Make a Nice Swimming Oil Lamp Out of (nearly) Nothing




Hello there, I love this page and so I write my first small instructible now.

As I'm a student and planning a big winterbarbecue party with lots of candles and stormlamps and fire, I was looking for a cheap and easy way to have small lights for all the lamps without buying any tealights.

I also wanted something thet would burn all night and tealights are normally done after a few hours.

I can imagine many uses of this nice small lights - swimming in a glass bowl, as lights in a normal small windlight - painted in any colour you like...

So, I hope you will be patient with me.

I could'nt figure out how to get things marked on the pictures with those nice popping extra information. The "Adding Image Notes: Click and Drag your mouse on the image to create a note(s)." just did'nt work.

Please let me know how to do it for my next instructable.

Step 1: All You Need

vegetable oil ( olive oil works great)
one alu screw cap (or more if you like) as e.g from waterbottles (no plastic! )
a sheet of kitchenroll
a glass or bowl or whatever you like to put this lamp in.
a sharp thing to prick a hole in the screw cap
a scissor

eventually a bit of water.

Thats it

Step 2: Prepare the Light

prick a small hole (about the size of a normal lighting match) into the screw cap.

Take care that it's in the center of the cap and that you start from outside (it's done wrong on the pic)

Then take a small piece of kitchen roll...

Step 3: Attach the Wick

roll the kitchenroll between your fingers to form a wick that will fit tightly into the hole.

then shorten it a little and pull it through the hole (from outside)

You should now have a candlewicksize wick inside and after that cut the wick quite close to the bottom of the cap.

Step 4: Set the Lamp on the Oil

now the lamp is ready.

Just put some vegetableoil into the jar (NO LAMPOIL!!!) , glass or whatever you chose and set the lamp on the surface. Now lite the wick and watch and enjoy how nice and long the light will burn.

You can also put some water first into the glass and then just a smaller layer of oil.

But be careful - as soon as the wick gets in contact with the water your light will flicker and get off.


If the hole is to big there will get more oil through the wick than will be burnt and the lamp could sink.

have fun but be careful.

I will not take any responibilty for your outcomes or consequences ;-)



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    25 Discussions


    3 years ago

    You use Extra Virgin Olive Oil? That's one expensive oil to burn for light!

    Just use the CHEAPEST vegetable oil, and open your windows!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Had trouble getting it to light with olive oil, but a friend of mine left some citronella tiki-torch oil at my place and tried that out instead. Still experimenting with caps to find one that won't light up the rest of the reservoir. (been testing on flame resistant surface with minimal amounts of oil at a time for safety and a metal cover on hand to extinguish the mess). Anyone have any ideas? So far I'm just using spent tea light bottoms and I'm unsatisfied with the results.


    12 years ago

    great concept!...pretty well written too... i would imagine that having a base of water with a little oil floating on top...would be a very good way of making sure that all the "lamps" are extinguished after everyone passes out drunk in the yard....once the oil or the wick runs puts itself out...yay! safety for the drunkards! i've found that it's easier to add the little image comments after you post the instructable...just go back to it in your control panel and edit it...then do the click and drag deal to put the comments in

    3 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The water is also useful that if, for any reason, the bowl gets upset, the water will help extinguish the flame. For the size of bowl in the picture, you should not need much more than 1.5 cm of oil floating on the top for hours of light. You can add a bit of food colouring to the water or put colourful objects in the water like stones, marbles, and depending on depth, flower heads.

