Sometimes for this column, I have to admit that I put things off that give me trouble. Such is the case for the Alladin Lamp. No, it’s not about the genie silly. If you have never looked into off grid living, probably you have never encountered what is considered the most elegant of kerosene lamps, but they are pretty nifty. You would think the Alladin is a pressure lamp, running on propane, but it is not. That white light comes from regular old kerosene, and it will likewise run just about any lamp oil, and even diesel fuel, with no appreciable loss, or that much of a smell in my experience.
If you remember a while back, I shot some video and wrote and article on the Rayo lamp. Though no longer in production, the Rayo is generally available on Ebay pretty cheap, and the wicks are available at Lehman’s and on Ebay for under $10 each. Besides the fuel, a simple cotton wick is the only consumable on the Rayo. Diesel runs great in the lamps, and they take a fairly standard and readily available chimney.
The Alladin Lamp was an improvement on the Rayo “center draft” design. Early models included a center draft tube that went all the way through the lamp, like the other center draft designs of the day. Later models, including the burners of today, eliminated the center tube in favor of a center draft that came in from the sides.
The big difference, obviously, in an Aladdin is the use of a mantle. The name of the company is actually The Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company, though it is owned by Lehmans these days. That mantle is treated with a chemical that makes it hold together and wick fuel after it is burnt to ash to start. I showed you how you torch a mantle in the video.
Aladdin claims that you shouldn’t need more than a couple of those mantles per year, and I don’t doubt that claim. But beware that once you torch it, the mantle is made of ash. A sudden jolt, or even blowing directly down the chimney to put the lamp out can destroy it in an instant, and yes, it does happen. A broken mantle works for a bit, but it is hard to keep it from getting worse.
The wick on an Aladdin is also a consumable, but much less so. Aladdin claims that you needn’t change the wick in their lamps for about 3 years of regular use. These lamps are used as normal daily lighting in Amish households, so I doubt that the claim is exaggerated. In a survival situation, on limited fuel supply, it would most likely last much longer.
How diesel fuel would effect that life I do not know. The problem with just about all of the information out there on diesel in kerosene appliances is that it is old, and has little to do with modern diesel fuel. Diesel used to be much dirtier, with a much higher sulphur component, than it has today, and that was what clogged up even regular cotton wicks. I have run these Aladdin lamps, and even the standup Aladdin heater, with no trouble at all using straight diesel fuel. The Aladdin wicks are thick, course material. I don’t know if it is cotton or fiberglass, but it isn’t very tightly knit, whatever it is. If you saw my cooking with diesel article recently, you’ll see that I did have some issues with the fiberglass sock wicks on the Alpaca stove, and I’ve had some clogging and slow running on modern Kero-Heat wick heaters.
So considering that diesel is about $2.29 a gallon right now, and even pink kerosene is $5 a gallon, you do the math on whether it is worth story a bunch of kerosene, or for that matter, $30 a gallon lamp oil. For this article I wanted to just show you how these lamps work with the suggested fuel, and the fuel that Aladdin specifically tells you not to use, which is “American paraffin” oil, found at Walmart as “Lamp Oil” at about half the price of Aladdin oil. It all works. If you look at the pics in the Rayo article, that Aladdin was running diesel.
The trouble I have had with my Aladdins have been with the wicks. I have found it almost impossible to keep them perfectly flat and round. And even the smallest bump or bur produces a flame spike that will produce smoke and blacken your mantle, and your chimney.
In the video, you’ll see that I decided to install a brand new wick so that you could see what a perfectly even flame looks like. As I said in the video, this one went off much better than any that I have installed before, because I have learned to reach inside the wick tube and creep the wick down the center draft tube without catching it and creasing the edges. This may be the start of a new romance between me and my Aladdin lamps, but you won’t see me selling my Rayos, regardless. I did buy a pile of wicks and mantles for my lamps, along with chimneys.
Chimneys are the black swan trouble that you can expect with all of your lanterns. A chimney is absolutely required by all lamps, even flatwick lamps, because the chimney controls the draft of the flame, and allows you to adjust a pretty big flame while avoiding the smoke trailing.
You will smash your chimney. Once, twice, three times a year, especially if you are moving it around. Get extras.
Buying the Right Aladdin
As I said in the video, this article is more about not buying the wrong Aladdin lamp than it is about convincing you to buy an Aladdin. Even though the Aladdin is more of a fuel miser than the Rayo, I don’t see it as a strong post collapse option. The consumables are just too unpredictable.
There are more than a dozen Aladdin models, stretching back to 1908. If you want to be safe, stick to the Model 23 and 23A burners. The 23 is the Aladdin Lox-On chimney. The 23A is a fitted chimney. I explained in the video that my advice is to stick to the fitted chimney. It takes the same one as the Rayo, 2 5/8ths.
The models older that the Model 12 take a different kind of mantle that is no longer available, called the Kone-Kap. You can, however, get an an adapter that allows you to use Lox-On mantles, made for the 23, with the Kone-Kap burners. They work fine.
Prices apparently came up after the 2015 Xmas season this year, but about $30. Right now the best buy you’ll find online for a glass fount and 23A burner is about $129. I got a couple for $85 back in November, but I did smash one of those founts, so beware buying glass. There are a number of deals on Ebay right now for nicer metal founds in the sub $150 range, with a 23 burner. Just look around. I see at least one 23 with a brass fount holding at $20 right now, and it appears to only be missing the flame spreader, which is a $20 part if you can’t find one used on Ebay for 4 bucks.
It is hard for me to cover something like the Aladdin here, because I know how many of you treat this column as “infotainment,” and you don’t even have more than an overpriced “30 day supply” at home for backup food. I’d rather see you go get $100 worth of flour, beans and rice than I would an Aladdin lamp. Go buy a $9.95 flat wick lamp at Walmart, a $20 kerosene wick cooker, and 50 gallons of diesel. But if you already have all of that stuff, and I know that there are few out there who do, I would be remiss to not turn you onto the Aladdin Lamp. It is the most elegant off grid lighting that money can buy.