The grease box story #4: The grease.

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Blog entry by mafe posted 11-07-2010 12:42 AM 10741 reads 8 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: What is a grease box. Part 4 of The grease box story series Part 5: Grease box owners club - GBOC »

The grease box story.
Chapter four: The grease.

So something I’m sure many have been waiting for;

What the heck is it you put in that grease box!

The grease, wax, tallow, fat or lard:
Yes here I will get in trouble no doubt!
Before I start this writing, I’ll tell you that it’s a personal choice at the end, so do not listen too much to what you hear or read around, find out what fits you for your use, or perhaps like me have several for different purposes.

There are many theories of what was in these boxes, and how they looked, but for me it’s quite clear what I think.
The grease was used for lubrication and rust prevention on the hand tools, so it was a need, not a luxury.
The carpenters were not highly paid people, so they would use what was the cheaper to get hold of.

So would they use wax?

No too expensive in the old days.

So what could they use?



It was cheap and right at hand!

Why was it at hand?

Because it was used for light in the workshop, it was used as a kind of petrol and would be in every workshop in big pots.

Here are a example of a old tallow lamp, that could be moved arround.
And here you can even buy it.

So I conclude that in the old days we were looking at tallow pots.

So the little boxes, were they common? No way! I’m sure it was rare, that we might leave more grease boxes for the future, than was left in the old days. My guess would be a little leather ‘wallet’ with the tallow, or perhaps a little simple clay pot with a wooden lit, or something like that, that would be available in the old days. Perhaps the craftsmen actually just greased the tools from home, and not any more if they worked out. At the work shop it would be a clay pot or so, nothing fancy.

I’m aware that Mr. Roubo have a bench mounted grease box, in his illustrations plate 11 I belive, but I doubt that it would be ‘normal’. Actually I think what people who study him forget are that this was kind of the ultimate, and definitely not the average wood worker in France having a bench like this. (French are masters of intellectualizing things, and this have for sure also been the case here). When I see the state and quality of old woodworking tools in France, there are a long way to this ‘optimal’ world some seem to belive.
Here are a later version,

So what can we use the grease for:
Lubricating woodscrews – they go in easier, metal once do not rust as easy, they are more easy to get out, the wood are less likely to brake.

Lubricating the hand planes, and other tools, for a ‘smother’ ride.

Will the grease not be a problem for later finish?

What I heart as feedback for now, is no, but yes if you use a thick layer, but it’s not the idea.

Does some of the ingredient actually make the metal planes rust?

Never heard some confimed talk of this.

So what is tallow:

Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.

Read also:

So what can I put in my grease box?

Of course you can use tallow.
I use 100% natural bees wax, this lubricates, and even smell wonderful (I buy it).

You can buy this online already made, and in a nice consistence, but some melt their own.
Div use commercial floor wax mostly carnauba wax.
Topamax made his own beer tallow, but had little success, since it went rancid in his jars.
Alba’s grease recipes:
Paraffin wax are fine.

And this leads us to the fact, the good old candles, this you will find in many tool boxes.

I think one thing is important: DON’T USE SILICONE!!! Make sure the products have no inside.
It will give you endless problems in the finish state.


Medieval London Guilds – Candle making guilds / Soapmakers Guilds.
Candle makers were called Chandlers in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages. there were two types of candle making guilds – the Wax candle makers and the tallow candle makers. The tallow candle makers were made with animal fat and therefore closely associated with butchers or skinners. The tallow candle makers also became soapmakers, although it is unclear whether there was a seperate medieval ages soapmakers guild. The Tallow candles were much cheaper, leading to chandlers laws being passed regulating the percentage of a candle which could be tallow. Rich people used the wax candles and poor people used the tallow candles. The wax candle makers, made predominantly from beeswax, were often quite wealthy due to the constant demand for their product. The church was one of their best customers. The incidence of widows taking over the family business and access to the Candle making guilds was high due to the profits made in such a business.

The travel grease box from Paul Dubois’s toolbox :

My first grease box post:
Carpenters grease box

My attempt to make the old English pocket box:
Old English pocket grease box (For my brother Div).

My try on the dovetailed grease box:
MaFe Overkill grease box (the ABDEL version) [Roy Underhill]

My for fun and love mini grease box:
Stanley 101 grease box (do not make this at home…)

I did not invent the grease box, I have just been trying to open up the interesting world around it, and are trying to be a ambassador for the use of this, now I will let this ‘a little messy blog’ be the last for now.

