Learning how to use oil lamps safely can help prevent major fire disasters. Coal oil, kerosene, and the commercial lamp oils are very flammable and dangerous when carelessly and improperly used.
Thanks to these practical tips on how to light oil lamps and how to properly maintain them, you can relax and enjoy your nostalgic lighting with confidence.
Mom's Recipe Scrapbooks (c. 1920)
Years ago, Dad stressed three important lamp safety tips when he taught me how to use oil lamps:
1. Never overfill the container with lamp oil; fill to just over three-quarters full.
2. Always make sure the lamp or lantern is sitting on a stable, level surface while lighting it, and...
3. NEVER leave burning lamps unattended.
Always be very careful of lighted oil lamps, especially when children are present. Unlike the youth of Grandma's day, young people are not made aware of the ever present dangers of a lighted lamp.
Lamp oil is flammable, and a dropped lamp could explode to cause serious burns to bodies and quickly destroy a house with fire! That's why ALL family members should be taught how to use oil lamps when they're used for ambient lighting.
There are a variety of lamp fuels approved for indoor use available from your local hardware store.
Refined lamp oil tends to work quite well in oil lamps though it tends to burn less bright than kerosene for which antique lamps are designed.
Olive oil and other vegetable oils are NOT recommended for use in flat-wick oil lamps because of their low viscosity.
More information about the fuel options for oil lamps can be found online. Getting the proper fuel for your lamp is an important part of knowing how to use oil lamps.
Oil burning lamps and kerosene lanterns fell quickly out of fashion once electricity and electric lighting came into widespread use. People loved the cleaner, brighter light.
Fortunately, many households kept their old lamps and lanterns giving us the opportunity to appreciate these beautiful lighting devices from gentler times.
There is now a demand in the marketplace for both new and antique lamps either for decoration or to provide useful mood lighting, or to softly illuminate backyard decks and patios.
However, it's important to know how to use oil lamps so we can preserve these old fashioned light sources. Lighted coal oil lamps are beautiful to behold, and they are practical and completely safe when properly maintained.
Our old farmhouse didn't have its electricity installed until around 1950, and although I was only four years old at the time, I can still recall my parents sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper by lamplight, while I played with my toys nearby on the linoleum floor.
One of the lamps we used is the one pictured. It was found abandoned in the attic of the Bell family's stone farmhouse when my grandfather purchased the property in 1918. The previous owner had been living there a long time, so the lamp's age is thought to be at least 150 years!
Its ceramic oil container fastened atop a brass base is colorfully hand-painted with two young ladies warmly dressed in their winter attire skating across the frosty surface of a pond edged with evergreen trees, and the upright stump of a fallen oak tree on the opposite side. Isn't it beautiful?
There is something restful and peaceful about soft lamplight in the evening. When you know how to use oil lamps safely and care is taken in their lighting they offer a wonderful source of light.
Antique lamps can be found at flea markets and in antique stores at various prices. Also, a selection of both modern and reproduction lamps as well as replacement chimneys and wicks is available online from Amazon.