*A Lesson in Facta Non Verba:
Making an Oil Candle in the Kitchen*

By: Gottin_Himmel
18 March 2013

Who hasn't seen those "this ought to work" articles online? Some of them DO work, most don't, and a few are outright pranks. When the lights go out, you want something that you KNOW will work. That's why, here on the Rubicon, we live and breathe "Facta Non Verba". In other words, something doesn't really work until you've tried it.

I'm always leery of any project that doesn't provide at least some rule-of-thumb measurements or directions.

Adding "some" hydrogen peroxide and "some" baking soda to "some" Mountain Dew will not make a "homemade chem. light". How do I know this? I tried it last night.

The good news is, I found an idea that really does work. However, I had to wiggle, jiggle, and adjust the instructions to come up with something that performs reasonably well.

You can whip up an emergency oil candle in any reasonably well-stocked kitchen in America. If you're away from home and you're staying with unprepared friends or family, you can push back the darkness with some common items.

Most of us in the preparedness community have a favorite field-expedient oil lamp plan up our sleeves. Here's one I hadn't seen before: making an oil candle using a jar, table salt, cooking oil, a cotton ball, and a toothpick. Yes, a toothpick.

A half-pint jelly jar works well for this, but any empty glass jar of a similar size will work. Pour salt to a depth of about one inch or so into the jar.

Next, pour cooking oil into the jar, so that its surface is about 1 1/2 inches below the rim of the jar. You need to make sure that the oil and salt together aren't any deeper than the length of a toothpick.

I used a $3 bottle of canola oil from Wal-Mart. It's a little smoky. Because of that, I think olive oil might work better - people have been using olive oil in lamps forever.

Pinch off about 1/16 of a 100% cotton ball. You have to use one that is all-cotton, such as the ones sold for makeup removal. The "cotton" balls in prescription bottles contain polyester. If you light one of those, it won't stay lit and will give off stinky smoke until it dies out.

Pull, and roll out the cotton to form a fluffy string about 2 1/2 inches long. Wind this around a round toothpick, and then roll this contraption between your fingers to form a nice, tight wick. Pay special attention to the ends of the wick. The cotton needs to be nice, tight, and tapered. Otherwise, the flame will be smoky and inefficient.

Carefully insert the wick into the salt at the bottom of the jar. The salt doesn't do anything other than hold the wick in place.

Some instructions tell you to put a drop of nail polisher remover, or acetone, on the tip of the wick that's above the surface of the oil. You can do that, or you can touch the wick with a Q-tip moistened with rubbing alcohol, or you can just wait a minute until the oil soaks the wick. I tried all three methods and they all worked.

I used a grille lighter to light the oil candle. I hate burning my fingers with matches.

After a few prototypes that kind of worked, this final version is very functional. I lit it about an hour and a half ago and it looks as though it will burn for several hours.

I would not consider this oil candle to be something you should consider a major part of your emergency lighting preps. As with anything that employs an open flame, there's a danger of fire. On the other hand, knowing how to make one is another tool in your preparedness tool belt.

Facta Non Verba. Don't just read this article; try making one yourself - today. It's easier to practice making one when the lights are still on.


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