How to make an oil lamp - Ancient Greece
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Oil Lamp Project

Home made Oil lamp
A homemade oil lamp

March 2017 - You can make your own oil lamp at home very easily. Buy any ordinary mushroom for eating. Break off the mushroom's stem and let it dry for a couple of days in any dry, warm place like a windowsill or a shelf. Take a very small clay bowl (like the fancy ones for salt), or make a small bowl yourself out of clay or Playdoh, by pushing in the bottom with your fingers a little. Pour about two spoonfuls of olive oil into your bowl. Stand your mushroom stem up in the olive oil (it's fine if it gets soaked with oil). This is your wick. If your wick keeps falling over, stick two pins through it at one end, perpendicular to each other, to make a little stand for it like a Christmas tree stand.

Light a candle, and use the candle to light your lamp. Be patient. It may take a while for it to catch. If it doesn't want to catch, leave your lamp alone for half an hour and then try again when the wick has soaked up more oil.

Once you get it going, your lamp should burn for a couple of hours before it uses up all the olive oil. Don't leave your oil lamp alone while it is burning! Blow it out if you need to leave the room. And watch out - the clay pot will get hot after a while.

Once you can make an oil lamp, you can experiment with different choices: does it matter what kind of oil you use? How does bacon grease work? Can you use other dried vegetables like dried apples as wicks? Is your oil lamp bright enough to read by? What can you do to make it brighter? What if you add more wicks?

More about olive oil in Ancient Greece

Bibliography and further reading about olive oil:

Olive Trees Inside and Out, by Andrew Hipp (2004). Easy reading.

Olive Oil - From Tree to Table, by Peggy Knickerbocker, Laurie Smith (1997). With beautiful photographs, and recipes.

Olives : The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit, by Mort Rosenblum (1998). Mainly about olive growing in France, this still has a lot of information about olives in general, and it's entertaining to read, too.

More about olive oil in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
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Olive oil's good for you and good for the environment

Get my favorite: Tunisian olive oil - it's the best!

Or try some great olive oil soap: makes your skin so soft!

Or try lighting your own olive oil lamp - this one will really work but you have to buy wicking too.


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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