How to Make Your Own Olive Oil Lamp




An olive oil lamp is a surprisingly safe and simple lamp that you can do-it-yourself. It produces light, as much as, or more than, an ordinary candle, and is an alternative to kerosene-style oil lamps. The concept of burning oil from vegetables (olive oil) in the home rather than petroleum based kerosene seems more appealing, less toxic, and safer.

The Romans and other ancients regularly burned olive oil in their lamps, so, the concept is sound. Pure olive oil will not produce smoke, while other types of vegetable oils may produce some residual smoke while burning.

For those who are curious, the cost of burning olive oil in this lamp will depend on wick size (flame size and corresponding oil consumption), while my own experiment consumed 2 ounces (1/8 cup) of olive oil in 5 hours. This calculates out to about 10-cents per hour depending on how cheap you can find pure olive oil. An ordinary Votive candle may cost about 3 to 5-cents per hour to burn, although probably not as bright as the oil lamp.

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Step 1: Olive Oil Lamp Parts

You will need an ordinary metal coat hanger, a wick, a canning jar (these are heat treated and can withstand the hot temperature), and needle-nose pliers.

The wick shown in this photo is a typical kerosene lamp wick. Using a scissors, I cut the wick in half (length wise) so it wouldn’t be as fat as what is shown in the photo. You can use an ordinary candle wick.

TIP: A coat hanger is somewhat difficult to work and bend into a coil, while an easier approach is to use #12 gauge bare copper 'ground' wire, available at most hardware and 'big box' stores. It's softer and easier to work with.

Step 2: Bend Hanger Back and Forth Until It Snaps

Grip the pliers firmly to the metal wire of the coat hanger and twist back and forth until the wire snaps.

Step 3: Wrap the Wire Around the Needle-nose Pliers

Using the needle-nose pliers, grip the end of the wire as shown, and then wrap the wire around the pliers about five times. Do this somewhat loosely so as to make it easier to slide the wind off of the pliers afterward.

Step 4: Slide the Coil Off of the Pliers

Use a screwdriver to assist in pushing the wound wire off of the pliers. If you wound too tightly in the previous step, this will be more difficult to remove...

Step 5: Wire Wound Coil to Hold the Wick

The wound wire will serve to hold the wick.

Step 6: Form a Loop to Hold the Wick Coil Flat on the Jar's Bottom

Form and bend the wire while using your pliers to shape it such that the wound portion of the wick holder from the previous step will sit on the bottom of the jar, in the middle of its diameter as shown in the photo (looking down into the jar).

Bend the rest of the wire up the edge of the jar so you can form a handle to support it on the jar's lip edge.

Refer to the final side view image of the olive oil lamp.

Step 7: Bend the Top Portion of the Wick Holder

Bend back the top portion of the wick holder as shown. This will allow the wick to point somewhat upwards when we insert it later.

Step 8: Form a Hook

Form a hook to hang over the edge of the jar as shown. Be sure that the hook is positioned such that the wick coil sits flat on the bottom of the jar.

Step 9: Feed Wick Through Holder

Using the needle-nose pliers, pry apart one of the upper winds of the wick coil so that the wick will slip through as shown.

Step 10: Secure the Wick

Once the wick is through the wire, pinch the wire enough so the wick is ‘just’ secure enough and won’t fall back through. Not too tight though, or you won’t be able to easily feed the wick later – after it burns some somewhat.

Step 11: Trim the Wick

Trim excess wick. Too much wick and the flame will smoke. Too little wick and the flame will be small.

Step 12: Add Pure Olive Oil

Fill the jar with pure olive oil to a level part way up the wick holder. Pour the oil over the top of the wick to speed up the soak.

Step 13: Light the Wick

After the wick is fully absorbed, light the wick. You will notice that olive oil is not nearly as readily flammable as petroleum fuels and will take longer to light. This very fact assures that if the mixture is spilled, the oil itself will not ignite like other oils would.

Step 14: Insert Wick Assembly Back Into Jar

Insert the flaming wick assembly back into the jar so that the extra wick material is sitting and soaking in the olive oil.

Step 15: Remember... It's a Flame

Important Note:

As with any open burning flame, use care and caution. Respect the flame!
The author assumes no responsibility of any resultant fire.
Common sense required.



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9 Discussions


2 years ago

It depends on why you're doing this. If you're off-grid, or just like candle flames, then OK. But a single, modern white LED will generate as much light as your candle at around 25mA. Your candle costs around 10 cents/Hr. If we make a LOT of assumptions and approximations, electricity costs ( in the UK ) about 15p/ KWhr. The LED consumes around 0.4 KWhr, or 6 pence/hr. The exchange is such that you could say that equates to 6 cents/hr. Basically it costs much the same for oil-lamp or LED, although, if you're on-grid, you're paying a standing charge as well, so it sort of pays to use their electricity as well.

One way of making the oil-lamp cheaper ( one which I might just try) is to nick some of the used cooking-oil thrown out by food outlets. It tends to be disgusting stuff; full of solids. Mind you, a bit of simple filtering and the stuff is free. Maybe worth a try.


2 years ago

Can you tell me how thick or heavy your wicks? I have some thin organic cotton material that I have cut into thin strips and braided. They are currently soaking in salt and borax. I'm told that will slow the burn down even more. I am also going to try the seam of an old pair of jeans, and a piece of cotton clothes line for wicks. But I would appreciate it anyone here knows where I could find 100% organic cotton wicks? It would make this so much easier! I have a terrible time with chemicals. I am hoping to use this lamp, to heat my tiny camper! :)


5 years ago on Introduction

I bet a semi-circle of an Aluminum Foil square standing up inside jar would make a good reflector !


5 years ago on Introduction

You can get this coil ready made at 6 for 18.00. They work like a charm.
They introduced them over 20 years ago. Lehman's is great for all kinds of things, check them out. Jim


6 years ago on Introduction

Very neat idea! I think that a 'string' from a string-mop would serve as a wick as well.

They are usually cotton, very absorbent, and probably a good size to use as a wick in this case.

Great idea for 'emergency light' for those times when caught unprepared during a power outage.

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Save half used birthday candles. They are a great source of wicks. Every year I get more.


6 years ago on Introduction

Nice Instructable and useful.

I have done some testing with a similar lamp and found that other vegetable oils work well such as corn oil. I tested rancid corn oil added to another edible fat and it worked fine. The point is that almost any liquid fat that is no longer edible can have a use.


6 years ago on Introduction

Quick and easy. Would be simple to do in case of a power outages.