How to Make Lampblack




About: Interested in too much. Likes recreating the technology and science of the past. Thinks that mundane modern technology is actually rather interesting and complex. Likes trying to make things even if it seems...

Lampblack is a type of carbon black. It is very small particles of carbon and is obtained from soot. It is very stable and does not deteriorate over time and is light fast. It has been used since mankind invented fire and is still used as it is a very strong opaque pigment and is very stable.

It has been used throughout history to make inks. It can either be mixed directly with water and a binder to make Indian ink or can be mixed with a water soluble glue to make an ink-stick. It was the dominate ink for writing until the invention of iron gall ink.

Disclaimer of Liability

Accuracy of information

I make every effort to ensure the information contained in this instructable is correct and up to date. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further.

Risk of harm

I make every effort to ensure the safety advice and precautions contained in this instructable are correct and that you will not be hurt if you follow my safety precautions and any other sensible precautions. However, I accept no liability or responsibility for any problems due to any errors or omissions in the content of the instructable. If you are unsure of anything please research it further and do not do anything unless you are sure it is safe.

Although if you are sensible you should not hurt yourself.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: What Is It?

It is a mix of very small carbon particles which are made by collecting the soot from oily flames such as candles and oil-lamps, hence the name.

It is created when during the burning not all of the oil or wax is fully combusted and so some of the hydrocarbons turn into carbon (and also carbon monoxide) instead of carbon dioxide. This is caused by inefficient oxygen reaching the flame. This can be achieved either by having a large badly designed wick or by interrupting the flame with a non-combustible object.

Step 2: Method 1 Candle Flame

If you only wish to make a small amount the easiest way to make it is just to take a metal object like a spoon and place into a candle flame. However most modern candles are designed to produce as little soot as possible and so it is best to find a rather bad cheap candle for this.

I used a cheap candle with a oversized wick as it had a rather sooty flame. Ideally you would hold the candle in a proper candle holder so that it is safe but I did not as it would have made photographing it quite hard. Then I took a normal teaspoon and held it upturned in the flame. As metal is a thermal conductor it will get quite hot so I would advise holding the spoon with some pliers.

As you can see from the pictures the spoon turns a very deep black colour as the lampblack builds up on the metal. When lots of lampblack has accumulated, or if you get bored, you can scrape off the lampblack into a container. The issue of this method is it only makes a very small amount as the candle flame is small and not that sooty.

Step 3: Method 2 Oil Lamp

This method involves using an oil lamp to make a very sooty flame. As the flame produced is larger a spoon will not be large enough to catch all the soot, so I used a small upturned copper bowl suspended just above the flame.

To make the oil lamp you need some form of heat resistant, non-flammable container to keep the oil in. I prefer glass as you can see how much oil is in it and by having a narrow neck it is easier to support the wick. For fuel used cheap rapeseed oil but any cooking oil will work. Fats will work but are harder to use as you will have to melt the fat to get it into the container and place the wick into it. To make a wick I took a tissue and rolled it into a tube shape. Twisting it helps to keep the wick together. Before you light the wick it is best to let is soak for a while.

To support the copper bowl above the flame I used two old tin cans, but you can use anything that is the right hight. Then you can leave the bowl suspended above the lamp and let the lampblack build up. I would not do this inside as it is rather smoky and might set your smoke alarm off.

Step 4: Use

Lampblack is black pigment and is very simple to turn into an ink as it does not need further grinding.

The simplest ink that can be made from it is Indian ink. This is made by mixing the lampblack with a tiny amount of alcohol, e.g. vodka, then add to this paste a mix of water in which gum Arabic has been dissolved. The thickness of the ink depends on the amount of gum Arabic used. It produces a very dark black and should not fade at all, the only way the ink might not last is if it is not sufficiently absorbed by the paper.

Lampblack can also be used as a pigment and used to make oil paint.

Step 5: Refining

Depending on your flame there will be other things mixed with the carbon in the lampblack. These can adversely affect it especially if there is any unburnt oils left in it, this can make it oily and clump together. To improve the lampblack it needs to be calcined, this involves heating it away from air.

To do this I took my lampblack in a glass bottle and compressed it to reduce its surface area and then heated it with a blowtorch until the lampblack was red hot. I did this in the small glass bottle I was storing it in as the glass is borosilicate glass and so could with stand the heat of a blowtorch. This will improve the quality of the lampblack but be careful to keep its surface area to a minimum when heating as if in contact with air some can burn.

Be the First to Share


    • Fashion Contest

      Fashion Contest
    • Reuse Contest

      Reuse Contest
    • Hot Glue Speed Challenge

      Hot Glue Speed Challenge

    7 Discussions


    9 months ago

    The candle method is also a great way to make "burn" marks on plastic models, like aircraft or cars. You just pass it over the flame quickly and it leaves a very convincing trail of soot. Just be careful not to melt the plastic; practice with some scrap plastic first to get a feel for how to move it through the flame without melting it.


    1 year ago

    Lamp black is also very useful whilst soldering. If there is a part of the object that you don’t want to solder or you want to drip or run any on, simply coat it with lamp black. This is probably best done as described in the collection method described in this article. Simply mask the areas to be soldered and let the lamp black collecton the rest. Remove the masking and solder. Gives a very distinct edge.


    1 year ago

    By the way, birthday candles are especially good at producing carbon black. They can cover a spoon in just minutes. They are not particularly dangerous and are very effective.

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks for the adivice I can realyl see that working.


    4 years ago

    how long did it take to get the lampblack on the cover picture? Great 'ible by the way :)

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    I'm not exactly sure but I think it was around 1 and a half to 2 hours. The good thing is if you set it up well you can leave it reasonably unattended if it isn't near any flammable things.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    BTW be careful when making this as it can make quite a mess and seems to get everywhere.