Make Your Own Olive Oil Lamp

Need non-electric lighting for emergencies? With this simple project, you can make an olive oil lamp using common household materials.
By Deanna Duke
June 29, 2009
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You can make your own olive oil lamp using common household materials: a canning jar, wire, string and olive oil.
DEANNA DUKE
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If you live in an area that frequently experiences power outages due to hurricanes, high winds and other storms, one of the things you want to have on hand during storm season is backup lighting. Candles are a sure bet, but they don’t put out much light and — if you want to choose options made from renewable, organic materials — beeswax and soy candles can get mighty expensive.

There are hand-crank and battery-powered lanterns, but what if you don’t already have one on hand when a power outage strikes? The same problem exists if you’re looking for a kerosene or other oil-style lamp. So, what do you do during an emergency for light? How about something that is easy to acquire, inexpensive and gentle on the environment?

The answer is you can make your own olive oil lamp. You don’t need much in the way of equipment and if you don’t have olive oil, you can replace it with other types of cooking oil — or any kind of liquid fat or grease in a pinch. However, I must warn you that while olive is a 99 percent pure renewable fuel that won’t produce smoke or odor, I can’t vouch for canola or corn oil as being smoke-free or that it won’t make the house smell like burnt popcorn.

Making your lamp is relatively easy, and most likely you will have many of the materials on hand already. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A wide-mouthed glass jar (a quart-size wide-mouthed canning jar works really well)
  • A short length of flexible steel wire (1 1/2 or 2 times the height of the jar)
  • A wick
  • Olive oil

Putting Together the Lamp

1. Form one end of the steel wire into a long hook, about the same height as the jar. This hook holds the wire on the jar and doubles as a handle to pull the wick up for lighting. (See photos in the Image Gallery.)

2. Take the other end of the wire and wrap it into a coil, creating a wick stand about an inch or two tall that sits on the bottom of the jar.

3. Pinch the top of the metal coil onto about 2 inches in length of wick so that about a quarter inch or less of the wick is sticking up above the wire coil. Any longer and the wick will smoke. The other end of the wick will be soaking in the olive oil.

4. Add enough olive oil to your jar so that the level is just under where the wick is pinched by the wire. Any higher and you risk putting out the lamp with the oil.

How the Lamp Works

The olive oil is drawn up the wick where it vaporizes and gets burned by the flame. A few ounces of oil will burn for several hours, so if you are concerned about the cost, it is much cheaper than most candles. If you can find lampante oil (olive oil not suitable for eating, but for burning), you can save money by buying that instead of culinary olive oil.

Want to get fancy with your olive oil lamp? You can infuse your olive oil with herbs, spices or essential oils for a more scented experience.

Olive oil lamps have been used for thousands of years and people have relied on oil lamps in general up until the last few generations. They are reliable, plus they burn bright and long. The benefit of olive oil is that if the lamp gets knocked over, it stops burning because it has a high flash point, meaning that it’s not a very flammable material. As a result, an olive oil lamp is far safer than a candle or kerosene lantern. If you are having problems with it smoking when you blow it out, use wet fingers to put out the flame, or just douse it with the oil in the jar.

Notes on Materials

One of the benefits of using a canning jar is that, when the oil lamp is not in use, you can put a canning lid on top for storage. A wide-mouthed pint jar will also work well, you just need to adjust the size of the wick holder.

For your wick, you can use 100 percent cotton string or twine and salt it to ensure that it burns long. To salt your wick, take your cotton twine, put it in a bowl with a little water and then cover with table salt. Squeeze it dry and let it dry overnight, or until it is no longer damp.

If you need or want your lamp to emit more light, try using a braided, flat wick (a half inch or narrower), adjusting the way the wire supports this kind of wick by crimping it to accommodate the extra girth. You can buy flat wicks from stores that carry supplies for oil lamps (such as Lehman’s). Or, you can cut up an old 100 percent cotton tea towel into strips and use that instead.

