I think this is a fantastic idea. a frugal, earth friendly choice for emergency preparedness -and- a frugal option for homemade holiday gifts with a little creativity.
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 Lamp1. 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 WorksThe 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 MaterialsOne 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.
I like this idea better because of the 'lid'
Olive oil lamps last several hours
To begin, you'll need the glass bottle of olive oil with one third of the oil still inside (hopefully you've already used the other two thirds, or have poured it into another container). Extra virgin bottles work great, as they tend to be more sturdy and decorative. You'll also need a wick, which in this case is a short strip (roughly 4" long x ½ " wide) of pure cotton or linen fabric (cotton string works well too); a hammer; a Phillips screwdriver or thick nail; a small bowl and a couple sheets of paper towel. Once you've collected your items and cleared your workspace (preferably a kitchen table), start making your lamp:
-Unscrew the lid (this should be metal) and poke a hole in the top using the hammer and nail (or screwdriver).
Soak wick in oil before inserting
-Fill the jar with slowly with water; the oil will quickly separate to the top. Make sure you fill the jar almost to the rim, as the closer the oil is to the lid, the easier it is for the wick to stay lit.
Make sure wick sits 1/2" above lid
-Make sure you wipe off any oil splatters on the table or outside of the jar, and then light the wick. The wick may smoke a bit to begin with, but then it should clear to form a nice, even flame. Your lamp should be able to burn for several hours. When the wick gets too low to burn properly, simply blow it out and pull more fabric or string up using a pin.