The Blacksmith Shop of Mt Vernon

Spending some time in Washington DC last week, my wife and I went to Mt. Vernon to visit George Washington’s estate. After we bought our tickets to the view of the house, we had some time to kill, so we walked around the grounds to see what else was around.

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On the right side of the estate near the near the back, was the blacksmith shop. It appeared to be about 15′ x 20′ in size.

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We arrived in front and saw one of the blacksmiths making a large hinge. You can see how soaked his shirt is as it was nearly 90 degrees that day. He must lose twenty pounds during the summer working in there.

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Here’s a shot of the bench with a scrap iron on the ground waiting for use.

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Here are some of the items the blacksmiths make at the estate. What’s really cool is they make axe heads and other tools.

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On the side of the shop sat a bin full of coal which stank to high heaven. The smell of burning coal is not a pleasant thing.

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I looked around the other buildings for a carpentry or cabinet shop, but found nothing. I find it odd that Washington didn’t have one on his estate somewhere. The only thing I saw was display case inside the museum with this panel raising plane.

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Antique Tool Improver

I’ve been cleaning antique tools for over twenty-five years. When I was fourteen years old my Grandpa gave me a Stanley No 77 dowel machine that took square stock and turned it into dowels. Since that day, I was hooked on old tools. There was something about taking an old neglected tool that was just sitting around collecting dust and bringing it back to life that appealed to me.

I’ve cleaned hundreds if not thousands of tools over the years. When removing all the dirt and rust from an old tool, the final step is to protect it with a penetrating oil so it doesn’t rust again. For years I used Kramer’s Antique Improver and loved the way it protected the wood and metal of the tool giving it a nice sheen. The only problem I had with the oil was the price. At $20.00 for a 8 oz bottle, the stuff wasn’t exactly cheap, but it worked so well I kept using it even though my wife couldn’t stand the smell of the stuff.

Since my wife was no fan of the smell when I used Kramer’s Antique Improver, it got me wondering if I could make something that worked as well for pennies on the dollar. I didn’t want to reproduce Kramer’s exactly because John Kramer uses turpentine and solvents to make his oil. I wanted something simple that I could whip up in a jiffy using only natural products.

I started with melting beeswax. I bought a small 100% beeswax candle and cut a small 1/4″ slab off of it and melt it in the pot. You can always buy granule beeswax at a woodworkers store if you can’t find a 100% beeswax candle.

Once the wax has melted, I add equal parts of orange oil and mineral oil to pot and cook them for one minute. They sell mineral oil at a woodworking supply stores as butcher block oil however, I found mineral oil at the pharmacy for a whole lot less.

Once the oils have cooked in the pot for a minute I pour it in a container. As you can see, my container is nothing more than a Sweet Leaf Ice Tea drink I bought one day.

Using a paper towel, I rub the oil all over tool penetrating it in every spot. You can see the difference of the tool with just one coat of the oil. I usually coat the tool three or four times letting the oil penetrate the entire surface.

The oil works on wood just well as metal. In fact, I coat all my molding planes with the oil. The great thing about my oil is that it’s completely natural, there is no odor and it lasts just as long as Kramer’s. Not to mention that it’s dirt cheap to make.