Of Tallow and Tools

I had some free time today while I was waiting for shellac to dry on the portal Aron Kodesh I have been making, so I used this time to get “old school!”

Roy Underhill from “The Woodwright Shop” did a show about a grease pot. What’s a grease pot you ask? It is a container for mutton tallow. Yup, rendered mutton fat. For hundreds of years European woodworkers have been using mutton tallow to grease their tools to make them work more efficiently with less force. Roy says it best in the following link. Start from 1:50 to 2:55, or you can just watch the whole episode: http://video.pbs.org/video/1425807116/

I have been using paraffin wax to lubricate the soles of my planes and my hand saws,  and it does make a difference, so if master woodworkers used mutton tallow, then what the heck, I should do what they did. So join me while I take you through the steps of making mutton tallow.

My wife went to the butcher shop and got me a pound of lamb fat for three dollars. Pretty cheap right! So she put it in the freezer which made it easier for me to cut up later.  There are at least three ways I ready about to render fat. I’m not saying I used the best method, but I found it to be pretty simple and easy. Let’s begin.

I broke out the meat cleaver and the meat cutting board I made for my wife and popped my headphones to listen to my favorite songs while I worked away.

A pound of lamb fat

The important thing is to separate all the muscle (red stuff) off of the fat. The colder the fat, the easier this is to do. I guess it took me about thirty minutes for this part. After I got all the muscle separated off the fat, I chopped up the fat into really fine pieces. You could put your pile back the in freezer until it gets to the consistency of cold butter, then put it in the food processor, but I did a pretty good job just using the meat cleaver.

Now pop that gross looking pile of fat into a tall pot on the stove and use the lowest setting.

Finely cut fat - gross stageI used a wooden spoon to stir it up from time to time keep anything from sticking. It won’t take long before you start to see the fat begin to melt.


The disgusting phase

It is very important that you keep your eye on this pot and don’t forget to stir. Soon you will be a the disgusting phase. It look like yucky oatmeal.



It's ready phase!

It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to fully render the fat. This stuff is molten hot so stir carefully. At the bottom of the pot you will see very small “cracklins.” This is how you know it is pretty much done. During the last 20 minutes or so of rendering, my wife told me to skim off the foam on the top. She said it was impurities. I did not read about that when I was researching this on the web, but my wife knows a lot about cooking and food science, so since she suggested it, I took her advice. I used a spoon and it was easy to skim off the foam.

My wife gave me another bit if important advice, she suggested that not pour the liquid tallow into the jar I was planing to use. She suggested that I pour it into tempered glass, so once again I followed her advice.

Next, I put a piece of cheese cloth into a very fine metal strainer, and then I poured the contents of the pot into the strainer. After I got all of the liquid tallow out, I put the glass bowl into the fridge, and in no time I got the smooth mutton tallow. Then I spooned and packed it into a jar.  The one pound of fat gave me about a half a pound of usable fat which rendered about seven to eight ounces of tallow. That should last me a pretty long time.

straining the liquid tallow

Pure tallow won’t go rancid and it will last a long time. It has a slight smell of cooked lamb and is smooth and creamy. I don’t think I will keep it outside in my shop during the 100 degree days, but I think it will be fine otherwise.

The only down side to using tallow on my handtools is that it will make the pieces I build fleshigs! hahahahaha.

A jar of tallow!

I have not had the chance to test it out yet, but I will be sure to let you know when I do the next time I go old school!

Have you made tallow before?

ye old yaakov……

About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
This entry was posted in In Yaakov's Workshop and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Of Tallow and Tools

  1. Lazy Larry says:

    A CHEF as well as a woodworker…

  2. James Neal says:

    Nice! Let us know how it works.

  3. I’m really curious to see if this is better than canning wax.

  4. try chicken — if it doesn’t work for tallow, then gribenes… 🙂

  5. Pingback: Further down the rabbit hole | Artisan's Call

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