Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oil Lamps

My MooseBoots journey meanders in a very "native" way.  Of course, several of my guides are native (those in writing count as well ... Tamarack Song calls his reference books "elders" at the end of each chapter).  But ... there are those moments when my engineering side wrests control.

Wendy is in the process of finishing the manuscript for her first published book.  It is a hypothetical 21-day countdown to some apocalyptic event.  One of the sections is about light ... no cheating with that "new-fangled" electricity crap.  So, I decided to play and try to help her with her ideas ... what do we have around, Wendy? ... olive oil ... raccoon fat (not common in most households) ... basswood bark ... glass jar cover ...  string from feed bags ....

So, we've all seen oil lamps.  Hah!  Get that image out of your head. 
  1. First, you slosh carefully pour a bit of fuel, in this case raccoon fat or oil into the glass lid.  Try not to get it all over the table, counter, floor, etc. 
  2. The first thing she wanted to know was whether it was flammable in bulk ... aka drop the match into it and see what happens.  Stand back!  Fizzle...sputter...fade.  OK, neither is.
  3. Now, lets make some cordage.  Feed bag string first, then basswood bark, then ... hey, what is this?  It looks like paper towels, but we don't buy those.  Oh well, twist it up.
  4. Now, a a bunch of oil into the glass jar.  Install wick.  Wait!  How do we keep it upright?  Wendy?  Paperclips.  Cardboard.  (Fine engineering effort complete with pound nails with hammers through little bits of metal careful calculation) ... eureka!
  5. Light it.  No, really light it.  Did you light it?  Why didn't it burn?  Oh, the wick is too long and dry.
  6. Now what?  Let's ... lay the wick in the very shallow bit of oil in the lid.
  7. Light it!  Success!  I knew we were smarter than melted raccoon fat and squashed up olives could do it.

In the end, the lamps were a big success.  I was pleasantly surprised by the heat and light given off.  The best thing is that I expected the lamps to smoke and stink.  Nothing ... no smoke and no smell.  So, for the balance of my MooseBoots journey it looks like I will be able to make some form of light ... wait no match to light it ... I'd better keep working with that bow drill.  I can't wait to read the glitzy polished version to see how clever Wendy can make us look.


  1. You guys are so funny! I loved the stroked out "edits"...

    Moose Boots, you just reminded me about my promise to myself that this summer, I would master my bow drill technique. I learned the basics last fall, but had not advanced enough to actually start a fire with it - I know I can do it this year, will report back if (ie.when) I do!

    Great lamps...

  2. A fine engineering feat indeed! Much enjoyed here. And who knows? It might come in handy one of these days.

  3. Julie, as always thank you. Definitely let me know how the drilling goes. I have recently started working with a pine fireboard and was able to build my second ever coal.

    Tovar, thank you for the acknowledgement of my superb engineering prowess. We have conitnued to play ... rolled up cardboard wicks burn with a very large bright fire, but will cause any glass in direct contact with said fire to shatter. He he. It's a wonder Wendy still let's me play.


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