    Bosun Rickblodefood

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Ummmm, not so much with the idea of the water putting out the fire if it spills. As a former firefighter, one of our first lessons was that most liquid flammables (such as oil, gasoline, etc) are lighter than water (the instructable mentions this) and thus they float on top of it. Consider a spill, if the spill is catastrophic, and the oil catches fire, the water will allow the oil to spread over a wider area, increasing the damage.
    The only normal means of extinguishing this kind of fire is to smother it with something that won't burn of ignite easily. A pan lid or metal cookie sheet come to mind for a flat surface, a tightly woven cloth, if proerly used, should put it out.
    Just don't rely on the water as a fire fighting tool!

    shaschoBosun Rick

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Bosun Rick
    As a former firefighter OR bosun you would know that olive oil will not burn without a wick of some sort. Won't burn on water, won't burn on the concrete, just won't burn at all without either a hot fire combusting it (like a blow torch or red-hot stove top) or being wicked up in someone's DRY cutoffs.

    Safety is a good thing, but like anything else it needs to be based on accurate information.

    The water ALSO helps to prevent secondary fires and burns by ensuring that the container never exceeds 212 Fahrenheit/100 Celcius.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    The water wouldn't really be necessary for putting out the lamp if it got nocked over. Vegetable oil won't burn without a wick, so if you nock over the lamp the vegetable oil will put out the wick. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Regular candles work the same way. The heat from the flame as you light the candle/ oil lamp melts the wax or heats the oil that's on the wick, which vaporizes it, and then the vapor is burned. Without the wick the oil or wax doesn't have enough exposed surface area to vaporize. You can even test this. Put a flame to a pool of vegetable oil (never ever ever try this with lamp oil or kerosine, it doesn't function on the same principle and will very defiantly go up in flames). Nothing really happens. Similarly, if you try and light a block of beeswax on fire without a wick, it just melts.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Works perfect!
    I even had the exact same brand of olive oil in the kitchen, haha!
    I was looking at the countertop just now and I was looking at your photo 'step 1'... hahahaha!
    Thanks for the tip though, just can't wait for those loooong summer nights!


    9 years ago on Step 4

    cool idea! I'm going to give it a try at the weekend... what would adding some essential oils to the main reservoir do, do you think?! act like a giant oil burner?!?!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Back in the 60's and 70's hostesses used to have floating candles at their cocktail parties. I remember my mom fooling around with something like this but it was made from a thin, thin glass plate about 2" across with a teeny hole for the wick. The oil made a right mess but it was very pretty.


    Reply 12 years ago

    I love this idea :-) Cool idea- if you saw that thing on make where they made the tea-candle spinning thing. Well, set up something like that with your bottlecap, and place it in a bowl that is mostly filled with water, but has a layer of oil. This way, the water will be used to drive the engine, while the oil is burned. I would like to see that in motion!


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    We used to have one of those spinning things. It had four candle holders (small candles so they didn't burn very long) and a turbine-like merry-go-round with angel ornaments that struck a small bell as they spun around.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    it's called a chime candle, or angel chimes... The little candles they use for them are made by Eye of the Day and make great spell candles, ha ha. I had one when I was a little girl back in the '70s. one of those things you just don't really see any more.

    Kostas K

    9 years ago on Step 4

    You can also use thin rolls of cork (from wine bottles) wrapped in tinfoil, with a hole in the middle. The cork part helps with the floating and the tinfoil prevents the cork from burning. I do it all the time. But be careful! If the tinfoil doesn't cover the cork properly, the cork may catch fire and imagine a burning piece of cork in a glass full of oil. A really big cork/wick.


    9 years ago on Step 4

    Hehe, floating by burning. What a strange concept


    12 years ago

    Hello everybody, thanks for the nice comments. I'm glad you like it. I saw the tealight instructible before and was surprised bevcause I had nearly identical tryout first- only that i just used a tealight where the wick was'nt burned off totally and stuck in a little rest of wax. I just filled it with oil and tryed it- it worked well. I think the screw cap version has the advantage that you don't need an extra wick or rhe copper wire for the wickholder. And of course it can swim and I likethe Idea from the RIAA with the slim vase.

    1 reply

    That is a GREAT idea, putting oil in a tealight when there's still some wick! I'll try that with my next one :o)


    11 years ago on Introduction

    oh my gosh that is so smart i would never have thougt of floating the candle in a bowl of oil!