What is an oil lamp?

An oil lamp is an item that uses a specific kind of oil as fuel to provide light or fragrance. It is made out of a few general parts that include a fuel tank (also called a reservoir) at the bottom, a wide wick (usually made from heavily salted cotton fiber), and a glass top (called an oil lamp chimney and usually made out of special glass called tempered glass) that goes on top of the fuel tank and that protects the fuel soaked wick once lit. Well yes – normal glass would just not be able to ‘take the heat’, so to speak!

The wick is put into the tank, absorbs the fuel and then comes out at the top of the fuel tank where it is positioned in the middle of the oil lamp chimney. It is fed through a cover (often made out of metal, brass or copper) that goes right on top of the fuel tank and tightly fits over it. The wick feeder has a little mechanism in it that enables a person to roll the wick up and down, so that one can regulate how high you want the wick to stick out. The lower it is, the dimmer the light that the oil lamp will provide. The higher it is out, the more light it will provide. Be careful, however, because if it is out too high, it will start creating smoke. An interesting fast fact: although many people do not regard Tiki torches as oil lamps, they actually are as they contain fuel reservoirs and wicks.

Oil Lamps Photo
Product Dimensions
Lamplight 50840 Montana Lamp1.9 pounds7.5 x 7.5 x 12.2 inches$$4.5
Lamplight Farms 22300 Classic Oil Lamp Frosted Base1.8 pounds5.8 x 5.8 x 13.8 inches $4.4
Glo Brite L392APK Lite Hearted Glass Oil Lamp, Pink2 pounds4.9 x 3.5 x 10.4 incheskerosene, lamp oil, citronella, and liquid paraffin$4.1
V&O 310-80041 Supreme Brass Trim Oil Lantern, Green3 pounds8.5 x 4 x 14.5 incheskerosene, lamp oil, citronella, and liquid paraffin$$4.1
Hurricane Lantern 15-inch9 pounds 15-inchlamp oil or kerosene$$$4
Lamplight 110 Chamber Lamp1.6 pounds4.7 x 4.7 x 12 inches$3.9
V & O 200-30060 Camping Lantern 12" Blue2 pounds7 x 5.5 x 11 inches ; 1.5 poundskerosene, lamp oil, citronella, and liquid paraffin$3.9
Stansport Hurricane High Oil Lantern14.4 ounces12.3 x 7.5 x 5.5 inches$3.7
Hurricane Lantern 12-inch7 pounds 12-inclamp oil or kerosene$$3.2
Lamplight 52664 Farmer's Lantern, Black14.4 ounces4.7 x 4.7 x 12 inches$2.8

Oil lamp uses

Oil lamps are used to provide one or more of three possible services. They are almost always used to:

  1. provide light in places where electricity might not be available,
  2. provide fragrance/aroma of ones choice,
  3. provide protection against creepy crawlies like mosquitoes or flies.

In ancient times oil lamps were mostly used to provide light, but in today’s world they are very often used for the purposes of creating soft and fragrance filled ambience, or to keep flying bugs like flies and mosquitoes away. Different types of fuel can be used for oil lamps, and the purpose that the user has in mind, will determine which fuel will be used. Many oil lamps for sale these days, are also antiques or collectibles, and sell at quite remarkable prices. They are of course then more used for decoration than anything else and some of them are astonishingly beautiful.

Oil lamp bases

Oil lamp bases can be made from various types of materials. As it only holds the fuel (oil) for the lamp, it is often the part of the oil lamp where designers or crafters spend a lot of time on making the lamp look attractive and appealing. Lamp bases have therefore been made among others out of glass (clear, stained or colored), porcelain, brass, ceramic, stainless steel and stone. One will often find antique oil lamps for sale with the most intricate and beautifully designed bases, whether they show off cherubs on porcelain, have Greek key decorations carved into brass or replicate a silver Corinthian column or pillar. In ancient times when clay was used to form the oil lamp base, all sorts of bases were created due to the fact that clay is such an easy medium to work with.

Now that electricity has become more widely available the world over, people sometimes keep the base of an old oil lamp and convert the lamp into an electrical one. Today, the most common newly manufactured oil lamp bases are made from painted metal, glass, stainless steel or a combination of materials, and oil lamps are mostly used for camping or perhaps hiking a trail at night. Less time is spent on making them look pretty and like artwork, because when and if they are used, it is mostly for outside practical or emergency purposes. Still – there are ones that for instance look like logs and that can be used inside, or ones that are decorative and made out of stainless steel.

Oil lamp fuel

Lamp oil can be made from a variety of things. Whale oil was used for oil lamps for centuries, but with whales now being protected due to their decreasing numbers, other forms of oil or fuel have luckily taken the place of that. Today, refined kerosene (paraffin) is one of the most popular fuels for general use in oil lamps. Kerosene is effective but causes a strong smell, messy soot on the lamp and often also smoke. An alternative to this is ultra-pure lamp oil which is also kerosene, but is heavily distilled to reduce pollution and soot residue. As it burns cleaner, it also increases light because it doesn’t omit as much soot onto the lamp chimney.

There are also organic oils made from vegetable and other plant oils for green living users, and these oils do not introduce toxic fumes or cause soot. More oil alternatives include scented and colored oils used in religious ceremonies or for ambience, and include oils like lavender scented oil, citronella, coconut, peppermint and other essential oil fragrances.

Where does one buy oil lamps?

Oil lamps can be bought in many different places. Traditional new oil lamps for sale can be found in general shops like hardware shops, camping shops and general dealers. They can also be found and bought online via the sites of the mentioned venues. Antique and second hand oil lamps can be found online on international shopping websites like Amazon and eBay, your local online advertising sites and of course antique shops and websites. The variety of oil lamps will leave you breathless, as there are so many different types and styles to choose from! They are beautiful and practical to have, and will also make for beautiful presents. Go on and get one!