How to refurbish and use old oil lamps

Updated: March 18, 2019

Oil Lamp Lighting up the Darkness KJBevan/Shutterstock

Behold, Grandma’s trusty oil lamp, demystified. May your cottage be cozy and bright.

The flat-wick is the most common and practical model. For sheer candle power, nothing beats the old Aladdins, but their wicks are much more fragile.

Your fuel choices for filling the oil font are either kerosene or lamp oil; the latter is preferable, because it’s more stable, but avoid scented or coloured concoctions—these can clog the wick and reduce performance.

Lamp maintenance is straightforward. If the flame has peaks and valleys, then the wick needs trimming (the flame should have a consistent shape). Cut the singed top straight off with scissors, and then snip off each corner at a 45° angle.

The chimney will need some attention from time to time. Wash it in soapy water or, according to my mother-in-law, scrub it with wadded up newspaper. It’s also a good idea to take out the deflector (the small domed piece beneath the flame) and remove any bugs and dust (an old, narrow paintbrush may help). This debris can affect performance.

Operation is a no-brainer. Remove the chimney, raise the wick, and light. Replace the chimney, and adjust the wick for best light and least smoke. As a rule, the wick height should not exceed that of the deflector.

To extinguish, cup the top with your hand and blow.

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