Introduction: How to Make an Alcohol Lamp for Home Microbiology Use

This Instructable will cover the steps necessary to safely make an alcohol lamp from easily obtainable materials.  It can be used to create a sterile space for microbiological experimentation at home, e.g. to culture yeast from a bottle of unfiltered/unpasteurized beer.  

I made it at TechShop (

Step 1: Safety Is Always First

Safety is the # 1 priority when working with flammable materials.  You and you alone are responsible for your own safety and the safety of those around you, especially when you are working with flammable liquids and fire.  Work in an area free of flammable objects (e.g. the can of fuel) and always work with a fire extinguisher nearby.  Be smart.  Don’t burn your house or apartment complex down.  Never leave a lit alcohol lamp unattended.

Step 2: Obtain Materials

Obtain the following:
-2 small glass jars with screw-top lids (e.g. baby food jars) or small corkable glass container (two corks).
-Cotton balls or cotton string
-Aluminum foil (if using corkable containers)
-Ethyl alcohol (also known as ethanol, this can be found as denatured alcohol in the paints/solvents aisle of most home improvement stores.  Additionally, if you are preparing your laboratory for the zombie apocalypse, note that any ethanol over 90% will work, e.g. distilled spirits).

Step 3: Drill Holes in the Cork

Drill two small holes in the jar lid or cork.  One hole will be for the wick and the other will allow for release of pressure from the container as fuel leaves it during combustion (although if your cork is loose enough, this isn't strictly necessary and one can find many differing designs for alcohol lamps on the Interwebs).  Retain the other lid/cork without holes to seal the container when not in use (to prevent evaporation of the ethanol).  

Step 4: Braid a Wick and Thread It Through the Center Hole in the Cork

Braid the wick using the cotton string or the cotton balls.  You should experiment with different wicks and wick sizes to see which performs the best for you in your alcohol lamp.  

Thread the wick through the largest of the two holes in your cork or jar lid (this may take some finagling).  I used a loop of wire and needle nose pliers.

Step 5: Protect Your Cork

If you are using a cork, then fashion a cover for it out of aluminum foil.

Step 6: Light the Wick

Light the wick, preferably with free matches you obtained from one of your favorite local craft breweries.  Keep the wick trimmed in order to regulate the size of the flame produced.

Step 7: Use Your Alcohol Lamp to Flame Sterilize Instruments and Provide a Clean Work Area

The alcohol lamp creates an updraft and provides air clean of airborne contaminants immediately in the vicinity of the flame, which you can use to work with sterile culture media on petri dishes for home microbiological experiments.  In my next Instructable I will show you how to make sterile plates with solid culture medium (malt extract, yeast nutrient, agar-agar) in order to culture pure yeast at home.