Olive Oil Lamp

Saucer Lamp in Clay, Burning Olive Oil


Small olive oil lamp; a pair of these went into the contestOil-burning lamp of the Syro-Palestinian pinched open saucer type in unglazed clay


This is made of air-drying clay; it should be proper kiln-fired stoneware, but this is adequate for such a simple shape, and need not be food-safe; it was readily available, in my collection of materials purchased on speculation.

Following the instructions on the package, I broke off a piece of clay, re-wrapping the rest, and kneaded it until it was pliable. Then I referred to images of extant saucer lamps to determine the shape; it was a bit like shaping pastry, or flatbread dough. I found that this material was extremely soft to work with, and needed some support to hold its shape; I covered various kitchen articles in plastic and inverted the soft clay over their bottoms for that support. If this was a natural clay that was as soft, including grog (some extra grit) would have improved its handling qualities.

As the clay dried, I was able to make some minor adjustments in shape, but stopped once it reached the "leather-hard" stage of natural clay. I did not touch the lamps again until they fully hardened.

The usual suggestion for wick is braided cotton. In some reading, there was reference to a "strip" of cellulose material burnt as a wick. I thought there might be some logic in using a scrap of linen from a sewing project, so I inserted a wick of 3/4" wide linen fabric (about 5 oz.)

There are religious groups that still use olive oil in their lamps, and it seemed a tried-and-try material; I tried some with my extra-extra virgin cold-pressed, and it worked well. It seems, however, that a high quality is not necessary, but that it should not have any additives. You'd do just as well to fill with the cheapest olive oil available. Just be sure to soak the wick thoroughly before lighting.

During a power outage, I used these lamps along with tealights and tapers. The olive oil burns longer, brighter, and cleaner. I made a "pickwick" from a bit of coat-hanger wire, sharpened at one end to move the wick up and down, and a hook on the other end to hang it up when not in use. I'm pleased.


The clay seeps oil; all unglazed clay will do so, and I'd like to know if our ancestors were bothered by it. For my use, I've put my lamps into brass saucers to deal with the seepage.

Olive oil burns! First two test pieces The oil lasts a considerable time, possibly as long as a candle of similar volume. If the wick is set to a low flame, it will last longer, and be less smoky. Overall, it is a more pleasant flame and scent than the paraffin wax. A safety note: Olive oil won't burn except on the wick.

I'd like to explore the use of oil in glass lamps, possibly the beaker glass candelons. But that is another project.