Bushcraft Torches and Lanterns Part 3 – Pinch pots and Wicks

In this blog we are going to take a look at some pinch pot lamps, how we may improve upon them and utilising different natural wicks we have made.

We will be building our knowledge on two previous blogs camp fire light v simple oil lamp and how to make a simple oil lamp. If you are happy with your understanding of these two subjects then please feel free to skip this part.

Lamp by camp fire

In gaining an understanding of the benefits of using lamps in our camp and why we may go to the trouble of making one. We can refer to this earlier blog camp fire light v simple oil lamp. This illustrates how our environment can be improved in the hours of darkness to enable us to continue with tasks which may otherwise prove troublesome.

Row of simple pinch pots

With this understanding we can now look at how we can produce this light resource in our second blog how to make a simple oil lamp. In this blog we go through a step by step guide in how to make one.

People are often surprised on how much useful light and how long these simple little lamps can burn for, often between one and two hours dependant on several factors. The main ones being the capacity of the reservoir, circumference of the wick, the environmental conditions and how much of the wick is exposed. In order to provide this light we will look at different wicks and a moderation in the design of these simple pinch pots to make them easier to use and manage.

Basic wick configuration

Lets first look at how we might develop these little pinch pots from their basic pot form, where we can have a little more control over the way the wick works. Above we can see the wick is supporting itself on the rim of the pinch pot. This enables the wick to fulfill its primary purpose in converting the liquid fuel into gas to feed the flame. This method has it’s limitations which become apparent when we want to move the lit lamp. Firstly the wick itself is free to move from side to side, putting the flame at risk of extinguishing itself, should it slump into the body of fuel. Secondly, with the reservoir full the lamp fuel is at risk of spilling. Other considerations are controlling the amount of exposed wick to manage the light that is cast and the rate the fuel is burnt.

Simple spout

The simplest modification we can make to address this is to form a spout for the wick to be supported in. In the above image, we can see the first pinch pot with no spout & the one in the foreground with a very simple one. The use of the spout to support the wick has been in use for thousands of years. Early examples can be seen in Egyptian, Greek and Roman designs, often becoming elaborate in design. The consistent production of them in volume,  would have utilised moulds to form the lamps.

More pronounced spouts

Above we see a slightly different design, offering a larger reservoir to increase burn time. A forward facing light source as opposed to being above and a greater distance between flame and reservoir to enable safer control of the wick. If you wanted to develop your lamps further you could introduce a handle at the rear to offer greater portability and enclose the reservoir a little, helping to prevent contaminates entering & avoid spillage.

There are several natural materials we can harvest and use for wicks. some are a little better than others. in all the cases here we are collecting some form of fibrous material and forming it to give structure, The three examples for the purpose of this blog are, thistle heads, rosebay willow herb and greater reed mace. All three have different characteristics making them behave differently. The process for making a simple little wick is the same. Take enough fibre for the size of the wick you require and add a few drops of your chosen fuel, whether that be animal fat, nut or vegetable oil. Simply squeezing and twisting the fibres together with produce the desired results. The best results were achieved with the Rosebay willow herb.

Give it a go and see what results you can achieve, in no time at all you can cave your own working oil lamp. If you are not in an area that you can access clay soil then try your local art shop. We would love to see your results, feel free to show us on our Facebook page.

Jay Jenner