The ignition temperature of thewickis much higher than the ignition temperature of theoil, so as long as all of the wick is wet with oil it will not catch fire, although if it dries out in places it maychar(go black and crumbly, like charcoal). Then the wick must betrimmedusing special scissors. You must not allow the lamp to burn dry (run out of oil).
Paraffin rises up a wick quite a long way, but most animal or plant oils only rise up a wick a few millimetres – this is why paraffin lamps are different from those burning animal or plant oils. Lamps burning plant or animal oils must have very short wicks above the surface of the oil. The oil in the container does not catch fire because the heat from the flame is not enough to raise it to its ignition temperature, only the small amount of oil on the wick above the surface reaches this temperature.
Paraffinheatersare described in the section on theTilley Lamp.A Tilley lamp burns paraffin but in a quite different way, it does not use a wick.
You can also make lamp oil from the livers and other parts of sharks and certain other oily fish which live in the sea, and from whale and seal blubber. Inuit and many other people still make lamp oil this way, but of course the Ancient Egyptians did not, because they only caught fresh water fish in the River Nile.
Some of the disadvantages of candles, particularly guttering, can be overcome by usingcased lights, where the wax is contained inside a metal or glass or plastic case. Cased lights can be of a size to burn for just an hour, or several hours, but a cased light burning in front of a statue in a church can burn for a week.
Candles were once used as simple clocks or timers: you marked out the hours on the side and watched them as the candle burnt down. You could also use a candle to time something, not in minutes but ininches of candle.A pin was stuck into the candle an inch (25 mm) from the top – the time was up when the pin fell out. You could not hear the pin fall if you were making a lot of noise, hence the expression quiet enough to hear a pin drop.
Today torches like this are only used in historical re-enactments and in some religious processions, and in common speech we usetorchto mean a small hand-held battery operated electric light. But beacons are still used today to celebrate special occasions, for example the Queen lit a beacon on her 90th birthday and this started the lighting of more than a thousand more all over the country.
Lamps with floating wicks are easily knocked over and may spill burning oil if they are tipped or tilted, so they are not really suitable for being carried around. However the Ancient Egyptians could produce almost magical effects by using floating wicks in lamps made out ofalabaster, a very hard smooth white stone. It istranslucent, which means that light shines through it. Several alabaster lamps were found in Tutankhamens tomb. A web search will produce lots of pictures of Egyptian lamps, but bear in mind that some of these sites contain lots of advertising, and also serious errors, for example reference to the Egyptians usingoliveoil.
Ornamental candles which are much thicker do not need to be put on a candlestick, but they must be put on a flat heat-resistant surface, and of course must never be left unattended.
Most substances, including of course the oil in a lamp, will not start to burn unless you heat them first.Theignition temperatureof any substance is the temperature we must heat it to before it will start to burn. Thecombustion temperatureof a substance is the temperature which is reached as it is burning, this will depend upon a number of factors, including for example how much air is available (this is discussed more fully in the Section below, on theYellow Flame), but will always be higher than the ignition temperature. Once a small amount of the substance has been raised to its ignition temperature and started to burn the heat produced will raise some more of the substance to its ignition temperature, and so it will keep burning. If you were to put a match to a chip pan full of cold cooking oil (but please dont!) the match would go out and the oil would not catch fire: the heat from just one match is not enough to raise any of the cooking oil in the pan to its ignition temperature. But the ignition temperature of cooking oil is only slightly higher than the temperature needed to cook chips, and so if we are cooking chips by heating a whole pan of cooking oil on a hob and take our eyes off it for even a few seconds the oil may overheat and reach its ignition temperature and catch fire. It will then burn very quickly with clouds of thick black smoke. A chip pan fire is very dangerous – and would be no use at all for lighting a room! If we want to burn any sort of oil to light a room we must use alampwith awick.
You should never ever carry any sort of lighted candle in your bare hands without some sort ofwax shield: if hot wax runs down onto your hands you may burn yourself or drop the candle and set fire to the house, or both.
Cased lights are often scented or treated in special ways, for example to make smokers candles to get rid of the smell of tobacco smoke.
We know that torches were being used thirty thousand years ago because we can date the wonderful paintings in caves to this time. Some caves have paintings in places that must have been very difficult to reach, other caves have no paintings at all. The reason is theacousticsof the cave. Some places are lovely to sing in, others are quite dead and we think that the artists were singing while they were painting!
The word torch has taken on another meaning over the past hundred years, but lots of people, mainly children and young people, still know about the old sort of torch because they use them inMinecraft.
