In an extended emergency, being able to reuse otherwise worthless items is a major boon. There are few things that will be in greater demand than simple light in the darkness without electricity, and so today we’re going to look at making a simple oil lamp out of a useless lightbulb.
Disclaimer: Not only are bulbs breakable and flames dangerous to your skin, but you need to be very cautious in selecting the proper bulb. Many modern flourescent bulbs have mercury in them, and I do not recommend making a lamp out of any bulb that contains a harmful substance of that kind. I recommend incandescents primarily, both because they lack many harmful materials and because the round shape lets them hold more oil.
What you’ll need
A round incandescent bulb works well for making a lamp.
Obviously you’ll want a lightbulb, properly and carefully selected, but what else is required?
- A wick. Either buy one or use any clean, absorbent cloth that you’re willing to burn up.
- Oil. Any oil will do, though you may see better results with pure lamp oil sold in stores over, say, vegetable oil. The purification helps it to burn cleaner and brighter.
- A pinch of salt. This will be used to help remove gunk inside the bulb, polishing it a bit to give off more light.
Building your lamp
First, carefully separate the metal screw part of the bulb from the glass without breaking it. Alternatively you can just use a drill bit and put a hole large enough for your wick in the bottom, and both methods work equally well. Then, place your salt and a small amount of water in the bottom and shake rapidly for a few moments. Any inner coatings, dust, and other junk should rapidly be removed by the saltwater. Simply pour out the cloudy water, then rinse again with just water to remove any salt and give it a final thorough cleaning. This should leave you with a nice, clear, shiny bulb that’s ready to be filled with oil.
Drilling a hole helps hold the wick in place better, but can make filling more annoying.
Before you get to filling it, first glue a small washer or other flat item to the bottom of the bulb. If you wish for it to sit straight up you can glue it that way, though some people find it more helpful to glue the washer so that it can rest at a slight slant for easier filling. Regardless, the washer will give you a flat surface for good balance so make sure it is glued firmly with heat resistant substances. Then, fill it up with enough oil for your first test and place the wick inside. If you drilled a hole you may wish to use a funnel to avoid spilling oil.
Once your wick has soaked up enough oil to burn properly, carefully light it and observe. It should light up the room for at least a few minutes, depending on the quantity of the oil and the quality of both wick and oil you used. At this point the rest is up to you. You could add a handle so you can carry it about like a lantern or just use it for bedside reading. Regardless, you will have created a nice little emergency lamp that has many uses. One I think of most often is being able to take other people’s light bulbs and turn them into lamps as a trade, since most people will have plenty of lights without power and spare bulbs lying around. Just be careful when selecting bulbs and you should be fine.
Anything else that would improve this simple design? Would you use a lightbulb lamp? Let us know in the comments below!