Kerosene Lanterns and How to Use Them

They take some getting used too.

Most of you probably have at least one kerosene lantern, if you don’t you should.  Kerosene lanterns were in common use prior to the advent of electricity.  They provide good light and are efficient and simple to use.  You can purchase hurricane lamps quite inexpensively for under $10 at stores like Walmart. Personally I prefer the ones I have found in garage sales.  Over the years, I have built up quite a few of them, never paying more than $5 a piece.

Most kerosene lanterns share a few things in common.  The majority of kerosene lanterns, other than the Aladdin, have a flat wick.  The width of the wick determines the size of the flame.  The larger the flame, the more light it produces.  The most common wicks run in 1/8 increments from ½ inch to 1 inch.

Kerosene lanterns are made with either a short or tall chimney or globe.  Both have advantages.  The short ones are more compact and easier to store.  They are also easier to clean.  The tall ones create a better draft, which results in a bit more light.

How to get the most light from your lantern Make sure the globe or chimney is clean.  Even with the lamp burning at its greatest efficiency, it produces soot.  A thin veil of soot will build up over the inside of the globe without being noticed.  Wipe the chimney clean every time you refill the fuel.

Keep your wick trimmed.  The very end of the wick will become charred with normal use.  This affects how the fuel is drawn up into the wick and burned.  Trimming the wick periodically will keep your light bright.  Normally you will have to trim  one eight to one quarter inch off the burned end of the wick.  Be very careful to trim the wick straight across.  A nice square cut will provided the brightest light.

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The type of fuel you use will make a big difference.  In the U.S. there are several different fuels.  99% paraffin, kerosene, and synthetic kerosene are some of the fuels sold under the name lamp oil.  Synthetic kerosene burns as brightly as kerosene, but with fewer odors.  Kerosene is bright but has a strong odor.  Paraffin has the least odor, but does not burn as bright.

Lighting and adjusting the flame correctly.  Adjust the unlit wick so that it protrudes just above the wick tube in the burner.  Raise the chimney and light the wick, then lower the chimney.  As soon as the whole top of the wick is burning, raise the flame height ¼ to ½ inches.  Let the lantern warm up before adjusting the flame further.  Once the lantern is warm, it burns better.  Adjust the flame to its brightest level.  If the flame is too high, the chimney will rapidly begin to blacken with soot.

Don’t forget to buy extra wicks, a few spare chimneys; they always seem to get broke.  Try your lamps out and experiment to see how much fuel you need to store.  Depending on the size of the wicks and how bright you adjust the lights your fuel usage will vary.  Try going a night or two with just the kerosene lamps and you will learn a lot fast.


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10 thoughts on “Kerosene Lanterns and How to Use Them”

  1. FYI Kerosene lanterns are the metallic units that are made by Dietz and others. Hang ’em in the barn.
    The glass (and some metal) units for your kitchen table are kerosene lamps.
    Just a nomenclature thing….

  2. I see the three types of fuel – can they be mixed (lanterns OR heaters?) is the “clean kerosene” we see (at 4 times the price) actually the synthetic?

  3. I have never tried to mix them but I would try it if necessary, I think it would work . The clean kerosene is probably synthetic or liquid paraffin.

  4. More efficient than the wick-type kerosene lamps or lanterns are the mantle tupe table lamps, such as Aladdin, which you can get at Lemans, or the Petromax lanterns as used by NATO militaries. The mantle-type kerosene lanterns are brighter, burn cleaner, and are a usdful winter heating system, each mantle putting out 1000btu/hour. While ordinary kerosene works, if you object to the odor and want to stock something less expensive than “lamp oil” buy K1, which is intended for use in indoor space heaters. For what it’s worth, the military Petromax lanterns also burn JP8 turbine fuel or Jet-A aviationfuel, if that is what you happen to have. Learned thisthisfrom my Italian host camping with the Carabinieri in Tuscany in April.

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