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Looking After Oil Lamps


Oil lamps are relatively simple to look after, but for those who may never have actually used one in this age of instant lighting there are a few things that for safeties sake it is necessary to know, so here are a few hints on the safe use of your oil lamp.
If you are looking for more comprehensive information my book ‘Oil Lamps A Guide To Their Care And Attention’ tells all. You’ll find it on or at
Most oil lamps work on the principal of the fuel carried by a wick burning in oxygen. As well as light another by product of this is heat, so a little thought should be given to where the lamp is to be located. Places that could present a fire hazard, such as near curtains or where anything can be blown over the chimney should obviously be avoided as should anywhere that children or pets have access to.
Fuel for your oil lamp is easily obtainable. For the vast majority of traditional oil lamps use only paraffin (Kerosene) or specialist odourless lamp oil. Paraffin is a clear liquid that burns with a slight odour and is available from good hardware, DIY, or specialist shops. The odour given off increases substantially if the lamp needs servicing or is being operated incorrectly. Paraffin rather than lamp oil generally gives a better flame quality on antique oil lamp burners.
Never fill the lamp reservoir right to the top. If the lamp is dry or is being filled for the first time leave it for about 20 minutes after filling to enable the wick to properly absorb the fuel.
Always carry an oil lamp by the stand, not the fount (oil reservoir).
Operating your Oil Lamp
Never light your lamp when the wick is adjusted to it’s operating height. This could cause the lamp to flare up when the operating temperature is reached, and if left unwatched could become a very real fire hazard as in extreme cases it may not respond to the wick adjustment and burn out of control.
Use the following procedure to light your lamp and it will present no problems and give you long and faithful service.
• Remove the shade and chimney.
• Adjust the wick so that 1mm is showing above it’s holder ( the holder is the burner part that the wick actually emerges from, not any covers or a duplex split burner top ).
• Light the wick.
• Replace the chimney and shade.
• Leave the lamp for at least 10 minutes until it has reached its operating temperature.
• Adjust the wick to its optimum running height – the height at which it gives the best required illumination without smoking.
The lamp may be extinguished by turning the wick down to a low light and then if there is a functioning snuffer gently push the handle down until the mechanism has closed over the wick thereby dousing it. Alternatively, turn the wick down to a low light, place your hand (angled slightly down) behind the top of the chimney and blow. A good sharp puff will cause the lamp to go out.
Wicks and Mantles
Unless it is brand new and being installed NEVER adjust a wick if it has become dry. Turning the adjustment screw on a dry wick could cause it to tear and become unusable. The lamp fuel acts as a lubricant enabling the wick to be freely adjusted.
If the wick has become charred and uneven and is smoking it will need to be trimmed. When the lamp is not lit turn up the wick and using sharp scissors cut straight across the charred area making sure that the cut is even and that there are no stray threads.
If your oil lamp is the type that requires a mantle, great care is needed as just a touch to a burnt in mantle can cause it to disintegrate.
Burner Maintenance
If the wick flames begin to lose quality, produce a reduced light and wicks start to char essential maintenance and cleaning will be needed.
Before cleaning or washing chimneys and shades first make sure that they have sufficiently cooled down. Putting a hot chimney or shade straight into cool water can cause them to shatter or crack.
Don’t forget If you are looking for more comprehensive information my book ‘Oil Lamps A Guide To Their Care And Attention’ tells all. You’ll find it on at or at
© The Oil Lamp Store 2018
These notes are intended purely for informational use only and not as instructions or a call for action. Oil Lamps can be dangerous and if you are in any doubt whatsoever do not under any circumstances light them or fill them with fuel. Use them as decoration only.




Oil Lamp Frequently Asked Questions


Q: My oil lamp chimney made a noise and a large crack appeared a few minutes after I lit it. This has now happened twice. How can I stop this happening?

A: Cracking like that usually means the lamp has either been warmed up too fast or has been operating at too high a temperature. Glass expands rapidly as it is heated. If you operate the lamp on a very low flame for around 10 to 15 minutes immediately after lighting it the chimney glass will have plenty of time to expand evenly at a safe rate.


Q: We have recently purchased a Victorian paraffin lamp - with twin wicks - the light generated is dim and flickers badly even when the flames are turned up high - I have trimmed the wicks - how can we get a stronger and steadier light?

A: There are a few possible reasons why you could be having this problem. Check the condition of your wicks first. If they are old, discoloured and hard there may not be the capilliary action to absorb enough fuel to allow the burner to function properly.

If the problem persists the next most probable reason could be that there is not enough air flow to the wicks to allow the burner to function correctly. The brilliance of a flame is proportional to the amount of air which can pass over the wicks to give the correct amount of oxygen for the flame to burn in.

You will note there are air intake holes or slots in the burner's side. The air which passes through these holes travels through a metal gauze debris filter inside the burner. Invariably vendors will not know about this filter and it may not have been cleaned and could be totally blocked with 100 odd years of bugs, muck and debris.

All duplex (twin wick) burners allow access to this filter, some come apart just above the air intake slots, others have to have the outer wick cover prised off from inside the chimney holder clasp area. You will need to find out which type you have, remove the top, immerse the bottom section (without wicks ) in water with some dishwashing liquid in it and scrub the internal gauze filter with a toothbrush. Prepare to be amazed by the amount of filth that is removed. This filter can actually be removed for cleaning if wished but take care not to crack or damage it when doing so.

This should cure your problem. If it does not, try using another type of lamp oil. Strangely some antique burners take on a definite awkward personality and refuse to function with the new more refined lamp oil. Changing to ordinary paraffin will invariably cure the problem although there will be more odour.


Q: There is a large letter V inside a clover leaf stamped into the base of my oil lamp. Do you know what this stands for?

A: The large letter V inside a clover leaf – or trefoil – is the trademark of what turned out to be about the biggest oil lamp empire there has ever been. Veritas started out in the 1880s as Falk, Stadelmann & Co. and proceeded to absorb just about every oil lamp manufacturer of note into their conglomerate. They eventually owned names such as Wright & Butler, Thomas Rowatt & Sons, James Hinks & Son, Palmer & co. etc. etc. They started to fade in the late 1960s and were bought out. All that remains now are two smaller companies – an electric light importing business in Dublin, Ireland, and Falks Veritas in the island of Malta who make incandescent mantles.

Q: I believe my duplex oil lamp has an incorrect shade on it. Can you advise what type it should have?

A: There is no hard and fast rule as to what type of shade should go with a particular lamp. In the distant days when oil lamps were new and an essential part of every household the choice of shade type – if indeed a shade was required at all - was personal to the taste of the purchaser. Shades were sold as extras although lamps would have been featured in the shop displays with these in place and many people would have chosen the type illustrated.