Emergency Oil Lamp

In the case of an extended power outage, have you ever thought of what to do for a light source when you run out of flashlight batteries? Or to conserve the flashlight batteries you have?

Candles? Sure. Camping lanterns? Sure. But candles blow out in a breeze and lanterns require specialty fuel and mantles, don’t they? What if I told you that there was a type of emergency lamp you could build yourself out of stuff you probably already have at home, that would run on fuel you probably already have in your kitchen?

The answer goes all the way back to Biblical times. I’m talking about an olive oil lamp. Never heard of it? Neither had I before a couple years ago. But it’s probably one of the easiest and safest oil lamp options out there. And it has the history to prove it. Anybody remember the Parable of the Virgins in the Gospel of Matthew? The foolish girls didn’t bring any spare oil for their lamps. That was olive oil. If you go farther back, there is evidence for animal fat lamps even to 70,000 BC.

Why olive oil over something like canola (rapeseed) oil? The reading I’ve done says that other cooking oils will work, but olive oil tends to smoke less and smell better than burning other commonly available oils.

Other advantages to olive oil as fuel:

-It’s renewable and plant-based (if that’s important to you)

-It’s non-toxic and doesn’t require a hazmat unit to clean-up a spill.

-Olive Oil has a high flashpoint, making it an extremely safe fuel. If you tip over your olive oil lamp the oil will extinguish/smother the flame rather than setting the table on fire.

-It’s a dual purpose oil since you can cook with it too.

-The jar helps shield the flame from breezes, unlike candles, and the glass jar stays cool enough to carry around in your hand with you in the event of a power outage.

I stumbled upon this idea online a few years ago, made a few of them, and now I keep a jug of cheap olive oil in the cupboard for emergencies.

Supplies you will need:

-Mason/canning jar – though it’s not Pyrex, this type of glass is more heat-resistant and sturdier than commercial food jars.

-Coat hanger, or heavier-type copper wire

-Wick from braided thin strips of cotton muslin or flannel or use a commercial wick

-Needle nose pliers

-Wire cutters

-Olive oil

wire for emergency oil lamp preparation
Cut and twist the wire.
Ready oil lamp wick
Braid the wick.
Components gathered.
Wick soaking in olive oil.

All you need to do is cut off a length of coat hanger or wire (I’ve used both) and use some elbow grease to wrap it into a cone with a broad base and tall handle extension. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and you don’t want the cone to be more than an inch or two tall. The oil won’t wick up very far since it’s not terribly volatile. The cone needs to be pinched a bit at the top in order to hold the wick in place. Bend it all to suit your jar height, add the wick, pour in some oil, let it soak for a few minutes, and light.

I have also found it handy to keep a pair of hemostats or long forceps nearby to adjust the wick when it burns down. You can order those online or they can be found at medical supply places or at gun shows in the random supplies bin.

A pretty jar throws pretty light patterns.

This is an easy evening project and you can use decorative jars if you want to be “crafty” or non-utilitarian. I have even steeped herbs in the olive oil first to give it a little fragrance. Nobody ever said that survival had to be ugly and boring.