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The motto “Be Prepared” may ever be associated with the Boy Scouts, but it isn’t just young lads in shorts and knee socks who would do well to hold to it. Far from being the sole domain of doomsday preppers, preparedness can actually make a world of difference in difficult situations, from power outages to weather-related emergencies. In case you get stuck without power and you don’t have a huge store of candles at hand, it’s actually quite easy to put together an oil lamp from everyday household items!


Olive oil, vegetable oil, jar of oil, jar of olive oil
Image © Chiot’s Run

A Glass Jar and Vegetable Oil

What You’ll Need:

  • A glass jar (like a Mason jar or empty pickle container)
  • Household twine
  • Wire (even a stripped twist-tie would do)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Lighter or matches

This is one of the easiest lamps to make, and if you can create one successfully in under 10 minutes, you’ll totally earn your MacGuyver badge.

Cut a long piece of wire and coil one end of it into a flat disc that’s approximately an inch in diameter. This will be the base of your wick, and the weight of it will keep it secure at the bottom of the jar. Bend the un-coiled part of the wire so that it’s centered over the coil, and then draw it vertical so it sticks up at a 90 degree angle, and extends to the upper edge of the jar.

Cut a piece of twine that’s the same height as the jar, and feed that onto the wire, so that the wire becomes like a skeleton that keeps the twine “wick” erect. Place the coil at the bottom of the jar, and then fill the container with vegetable oil until only 1/2 an inch of wick is exposed. Then, all you have to do is light the wick, and voila: light!

Tangerine lamp, orange lamp, orange peel lamp, orange oil lamp
Image © kyriazis

Orange Candle

I’ve never tried this one personally, but it sounds quick and easy to make, and is probably both very aromatic, and delicious to create.

What You’ll Need:

  • An orange, cut in half
  • Olive oil
  • Lighter or matches

Take your halved orange and scoop out the fruit, leaving one long, thick piece of pith in the middle of the shell. Add oil until only 1/4 inch of pith is visible. Light the pith wick, and watch it burn.

Bacon fat, bacon tallow, tallow, fat, bacon renderings, bacon grease
Image © land_camera

Crisco (Or Other Shortening)

Some people have also made candles out of bacon fat (and I’m sure those would smell fabulous to non-vegetarians), but we’ll focus on vegetable shortening here.

What You’ll Need

  • A glass jar 3/4 full of vegetable shortening
  • A cotton swab
  • A 2″ x 6 “strip of cotton 
  • Lighter or matches

Take the cotton strip and wind it tightly around the cotton swab to make a wick.

Sink that wick into the veggie lard until only 1/2 an inch is exposed. Light it, and prepare to be illuminated. 

Can of tuna, empty can, empty tuna can, tuna can lamp
Image © Craig Sunder

A Can of Tuna

Now, this one is last on the list for a reason: it really is the last method you want to use for creating light, mainly because your entire house will smell like fish for days afterward. In an emergency situation, however, the smell of burnt tuna may be the least of your worries.

What You’ll Need:

  • A can of tuna
  • A nail
  • A hammer
  • Vegetable oil
  • An old cotton t-shirt or pair of underwear that you don’t want anymore
  • A can opener
  • Lighter or matches

Using a hammer and nail, punch a hole in the center of the can’s lid. Open the can tuna halfway, and scoop out all the fish inside. Eat the fish, or share it with a friendly cat.

Cut a 2″ x 8″ strip of cotton fabric and twist it tightly into a coiled wick. Place this coil into the can, and pull 1/2 an inch up through the hole you punched in the lid. Fill the can with oil, let it sit for a few minutes to ensure that the fabric soaks up the oil well (you might need to add a little bit more once it’s absorbed), and then light the bit of wick sticking up through the lid. Let there be light!

Burning oil lamp, oil lamp, oil candle, DIY oil lamp
Image © Shutterstock

It’s probably a good idea to experiment with these lamp ideas well in advance of any real emergency, just to determine which one works best. This could even be part of a fun weekend adventure for your family: you can put together an emergency kit full of snacks, first aid items, etc. that would be handy in case of a power outage, and you can be sure to keep some of these great lamp-making supplies on hand as well.

If you do try any of these out, please let us know how they worked for you!