Introduction: Roman/Medieval Oil Lamp

In this Instructable, I will show you how to make an oil lamp based loosely on the ones depicted in movies like Gladiator (2000) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005) out of the stuff you (probably) have in your house.

Background: In most medieval movies, you see candles absolutely everywhere! The reality is that candles were expensive and in many places outside Northern Europe, people used oil lamps. Possible oil lamps have been found in places like the Lascaux Caves and across the world. Oil lamps also feature notably in numerous religious ceremonies to this day.

Step 1: Materials and Tools


  • Thin Copper Wire (I used 18 gauge wire)
  • Cotton Wick (I used an old undershirt)
  • Glass Cup
  • Olive Oil
  • Water

*Warning: Make sure that the material for your wick is 100% natural fiber and is washed clean. You don't want to be inhaling any melted synthetic material or the bleach you used in the wash! For the wire, materials like metal paper clips may have coatings like zinc on them that may be toxic when heated up, so stick to bare copper.


  • Pliers with wire cutters
  • Screwdriver/Sturdy Wooden Dowel
  • Bench Vice/Clamps (to hold down the screwdriver/dowel)

Step 2: Looping the Wire for the Wick

The first step is to make a loop in the wire for your cotton wick to rest/hang in.

Take your screwdriver/sturdy wooden dowel and clamp it in a vice or to a table/workbench. Take your copper wire and make two or three tight loops around the screwdriver, leaving yourself with a few inches of slack on either side of the loop.

Step 3: Molding the Wire to the Glass Cup - Part 1

This step will require a bit of trial and error, but it is also where you can customize how you want to set up your lamp. The goal is to get the loop (for the wick) to hang in the middle of the glass, while the rest of the wire holds it there.

Snip off the copper wire with the loop, giving yourself a few inches of slack on each side of the loop, and place the wire on top of the glass with the loop in the middle. Take your pliers and bend/fold/crimp one end so that it hooks over the edge of the glass. Repeat this with the other side.

Step 4: Molding the Wire to the Glass Cup - Part 2

At this point, you can customize the how you want the oil lamp to look.

With all the slack in the wire, you can literally bend it to your will. The simplest design is a 3-hook one. Three seems to be the minimum to keep the whole thing from slipping off the curved edges of the glass. Or you can wrap it around the whole glass, curl the ends of the wire together, etc. You decide what you want to do.

One suggestion is to push down the loop for the wick so that is sits just below the rim of the glass. It helps keep the wire from slipping off the sides.

Step 5: Making the Wick

For the wick, I used an old cotton undershirt that I was "retiring from service." You can also use cotton rope, linen/cotton rags, etc. Just make double-triple sure that it is 100% natural fiber. Burning synthetic fibers (spandex, nylon, rayon, etc.) will release dangerous fumes.

Rip/cut a small rectangle of your cloth and roll it up. You want it to be snug in the loop of your wire, but not to the point where you mess up all of your hard work trying to jam it in there! Once it is in, cut it down to the desired length in your cup.

As you can see in the third picture, my wick does not reach the bottom. That's alright because I'll show you a trick to make it work in the next step.

Step 6: Filling It Up and Illuminating the Darkness

If you have ever had a bottle of Italian Style Salad Dressing, you have probably noticed all of the ingredients separating shortly after you shake it up. This same principle works for the oil lamp.

Fill up you glass with water until you are pretty close to the bottom of your hanging wick. Now pour in the olive oil, which will float to the top, and presto, you have a reservoir of oil for your lamp. A little bit of oil goes a long way for these lamps, so you don't need to waste it by filling up the whole glass. Using the oil you see in the picture, I have had it lit for about 2 hours and it has barely made a dent in the oil level.

Just remember that this is an open flame, and that you need to take all the same precautions that you would with a candle. Don't leave it unattended, don't move it once it is lit, keep it away from flammable materials, only burn in well ventilated areas, put it out before you go to sleep! It's best to burn it outside because when you are lighting the wick, it'll smell like burning olive oil for a few minutes (it goes away after that), and it does produce a little bit of smoke (a surprisingly small amount).

Now you too can do as the Roman do and relax with a nice oil lamp after a long day fighting barbarians, or you know, a day at the office. If you liked this Instructable, please consider voting for it in the Oil Contest and/or the Creative Misuse Contest. Thanks for reading and post a picture of your Roman/Medieval Oil Lamps down below!

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