How to Make an Olive Oil Lamp

olive oil

how to make an olive oil lamp

When my family visited Greece this summer, one of the most beautiful things that we saw were kandylakia, little roadside shrines that held icons, photographs, mementos, and a small floating olive oil lamp:

how to make a floating olive oil lamp
This kandylaki is just outside of Ancient Olympia.

In Greece, if you have a minor accident, and you’re thankful that it wasn’t worse, you put up a little shrine out of thanks. If you have a big accident, you put up a shrine out of thanks that it wasn’t even worse. If someone was killed in your accident, you still put up a shrine, but you put a picture of the person killed inside, so people know who to pray for.

The kandylakia were always lovely, so decorative and personal, but it’s the olive oil lamp, or vigil lamp, that most caught my fancy. These lamps are simply made out of everyday materials, but play a deeply meaningful role in the lives of Orthodox families. The light from these lamps is clear and bright, and the oil that they burn is wholesome, natural olive oil. Grandparents dip their fingers into the warm oil of a burning lamp and use that oil to bless their grandchildren.

Want to make your own beautiful, wholesome olive oil lamp out of everyday materials? Here’s what you’ll need:

wide-mouth Mason jar. For the particular lamp in this tutorial, I used a pint-sized wide-mouthed Mason jar. You can use any thrifted or upcycled glass dish or jar,  even cutting one to size to better suit your needs. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to alter the tutorial accordingly.

candle wicking or cotton rope. You can use the same type of wicking that you use making beeswax container candles, although the resultant light will also be small. Here’s an olive oil lamp that I made using the same candle wicks that I also use in my beeswax container candles:

how to make an olive oil lamp
This lamp is made from a glass bourbon bottle that I cut in half and glued back together upside-down. The wicks are candle wicks pushed through cork topped with aluminum foil, and they float on top of the oil. They’re lovely, and the lamp works well, but you can see how small the flames are.

Want a larger flame? Get creative with thicker wicking! For the olive oil lamp in this tutorial, I’m using a length of cotton rope that’s about 1/2″ diameter. It puts out a nice, big flame!

metal coil from a spiral-bound notebook. Use a coil that’s approximately the same diameter as your cotton rope.

metal ring that fits the Mason jar, and a circle of chicken wire to fit the ring or a frog lid insert. I use these frog lid inserts to make bouquets in Mason jars, and they also work perfectly for this oil lamp. If you don’t have a lid insert like this, then you can cut any open-mesh wiring or hardware cloth to fit inside the metal ring.

olive oil. Any food-grade olive oil will work well for this.

salt and water. These aren’t necessary, but if you fill up most of the lamp with salt and water, you’ll be able to use less oil.

1. Add salt, water, and oil to your Mason jar. Most of the Mason jar should be salt and water, with just enough oil to submerge the wick:

how to make an olive oil lamp
Ignore the fact that I’m using a different container here, but do notice that you can just pour in the oil–it will separate to the top all on its own. By the same reasoning, you can add more water and salt whenever you’d like, and they’ll naturally fall to the bottom of the lamp.

When you’re not using your olive oil lamp, you can put a lid on the Mason jar to keep the ingredients fresh.

2. Add the metal ring. Place the frog lid or the circle of chicken wire over the top of the Mason jar, and screw on the metal ring. The metal ring will hold your wire in place.

2. Cut the rope. Cut enough rope so that you can have about a quarter-inch wick above the olive oil. Make sure that the rope is short enough that the bottom of the wick won’t pass completely through the oil layer and into the water. Insert it into the metal coil from the spiral-bound notebook, and then insert the metal coil into the Mason jar:

how to make an olive oil lamp

Give the whole thing a quick dunk to saturate the rope, then the bottom of the spiral can coil around the bottom of the Mason jar, and you can hook the top of the spiral onto the wire circle at the top of the jar:

how to make an olive oil lamp

3. Light the flame! The flame will last for a long time, burning cleanly and without suet. You can pull up more of the wick or top off the olive oil as necessary.

I have noticed that this cotton rope wick does smoke when I blow the lamp out–it smokes a LOT, and it doesn’t really want to go out. An easy solution is to unhook the coil and submerge the entire wick in the oil. Unlike kerosene, olive oil will simply smother the flame, not catch the whole thing on fire and blow up your house.

And that’s another reason why I prefer olive oil lamps!

6 thoughts on “How to Make an Olive Oil Lamp”

  1. These are pretty cool! I’ll have to give it a try. But, although I do understand the water will take up some of the room so you don’t have to use as much olive oil, what is the purpose of the salt?

    1. I actually don’t think that there is a physical purpose for the salt; it’s what they use in the vigil lamps in those little Greek shrines, so it might have religious significance. I do think that the salt is useful for adding a little more weight to the bottom of the lamp, and I think it looks pretty.

  2. Michele Michael

    I actually read just today that if you soak your wick in saltwater and then let it dry thoroughly before using in your olive oil lamp that it will burn longer! I have made just one lamp this far and lit it and did not put it out for 14 hours. It was still going string and I believe it would have gone much longer. Also, the reason I see for putting the water (or water and salt in this case) under the olive oil is because the jar is so tall. If you use a shorter mason jar — a squat and wide 8 oz. one (more expensive) or a classic 4 oz. jar then you still have plenty of olive oil but no need for the water underneath to save on oil.

  3. Michele Michael

    P.S. I have been researching olive oil lamps a lot lately and just LOVE your ideas of using the wires from spiral notebooks as well as the idea of the frog grating mesh.

  4. I was reading the Manuel for my car today about putting oil in it the instruction book gave me the idea of a candle lamp just like this…
    The oil stays at the bottom it goes up the wick and the flame is lit at the top
    *not to be lit at the bottom we’re the oil is (as that’s a fire hazard) oil on fire is hard to sort.
    These ones look really nice.
    I will make one of these at some point

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