Oil Lamps


As Matt Bracken pointed out the other day in his interview, and a position I completely concur with, is that we won’t have a mass upheaval and the lights stay on. It’s just not happening. Our grid is the most fragile part of our infrastructure, aside from our just-in-time supply system. And since everything is so interconnected and interdependent, just one plant going down due to workers not being able to get there could cause a serious ripple that may take a long time to fix(if ever). This is not even factoring in safety issues.

But let’s take a step back. So the power doesn’t go off where you live. There’s little risk of social shock in your location (unlikely) and you don’t experience weather disruptions every winter or summer(also very unlikely). Your power is supplemented from somewhere. And that somewhere is indeed likely to experience significant disruptions should the US’ creditors say “no more debt Sam…” or better yet, the election yields marxists running amok.

Woman on a Cell Phone in a Snow Storm
This lady has made some poor decisions.

Or maybe, none of that happens but you end up having the hundred year blizzard and the lights go out for an extended period of time. What are you going to do then? Simply huddle up and pray? Every year on the east coast we risk hurricanes, the midwest  and deep south has tornadoes, and the west coast the menace of earthquakes. Over dependence on the grid is a foolish and bad thing.

Each of these are likely scenarios; you’re absolutely blind if you don’t see it, and haven’t lived long enough if you haven’t experienced at least one extended power outage. A look at Venezuela is a snapshot of days to come, and anyone who lived outside the wire in Iraq or Afghanistan knows full well the power rationing that goes on there. Those folks live just fine, and so can you. When Hurricanes Fran and later Floyd hit the NC coast, we lost power inland all the way to Winston Salem, and for my area in the central part of the state, it stayed off for over a week and a half. We still had light, and we cooked on our charcoal grill.

This stuff used to not be as big of a deal as it is today. This is where a lot of folks will point to generators or solar, which are great options but expensive and labor intensive. If you don’t have the money to get into that, having oil lamps for light are an excellent supplement to any Survivalist’s plan.

oillampOil lamps are relatively cheap, can be found anywhere, and like the other tools from my last couple posts, are generally idiot-proof providing generations of use with a bit of care and common sense.

A Survivalist should have at least one for each room, if not more, and plenty of spare wicks and lamp oil. generally they put out much more light than candles, are fairly efficient on fuel, and are relatively safe to use. While they put out less candle power than Coleman camping lanterns, they’re easily refillable and much simpler in use.

There’s two types commonly encountered. The basic indoor type, like the one pictured left, which work well pretty much anywhere indoors but do not handle breezes or wind. oillamp5.jpegThe second type, pictured right, is often called a Hurricane Lantern, and as the name implies work very well outdoors but also are perfectly fine to use inside.

oillamp2If you have kids or clumsy people in your fold, and everyone does, you may want to consider a few wall mounted lamps, which not only are functional but add a good amount of character to a house.

A frequently overlooked issue with oil lamps is the storage of fuel. Lamp oil is simply refined kerosene. In fact, K-1 will work just fine in your lamp but it will emit odors. For homes built since the 1950s, low ceilings might make this an issue. Do not use any other kind of fuel in these, especially not gasoline or camp fuel. You will have a fire. A second and much more serious problem with lamp fuel is the actual storage. Often lamp oil is sold in thin plastic bottles, folks buy it, and set it in a corner for long periods of time. The problem is that the plastic gets brittle form the oil itself and can crack, spilling your fuel and creating a serious fire hazard. Get a kerosene rated container, which are most often blue in color, and store the fuel in bulk in that.

With several extra fuses and a few gallons of fuel (or more) stashed away, you’ll have an alternative light source which will last a very long time when the lights finally do go out. If you start thinking of ways to live without the grid as Michael Landon demonstrates up top, the impact of losing modernity are going to be far lessened. If you can be the guy who shrugs when the power goes off and simply charlie mikes (continues movement) on with his life, then the problems of the world will be no big cause for panic.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a few. They’ll be worth their weight one day.



20 thoughts on “Oil Lamps

  1. Pingback: Alternative Lighting | Jars Prep Net

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  3. fes up

    the problems with these are people these days aren’t used to them and if you drop them or tip them over they will start fires. Also having on hand a bucket of sand or bicarbonate or fire exstiguishers are much needed when people have to go back to using these as light sources.