The main sources of lighting in Ancient Egypt and the rest of the world before the Industrial Revolution wereoil lamps,candlesandtorches- the wordtorchhas taken on a new meaning since about 1900. The Sections on these were originally written for children under twelve and can I hope still be used by them, but I also hope that other people may find them interesting.
You can also make a lamp oil from soft animal fat, but this produces a lot of very unpleasant smoke when it is burnt. This is the cheapest lamp oil. The Ancient Egyptians used this when they were digging out the Pharaohs tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but not when they were doing the paintings on the walls inside the tombs as the smoke would have spoilt them. We know this because the Egyptians kept written records of everything, including the numbers of wicks and the amount and type of oil used every day by the tomb builders!
(It is possible to treat some types of animal fats to make them into a substance calledtallowwhich is much harder and which can be used for making candles; this is described further in the Section onCandles.)
In Southern England and France the wood from the trees which grow there does not burn so freely so they usedsplinters, logs split lengthways into very long thin pieces (like todayssplints) so that they burnt better (see the Section onWhy is an oil lamp flame yellow?), in other places they used knotted ropes soaked in oil or covered with animal fat. Absolutely anything that would burn and could be fixed onto the end of a pole could be used.
A taper is like a long thin candle. Today they are usually made of paraffin wax, but in the past many different substances were used, they could even be just a hollow reed dipped in melted animal fat.
The collar must be metal: this conducts the heat of the flame away so the the part of the oil-soaked wick below the collar, which is exposed to the air, never reaches the ignition temperature of the oil. This is more fully discussed in the Section onThe miners safety lamp.
(put out) in almost exactly the same way, but because today most people use candles rather than lamps the processes are described in thecandlessection
If you are reading this Page on your computer screen or tablet you probably live in a town or village where you take electric lighting for granted: if it gets dark indoors you turn on the light; if you go out at night there are street lights everywhere. But until less than a hundred years ago it was not like this at all: even today in many European countries such as Spain there are stillwhole villageswhere there is no mains electricity; in Africa and Asia there are stillwhole countrieswhere there is no mains electricity except in the very largest towns. Without electricity almost the only way you can make a light is by burning something.
Why is the flame of an oil lamp yellow?
As the candle burns it gets shorter. The wax only rises up the wick a few millimetres, so the tip of the wick will soon not be wet with wax. It is designed to burn away as this happens, so keeping the wick the right length. Sometimes the wick may not burn away correctly so it will get too long and go floppy, and then it must betrimmedwith special scissors.
What the fire was made of and how it was fastened to the pole depended upon what materials were available: today in Minecraft they are sticks with lumps of coal or charcoal placed on the top, but in the world outside Minecraft this would not work very well: anyone who has ever had a barbeque knows that burning charcoal does not give out much light, and coal is very little better.
The paraffin lamp, the gas lamp, the Tilley lamp and the miners safety lamp have all been introduced since 1800, and the Sections on these are necessarily slightly more technical and so are written for slightly older children and young adults. But again I hope older people will find them helpful.
The soot from a lamp is very pure carbon. It used to be calledlampblackand was used for all sorts of purposes. The soot from coal and wood fires is also carbon, produced in exactly the same way, but it also contains other substances so was less useful than lampblack. The soot from a coal or wood fire collected in the chimney and had to be removed at regular intervals so that it did not build up and eventually catch fire: in Victorian England young boys were sent to climb up inside the chimneys to sweep them.
This Section is here mainly to help you understand the Section on gas lighting, and does get a little technical. Gas lighting was not introduced until after 1800 CE so if you only want to find out about lighting in the Ancient World you have already read everything you need.
Tapers more than about 30 cm long are usually contained inside a metal tube which they can be slid through, leaving just the tip exposed, so that they do not bend under their own weight. The tube can then be fixed to the top of a pole.
The size of the candle and the thickness of the wick must be matched very carefully so that the puddle of molten wax produced by the flame is exactly the right size. If it is too big molten wax will run down the side of the candle and be wasted, and the candle will not last as long as it should, but if it is too small the edge of the candle will not melt and the flame will eventually be hidden by it and it may go out. In either case, after the candle has been extinguished and the wax allowed to cool the wasted wax must be cut away with a knife to restore the candle to the correct shape for it to be relit.
A lighted candle can also be carried inside a metal box with glass sides, or often just one side: this is alantern. Adark lanterncarried by a criminal, and also Mr Sherlock Holmes, has a cover that you can place over the glass when you need to, to stop anyone from seeing the light.
