A few years ago I was in Virginia during a hurricane and as expected the lights went out. Luckily, I had stocked up on Lamp oil and some oil lamps. Not many people are experienced with oil lamps so I thought I would touch on the subject. First off, I love oil lamps. They are by far my favorite alternative lighting source.
Kerosene vs. lamp oil: Personally, I have used both and I don’t have a preference. Lamp oil is in the same family as kerosene but has been refined to burn cleaner and have less odor. If the grid is up and it’s available I would go for lamp oil but I’m equally comfortable burning clear kerosene in my oil lamps as well. From what I’ve read you can use red kerosene in oil lamps but due to the dye in it, it can cause some health issues so I would only use it outside if I had to. I’ve read several different estimates on the shelf life of kerosene. I’ve read one to five years to people talking about using kerosene that’s 30+ years old with no issues. The long shelf life is another reason why I am a fan of kerosene burning products.
Generally all oil lamps have the following parts: A base, a reservoir (Oil Font), a collar (connects the reservoir to the burner), a burner (holds the wick), a wick and a shade or chimney. I personally like oil lamps with thin chimneys such as an Aladdin or Kosmos lamp. (Yes, we get a kickback if you buy from St. Paul Mercantile. So why not do it!?) The thinner chimney, once heated makes the kerosene burn more efficiently. DO NOT use an oil lamp without a chimney! It could possibly pressurize the reservoir and cause a fire!
One common problem people have who have never used kerosene or oil lamp before is that their lamp produces a lot of soot and smoke. Your wick should be trimmed so that it has the same contour as your finger. It should resemble a half circle on the top, not straight across. Too narrow and pointed, and it won’t burn well either.
There are pressurized kerosene lanterns but I have no experience with them. I plan on getting one to see how they work, how durable they are and how much kerosene they go through. Once I do I will write about my experience with them. In the mean time, here is a youtube video comparing the a pressure lantern to a Colman lantern. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDuPzQ0qTyE
One thing I cannot stress enough. I don’t care where you buy your lamps or lanterns, DO NOT buy the cheap, tin, made in China hurricane lamps. They leak, they fall apart and they will burn your house down. I know it’s hard to invest a lot of money into something like a lamp but when you need it, you will want a good one that will work safely.