  4. mtnforge

    Got that right on the kerosene lanterns. Very efficient light source too, low volatile fuel also, easy to put out if you drop a latern and it catches fire, a quick pan of water and it snuffs out, and it keeps, unlike white fuel and Colman fuel, or gasoline. House I grew up in, it burned from a propane leak in a propane refrigerator when I was 14, we never had electric power, lots of kerosene lamps. The kitchen and dining room had chandeliers with 4 lamps, they provided pretty decent light being in the middle of the room. There is some opsec features to kerosene lamps, easy to move around with, like if you are heading for the privy, or out for a load of firewood, they ain’t of the kind of light where your night vision has to adjust for darkness like from modern lighting, and it is a soft light, so if your wanting to stay discreet and keep telltale signs of lighted rooms showing at night, it is easier to use blackout curtains.
    Couple of companies make latern bases that screw onto Mason jars, they are on the cheap side, but you can easily stock up on them, last ones we got where 8 bucks apiece. I buy every old lantern I can find at flea markets and yard sales, there’s where you can get old timey ones. They usually need a new wick, or a chimney, or you have to repair the friction adjuster, but the old ones are far better than the new stuff and worth the effort to refurbish. That old house I was raised in was a defunct colonial era coach road in, we had appox 30 lamps all told, that required about 30 gals of oil about every 10 months or so. Being it was in NH, the days are short in the winter at that latitude for much longer than in the mid atlantic, probably use close to half that if I had to make a guess on down south like here in WV. A fifty five gal drum of kerosene, running 3-6 lamps, might last years. I’m saying in harder times, you do far more manual labor, you get used to working dawn to dark, so you sleep more, your outside till its dark, you live different without conveniences like mains power, you do things different, it is a different life.

    1. Good comments. My father was an avid collector & restorer of antique oil lamps. Now I wish we had kept some (I only kept one, that he kept fom his parents) and not included them in the estate auction after he passed.

      I am still a fan of the older Coleman lanterns. The new ones are definitely not the same quality. I still have the original lantern my parents purchased for camping back in the early 60’s.

      1. My dad has a vintage Coleman lantern too. While great for camping, I wouldn’t dare use it indoors. They were definitely better built a long time ago.

      2. Scout:
        Agreed. I think people always need to exercise extreme caution when using alternative heat and light sources indoors. Every once in a while, you hear of a tragedy of a fire started by inattention to candles, lanterns, or, people who use bbq briquets inside for heat (CO poisoning). There are several “you can use tea candles for EVERYTHING!” type posts in the prepper community that make my toes curl because of the inherent dangers involved… that being said, I prefer using candles over the kerosene lanterns indoors, we managed to stock up on the tall unscented “religious” ones when a local dollar store was going out of business for 25 c each – so we’re good for a bit. My husband concurs with your caution with vintage Colemans indoors – I do use it in our screened in porch, though with the advisement that for both kerosene and the Coleman make sure there is ample ventilation.

        Good and important post. I agree that people need to start thinking about, and sourcing, these types of goods now, and buy and refurbish old if you can and avoid the cheap Chinese knockoffs if at all possible (there are some good products produced in the Chinese slave labor sweatshops, but you are usually farther ahead by buying vintage American, before built-in obsolescence was a “thing”)

      3. Thanks. Years ago bought one of Coleman’s little Peak1 backpack Coleman fuel lanterns, they are approx a quarter the size of the regular size units. For some reason even though I use full size silk mantels in it that little lantern is considerably more efficient fuel wise, it has finer adjustment, runs much much longer on low settings, and without having to pump it up like the larger lanterns so frequently require. I sewed a pouch on the side of a large alice pack just to fit it, used a piece of thin wall plastic drain pipe it all slides into to protect it. It sounds like a luxury to be humping in an alice pack, but in the winter or cold wet weather that sucker is great for getting overly cold paws warmed up, dry out socks hats and boots. I fabricated a pot holder/chimney out of titanium sheet metal for cooking and melting snow for drinking and washing water, if I’m careful I have made a quart of fuel last 6 days and still had a day or two of fuel left. One time I got some 24 hour bug, it was a killer, all I could do to get my bivvy shelter set up and crawl into my bag. It was early December, snowing, had a wicked fever, I took a risk, lit that lantern up and ran it for the heat it shucks to help keep warm inside my bivvy, and slept out the bug, made a big difference. I’ve had that little lantern since if I remember like 1986, it’s a champ, other than replacing a glass mantel once it is still like new, it is a fabulously well made lantern. I found a laboratory grade glass globe made of some silicon/boron material that fits it, supposed to be some super rugged glass. 28 years still hasn’t broke.

        On that score, along with NC Scout bringing up such a great subject and you all talking about, I’m thinking maybe a ruggedized oil lantern would be a great item. Something on the order of a rail road lantern. I have a one man metal fab shop, bet I could make a working prototype. All the stuff out there is either chinese crap, or has too high a collector value to be obtainable any longer. I’m talking about something stout and practical.

