A year or two ago I purchased a rather large bottle of olive oil (it was on sale) in the hopes that I’d use it for cooking at whatnot. While I did use it for cooking, I used it in such moderation that it passed the “use by” date while still having about three-quarters of the bottle remaining.
I purchased a new, smaller bottle of oil and have been using that for cooking, but what was I to do with the old bottle of oil? Throwing it out seemed like such a waste, so I decided to put it to good use.
By setting it on fire.
After doing some brief searching on the internet, I discovered that many old oil lamps (prior to more modern kerosene-burning ones) burned olive oil, so I was in luck. All I needed was an oil reservoir and a wick and I could make a lamp. In addition to being a rather fun thing to do, it would also yield a useful source of long-term, low-intensity light that would be handy in extended power outages — candles are bulky and don’t burn for long, and flashlights (of which I have several) require batteries which burn out relatively fast. Olive oil is relatively safe compared to other oils, as it is very difficult to ignite without a wick, and so wouldn’t cause a massive fire if the lamp were to tip over.
I decided to start with the basics: I had an empty, clean, dry jar that used to contain spaghetti sauce and a paper towel. I punched a hole in the lid of the jar, widened it to about a quarter-inch, rolled up the towel, inserted it into the hole with about a bit more than a quarter-inch protruding, filled the jar with oil, put the lid on, and let the oil soak up into the wick. Once it was soaked, I lit it with a lighter. It took about 5-10 seconds to light, but once lit it’s burned cleanly and smokelessly for several hours. I haven’t been able to detect any odor, and the lamp is not unpleasant to be around. The paper towel wick has turned black where the flame is, but has not burned down by any noticeable amount in the last several hours.
I could go about punching more holes in the lid and adding more wicks for greater output at the expense of greater oil consumption, as well as using a better wick (I’d imagine that the paper towel will eventually degrade in the oil) like cotton or something. We shall see.
Anyway, the point was that I was able to make a very inexpensive, clean, long-burning lamp using only the most basic of household ingredients. While a mass-produced oil lamp would likely be more effective for lighting, this sort of MacGyver-esque approach is useful for people without a lot of storage space that can be dedicated to emergency supplies (such as my small studio apartment), as well as a lot more fun.
I’ll post some pictures once I find my camera. It’s somewhere around here…