How to choose a Kerosene Lamp

Here’s another in the series of old-fashioned knowledge. This is a ‘grab a cup of coffee and have a good sit’ type of post.

First, we need a few words of caution: we’re literally playing with fire here and we need to be safe.

  • Never fill a lamp full-up with oil or kerosene. Stop a bit from the top to give the fuel a chance to expand as it warms up when the lamp is in use. This also gives it a bit of ‘slosh room’ if the table that the lamp is sitting on happens to get bumped.
  • Never move a lit lamp that’s supposed to be stationary. This includes anything that doesn’t have a handle. Period. If it doesn’t have a handle, don’t ever move it when it’s lit. There; that’s two ways of saying the same thing.
  • For lamps with handles, always set them on a good steady surface or on the ground. You’ll note that this does not include the fender of the tractor.

Okay, now we can get to the rest of the story.

I got my Lehman’s catalog (they’re also online – here’s a link) in the mail a few weeks ago, and pulled it out this morning to look through. Their variety of lamps is still good, and they’re still a very good and honest place from which to buy.

The first thing you should think about, is ‘where will this be used?’ If you’re going to use it indoors and outdoors, then you need a sturdy lamp with a bail handle; if you’re going to move it around indoors, this type also serves well. They’re a bit more utilitarian, but they’re much less likely to cause a fire. I refer you again to the above cautions.

If you’re new to lamps, then I suggest considering a lantern. The shape and function are classic and reliable. Two good lamps are Champion and Feuerhand. The Feuerhand are made in Germany, and they’re of the old classic “Made in Germany” feel. They’re of heavier-gauge galvanized steel, and they’re just plain tough. Plus replacement parts will be available long into the next century. Champion is now being manufactured in China, but from the original dies, for as long as those dies will last. They’re currently of very good quality and are plenty stout.

You’ll see Dietz lamps out there. The Dietz lamps are now obviously made in China. The quality is beginning to go downhill, but if you can find a good antique, then the modern replacement parts will fit and work fine.

I point you specifically to Lehman’s because they have a commitment and a conscience. They stand behind what they sell, because they use it. Period.

Now a word about lamps from other catalogs: I bought what looked like a really nice lamp from a hyphenated-name outfit that primarily sells gardening tools, but when I got the lamp, there were unseen gaps between the oil fount and the blast tubes. (The blast tubes are those sturdy tubes that extend to the top of the lamp from the fount and meet in a ring at the top of the chimney.) I filled the lamp, then turned the corner out of the garage. Suddenly I smelled raw kerosene. Luckily I hadn’t lit the lamp. The fuel was leaking out of the space between the blast tubes and the fount – this is supposed to be both crimped and soldered, and it was neither on this lamp. This is a serious, serious, fire hazard.

I sent it back with a note detailing that they should look at the rest of the shipment. Those lamps continue to be offered on their site. Enough said.

If you’re familiar with lamps and their hazards, but need more light than you can get with a lantern, then you might want to look at an Aladdin. Aladdin lamps are not for use by the faint of heart. They must be placed on a stable surface, always. Once lit, they must stay put. This is because Aladdin lamps put out a LOT of heat – and they put out a LOT of light. It’s the heat thing that makes them a little more dangerous when lit. I’m not going to describe how to use an Aladdin here unless specifically requested to do so; they are best demonstrated in person. The best thing to do is to go to a hardware store that sells Aladdins and their parts, and have them show you how to use it.

If you’re just looking for accent lighting, then small, table-top lamps can be cute and give you a nice ambiance. Still, remember – if it doesn’t have a handle, it shouldn’t be moved when lit.

There are other posts on how to trim lamps and how to extinguish them. Hope you check those out, also.


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