This Page was originally only on lighting in Ancient Egypt but is in the process of being expanded: come back soon to see the rest.IntroductionOil lampsCandlesTorchesParaffin lampsWhy is the flame of an oil lamp yellow?Gas lampsThe Tilley lampThe minerss safety lamp
A lamp consists of a container for the oil with a wick dipping into the oil. The oil rises up the wick. If we then put a match to the end of the wick the heat of the match is enough to raise the small amount of the oil on the wick to its ignition temperature and it will start to burn with a yellow flame, giving out light. As the oil is burnt up fresh oil rises up the wick to take its place and so the lamp will continue to burn and give out light. Why the flame is yellow is described in the slightly more technical sectionWhy is the flame yellow?
If the candle is in a draught both may happen at the same time, with wax pouring down one side. A candle in a draught can disappear into a pool of wax in a few minutes, this is calledguttering.
Take a strip of newspaper or kitchen roll and dip one end into a bowl of water. The water will start to rise up the paper. You can see this more clearly if you add a few drops of ink or food colouring to the water. The paper acts as awick. Most liquids (except mercury) will rise up a wick in this way; how far they rise up the wick depends upon what the liquid is and what the wick is made of.
Although soft animal fats and butter are solids at room temperature they are usually too soft to be made into candles so they can only be used in lamps: the fat or butter is spooned rather than poured into the lamp, but once the lamp is lit the heat melts it so the lamp is filled with liquid.
Greek and Roman lamps were usually shallow dishes made of gold, silver or bronze or stone or pottery, with a cover to stop the oil from spilling and a small hole at each end, one for the wick and the other to fill it with oil. Here is a photograph of a modern reproduction of an Ancient Greek lamp. Aladdins magic lamp was like this only made of gold.
Lighting in Ancient Egypt and the world before electricity
Paraffin lamps are quite different from lamps burning oils from animals or plants, and are discussed in their ownSection.
Torches could only be used in the open air or in caves, not in tents or shelters. Thousands of years later, when Man was living in cities, with houses and palaces and temples, torches could be used in large stone or brick buildings with high ceilings, such as the Great Hall of a Kings Palace, but not in a peasants cottage with a thatched roof!
Newspaper is fine if you just want to show how a wick works, but a paper wick is useless for anything else as it will just fall to pieces as soon as it gets wet: the best materials for wicks are natural fibres such as flax and linen, wool and cotton. The Ancient Egyptians made their wicks by twisting together the fibres from flax plants. Here is the hieroglyph for a twisted flax wick: the Egyptians also used this hieroglyph for ahsound.
A candle uses a wick just like a lamp, except that at room temperature the fuel is a solid wax. The wick runs down inside the candle for its full length, but of course you can only see the tip of it. The heat of the flame melts a small amount of the wax and the liquid rises up the wick and burns in the flame – remember it is the molten wax that is burning not the wick.
Candles have many disadvantages compared with oil (or paraffin) lamps, and candle wax is more expensive than lamp oil: their advantage over lamps is that unlit candles are much easier to carry around and store than containers of oil, and of course you do not need to own a lamp.
Glass cases can be reused, metal and plastic cases can be recycled.
All fuels except hydrogen contain carbon. Hydrogen is used to power space rockets, and it can also be used as a fuel in lots of other ways. When it burns it produces nothing but water, and it can be made from water using electricity. So if we use electricity from carbon-free sources such as wind farms or nuclear power stations to make it, hydrogen is the perfect fuel for combatting global warming, and there are lots of very exciting things happening in this field. But hydrogen is not used for lighting so it is not considered further on this Page.
Coal is impure carbon. It is not used for lighting although coal gas, made from coal, used to be, and this is discussed later underGas Lights.All other fuels (except charcoal, which is discussed later in this Section) contain not particles of solid carbon but solid or liquid or ga搜索引擎优化uscompoundsof carbon and hydrogen, and also often other elements.
Lighting and putting out a candle looks easy (like laying bricks) but you do need to know what you are doing. If you just hold a flame to the wick you will only char the wick, so making it less effective when you eventually do get the candle to light. Unless you hold the flame to the candle in a way which allows it to melt some wax the candle will not light. Do not blow the lighter out until you are certain that the candle is properly alight, and then (promise not to laugh) make certain you do not blow the candle out at the same time – I thought you promised not to laugh! – it really does happen.
