind of “grease box”.

I have enjoyed your posts about the grease boxes and have followed it!

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Roz's profile


1707 posts in 4901 days

#13 posted 01-09-2011 06:57 PM

Thanks Mafe, I have never heard of this. I know of Roy Undershill but never saw a grease box. Thanks!

-- Terry Roswell, L.A. (Lower Alabama) "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans."

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

26292 posts in 4220 days

#14 posted 07-13-2012 08:28 PM

Mads, I read this and I think I will have to make another grease box with a curved dovetail. I’ll have to find a pretty piece of wood. it may be another Abdel style box…........Cheers, my friend….............Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View mafe's profile


13202 posts in 4204 days

#15 posted 07-14-2012 08:37 AM

Hi Jim, looks forward to see what you come up with.
Best thoughts my friend,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

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