Commercial Products

If this all seems a bit too complicated to manufacture on your own and you would rather buy an olive oil lamp, you’ll find old fashioned oil lamps online from Lehman’s. Be sure to check out the book I Didn’t Know That Olive Oil Would Burn! while you are at it.

Have you used or built an olive oil lamp? Share your experiences by posting a comment below. 


Deanna Duke is a software developer, writer, urban homesteader and friendly rabble-rouser. Check out her blog at www.thecrunchychicken.com. 


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Post a comment below.

 

miguel
12/7/2013 12:04:01 AM
What is the conclusion and analysis of that project i need it for my group members we are working for an investigatory project

miguel
12/7/2013 12:03:54 AM
What is the conclusion and analysis of that project i need it for my group members we are working for an investigatory project

miguel
12/7/2013 12:03:49 AM
What is the convlusion and analysis of that project i need it for my group members we are working for an investigatory project

Lyric
10/20/2013 5:57:32 AM
We have been using an olive oil lamp (purchased from Lehmann's) for about three years. We love it as we live simply, off the grid and it is used nightly for illumination. Now, we need several more and quite frankly can't afford to purchase so many so I googled "Oil lamps" and found this wonderful tutorial. Thank you for sharing. Namaste, Hip Hillbilly Farm bunch

Wendy
9/27/2013 5:41:39 AM
Hello, and how great it is to find your website. I Googled for an olive oil lamp and found a goldmine!!

Avril
9/3/2013 11:27:34 AM
oh and it does smoke and produce odours.

Avril
9/3/2013 11:26:27 AM
followed to the letter but not work. burns the wick in seconds then goes out

Dennis Schwab
3/22/2012 1:12:42 AM
I like it. Is pure simplicity and seems safe enough when used with a dose of common sense. One neat thing with the canning jar is that the lid can be plopped on the top to snuff it out.

Thomas L Carpenter
3/16/2011 5:41:07 PM
EVOO for lamp oil!!! MY -o- MY!!! That must be extremely expensive unless you mash your own home grown olives. There are many less expensive alternatives unless there is no alternative at the very instant when you need it at the last of the last resorts. The lamp idea, however, is an excellent idea and a good one to keep in mind for emergencies. ...Tom...

Dun Ranull
11/12/2010 3:48:45 AM
Looks like something to try. I have used olive oil extensively in candle making. Also have rendered tallow from beef, pork, and lamb for candles and other uses. Im wondering.. will the mophead strands make candle wicks?

Cristiana
4/29/2010 8:28:12 AM
Interesting article! I already use a candle like this. But not because of hurricanes, there are not any in Romania, but for religious purposes. But here, the Eastern Orthodox people use it as votive candle. Many years ago it was used for practical purposes too. It gives a very warm and mild light and it gives one a very peaceful mind and it is very good for writers and poets, it gives inspiration. Really!If you want to write a poem and you don't find inspiration, turn off the electric light and fire an oil candle. You'll see the effect. I never used olive oil though. But I use sun seed oil instead. Cold pressed oil is better because the light stays long and it doesn't spoil fast. I use a small floating holder for the wick. It floats at the surface of the oil and it has hole in it where is the lighted wick.

KerryAnne
4/28/2010 3:39:06 PM
I am so glad that I found this article! I live on the Oregon coast and blackouts are routine. I will definitely be passing this on.

Lucientia
9/9/2009 11:09:27 AM
Hi there! I was really inspired by this article to make my own oil lamp, so here's the link to some pictures! http://inkexplosion.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/diy-oil-lamp/ I did some modifications to the lamp by adding water and a flotation device for the wick. Would love to hear comments!

Donna_54
8/11/2009 11:39:47 AM
I've been using olive oil to light our way for years. I made my lamps using 'mason' jar glasses with handles so we can move the lights without touching anything that may be hot. I've invested in a roll of wicking material from a craft store that has lasted a long time. I put a small shelf in every room to hold the jar-lamp so it would never compete with living space for added security. I take off the ring, leaving the lid and wick in place and cover each jar with a plastic lid that can be purchased during canning season. Regular and wide mouth are available. This is for safety during the day while my children play and for storage.

