Watch those stain rags

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I’ve done a lot of stain work over the years and have always been careful with the soaked rags. This last week we were working several tables with Old Master wiping stain. The stain was Cedar but with a 3% additive of Monarch yellow penetrating stain to offset the red. The stain was being applied with staining sponges. I don’t know if it was the mixture, perfect atmospheric conditions, the type of sponge material, or some combination, but every one of the sponges became too hot to hold and 2 actually began to smoke. It was a completely successful experiment in spontaneous combustion. On the one hand it was cool to watch, but on the other a strong reminder to be very careful with soaked rags and sponges. A careless disregard of them would have had disastrous consequences.

We keep a metal 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid in the finish area and all soaked rags are placed inside. I’ll be buying another this week!

Artisan Woodworks of Texas-


We’ve never heard of anything quite like this. It must have been a little scary. It sounds like a chemical reaction between products. Thanks for the reminder.


“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Had that experience some years ago with WATCO oil and have been watching ever since .*SCARY *

A little background….I was a firefighter for 31 years in Dallas. I was fortunate to have men I worked with that mentored me and taught me a lot about cabinet and furniture making. Spontaneous combustion is a very real danger with some of the chemicals we use in woodworking. I made some pretty spectacular fires over the years that were the result of leaving stain and varnish rags unattended.

Conditions have to be right for the reaction to generate enough heat to ignite, but the best rule is to always place solvent soaked rags and sponges in a tightly sealed metal container. Its also a really good idea to put water in the container and keep it outside until you can properly dispose of the contents.

Artisan Woodworks of Texas-

Great reminder of how dangerous stain soaked rags can be. I lay mine out flat on the gravel outside my shop until they are dry and then throw them out.

Rob, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

I hang my rags neatly over a cross brace on my planer stand. They dry pretty quickly and evenly that way.

Losing fingers since 1969

Several years ago, I was using some Watco, I threw the rags into a tall garbage can. They had been in there about 30 minutes when I went into wash my hands before starting on another project, when I walked in the door it had just burst into flames. Nothing was hurt but I certainly got a valuable lesson. I bought a small metal garbage can and sprayed the inside edge of the rim with that silicone sealer they advertise on TV. It couldn’t be tighter and was about $50.00 cheaper and bigger than a dedicated rag bucket. However my FIL was a saftey officer at a prison and he thought I was nuts not to buy the real deal rag bin. I really like this better. After reading this post I feel good a fire fighter uses a similar arrangement.


The main reason the safety cans are preferred is the self-closing feature. You step on the lever to raise the lid and it closes when you step off. In theory that somewhat negates the “idiot” factor. The main thing you need is a tight fitting lid. Being completely airtight isn’t a necessity as long as you get a fairly good seal. If you know you’ll be staining, put some water in there as well and that will keep things in check. Even in water the stain will set up after a while and the rags can be removed, dried, and thrown away. As long as you keep an eye on things, you’ll be in good shape.

Artisan Woodworks of Texas-

Thanks Bill….good advice..