In our past week’s explorations, the class finally had a chance to play around with the oil lamps we made several weeks ago, and personally I can say that I was very excited for that. As a bit of a pyro, it was an exciting prospect to get to experiment with burning techniques, and to see how best to use this ancient artifact that I had replicated. Once I got a hold of my lamp, the first thing I had to do was to create a wick. I settled not on braiding but on a simple knotting pattern I learned way back in kindergarten called “finger knitting” (or at least that’s what we called it). Basically, you create a slipknot at one end of the string, and then pull the long tail through to create another slipknot, and then another, until you have a knotted piece of string that resembles a braid. I found this was definitely the fastest and least skill-intensive way to accomplish/create a wick. Due to the somewhat greedy nature of finger knitting however, I ended up with a rather short wick, perhaps only 2.5 inches long.
Now that I had my wick, I poured my fuel/olive oil into the basin of my oil lamp, then crammed my wick down into the oil so that it might soak itself. I thought I would have the patience to let my wick soak for 5, even 10 minutes as I thought was necessary… silly me. Within 2 minutes I had pulled the tip of the wick from the oil, and had proceeded to light it. My results were excellent: my lamp burned without interference and with very little smoke, and it burned with a clear, bright flame that I could very easily see by. But after a while of admiring my lamp, I wanted to try something else. Grabbing a cotton ball, I decided to try my hand at spinning a wick from the cotton. Needless to say, spinning is much harder than you think it is, and I only wound up with a wick about 1.5 inches long. Regardless, I soaked the fibers in the oil at the other end of the lamp and then lit them, and then I had a wick burning on each end.
The best part of this day was just experiencing this very ancient technology, and seeing how easy and effective it is to use. Granted, we are spoiled today in the fact that we can buy things like olive oil and pre-mined clay and twine at the store, ready-made for us to use, but there was something very fascinating in the fact that we made our own lamps, that we made our own source of light.