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What Are Olive Oil Lamps?

Olive oil.
Tiki torches can be fueled with olive oil.
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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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Olive oil lamps are lamps that burn olive oil for fuel. This type of lamp has existed for thousands of years and offers a convenient and pleasant lighting alternative to both electric lights and lamps fueled with mineral oils. All oil lamps include an oil reservoir of some sort as well as a wick to absorb and disperse the oil from the reservoir. These lamps vary widely in their design, however, and range from the very simple to the ornate and beautiful.

Oil lamps appeared at the very dawn of human history. Potters in the Mediterranean world produced thousands of olive oil lamps, typically in the form of a clay vessel with a central oil reservoir, a handle and a protruding hollow clay tube designed to hold and steady a wick. Oil was poured into the vessel, a wick was inserted and given time to become saturated with oil and then set aflame. Even simpler olive oil lamps were made by simply dropping a floating wick into a bowl of oil. These lamps could burn for hours and were key parts of household life in the world of ancient Rome.

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Modern olive oil lamps have changed relatively little from their ancient ancestors. Any oil lamp can burn olive oil, as it wicks through cloth just as mineral oils do and burns cleanly and pleasantly. Antique hurricane lamps and modern oil candles can both serve as olive oil lamps at need. Even tiki torches could be fueled with olive oil instead of citronella oil.

Individuals with a penchant for crafts can make their own lamps easily enough. Glazed clay vessels on the old Roman pattern can be interesting beginner projects. An amateur glassblower could create the body of an olive oil lamp, and finish it with fittings of metal and perhaps a wooden handle. A simple glass jar or metal bowl with wires to hold a wick in place can serve as well, for those people whose aesthetic preferences are simpler.

The key advantage of olive oil lamps is that they are quite environmentally friendly. Olive oil is an eminently renewable resource, and lower-quality olive oil, which burns perfectly well, is typically quite inexpensive and can often be procured for a lower price than petroleum-based lamp oil. The scent of burning olive oil is quite mild, but the curious can experiment with different infusions and can easily produce their own scented oil for use in olive oil lamps.

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tpdod
Post 6

I made several clay lamps but haven't finished them yet, So I made an olive oil lamp out of a empty wine bottle. I filled it with oil, soaked the wick, and lit it. It burned for a short period of time and then went out. The wick burned out, and no matter what I did, it goes out. How do you keep the thing burning?

Tomislav
Post 5

@saraq90 - If you are looking for inexpensive small outdoor oil lamps I would check your local dollar store in the candle section. You can usually find some small, round ceramic balls with a cloth-like wick sticking out from the top.

If you are looking for interesting oil lamps I would look for antique oil lams on online auction sites or check out a local antique shop (you never know what you might find). But I would not keep the antique oil lamps outside - they are likely not made for outdoor conditions!

Saraq90
Post 4

How fun! I had no idea that you could burn olive oil in these lamps. I always felt oil lamps had a beautifully soft flame (though it sounds like @fify had a bit more than a small flame to gaze at)!

Where would small oil lamps be for sale? I am thinking they would look great on my outdoor tables as they would twinkle against the night but not produce such an overbearing flame as tiki torches sometimes do.

burcidi
Post 3

What kind of olive oil should I use for an olive oil lamp? I don't want to use the extra virgin I have at home for cooking, it's super expensive!

I should use riviera right, or mix it with another oil to make it more affordable?

Do stores sell olive oil just for olive oil lamps?

discographer
Post 2

@fify- I think if you purchase oil lamp wicks, that won't happen. Using regular cotton for the wick might have caused the problem. Or you could buy an actual oil bowl that has a little slot for the wick, that would solve the problem as well.

If you like antiques, antique shops usually have very nice oil lamps and they are in perfectly good condition. I also like that I can manipulate the light with these oil lamps. It is a bit harder to clean, I have to take the glass apart and wipe inside because it becomes black from the fire after a while. I also have to trim the wick.

But it still looks great and is a great decorative addition to the house. I always burn it when I have guests over and the older guests start telling stories about the oil lamps they used in childhood.

fify
Post 1

I have tried making my own olive oil lamp once. I did the same thing mentioned in the article. I just filled a little bowl with olive oil and rolled up some cotton into a wick and put it in the bowl.

It was burning nicely for about half an hour and then I don't know what happened but the entire bowl of oil started burning. There was a huge flame! I freaked out, covered it with a blanket and prevented a huge disaster.

I haven't made one since then! I think it's much safer to use oil lamps with vessels and a place for the wick. I think this prevents the fire from going down into the oil. The bowl becomes super hot too, so if the lamp has a place to hold it, that would be great.

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