To be honest, I always thought that to have a functional oil lamp, all you had to do was set some oil on fire. Somehow the fact that there needed to be a wick in the lamp just didn’t register in my mind. So as we started braiding string to make our wicks, I was slightly surprised that the thickness and material of the wick could make such a big difference. This was one of the moments in life when I really appreciated having a sister, because I did not have to somewhat embarrassingly ask for instructions on how to braid string.

I started by just braiding three strands of the string, producing a somewhat thin wick. I put that in my lamp and lit it, and I was pleasantly surprised that it produced a nice flame. However, my flame died relatively quickly, so I decided to go for a thicker wick. I braided six strands of the string to produce a wick twice as thick as the previous one, poured oil in the lamp, and let the wick soak up the oil. However, this time the wick just wouldn’t light. I believe that it was because the wick was so saturated in oil, and I did not hold the lighter up to it for long enough, that it would not light. Because we had only one lighter to share between a class of twenty, I didn’t have time to try for a longer amount of time to light the wick. I decided to move on and paint my lamp with the paint made of pigments and oil.

After bringing the lamp back to my room, I decided to try and light it again, although in retrospect it was probably a bad decision, considering the potential fire hazard. This time, I used cotton as my wick, filled the lamp with vegetable oil, and let the cotton soak it up. It took a while to light the wick, but when it caught, the flame burned nicely. To my surprise, the lamp kept burning for over two and a half hours. By this time, it was pretty late at night, and we decided to put it out. But now I am excited to continue to use this lamp, now that I know how to maximize the flame size and longevity.

-Jeffery Zhang