  5. Chris

    Once again a timely article and good advice.
    We moved to our “retreat” a year n a half ago and have burned two lamps every night since. I don’t think we’ve used 5 gal of keresene yet. We’ve found we need at least two lamps to read by and so far we use LED fixtures I’ve rigged up to read by. We also have landscape lighting mounted at the ceiling and pointed at key work areas in the kitchen.
    The bottom line is that we may not always have batteries or the means to charge them so oil lamps are the ultimate backup. Think redundancy!
    As stated above, keep lots of spares:
    Wicks, globes (I’ve broken two so far) spare burner assemblies and entire lamps. Lots of em.
    In a pinch you can burn diesel in them but it doesn’t burn as clean and isn’t as bright. Beats sitting in the dark tho!
    Definitely use the blue cans for storage. It will help prevent using gasoline by mistake. I have stored larger quantities in the blue 15 gal barrels sold for water storage with zero deterioration to the fuel or the cantainer. They are much easier to move than 55’s.
    Hey. Any chance on an article re: the use of pressure cookers? My wife probably has a 1/2 dozen of them and they are great time and fuel savers.

    1. You’re very welcome. And thank you for sharing!

      My wife is much better with pressure cookers and canners…I’ll take some notes and put some things together.

    2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. As we continue to plan our egress from Occupied Virginia, information like what you have shared is very valuable. Dear Hubs has discussed putting in low voltage (I think 12V? I may be wrong) strip lighting like you see in movie theatres for emergency lighting, the draw from either a genset or stored battery from wind/solar would be not so great. As we are no longer spring chickens, thinking about such things is important.

      Agree with you that sharing pressure canning info is important. I grew up in a family that canned extensively; however, my grandma, mom and aunts just did water bath canning or vegetables etc in the pressure canner, and I only put up jams, pickles and some variations of chowchows, etc. I bought our monster pressure canner about two years ago to learn how to preserve meat: having lived through several unpleasant storms in Florida, I was no longer comfortable storing the majority of our meat in the deep freezer chest. I was raised with a “minimum” quarter cow, half hog, venison or elk in the deep freezer, or whatever other game/fish was brought home, and it made me twitchy that several hundred dollars could be wasted in a long term power outage situation as hubs and I began to review our preps and long term planning strategies.

      Just recently I’ve had to be away from home for an extended period dealing with a family situation, and it’s been nice for my husband to go down to the TEOTWAWKI pantry in the basement and crack open a jar of homemade pork roast with rosemary, venison in red wine with baby onions from the garden, etc. It certainly has reduced my stress, knowing that pressure canned meat meals are happily lined up in the pantry (and, according to DH, beats MREs or tinned Hormel chili any day of the week!). Pressure canning is also awesome for bone broth, so important for health! We sold our giant chest freezer on Craigslist and are now down to just a small one that is tucked away in a corner of the kitchen. Pressure canning for long-term storage of tougher cuts of meat like brisket, etc makes them unbelievably tender as well. I would love to share and especially learn from others who have gone through the trial-and-error! Excellent suggestion for a post, I heartily concur !

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  7. TimeHasCome

    Great article . I have a bunch of lamps I inherited from my parents and my parents in law when they passed . Each lamp will give off about 15 watts of yellow light . I have several Alladins #23 , they were popular in the 1970s . They have a mantle and give off about 55 watts of light . It is a white light and easy to read by . They are finicky and the mantles are $12 each . Since my power seem to go out regularly I reach for a flashlight first then to my kerosene lamps then to my Alladins .

    1. Alladins are neat too. As relatively inexpensive as everything is, there’s not reason not to have many spares.

  8. skybill

    Hi ‘Beater,
    ‘Funny thing you should mention that!!! Way back…..WAY BACK…like I was about 10 or so years old (About 1955 or 56) I was lurking around the “OLD BARN!!” ‘Hanging on a nail up by the rafters was my late Grandfathers old keroscene lantern kinda’ like the one in your picture!! It was rusted to hell but still good, the glass was good and the lifting mechanism worked!!… I thought for sure some mud dobber wasps got into the tank and built nests but wa-la’ I unscrewed the cap and it was clean as a whistle!! The wick was still in it, quite long and good!! I brushed off some of the rust and painted the metal with some red paint!! I was in the Boy Scouts at the time and we went “Camping” “A Lot!!” That lantern got one hell of a work out!! I don’t know when my Grandfather bought it but he died in ’39 so “Go Figure!!” I managed to hang on to it all these years!!! I turned it on to my sister’s oldest son as a family piece to pass on!! It still works!! So there is something to be said about the technology. Oh, by the way…..when I was a kid, down the road at the country store with the old Keroscene tank out front,,,,the “Old Timers” back then called the stuff….”Coal Oil!!”
    Thanks for tweaking some great memories from the back reaches of the old skull!!

    1. Skybill, thank you for the feedback and most importantly, being a reader. Believe it or not, I think our best times are ahead of us.

      Deus Vult!

  9. Sean

    Go to lanternnet.com for decent and very usable Dietz lamps. They work, and they are dependable. Decently priced. You can go to Amazon.com, and type in Corona Corn and Grain Mill and they’ll show you moderately priced cast iron grain mills, they will last, and work fine. My buddy in Wyoming, told me about this stuff, and over at westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com.

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