Introduction: Making Oil Lamps and Candles for Free

Picture of Making Oil Lamps and Candles for Free

You can very easily make your own candles/oil lamps for free out of regular kitchen waste. This guide describes how to make a unique salted paper wicking for use in jar oil lamps and jar candles. Both the candles and oil lamps are designed to use free kitchen oil and have a top that closes so they won't spill or leak in storage.

Step 1: Making Wicks

Picture of Making Wicks

Start with making wicking from salted paper

The salt keeps the paper from burning too fast. Also the salted paper wicking is stiff so it doesn't need wire to stand up. This property is useful for the candles and oil lamps described in the following steps. Actually any kind of wicking, like wick cut from a cotton towel will burn best if it is salted which retards charring. Just something useful to know if you are making any other types of instructables oil lamps. Presently the other lamps featured on don't work well because they don't salt their wicks.

1. Wet some cheap copy paper with some very salty water or pour salt over the wet paper in a tray.

2. Fold and cut the paper into strips then twist or roll the paper.

3. Dry in an oven at 200F for 20 minutes or air dry overnight.

Here is picture of a tray of paper wicks made from one sheet of cheap copy paper.

Step 2: Making a Paper Wick Tallow Candle

Picture of Making a Paper Wick Tallow Candle

You can make a tallow or cooking grease candle very easily with the stiff paper wicking described earlier.

1. Select a jar, wide mouth jars are easiest to light.

2. Make a spiral from some wire, a foot of unwound ground wire works very well.

3. Pinch the wire around the wicking so the wick stands up. That way the wick will stand straight even if the grease melts. Where as, regular candle wicking would just fall into the candle.

4. Melt and pour in your grease, wait for the grease to solidify, then your candle is ready to use...

Step 3: Making a Paper Wick Oil Lamp

Picture of Making a Paper Wick Oil Lamp

This sort of oil lamp works well with all sorts of used cooking oil. The wicks have a wire stand and handle so they can easily be lite and lowered into the lamp. And since they can be closed they don't spill when storing or moving them.

1. Select a jar.

2. Make a spiral out of wire as before so it pinches onto the wick pointing it up straight.

3. Bend the far end of the spiral into a handle so the wick can be pulled out of the oil for easy lighting. When you make the handle, make it so it sits above the oil and below the jar lid.

4. Fill the lamp so it leaves about 1/8 an inch of wicking above the oil.

5. Pull the wicking up, hold it sideways and light it.

6. Lower the wick into the lamp and enjoy.


taylorslady (author)2016-09-19

Thank you! This worked well!

richbar (author)2016-09-17

I understand that in ancient Egypt, the tomb workers use to use olive oil lamps and they put some salt on the oil to avoid the black smoke but this is thing of burnt slow because the salt is new to me, cool... living and learning... thank you!

ariachus (author)2015-03-24

Would this work fine with newspaper as well? or would the acids/inks create too much fumes?

NamOoni1974 made it! (author)2015-02-04

Oh this was so much fun and I got it right on the first try! Thank-you!

steam_cannon (author)NamOoni19742015-02-13

You made me smile. :)

mkslocomb (author)2014-12-01

Quick question for Step 1: what size did you cut the paper to twist?

I attempted this, but I did the salt-water after I twisted the paper - just un-twisted. I think I didn't cut the paper wide enough also. That experiment failed. Anyway, want to try again.

steam_cannon (author)mkslocomb2015-02-13

Two inch wide strips of paper towel, dipped in salt water and rolled/twisted. Wet paper towel generally doesn't untwist. So if you're having problems with untwisting, maybe you were using a paper towel mixed with synthetic material and you need to use a cheaper paper towel. Or perhaps you were using paper instead of paper towel? In that case you might need to wet it longer. And if you're still having trouble, just use 100% cotton wash cloth and cut it to size and salt it.

SIRJAMES09 (author)2015-01-01


does it have tobe paper?

or can it be 100% cotton?

And what about using a fibreglass wick?