Thank you to all that took up the challange of making the grease boxes, I hope we will see many more.

Best thoughts, may the grease be with you,


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

24 comments so far

View Dez's profile


1174 posts in 5236 days

#1 posted 11-07-2010 01:02 AM

Mads – Good information and entertaining too!!
Thank you for the education, I think you have it right.

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

View jackass's profile


350 posts in 4872 days

#2 posted 11-07-2010 01:05 AM

Very thorough historic research on the grease box. When I saw the first grease box posted, my reaction was why? You have satisfied my curiosity and answered my question. I will try some of the easier products to find. Up until now I have been using motor oil and car polish. Thankyou for laying this “grease box” mystery to rest.

-- Jack Keefe Shediac NB Canada

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4274 days

#3 posted 11-07-2010 02:03 AM

thank´s again for taking your time to make such a great blog Mads
its very niice to be on the schoolbench again :-)
this is one of those things that makes L j such a speciel place history , ruommours , Facts
and always one that can summ it all up in a blog every one can understand
thank you for being a great teacher Mads

take care

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 4265 days

#4 posted 11-07-2010 02:24 AM

Gee, and I just got 10 pounds of mutton tallow to render down for some leather. Maybe I’ll make a grease box and use some of this for screws, hhhmmmmm. Rand

View moshel's profile


865 posts in 4842 days

#5 posted 11-07-2010 02:31 AM

Daltxguy (Steve) suggested to use Dubbin (which i found in my local supermarket) and its quite good.

-- The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep...

View Pawky's profile


278 posts in 3962 days

#6 posted 11-07-2010 05:35 AM

So mads, do you use it pretty much just for screws and your planes? Also, you say you have several of the grease boxes for different purposes and that you use 100% natural bees wax. So do you have the same bees wax in all the grease boxes, just have them in different locations so they are always at hand? or do you have some with a different wax in them as well?
Also, would you use the same wax on a table saw for protecting it from rust? From reading other threads and all I mostly have seemed to find suggestion of paste wax like the Johnson paste wax. So, how does this compare to the other stuff you suggested?

Sorry for even more questions mads, I have really enjoyed reading this series from you. Your posts and projects are always very interesting, thank you

View twokidsnosleep's profile


1130 posts in 4132 days

#7 posted 11-07-2010 07:24 AM

I think it was great that you brought the grease pot back into the spotlight on here.
I enjoyed the video of Roy making it by hand and then the variety that LJ’ers have made.
Had fun with my 8 yr old as he made one with a little help.
It’s good stuff Mafe :)

-- Scott "Some days you are the big dog, some days you are the fire hydrant"

View FredG's profile


139 posts in 4856 days

#8 posted 11-07-2010 07:30 AM

When I think of all the grease boxes I threw away…..... ;-)

-- Fred

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3997 days

#9 posted 11-07-2010 08:23 AM

Fred- LOL when I saw your greaseboxes I had to look and see if my hunch was right… Amsterdam. LOL I guess you could use those little boxes for grease boxes- just remember not to lick the saw. ;)

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 4015 days

#10 posted 11-07-2010 12:28 PM

Wonderful Mad’s.
Professor of the Grease Box.

-- 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 BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 4195 days

#11 posted 11-07-2010 12:31 PM

Mads, you need to write a book. Possible on grease boxes alone but definitely on Handle Tools, their care and restoration.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View mafe's profile


13204 posts in 4248 days

#12 posted 11-07-2010 01:03 PM

One day I might be remembered as Mr. Grease Box! At my funeral we will listen to Grease, and I will ofcourse have a perfectly greased hair! Perhaps my ashes will be keept in a grease box…
Big smile,

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

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 4015 days

#13 posted 11-07-2010 01:06 PM

My old Grease would do for that Mad’s.
It is 2lt. :)

-- 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 rdlaurance's profile


381 posts in 4505 days

#14 posted 11-07-2010 01:18 PM

A wonderfully informative blogg… I think the history aspects of tools and why some things are the way they are is very entertaining reading.

-- Rick, south Sweden

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3997 days

#15 posted 11-07-2010 02:52 PM

Mads, and remember the cause of death will be, ” greased by…”

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

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