Whale Oil Lamps Questions

Do whale oil lamps work well without alteration for Kerosene use? As I recall kerosene took over fairly rapidly as a replacement for whale oil for illumination due to being MUCH cheaper but I have never seen a discussion of whether the lamps were used as-is or required some modification for best use of kerosene. BTW the below link is to photos of many whale oil lamps and it looks like they took many forms.


Looking at the pictures in the above link I wonder if many of the lamps are not missing their chimneys as virtually all kerosene lamps including the Aladdin non pressurized Kerosene mantle lights have tall glass chimneys.

Unless in Japan, Norway or Iceland; the countries still doing some whaling; it would be very difficult to obtain some whale oil to experiment with.

First topic in the new category and it is non-led indeed :-)

Were whale lamps using a wick, like kerosin lamps? In that case, the oil type in use is not that critical, when the fat-chains get longer and the oil thicker it may just need some heating up before the oil creeps into the wick, that's all.

I just had to look when I saw the title of this! Very unusual indeed.

And I should be able to answer that question locally, as I am nearby to New London CT (Whale Oil Row, where I work) and Mystic Seaport, where the newly refurbished whaleship Charles W Morgan is berthed.

If you look at the photos I posted the link to you will see that they seem to all be wick lamps, many with double round wicks. As I mentioned though compared to the kerosene lamps I am familiar with they seem to be missing chimneys in most instances. For some lamps such as the Aladdin the chimney is critical for proper operation and the Aladdin even has a taller chimney which is listed as intended for high altitude use.

Lamp chimneys are supposed to reduce flickering from air currents, increase brightness and reduce smoking for wick type lamps per my understanding so the lack of chimneys in the photos I find unusual.

I continue to be amazed, awed and overwhelmed by the range of interests and the depth of that knowledge by folks on this forum…

The next best to whale oil. Jojoba oil.

Edit: I never answered your question. The lamps will need modified to burn kerosene without blowing out and creating thick smoke. It’ll work in a pinch but not well.

I don’t know the answer to your question but just for chucks I did the google and found some images of lighted oil whale lamps - note the lack of chimneys -


Whale oil burns with a rather bright white, smokeless flame. That is why it was so desirable.

Somewhere I may still have a vial of mil-spec sperm whale oil. Yep, it was not that long ago that our government was still greasing their goodies with whale oil. The stuff I have was used on some aerial surveillance camera. I think it was Meshna that was selling off the surplus cameras and whale goo. I also have some old camera and watch service manuals that specify sperm whale oil.

its possible they would work with most other flammable “thicker” oils including kerosene.

I found some photos of what are described as whale oil lamps that are shown with chimneys and wondered if the lack of chimneys on so many had to do with the fact that the chimneys were quite breakable and were handled every time the lamp was serviced for refueling, snuffing or cleaning so chimneys were broken frequently and treated as replaceable parts of most lamps.

On the other hand most of the whale oil lamps do not have the vertical wires that typically grip the chimney exterior bottom on common later kerosene lamps. Seeing as how it is going on 145 years since whale oil lamps were in common use no one is alive who has much experience in using such lighting. Kerosene took over quickly as it was less than 1/4 the cost per my reading.

Kerosene would be a thinner oil compared to all animal and vegetable oils I know of and from what I have read thicker oils have problems with climbing the wick if it extends too high from the fuel reservoir. Whale oil was very thin in comparison to other available pre kerosene oils but I doubt it was as thin as petroleum kerosene which is just the next grade less volatile than gasoline.

I wonder if part of the reason whale oil is cleaner burning is the reason that (from what I understand) biodiesel is also cleaner burning, the presence of bound oxygen in the fuel molecule…

The smokeless whale oil lamps were Argand lamps. The wick was flat and fed up in such a way that where it burned it was circular. That made it burn more evenly and therefore smokelessly because there were no ends. Some kerosine lamps had flat wicks and some round. The ones with round wicks, from what I saw in Norway the summer before this last, needed only narrow chimneys, while those with flat wicks have chimneys that are much wider around the flame.
Early American lighthouses had Argand lamps and silvered reflectors. Later ones had concentric Argand lamps and Fresnel’s own Fresnel lenses, with the outer segments working as total internal reflection reflectors. Big lighthouses like the Point Rayes Light House had five concentric wicks and room sized Fresnel lenses. The Point Rayes Light House originally burned lard oil, because whale oil was already too expensive. It had to be pre-heated in a tank above the flames to make it liquid enough to use.
Here is a virtual reality model I made.

I have an Aladdin lamp with a round wick. The taller sleeker chimney has a small piece of extra glass at the base and it twists to lock it into the base . It also uses a mantle like the ones used in coleman lanterns. They aren't that much brighter than regular kerosene or lamp oil lights and parts are much more expensive . Using lamp oil is more expensive but smokes less than kerosene .

olive oil?

I know there are ways to make a DIY makeshift candle using olive oil and some cotton string and a whatever clear/see thru container you can put it in



Any edible oil will work for an ancient style oil lamp. If you have a Kindle reader or reader program on your computer the following might be of interest for 99 cents. Even petroleum oils might work but I have no idea of the effect on the user of the current additive packages used for modern auto engine oils when burned in a lamp. From what I have read a modern automotive oil is 25% or more various additives. Sewing machine oil might work.


Fuels for more modern lamps and lanterns are covered in the following book from the same author. This covers kerosene, lamp oil, coleman fuel, white gas and similar products. Propane and butane are also covered. Based on flash point temperature there are a lot of lamp fuels which are just minor variations of Kerosene, some sold at much higher prices.


Many years ago, I messed up my kerosine lamp (a small Feuerhand) with olive oil. All went well for two nights, then the wick was clogged and a terrible sticky gooey was all over the lamp, hard to remove. The lamp smelled like olive oil for years after that experiment.

Idly wondering what the modern Arctic hunters do with all the blubber that they harvest from the village kills? Given all the modern conveniences, would they boil any down for other than Food type usages?

Per stuff read in the National Geographic the number of kills allowed to Alaska natives is quite limited and a lot of the blubber is used as food due to it’s very high caloric value, needed in that type of climate in the winter. Also the best lamp oil was the lightest fraction of the spermacetti from the head cavity of the Sperm whale I believe. Heavier parts were used for spermacetti candles, considered some of the best candles but I have no idea how they were actually made or how spermacetti was refined for candle and lamp oil use. So far as I can tell the Japanese are the only country currently taking Sperm whales and it is only something like 10 per year.