When it comes to burning natural oils, if I did not have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all... 8 (

steam_cannon (author)SIRJAMES092015-02-13

Yes, in my instructable above I say the words "wick cut from a cotton towel will burn best if it is salted" which means cotton will work too and is perhaps even better. Regarding fiberglass wicking, no you don't need to add salt to fiberglass as salt helps slow carbon from charing and fiberglass is made of glass and charing isn't an issue.

SonyaM (author)2014-08-16

does anyone know if it would be ok to use cooking oil but then add in some of those scented oils that you get from walmart to make it smell better?

steam_cannon (author)SonyaM2014-09-03

The oils they sell for evaporating above a candle dish would probably be safe. They already evaporate, burn and sizzle from candle heat. And I think they are what people use. But you should read the label and contact the manufacturer if there is any question about their product. Personally I recommend that you google "scents for adding to candle wax" because you'll find that people sell scents for adding to candles, gel candles or oils. You can buy a product specifically for your purpose, for about the same price.

Here are a link you might find handy:

slobodan (author)2013-08-07


ptsal (author)2013-02-24

the salt is genius!

steam_cannon (author)ptsal2013-02-25

Thanks! It's the small details that make the world go round. :)

SIRJAMES09 (author)2012-04-01

2K4U and Randkl:

TY very much!! I'm having the same problem...the oil lamp burns like it's supposed to for about 10 - 15 seconds then goes out.

Now that I know it's the oil, I know how to fix the problem. :)

would a fiberglass wick do better in an oil lamp than a cotton wick?

If fiberglass wicks will work better, I'll toss the cotton wicks in a New York Minute.

steam_cannon (author)SIRJAMES092012-04-05

Fiberglass wicks work quite well. Their only disadvantage is they are difficult to make. Though you are interested, you may be able to make fiberglass wicking from rolling fiberglass insulation with a little glue so it holds it's form better, then you don't have to braid it. (Be sure to wear gloves if you decide to make fiberglass wicking.)

Sir Lunch-a-lot (author)2012-03-04

Can I just say, excellent instructable. I was fooling around with trying to create an oil lamp (realizing that candles can get expensive, fast) and was finding that the wicks I was making just couldn't keep up with the flames demand for oil. I also observed that they would wick really quickly the first 1/8-1/4" or so, and then slow right down. Though simple, your instructable addressed the issues I was having.

Now I'll just have to keep my eyes open for more jars or cheap glass cups.

lomi.hija (author)2011-05-08

it would be nice if you can make the wick float, so it will automatically follow any level of oil you have..

bowow0807 (author)lomi.hija2011-05-18

i think you can by using one of those tiny candles in the small tin used for boiling scents. just punch a hole and place the wick through the hole and it will float

Catl8dy (author)bowow08072011-12-14

You can! I tried it and it works great. Thanks for the idea :-)
I used a Kerr jelly jar.
Punched a small hole in the center of the metal candle holder, twisted in my
salted paper wick, floated it on top of the oil and waited for it to absorb the oil. Took it out with a needlenose pliers, lit it while holding with the pliers, and put back in the oil.
The wick was about 1/8 above the metal and the extended about an inch
below it, into the oil.

biofueljunke (author)2010-09-01

made this about a year ago with steel wire and paper towel for added absorbancy its really reliable because its a candle that is made to use liquid fuel

tinkerist (author)2010-03-23

i seem to be getting some hit-and-miss with my lamp wicks.  often they seem not to wick fast enough to stay lit for very long.  sometimes they work great.  when i set the wick in an open container of oil it always works fine, but they seem not to always work so well with bottle type lamps where the flame is well above the oil (inch or more).

any suggestions?  could i be over salting (sometimes there are little bits of salt deposit on the wick)?  is cotton twine too dense (paper occasionally works better, but not always)?

tinkerist (author)tinkerist2010-03-23

i figured it out.  all i needed to do was bring the oil level up some more.  i guess if i want it to go deeper i'll have to make some biodiesel!

steam_cannon (author)tinkerist2010-07-17

That makes sense you just needed to level up. Most home made bottle oil lamps are filled to the top near the wick. When I make a bottle lamp, I usually put (clear marbles, pebbles or sand) in to fill the rest of the bottle so I don't have to use as much oil.

