The History of Oil Lamps
Oil lamps have been used as a source of illumination since the discovery of fire. Lamps have illuminated the path of civilization for centuries.
The earliest oil lamps were seashells, used in prehistoric Mesopotamia (A common method of lamp making to this day). We know oil lamps were widely used throughout the world for centuries. In above pictured Egyptian lamp, the God Hathor is present on the actual lamp casing.
How to Construct a Basic Oil Lamp
For a Basic Lamp, you will need:
- An Appropriate Container or Glass Oil lamp
- Cotton wicking or floating cork wicks
- Appropriate "fuel" oil for setting the lamp
Oil lamps may be constructed in numerous types of containers. For the novice lamp builder, perhaps the best option is to purchase a glass kerosene lamp. These can be found at most Discount stores for about $5-10. You may even have an old heirloom kerosene lamp you are willing to dedicate to personal use.
Using this style of lamp is quite simple. Remove the glass shade and unscrew the metal fittings (that hold the wick) from the lamp base. You should find a nice wide-mouthed opening in the lamp base where you can deposit your ingredients. Reassemble the lamp, light the wick.
Glass kerosene lamps offer several advantages. They are safer because they are designed as lamps - they won't topple on their own and the wick is held firmly in place by metal fittings.
Lamps made in Calabash Gourds with Cotton wicks - Haiti.
For instance, one might utlilize a tin can or tin plate as the container. You should choose a container that will withstand being lit for the required number of days. You can also make a wobbly lamp more stable by placing in within another container.
There are three types of wicking readily available on the market.
The first is standard wicking material manufactured for oil or kersones lamps. This type of wicking is usually found in flat or round styles. Wicks are woven in natural cotton or hemp. Flat wicking is used in the glass kerosene or oil lamps.
Round braided wicks may be floated in the lamp container as seen in the above calabash lamps. Or you can use a piece of aluminum foil as a brace for the wick. Simply fold the foil over and over several times. You want to take a piece of foil long enough to span the length of your container opening. Use an awl, ice pick or sharp knife to poke a hole in the foil - thread the round braid wick through the opening and stretch it across your container. This should hold the wick securely above the lamp fuel. Oil or kerosene lamp wicks are available in most craft and discount stores.
The second type of wick is the floating cork wick. Floating wicks, which are called Veilleuses in French, have been used since Antiquity. Today, these small pieces of cork have a metallic film attched on the reverse side. A small length of waxed candle wick is inserted into the cork and the wick is floated on top of the oil fuel. These are great because of ease of use however each wick is good for only one burning session. This may not be the best type to use for lamps that need to burn several days.
The third type of wick is created with rolled cotton. Absorbent cotton is available in the drug store. While you can use cotton balls to make very small wicks, the preffered material is the rolled sheet cotton found in the first aid department.
To use cotton wicking, simply tear off a length of the cotton and twist and shape the material into a long wick form.
A similar length of aluminum foil can be folded to create a holder for the wick. Simply punch a hole through the foil and thread the cotton through it. The foil can then be attached to any type of container.
The first type of oil fuel we will discuss is called Lamp Oil. You can find this product in craft and discount stores. I typically purchase plain, unscented oil but also see it in a wide variety of colors and scents.
Lamp or Candle Oil is liquid parafin wax. You can find ultra-pure versions on the market that have no chemical additives. Unscented Lamp Oil is intended for indoor use, and has no odor, no smoke, and no soot.
Lamp Oil is great because it burns slowly and evenly. However, folks may choose to use other oils for their lamps. Just about any oil may be used. Examples include but not limited to Kerosene, Vegetable Oil, Olive Oil, Mineral Oil, Castor Oil or Motor Oil.