M. Haller Yamada
7/9/2009 5:20:25 AM
V. cool! We have blackouts every year or two when hurricanes roll through, and I think this will be very useful. (-: Candles do not provide much light at all, but you can double the light by placing a mirror behind the flame. I bet the mirror trick would work with your olive oil lamps, too. Thanks so much for posting this!

Deanna Duke_1
7/7/2009 12:45:10 PM
Thanks to everyone for their additional comments and help. Mark D. - You can certainly use stale vegetable oil, but it tends to stink more than olive oil and might smoke a little more as well. As Daniel mentioned, I don't believe that you can burn olive oil in a regular hurricane lamp due to the wicking issues. Using the wider hurricane lamp wicks in the canning jar (just adjust the wire to fit the larger size) would result in a much brighter flame.

Daniel Kim
7/6/2009 2:09:56 PM
I've looked it up, and it seems that olive oil will not burn properly in a regular lamp that is designed to use "lamp oil". The viscosity is too high, and so it will not climb the wick fast enough to maintain the flame. Instead, the wick itself will burn. Lehman's is a retailer that sells a line of lamps designed for olive oil. I'd think that a standard oil-burning lamp could be modified to work with olive oil, perhaps by inserting an alternate fuel can that is flatter and closer to the end of the wick. Such an aftermarket modification could be an interesting and useful addition to this thread.

Daniel Kim
7/6/2009 1:53:47 PM
Instructables.com has a large number of such lamps, including one that I posted there http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-oil-burning-candle/ I would love to know if a Hurricane lamp will burn olive oil. I suspect that it will not, because the oil does not seem to wick very high. The viscosity of olive oil may be too high for this.

Maren Harvieux
7/6/2009 9:23:58 AM
i was wondering as well.....can you use olive oil in a regular oil lamp? i have a small one a friend gave me that ive never used.... should it be cleaned before i use it? will the olive oil work just the same?

GinaMO
7/2/2009 1:15:24 PM
I have made these lamps with canning jars, but I just used the lid with the ring that comes with the canning jar. I poked a little hole in the lid and pull the wick up through the hole. At Christmas we submerge a little christmas greenery and cranberries in there for a festive look! They work great!

gary bryan
7/1/2009 7:52:44 PM
will olive oil work in an old fashion hurricane lamp?

Marilyn T
7/1/2009 7:34:43 PM
Is it possible to use olive oil in a regular oil lamp? I have 7 of them like the one pictured here. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/1825/ and would like to use them. They have been cleaned of all traces of oil lamp oil and have new wicks installed.

Mark D
7/1/2009 7:15:49 PM
Can I use stale vegetable oil instead of olive oil?

Suzanne_13
7/1/2009 2:06:36 PM
14 years ago myself and four kids started over on 40 acres and a tent. We used the olive oil lamps. They were great, if they fell over, they went out. I tried several times to light the oil on the tables without the lamp and it would not burn. It was safe and smelled decent. I now have a wonderful husband of 12 years, a large house on our homestead, a wonderful life away from the rat race. On our way to self sufficiency. Suzanne

Greg T.
6/30/2009 9:18:24 AM
These are such great light, we use them at medieval re-enacting events (tho not with canning jars) They're inexpensive, charming, smell decent, and are about as safe as you can get with flame based lighting. The olive oil reservoir never gets hot enough to injure, and the volatility of olive oil is low enough that a spilled lamp will have a VERY hard time starting a fire. Generally it just makes a mess. Another great wick source are cotton rag mop heads, a $5 mop will yield . . .well. . .more wick than you will EVER use. 2 other good additions to the olive oil lamp are that if you use a bale around the top and hang it, you get wonderful light from below, which is something candles just cannot do. Also, a layer of water under the olive oil will allow you to vary the level of the wick, as 2-3 inches is about all the draw you will get on oil in our experience. The added benefit is that the lamp will put itself out safely in the water once the fuel is exhausted.








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