randkl (author)tinkerist2010-05-25

Some oils are just too thick to draw very high.  Olive oil's one.  That's why all ancient olive oil lamps had the wick to one side and it just sort of floated on the oil.  Overhead wick oil lamps didn't come about til thinner oils came about.  Olive oil won't draw more than about an inch in height.  You're doing everything just's the oil that's the prob.  Stick to shallow bowls and jars and you'll have no probs.

chuckr44 (author)2010-02-11

I found that corn oil smelled nasty when burned in an oil lamp. Olive oil smells better. I didn't try any other oils though.

randkl (author)chuckr442010-05-25

Keep your burn height low and it won't have much scent at all.  Scent tends to mean unburnt fuel is escaping into the air.  If you're getting smoke, your burn is too high.  Bad scent the same way.

2k4u (author)2008-06-14

I made an oil lamp out of a Kerr canning jar, with a cut up cotton shirt for the wick, salted it, and used olive oil for fuel. It stays lit for about 10 seconds, then it starts to char, burns down, and goes out...What can I do to fix this?

randkl (author)2k4u2010-05-25

Again, it's your oil.  Olive oil won't wick more than about an inch.  You're lighting it and burning it and it's burning the oil in the wick....but it can't draw fast enough to keep it fueled so it starts burning the wick.  Burnt wick means it choked itself on low fuel.  Try using a more shallow lamp....or a wider wick with a short burn height.  Cotton clothesline tends to draw good and if you keep it trimmed short, it won't choke itself out.

steam_cannon (author)2k4u2008-06-14

A couple things come to mind... 1st, how dry was your wick before you put it in? 2nd, could there be a drop of water that got in your container? 3rd, are you sure the shirt is 100% cotton? 4rd, is that 100% olive oil? I use used cooking oil, but olive oil should work, unless it has water in the container or possibly certain additives. Regarding water, if there is some water in your jar, the wick will pull up water before the oil and the flame will sputter out. Whatever the problem, what you are describing to me sounds like some kind of wet wick issue. I've had exactly what you describe happen to me experimenting with butter. Butter contains a lot of water and if you don't boil the butter enough so all the water is out, the wick will burn then sputter and go out. Something to think about, even an unsalted wick should burn more then 10 seconds, so I think you are having some sort of problem with dampness of your wick or water in your container. I usually dry wicks in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 200 (depends on the oven). And if I'm drying wicks overnight, I make sure they are completely dry before using them. Tell me a few more details if these tips didn't help...

Oh and if your wick is too short it might go out like you are describing...

chuckr44 (author)steam_cannon2010-02-11

You must first soak your wick in oil for 10 minutes before lighting it. Otherwise, capillary action takes too long to get the oil to the top of the wick. Also, if the oil level in the jar is more than 2 inches away from the top of the wick, the oil is too thick to get to the wick. This explains why all oil lamps are shallow.

It also explains the popularity of kerosene lamps. The kerosene is thinner, and will "go up" a wick a further distance. Thus using all the fuel before needing to be refilled.

sharlston (author)2009-07-27

wow nice job i prefer extra virgin olive oil what do you lik best?


chuckr44 (author)sharlston2010-02-11

I prefer experienced olive oil. :)

sharlston (author)chuckr442010-02-12


Knitwitz (author)2009-10-22

Wow, great idea, Thank You, so much for your knowledge.

Starrystar (author)2008-10-12

Is there some alternative to grease for us vegetarian types? Maybe crisco or . . . something vegetable based? (wishful thinking, maybe.)

steam_cannon (author)Starrystar2009-09-04

Yes. Most of the pictures are of lamps burning recycled corn oil. And looking back to history, oil lamps since antiquity have used olive oil. So yes, you can definitely use vegetable oils.

steam_cannon (author)Starrystar2008-10-13

Most of the oil candles in the pictures are burning vegetable oil. Many of the oil candles in the picture are burning used vegetable oil. It's not a bad way to get one last use out of some oil.

