How to Make a Clay Oil Lamp

Written by b.t. alo
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Clay oil lamps are thought to be among the first types of mobile lighting after the wooden pitch torch, or flaming branch. Simple saucer oil lamps made from clay have been found dating from as early as 1500 B.C., but it is thought that they developed much earlier than this. Olive oil has a very low flash point, making it much safer than other oils and it is historically favoured for use in oil lamps.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Modelling Clay
  • Oven
  • Baking tray
  • Baking paper
  • Cotton wadding
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • Olive oil
  • Matches

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  1. 1

    Form a bowl out of the modelling clay, around 3 inches in diameter, and 1.5 inches high. Pinch the side of the bowl, to form a lip, much like the lip on a creamer jug. This is the wick rest.

  2. 2

    Place the clay bowl on baking paper on a baking tray, and bake according to the clay manufacturer's directions.

  3. 3

    Twirl a section of cotton batting between the fingers, creating a thread around 1/8th of an inch thick and 8 inches long. Make three of these threads, then braid them together tightly to form the wick.

  4. 4

    Place the wick in the bottom of the bowl with ½ inch water, then cover it with salt. Salting the wick makes it last longer and burn more brightly. Leave for 1 hour, then take out and dry thoroughly.

  5. 5

    Pour olive oil into the baked and cooled clay bowl, up to the point where the lip starts. Rest the wick on the lip, with the majority sitting in the oil. The wick draws the oil into itself.

  6. 6

    Light the wick.

Tips and warnings

  • The shape of the lamp can vary, from the simple bowl to an Aladdin style lamp, animal or abstract shapes---any shape will work as long as there is a lip for the wick and an oil receptacle.
  • Always keep oil lamps out of reach of children.

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