Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kerosene addiction III: How to use an Aladdin lamp

According to the internet, and if you don't believe the internet, what are you going to believe, Aladdins are the "Cadillacs" of kerosene lamps. This makes a lot of sense. They are big, beautiful and the company's R&D department have obviously been on vacation for a long, long time. The Aladdin lamps also need constant attention and use a whole lot of fuel.
Some of the parts for this contraption are still labeled as "Made in Tennessee". How often do you see that these days?
They are really wonderful things and easy to fall in love with. But they are not easy. I used to hold courses in "Aladdin care 101" when I went away and surrendered my place and dogs to other people, but I would see their eyes glaze over and could almost hear them thinking to themselves "How hard can this be? It's a lamp, for chrissake." Before I managed to get to the train station they would invariably call and tell me the lamp was sooting like hell.

Now I simply tell dog sitters to never mind about those lamps. Stick to the other ones.
Aladdin lamps are round wick type, but with a twist. Above the wick, there's a mantle covered with thorium. And that mantle, in some way or another, reacts to the flame beneath it and lights up something fierce.

Step I: Fill'er up! I have a small funnel with a bent stem that makes filling less messy. You can fill the lamp even while it's burning, it's not going to kill you unless you do something stupid. If your dogs are like mine, this is the moment they will choose to flip your arm up with their snout. So I normally do this when I'm alone.
If the wick has been dry for a while, let it soak for half an hour.

Step II: Trimming the wick. Most lamps are delivered with a small plastic trimmer. Remove the flame spreader, a perforated thimble-like device inside the wick, and turn that plastic doo-dad clockwise on top of the wick. I do this every third or fourth time I use the lamp. I keep the trimmer on a nail on the wall, otherwise I would certainly loose it.

Step III: Insert flame spreader.

Step IV: Light it up! You want a blue flame. If it gets yellow, it will start to smell.

Step V: Add the combined glass chimney/mantle thingamajig. Twist it on. And now do this, I mean it: Turn the wick down until you here a throbbing/humming sound. That's too low. Turn it slightly up. You want to be able to see the woven pattern in the mantle, if not, it's too bright. Now let it alone for a while. After some time, you can consider turning it up.
If you do the homo electricus thing and just crank it up to max at once, it will start sooting horribly. This is because the kerosene's viscosity changes with the temperature around it. If it gets real hot, it flows easier, and you get too much kerosene which is then not properly combusted.
That's my theory, anyway.
I usually keep my Aladdin lamps turned down pretty low, and then turn up the one I use for reading or sewing or eating. And I keep an eye on that bugger. If a dark spot appears on the mantle, I turn the wick down, and it disappears. By now I have developed an intense pavlovian reaction to the smell of sooting kerosene.

These lamps must have been a real revolution for people in rural areas. They were invented around the same time people in cities had gas lights, and just before they got electricity. But for millions of kids in the boondocks these lamps erased the link between "doing your homework" and "going blind".

They give off a whole lot of heat, too. Comparable to a 1000w electrical heater, I'm told. This is nice to know, when comparing with stuff in civilization. I sort of know what "1ooo watts" is. Actually, if I stay at home all day during winter, four of these will keep me toasty without lighting up the stove.

If you turn up the light, it corresponds to a 60 w incandescent light bulb.

On this site:


Jaysen said...

Thank you for this. Even though I am in "electrified" America, Mrs and I have enjoyed a little flat wick use. I am now going to go shopping. Maybe using a few of these will replace the electric heaters we wind up using in our old house to supplement traditional heat.

Northmark said...

Looking forward to reading about how that works out! This is real American heritage technology.