shmacky26 (author)steam_cannon2008-10-30

This worked perfect for me the first time, I used a coffee filter to filter olive oil after cooking chicken. The only problem that I ended up with is that my wix, made of paper and salt, burns black smoke after it really gets going. Not sure why, but it's too smokey for indoors. Any suggestions or comments on why that is happening? Also, Is there something you can mix with oil to get it to smell good that's not store bought? Maybe grinding up dried rose pedals to a powder and mixing it in with the oil?

steam_cannon (author)shmacky262008-10-31

Glad to hear it worked right off the bat! :) If your wick is smoking, try trimming it shorter. That fixes smoking problems for me. Regarding changing the smell of the oil, Rose oil might work but in general I don't know much about how to scent oils.

rbneville (author)steam_cannon2009-08-22

Just get what you want your oil scented as. Fore example a rose flower. Place it in the oil and keep the oil warm for a day or 2.( I found placing it on top of a heater works good). Then filter and use.

texasmom_35 (author)rbneville2009-08-25

To keep the oil warm do you think that placing it on one of those candle warming things would be ok?? I use it to make my yogurt and when used with a small plate between it and the yogurt it stays at a perfect 110 degrees.

rbneville (author)Starrystar2009-08-22

you could probably use algae oil too.

Fenris The bbw (author)2009-08-03

A suggestion for your CD reflector. If you dip a c.d. in hot water for a few seconds it gets floppy and shapeable. It quickly dries into whatever shape you had it in, and if you don't leave it in too long, it retains it's reflectivity.

dciocoiu (author)2009-05-28

this is very eco friendly i went to europe last summer and they had somthing similar at old homes.

biofueljunke (author)2009-03-14

awsum i made one it runs on old cooking oil from a local deli but i used recycled paper paper towle for the wick and its great but the wick needs trimming or it will smoke but great idea and it would be a great way for people who run there cars on veg to test for water

crochetdee (author)2008-12-05

How long can you burn? does the glass have a point where it get too hot and will break? or the oil can bubble/sizzle up? By grease: did you mean bacaon fat? thank you. PS: I add scent to candles, you use less when then candle wax is a little cooler, otherwise you're cooking the scent. spearmint and sage is great for headaches, nausea, muscle pain rosemary, mint and sage great for extreme muscle aches Pine for colds. mix in a scent you enjoy, like rose, is you don't like the smell or want to add softness to a medicinal mix. and remember, it won't cure your headache if spearmint gives you one. these cures work by being absorbed thru skin or nose, but being harsh smelling isn't the same as haing a Negative reaction. Aso, these are medicinal. watch how many drops you use and how much COMBINED oils you take throughout the day. AND ALSO MAKE SURE TO AVOID oils that are Expellants!!! they're good for getting rid of congestion and BABIES. Just don't buy them.

steam_cannon (author)crochetdee2008-12-06

As with anything involving fire, use your best judgment. But in my experience I use wide mouth jars and candle size wicks so I haven't had the glass get too hot, even when the fuel is running out. I guess as a rule of thumb, if you can put a candle in the jar you can also make it an oil lamp. Regarding grease, I've used bacon fat, butter fat, tallow, cooking oils... Crisco smells awful IMO, but is fine for outside. And as a general rule of thumb with any kind of candle, if you are worried about your walls getting smudged, cooking oil scent, or fire, then don't use these indoors. If you worry, don't make yourself worry :)

2k4u (author)2008-06-14

Steam_cannon, thanks for the quick reply. It felt like 100% cotton but then again I bet it was 1/2 synthetic >.> That's most likely the problem, I don't think moisture had to do with it for a number of reasons. I baked my salted wicks at 150 for at least 10 minutes, and the felt very dry when I touched them. The olive oil was the cheap Great Value stuff, but is says 100% olive oil. Originally I used veggy oil, and I had the same problems, so I switched to olive oil thinking that my choice of fuel was the problem, but it's definitely the wick. Another thing, the salted wicks seemed like they didn't absorb oil as well as the unsalted ones I tried..? Maybe it's not absorbing enough oil. I even enlarged the hole so oil isn't cut off from reaching the part of the wick that's exposed, but when I turn the jar upsidedown to soak the wick, oil seems to just drip off rather than be absorbed.

About This Instructable




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