Similarly with a liquid such as a lamp oil, except that a liquid must be in a container, so only a small part of the surface is exposed to the air. Even if you spill it on the ground only half of its surface is exposed to the air. A wick gives the small amount of the oil in the wick a large surface area. If the surface of the oil-soaked wick exposed to the air is not big enough to allow all the oil to burn completely we shall get a yellow flame, as the tiny particles of unburnt carbon (soot) glow in the heat of the burning hydrogen. This is of course what we want in a lamp. Such a lamp will produce, as well as soot, lots of water vapour, some carbon dioxide and some carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas but the amount produced by a single oil lamp in a well-ventilated room would not usually be likely to be dangerous.
You can make lamp oil from many different plants by squeezing the oil out of their nuts or seeds. Today the cooking oil you can buy in your local supermarket is often a blend (mixture) of several different vegetable oils, some from plants which do not grow in Britain. But the Ancient Egyptians and other ancient people could only use plants which grew near where they lived. The Greeks and Romans used olive oil, and still do, but olive trees did not grow in Ancient Egypt, so the Ancient Egyptians used oil from flax, walnuts and almonds and other nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, wheat and castor oil plants. The finest lamp oil, used in Pharaohs Palaces and in the Temples, was made from sesame seeds.
Lamps like this, burning vegetable or animal oil, have to be quite wide and shallow to hold enough oil because the part of the wick above the surface of the oil has to be very short. If the lamp were tall and thin, once it had been burning for a short time the oil level in the lamp would have gone down too much for it to rise up the wick far enough to burn.
You can blow out an ordinary domestic candle below mouth level quite easily, but again you must know what you are doing: if you do not do it right the wick may go on smouldering for a time, and you may blow the molten wax into a shape which when it solidifies may make the candle difficult to light next time. It is always better to use asnuffer, and of course youmustuse a snuffer if the candle is above mouth level. A snuffer is often put on the same pole as a taper.
Paraffin lamps are still used for many purposes today: I use them during a power cut – much better and far safer than candles. A hand-carried paraffin lamp designed for use out of doors in strong winds is often called ahurricane lamp. Paraffin lamps can be tilted a small amount quite safely without going out, although on ships and boats they are usually mounted on agimbalso they stay almost vertical when the vessel pitches or rolls. The children in the Swallows and Amazon Books used paraffin lamps on their boats although they used electric torches in their tents.
When you go swimming you do not all get wet, only your outside (skin). Similarly if we have a cube of wood only the outside of the cube is exposed to the air. If the cube has a side of 2 cm its volume is 2 cm 2 cm 2 cm or 8 cm3, and its total surface area is 6 2 cm 2 cm or 24 cm2. If however we cut the cube up to make 8 cubes each with a side of 1 cm we keep the volume the same but the surface area is now 48 cm3, so a much larger area is exposed to the air.
If you ever make a wish when you blow out a candle, or drop a coin into a Wishing Well, or at any other time, and ever have a spare wish left over, could you wish something, not for me but for the young people I teach and who use my Web Pages: that they could be half as good at remembering the things I tell them that are important as the things I tell them that are not.
The top of the wick runs through a metal collar, and a knob at the side allows the height of the wick above the collar to be adjusted to make the flame bigger or smaller, even while the lamp is alight. By the time paraffin lamps were first used matches had been invented so a paraffin lamp is usually lit with a match; you put out a paraffin lamp by winding the wick down inside the collar, but of course you need to be careful not to wind it down too far.
In Scandinavia and Germany and Scotland there are lots of pine trees and other trees containing resins which burn very well, so their torches would have been made of thin branches of these trees tied together in bundles with leather straps. Today in films Viking warriors are shown carrying torches like these.
Originally Man used fire to cook his food, keep himself warm, and frighten away wild animals, and also to sit round after sunset and tell stories and sing – most books do not mention this use of fire. Story telling and singing was an important part of early Mans life, and in many parts of the world it still is.
Oil lamps burn a liquid. Many different liquids can be used, and we usually refer to any liquid used in a lamp as alamp oil. The oil lamps you can buy in the shops today usually burn paraffin (kerosine). Paraffin is made from petroleum (from oil wells) but the first oil well was not drilled until 1859, so until then almost all lamps burnt oil made from animals or plants – in many parts of the world they still do.
A candle to be used out of doors or in a large building where draughts are likely is usually put inside a glass tube to protect it from the wind. Candles are often used inside churches or carried in processions like this.
Today you can light just one ordinary household candle at waist height with a match, but if you want to light several candles, or a large candle, or a candle with its top above shoulder height it is best to use ataper, and until matches and gas lighters were invented this was the way all candles were lit.Candles in churches are almost always lit with a taper.
