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Candles and open flames

Candles - beautiful and traditional

The first thing most people think of as a light source for a portable lantern is a candle. They are easily available and cheap. Tea lights, the small shallow candles contained in their own aluminum cups, are the classic item used to light small paper lanterns. They work quite well, but you need to keep a few things in mind.

Home-made candles

Candles are available in many sizes and shapes and can be made fairly easily at home, which is fun to do, but we will not cover candle-making here. One possible advantage of making your own candles is the possiblity of making small multi-wick candles for more light. It may not work, but we may cover this possibility in a future Lantern Lab. What do you think? Tell us.

Birthday candles

Imagine the brilliance of Grandma's birthday cake and translate that into a light source for your lantern. Appealingly bright, perhaps, but not really a good idea. Actual birthday candles are often too small to last for more than a few minutes and are therefore not recommended. I would also avoid mentioning your inspiration to your grandma if you ever want any more of those great cookies she makes.

Oil lamps

Oil of one sort or another has been used to fuel lanterns for millenia. The more volatile types of petroleum-based lamp oil are dangerously quick to light and are not suitable for most hand-made lanterns.

One possible exception is olive oil, which is an excellent and fairly safe fuel for oil lamps. Don't use the special extra-extra-virgin for this, just the cheapest grade of pure olive oil, available in big bottles and tins in Italian and Portuguese grocery stores. Don't use blended oil - some cheap oils are blended with canola or soy. Avoid them - I hear canola is OK but soy oil smells really bad. If you tip an olive oil lamp, it will go out, not flare up. We here at Lantern Lab will be doing some field tests of olive oil lamps in portable lanterns and will publish the results.

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