Years ago I was camping next to a lake and as darkness began to fall I discovered that I’d forgotten my flashlight. I had some firewood cut and ready to go, but knew that it was going to be a long dark night with just the campfire to shed light.
I remembered something I’d read about making a lamp, so I went down to the shore and found a couple of freshwater clam shells. Now I had my container I needed something to burn. I’d hiked in early and made breakfast and still had a pan full of congealed bacon grease, which I heated up over the fire. While it was warming up I tore a thin piece of cloth off my towel and laid it across the bottom of the shell with about an inch hanging out on either side. When the bacon grease was ready I poured it over the makeshift wick and filled up the clam shell. I let the wick soak up the grease, which took a few minutes, then lit it.
Surprise. It worked!
Once I figured that out it was just a matter of finding the right material to make a wick in order for it to be all natural. Turns out that cattail fluff works awesome for this. If you live in the country like I do it’s just a matter of driving by the nearest pond (I actually have one right across the street) and finding the cattail left over from last season.
How to Make Your Lamp
It’s so easy it’s almost embarrassing and I use them out at my tipi all the time now. I use bacon grease because I usually have some on hand. You could probably use any kind of fat that’s been rendered down, but bacon is easy. If you have some bear fat give that a whirl. In the past I’ve tried different things that didn’t work that well. My biggest disaster was trying to use actual
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lantern oil. When I touched that Betty off it burned way brighter and hotter than I’d anticipated. Stupid, I know, but at least I was close by the fire pit when I lit it off. (I’m not crazy!) It burned hot enough to crack the shell, but it also burned the fuel up fast. No harm no foul right?
Check out this video on how to build the lamp.
The good things about this lamp are: it’s free, it’s easy to make, it actually works pretty good! The only bad thing about this is that the shell itself makes an unsteady base, so be careful when you set it down so that it doesn’t tip over.
Building A Lamp At Home
How can we apply this to someone living in the city? Let’s say the power goes out and you’re sitting at home with no batteries for the flashlight. Never fear, because you can make a lamp similar to this with what you have in the house. You’ll need some fuel like vegetable oil, and something to put it in. A tuna fish can will work excellent for this. Next take a cotton ball or two and there you have it.
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Pour the oil in the tuna can then put the cotton ball in for the wick and let it soak up the oil. Light it and you’ll have a source of light for as long as you have oil. And there you have it. The next time you head out in the woods save that bacon grease from breakfast and make yourself a lamp. Oh sure, you can have your lanterns lit, but to see how our ancestors did it you should this for a night to get a feel for it. This is about the only way I light my tipi now and it’s pretty cool to see how much light you can get from a few of these simple lamps spread around.
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