DIY Lamp from trash

I’m back with another quick, easy and cheap DIY project. When cleaning up the other day I saw a oil lamp I had made a few years ago. I had completely forgot about it.  After having sat for a few years I gave it a try and it worked just as good as ever. For this tutorial, short as it will be, I wanted to make a new one. That way I could show you step by step and now I have two and two is one after all. Let me show you how to turn trash into a great little oil burning lamp.

Light it up

Light it up

Re-purposing owns Recycling

If recycling makes you feel better about yourself, because your keeping something from a garbage pile, without actullay having to do anything but put something in a different bin. Then you really need to think bigger. I always prefer to keep things from entering the waste stream, or recycle stream, at all. I keep can’s, jars, junk mail and other odds and ends. Don’t worry I’m not a crazy hoarder I keep things orginized and use them do to things. When I get too much I get rid of them. Today I’ll show you how to use an empty glass jar and some scrap cotton to make a oil lamp. A much better use than sorting into a different bin.


Salsa Jar

Salsa Jar

To start with we’re going to need an empty jar with a metal lid. For this one I’m using an empty salsa jar, before I’ve used an olive jar. You could use mason jars but to me that seems like a waste of a canning jar. These empty jars could also be got for free from friends and family.Clean out the jar good and remove the label from it.

Cutting a hole

Cutting a hole

Next up we need to cut a slot in the top of the lid for our wick to go into. You want to cut the slot so that the wick will be snug into it. Too tight and adjusting the wick will be too hard. Too loose and the wick could fall into the jar and cause some serious issues.

Cotton cloth

Cotton cloth

For the wick you will need a length of cotton cloth. Make sure you use 100% cotton for this. The first time I made one of these I used old shoe laces. Turns out they were not cotton but a synthetic material and wont wick and burn but will melt. For this I just cut up an old t shirt. You will need to cut it a little longer than the height of the jar. I like mine to stick up about an half inch and have about an inch extra in the bottom. This will allow you to have many burns out of the lamp.

Filling up

Filling up

The last step of the build is to add some oil. I’m using lamp oil from walmart. I don’t like to completely fill the jar with oil. I learned that the oil will evaporate from these lamps so pour as much as you will need or empty out after your done. I also pour some on top to soak the top of the wick. You want to saturate the wick completely so your not burning so much cloth as you are the oil being wicked. I usually give it a little shake to help with the saturating.

Light it up

Light it up

For being made from garbage these things give off a good amount of light. In testing they give off enough light to do what you need to do. I’ve read by the light of one of these. Probably not the next idea but possible. In an emergency though these will give you enough light to function without any electricity.

With modern electric lights I think we have become light spoiled. Artificial light is everywhere and so bright and uniform. These will not compare with a modern light bulb. I think they are good enough though in a short term power outage and possible better for a long term one. A trash lamp can run off of a huge variety of fuel sources. I have flashlights, headlamps, candles and real oil lamps. This just adds to my redundancy.

Like this trash lamp? Ever made something similar? Let me know in the comments!


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6 comments to DIY Lamp from trash

  • Jen

    I like your lamp, but isn’t lamp oil expensive? I’ve been wanting to try making one of these with some other oil like veg. oil or something. Another great thrift store find which came in handy was 2 little oil lamps about 6 inches tall for $1.00. That was why I bought some lamp oil and it was about $8.00 for a small bottle.
    What do you use junk mail for?

  • I think, and will try, different oils for this lamp. The last time I bought lamp oil, four years ago, I paid around five bucks for 64 oz and still have most of it left. Obviously I have not used it often, mostly for power outages. I have an old article about using junk mail. You can read it here

  • Trim that wick!

    This is a GREAT post on making do with what you have…


  • Great post man. 2X on what DB said ^

  • Chris

    You can also put an aluminum pie plate like you get in the grocer store as a reflector and you can have more light. You would be amazed how much more light you would have with a reflector.

  • Geoff

    Sorry to rain on your parade, but these are extremely dangerous. First, as you note, you have to cut the slot carefully to avoid allowing the wick to fall in. There is a reason why there is a mechanism designed to trap the wick in commercially-made lamps; it doubles as a knob that allows increasing or decreasing the burning part’s length.

    Second, these jars are easily prone to tipping over. Look at the design of a hurricane lamp: it has a shroud around the lit part of the wick; the idea is if the lamp tips over, the flame goes out. You have no such shroud, plus if yours tips over the oil could go all over the place, creating a huge fire. A candle is safer than your design.

    Commercially-made lamps with the above safety elements incorporated into their designs can be had for very little money; I’ve seen new Chinese-made lamps for as little as three or four dollars. Do your family and yourself a favor: toss these out. They’re dangerous, and viable, safer replacements are very inexpensive.

    Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the DIY mentality and repurposing trash; I don’t want to discourage you from innovating. But this is a seriously bad idea. Sorry.

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