Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kerosene addiction I: Flatwick lanterns

Don't be square: The typical flat head of a wick in a lamp that has been turned up too high. 

An off-grid life easily involves using a lot of kerosene. Kerosene fumes are a leading cause of lung cancer for third world women, who spend large parts of their lives inhaling all kinds of nasty stuff while preparing food over poorly constructed kerosene ovens.  
Still, proper maintainence of kerosene-burning equipment might mitigate some of the damage, and if you use these infernal devices constantly this involves some serious wick trimming. 
I spent eons learning this properly, which is why I'm droning on about the subject now.

The most normal and certainly the cheapest kerosene lanterns are the so called "hurricane lanterns" with flat wicks. "Deitz" is, in a sense, the Hoover of these kind of lights. "Feuerhand" comes in at second place. Get the largest ones possible. They give out a bit more light than the small ones, of course, but more importantly you don't have to fill them up all that often.
Storm lanterns are pretty safe, but back in the days when kerosene light was all the light you got after the sun set, using storm lanterns in living areas was considered a sign of extreme poverty and squalor. These days, happily no one can tell the difference. Kerosene lanterns will always seem cosy and christmas-y.
A common mistake is to turn the wick up high, to get "more" light. This is counterproductive, the light quickly dims and the lantern starts sooting up. A sure sign to look for is a red flame, which indicates low temperature and incomplete combustion.
What you want is a nice, rather narrow yellow flame.

Be sharp: A flat wick the way it's supposed to look.

The design of flat wick lanterns has remained unchanged for almost a hundred years, which sounds cool but also has lead to generations of people having to fiddle with an infuriatingly impractical wick-fastening mechanism. 
If your wick has gone square-shaped cut it at an angle (above). And you're set to go.

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