Using and Caring for Oil Lamps
I remember losing power for several days after a hurricane struck New England. Being a child with no responsibilities to care for a family in the emergency, I remember it being nothing but fun and feeling distinctly disappointed when the lights came back on. This was partly due to the fact that ours had never entirely gone out. The oil lamps that always hung on our walls in the main rooms were more than merely decorative and they provided us with the light we needed during those electricity-less evenings. Between those lamps and our gas range to cook on, we were quite comfortable.
Fuels and filling. Use the appropriate fuel for your lamp. In most cases this will be K1 kerosene or lamp oil. There is usually only a little difference in odor and smoke output between these two products and you will need to determine whether the additional cost for lamp oil is worth it to you. Brands may vary. Fill your lamp’s fount to about ½” of the top or according to manufacturer instruction with room temperature oil (to prevent condensation). You may want to use a funnel or fill outdoors to prevent spills and fumes indoors.
Trimming the wick. Unlike a candle, the wick height on an oil lamp is adjustable, so trimming is not necessary for this purpose. This is a matter of controversy, lamp construction and, possibly, personal preference. It is commonly held that a flat wick should have its corners rounded off slightly (less than ¼”) in order to produce a pleasing flame shape. W.T. Kirkman Lanterns’ newsletter from last fall suggests that this is due to a defect in the burner shape of the lamp and that trimming will only reduce light outputs. We leave this to the judgment of the user. One opinion, with examples.
Lighting. Allow your wick to absorb oil for a few minutes, up to 30 for a new wick. Light and hold match horizontally, against the edge of the wick. Adjust height of wick using the thumb wheel until it all but disappears into the burner, while maintaining a steady flame and replace the glass chimney. If the flame is smoky, the wick may still be too high. Remember that the goal is to burn oil, not wick.
Extinguishing. Cup your hand around the back of the chimney (without touching it!) at the top and blow hard. Some lanterns are designed with a lever that raises the chimney out of the way for lighting and extinguishing. Allow to cool thoroughly before handling the chimney or storing.
Cleaning and storing. Chimneys can either be cleaned in warm soapy water, using glass cleaner or using a household cleaner such as Tilex. Storing the lamp ½ full of oil will prevent the wick from drying out. As long as the lamp is stored in a safe place, leftover oil can simply remain in the fount until it is used again.
Notes and warnings:
Kerosene fumes may bother some sensitive individuals. Keeping a window cracked and/or changing your fuel may help.
Always burn a lamp with the chimney in place. Failure to do so can result in pressure changes in the fount and present a serious fire hazard.
Always use a correctly-sized wick for best light and lowest smoke outputs. Take a bit of the old wick with you when purchasing of refer to manufacturer instructions.
Kerosene smell on hands can be neutralized by using a bit of gel alcohol hand sanitizer after washing.
Always keep lamps away from children and flammable objects.