Advice About Oil Lamps

The oil lamps in the background of your pictures are beautiful! Do you have any advice on what to look for in an oil lamp? Aladdin?

Why thank you Christine!
As far as oil lamps go there are basically 3 or 4 kinds.
Mantle lamps, flat or round wick lamps, floating wick lamps and pressurized lamps.
Your personal family needs and economic considerations should influence the type of lamp that is best for your situation.

Floating Wick Lamps

Floating wick lamps are really just for decorative lighting. The light is faint and soft.
For the most part they are very safe to use and are based on a design that has been in use for well over 6,000 years.

The way that they work, is a piece of cork or other material is fitted with a small wick through the center. The whole rig floats or sets on top of a layer of oil and water. Some people will just use oil in the lamp without the water. Olive oil works best – corn oil is almost useless.

The advantage of using oil & water is if the lamp should accidentally over turn the water will extinguish the flame.
Floating wick lamps are very similar in principle to early American Betty Lamps.
Betty lamps burn animal fat, grease or oil with a simple cloth wick without the floating cork or water. Betty lamps can be difficult to light when the room temperature is below 45°F . They were usually made of wrought iron or ceramic so the container could be heated from underneath to melt the grease so it would burn.

Mantle Lamps

Aladdin Lamps are perhaps the best known mantle lamps.
In my opinion they are the most effective type of oil lamp for general everyday household non-electric lighting needs. You can easily read by them. However, they are expensive.

Aladdin lamp light is harsh and has a distinctive blue cast to it. They make a very faint humming sound when in operation.

The way that a mantle lamp works is by the combustion of volatile gases moving across the webbed mantle

Lamp Mantle

via a round, continuous tube-shaped wick and flame spreader.

Like pressurized lamps the flame will tend to creep higher if it is turned up too high and too fast.
Mantle lamps are very safe, but as with all open flame lighting common sense and caution must be used.

The top 18″- 24″ area around the chimney of an Aladdin lamp gets extremely hot and stays hot for a long time after the lamp is extinguished.
In fact the entire gallery assembly of an Aladdin lamp gets super hot.
So be careful!
Aladdin lamps need close supervision if used around children or people who don’t understand how they work.

Flat Wick or Round Wick Lamps

These are the type of oil lamps that most people are familiar with. The light is soft, quiet and soothing.

The way that they work is similar to a floating wick lamp except the wick is stationary and is threaded through a brass or nickel burner.

Fuel is drawn up through the cloth wick and is burned off. The higher the wick is turned up – the higher the flame.
Wick height determines the amount of light.
The only problem is that the wick can be turned up just so far before the lamp smokes and the flame breaks the chimney.

Round wick lamps do seem to give a bit more light than flat wick lamps and can be turned up higher without sooting and smoking.

Flat wick or round wick lamps are easy to use, but don’t give enough light to read by.

And just so you know, there is a type of lamp called a double wick lamp.
It works just like a single wick except there are 2 wicks attached to the burner. In theory it gives off twice the light.

Pressurized Lamps

I have very limited experience with pressurized lamps. They are popular with the local Amish here. Petromax and BriteLyt are the two brands I’m familiar with. Both lanterns are cost-effective, safe and very dependable but must be used with adequate ventilation. Pressurized lamps use a mantle and have to be pumped by hand. They can be a little tricky to operate and there is a slight learning curve. Some people find the hissing noise that they make disagreeable, but some people find it soothing. The light is very bright and harsh.


  1 comment for “Advice About Oil Lamps

  1. Tommy
    March 11, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    just finished reading your GREAT comments and advice about kerosene lamps!
    Coleman also makes a kerosene pressure lantern. The lantern is not usually sold in stores but is available online.

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