Many different materials have been used for making candles:tallow candleswere made of animal fatrenderedin a special way so that it was much harder and did notputrify(go bad, like meat would) and was not eaten by maggots or other animals. Tallow candles were the cheapest but made a lot of unpleasant-smelling smoke. Today most candles are made of paraffin wax, but other substances including beeswax can also be used, and candles are often scented.
Egyptian lamps often used afloating wick. The wick was threaded through a metal or ceramic ring which was mounted on a float of some sort. This meant that the container for the oil could be any size and shape.
Any candle much longer than it is wide should always be put into a candlestick or other candle holder before it is lit to stop it from falling over: it is tempting if you are using a candle during a power cut to melt the wax on the bottom and use this to stick the candle onto a saucer, but you should never leave a candle like this in a room where there are children or elderly people around, or in an empty room.
Lamps like this can be small enough to be carried around in your hand although you need to be careful not to tip them. Larger lamps would always be put on a lampstand or in asconce: a sconce was a special wall shelf or wall recess or wall bracket where lamps (or candles or torches) couldsafelybe left while alight. A lighted lamp, even one normally carried in the hand, would never be put down anywhere than on a lampstand or in a sconce, and a sconce was never used for any other purpose: safety with lighted lamps was paramount. Sadly today we are so used to electric lighting that we are often very careless with lamps and candles, particularly during a power cut…
Most of us have seen, even blown out, candles on a birthday cake. Birthday cake candles work in exactly the same way as all other candles, but weusethem in such a different way that they are not considered in this Section except at the very end of it.
If we have a large lump of wood on a fire it will burn slowly and may not burn completely, so some of the carbon may be left, in the form ofcharredwood, but if we poke it with a poker we can break it into smaller pieces and this increases the surface area and so allows it to burn more quickly and more completely. (Charcoal is discussed later.)
A gas lighter is so-called because it is fuelled by a gas such as butane, although you can of course use one to light a gas hob or oven as well as a lamp or candle – more about this on theStorage of GasesPage. Acigarette lighteris usually the wrong shape to light a candle.
Birthday cake candles are ordinary candles, except that cost is not a factor, they burn for only a very short time, they are not usually relit after they have been used once, guttering or uneven burning is not a problem, and they are never left unattended. And of course there is no reason to use a candle snuffer, blowing them out is perfectly OK.
A torch was lit from a fire or another torch; when you did not need it any more you let it burn itself out, in a safe place of course, or poured water on it.
Paraffinheatersare discussed in the Section on theTilley
Fuels need oxygen, present in the air, to burn. If we burn a fuel inlotsof air the hydrogen burns to form water (watervapourof course) and the carbon burns to form carbon dioxide. If however there is not enough air to burn both the hydrogen and the carbon the hydrogen will take precedence over the carbon, and after it has burned there may not be enough oxygen left to completely burn all the carbon: some may burn to formcarbon monoxide, and some may not burn at all, but will be left as tiny particles of pure carbon (soot). These soot particles are heated by the burning hydrogen, and the yellow flame is caused by them glowing in the heat!
Once Man learnt to use metals he could put the fire into a metal basket, afire basket.This made the torch much safer and easier to use. A fire basket could also be used as abeacon, a fire in a basket on a pole in a very high place where it could be seen from a long way away. Beacons like this could be used to guide travellers or lit to send warnings, for example that the Spanish Armada had been sighted. Lots of places still havebeaconin their name, for example Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor is more than 500 m above sea level and when the beacon on the top is lit it can be seen from more than 100 km away.
Most modern oil lamps burn paraffin, a mineral oil made from petroleum. This rises up a wick several centimetres, so paraffin lamps can be almost any shape and size, although the wick is usually flat rather than round – you can see this in the picture. Often the paraffin is coloured or scented.
Then more than thirty thousand years ago Man began to usetorches: a torch is just a small fire on the end of a pole which can be carried around. The pole must be longer than you are tall and held upright so you do not burn yourself or anyone near you and the light from the fire does not shine in your eyes.
In high mountains such as the Himalayas and Andes no plants grow which humans can eat, so the people who live there are almost totally dependent on animals such as yaks and llamas and goats which can eat these plants. Milk, whether from yaks or llamas or goats or any other mammals, can be drunk straight away before it goes sour (without refrigerators and pasteurisation in only a few hours) or turned into butter or cheese or yoghurt which last much longer, and butter can be used in lamps – the Temples in Tibet are lit by lamps burning butter. Although the Ancient Egyptians milked cows, sheep and goats, they had plenty of other sources of oil for lamps so did not use butter.