Prepping 101: Off Grid Lighting – The Aladdin Lamp

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Aladdin Lamps at Lehman’s
Aladdin Lamps on Ebay

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.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • darrenp1976 June 7, 2016, 8:42 am

    How do they do on leaving soot on your globes? Looks like they burn rather clean. Let me know PLEASE. Really interested.

  • Bob June 6, 2016, 2:13 pm

    My Aladdin lamp was a savior during Hurricane Sandy. Having no power or heat for three days after the storm my son and I relied on the lamp for light as well as the small amount of heat it put out during the evening hours of those three days. Every home should have at least one of these great lamps.

  • KMacK June 6, 2016, 1:53 pm

    Regarding the use of modern Diesel fuel in Kerosene lamps, I present my own experiences.
    1. Kerosene vs Diesel in lighting: Kerosene is smellier and produces a yellowish light. Diesel (California version) is very low in odor and produces a much whiter light in direct wick lamps (Lanterns, table lamps, etc).
    2. Kerosene vs. Diesel, cleanliness: Kerosene produces a dark carbon smoke at high wick settings and blackens the burner at “no-smoke” settings while charring and fouling the wick. This is especially notable in ring-wicked lamps where the burner rounds the wick into an open centered circle for better combustion. Diesel will also cause a measure of fouling but not to the extent that Kerosene does.
    3. Diesel produces more white-colored light than Kerosene and is thus more economical to use since you get more light out of a given wick setting with Diesel than you do with Kerosene.
    4. Secondary combustion lamps (Rayo and Aladdin): Both have a warm-up time for the mantle, but Diesel seems to be a bit faster and the mantle does not carbon up as readily with Diesel as it does with Kerosene. Both fuels produce about the same amount of light, but again the Diesel is a bit more white in color… Say, Kerosene light output is the advertised 60 watt equivalent in incandescent terms. Diesel is…maybe 65 or 70 watts equivalent, or maybe its just the color of the light, I dunno.
    Recommendation: If you have a supply of Kerosene, use it. If you have a supply of “Lamp Oil” (which seems to be a mix of Kerosene and Diesel) use that. If you have 55 gallons of Diesel in a drum in the garage and 2 gallons of Kerosene, use the Kerosene until one gallon is gone and then refill it with Diesel simply because the bottle is easier to handle. Always remember to wear gloves when handling Diesel, it has cra… stuff in it that is not good for your skin but makes it burn cleaner. Wash your hands after refueling and do a daily wick trim and chimney wash and a weekly wick laundry. It will help to boil your burners every week to ten days… Heck, get a book on the care and feeding of Kerosene lamps and do what’s in it. Just remember that these are not incandescent lights; they need regular maintenance if you want them to work properly.
    Yeah, I have a cabin with Diesel lamps for light. Learned most of this the hard way.

  • jerry burney June 6, 2016, 1:12 pm

    When burning Aladdin lamps you really must find and use the moth/bug guard that slides onto the top of the chimney. Amazingly moths will find their way down the chimney pipe only to fall onto and break the precious mantle!
    I use clear glass bodies because it is easy to gauge fuel use. They are quite durable with minimal care.
    To keep the wick even there is a wick trimmer..it rotates on a burnt wick to trim it evenly and take off any uneven spots.

    • KMacK June 6, 2016, 2:01 pm

      Regarding the bug/moth guard: I discovered that a “drain protector” of the bathtub size will slide over the chimney and with a little trimming will look like it belongs there. Failing that, I used to use some old bronze window screening cut square and then fitted over the top of the chimney.
      I think the thing that attracts the moths and such is the high infra-red in the light, since that’s what they navigate by outdoors during the day.
      If you can stand the smell, a couple of drops of Citronella will also keep moths and such out of your lamp.

  • Robert Kulik June 6, 2016, 9:08 am

    So, it doesn’t sound as though you’re all that keen on the Aladdin. If so, then what are your favourite oil lamps that you would recommend? Thanks for the video!

    • Administrator June 6, 2016, 9:23 am

      I don’t think I was overly opaque that I prefer the Rayo.

  • Naturalist June 6, 2016, 3:38 am

    I had to rely on the Aladdin lamps for lighting as well as an indoor kerosene heater for heat. The lamps are one of the best non electric superior light sources that I have used. I found them to be superior, and not as finicky and brighter than the Coleman Gas Lanterns. The light output is about 60+Watts. The only downside is that the they have a high heat output which is bad for indoors in the Summer but good in the winter. The good thing is that parts are still available.

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