Sunday, January 25, 2009

This little light of mine


A project I have been working on involves oil lamps. I have looked everywhere to find inexpensive versions of biblical types of clay lamps, they're out there, just not cheap enough for what I need in the project (read: over 150 lamps).

In my search I found out information on oil lamps of old. Anciently all it took was a small lump of clay, rolled into a ball and then flattened, pinch up one side and curl up enough of the other side to make a well and there you go. Because olive oil has such a high flame point, a puddle of (olive) oil will rarely burst into or sustain a flame, but dip 100 percent cotton cloth, or wick into the oil and light it and poof, a flame. One could make a lamp that would give enough light to walk by, read with, or make their way through dark streets or rooms with a simple little lamp.

The more clay the better design of the lamp. Make a larger well (like the one in the photo) or even throw a pot onto the wheel and design a symmetrical, almost perfect, bowl for the oil. Adding a spout and a handle and you were living large. Typically the oil reservoir was filled via a opening in the top center of the well, making it more stable and less likely to spill.

Since the oil would not burst into flame on its' own, the length of the flame was determined by the length of the wicking material. Draw out more or less and the flame takes its' direction. The vessel stays cool to the touch, only near the flame does it warm.

So with my newly acquired knowledge I decided to see what I could make. The small, a little smaller than three inches long lamp above, took an extremely small amount of clay and five minutes to produce. After curing, I took a length of pure cotton, cut it about a half inch wide and four inches long, twisted it and threaded it through the hole. I poured in about three tablespoons of oil and let the cotton wick soak it up for a minute or two then lit the end. It was a great little light! I was surprised at how bright the flame was and how much light that tiny vessel put out.

Plans are now for me to see if I can grab a pound of clay and make a few more and set them aside for those times when the lights really go out! Let's hear it for ancient technology!

add to sk*rt

16 comments:

Real Mom, Real Life said...

That's awesome! I would have never thought of trying it myself... very clever!

Robyn said...

That's pretty cool. I must say when I first saw it I thought it was some sort of squash.

How long does a wick last?

S'mee said...

Real Mom you still have a million things to do every day with that brood of yours! Someday, in the far off future, you too will have ideas after dinner that don't include dishes or tubs or keeping children from setting each other on fire or gluing themselves to the piano or figuring out how to torture the already dead bird they found or...

Robyn, yeah, it looks pretty odd, but it worked! I think time depends on the lengeth of wick. My wick was about four inches long because the small cavity of the vessel. That said it burned a good hour, strongly, without me having to trim the wick or pull it further out than I had originally. More experiments coming as soon as I can find some clay.

ilovejazz said...

Trust S'mee with perfect timing and great ideas! For the RS Birthday dinner we're doing "The Ten Virgins", which is a musical presentation/dinner along the same vein as "Women at the Well". We're working on finding/making lamps for each of us to hold. I'll show everybody your blog... I wish we could light candles or lamps in the church. These would be so effective that way. If you get a chance, S'mee, grab the CD from Deseret and listen to the music. It's pretty cool. I'm singing the Mindy Gledhill song.

S'mee said...

Ah Jazz! I am going to try out a few more designs that might work well for your project. The lamp with the actual flame in my photo is actually made with fimo clay! And yes, it was melting at the tip where the flame is. However... What if you made a similar lamp around one of those battery little votive candles? If not, I know our Costco has battery candles that look like pillar candles that would work also. I wrote you a letter, but my e-mail is down for tonight, grrrr. I'll send it tamale.

Lisa M. said...

Ah, S'mee. How neat. The picture is beautiful. So is the idea.

Have I told you, I just love coming here!

S'mee said...

Shucks Lisa! Thanks. :)

Boy Mom said...

Very cool! Of course my mind went right to cub scouts. What a wonderful den meeting to prepare for the Blue and Gold Banquet. As primary President I can over rule the whole 'no open flames' in the church thing, right?

S'mee you're my hero! You do the neatest things.

S'mee said...

Boy Mom, as a former Den Leader I can sympathize with your enthusiasm! As a 'stake-y' I have to think about liabilities, i.e. 10 year old boys with fire! Cub scouts good/FIRE BAD! hehe. But hey, if you can win over your Bishop, you can over rule whatever you want! ; )

Alison Wonderland said...

How cool is that! Holy crow, that (and by extension you) are so awesome!

S'mee said...

Thanks Alison, you crack me up!

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

I LOVED this! You are so creative. I so admire that about you. I loved the picture too. You go girl!

Boy Mom said...

I suppose my motto, 'better to ask forgiveness then permission", wouldn't go over to well as we watched the firemen put out the ward building.

It would be a Blue and Gold Banquet never to be forgotten though. LOL

S'mee said...

Hey Mel! Thanks and right back atchya!

BoyMom, that was one of my mantras for such a long time! And yeah, it drives me crazy that "law". Grrrr. Tell it to the Catholics! They burn candles all day all night and no one says boo! We, on the other hand, bolt our windows shut and throw away all the doorstops, because heck, somewhere those non smoking no candles lit in this church don't you even think about cooking in this building Mormons are going to set the place on fire! hehe. go figure.

The Hobbit said...

Wow! When I turned my reader on I was sure I was looking at something right out of the bible.The photo is also exceptional Nice work s'mee it has that "this little light of mine" air about it

S'mee said...

Ah Hobbit you give me too much credit! But thanks! ; )