I love the idea of oil lamps because they run forever and don’t have to be replaced continually, like candles. In the past I’ve tried the paraffin lamps, but then you have to keep a supply of expensive/flammable/poisonous paraffin wax or kerosene around.
I learned that the Orthodox use these lamps a lot for shrine/votary/church type applications, and now I know why. Olive oil burns very clean and doesn’t leave stains on your ceiling, it’s safe and fairly cheap.
So lately I’ve been intrigued with burning olive oil and have made several different lamps of my own. Some were leaky or hard to fill without spilling (I hate drops of oil getting everywhere). Others don’t burn as long as I want.
You can’t just buy a normal oil lamp either. Olive oil is thick and will not wick very well. Because of this, you have to keep the oil very close (within an inch or so) to the burning wick. Fortunately this isn’t dangerous. Olive oil doesn’t easily catch on fire, in fact you can put out the lamp by dipping it in the remaining oil! One downside is that a soaked wick can take about 20 seconds (or a few matches) to light.
After a bunch of testing and fiddling I have made a lamp that I really like. It’s cheap, easy to make, and runs for 6-8 hours before I have to refill it, depending on the height of the flame. I can refill it while it’s burning, and it doesn’t spill! It’s open on top but less susceptible to getting knocked over than a tall candle. Adjusting the wick and lighting it is very easy.
All you need is a jar, some cotton wick about 1cm thick, a coat hanger, and some olive oil:
Brilliant, huh? Doesn’t get cheaper than that. I got a whole meter of wick for about $3 shipped. The jar is a plain old jam jar. The piece of coat hanger was bent into shape with some pliers. It hangs on the side of the jar and holds the wick.
The burny part sits off to the side of the jar, but that’s ok because it makes it easier to fill while it’s burning. This is the lamp equivalent of pumping gas with the engine running! Here’s a video of it burning. Goes all day like this. The water in the bottom lets me see when to refill it.