I have received questions lately about the use of kerosene in oil lamps. When I was a kid, we always used kerosene. The idea of using lamp oil was unheard of in our home. As an adult, I have used lamp oil on occasion but was not happy about it. Here is my main reason why I find kerosene to be best for our use.
In our local area, a quart size bottle of lamp oil is sold for about $5.50 per bottle. Some places it is slightly less, some slightly more. The highest price I have found was at a grocery store for $6.49 per quart. The kerosene that we use is the type found at a gas station, sold at the pump just as gas & diesel fuel are. The kerosene has a red dye in it. For the kerosene, we currently are paying $5.29 per gallon. That is a very significant savings of $16.71 per gallon! This is based on 4 quarts at $5.50/each. Another words, I can buy 4 gallons for less than the cost of 4 quarts of the lamp oil.
Lamp oil has the advantage of being “smokeless and odorless” if that is important to you. I find that with the lamps set onto a shelf, rather than on a table, you don’t notice any odor. The smoke issue is controlled by taking care in the height of the wick or in using a smoke bell on the top of the chimney, like those sold through Lehman’s.
On the downside, lamp oil tends to not burn as brightly as kerosene. While the oil burns a bit slower, the lighting it provided for us was less than we receive from kerosene. Overall, the kerosene was a better choice for us.
I like to store extra kerosene for our lamps. When planning how much to store, I simply kept track one month in late autumn. By that time, the days were becoming shorter and we were having more overcast skies. Both of those situations are important to consider. If you gauge your use by what you need during the summer months, you will always end up running short in winter. While our home was built in about 1890-1900 time period, complete with the old style of tall windows to bring in as much natural lighting as possible, we still need lamps at time on a winter or story day.
We use 3 lamps at this time. On average, I fill the lamps every other day in the winter. This translates to about 3/4 gallon of kerosene per week.
I trim the wicks about once a week unless needed more often. A quick note about wick trimming: we have tried 3 types of cut patterns. A point cut with looks like a triangle with the high point in the middle will give you a pretty light, but not as much illumination. The flame will be more narrow, which means less light produced. The second cut was a blunt straight cut. This is simply cutting straight across the wick. This produces a very large flame and the most illumination. It also is the cut that you have to adjust the flame to prevent soot from developing on the chimney. The third cut, which is my favorite, is a combination of the two. I do a straight cut with only the tips of the corners nipped off. This gives a broad flame but causes less soot on the chimney. The soot is mostly controlled by flame height however.
Hope that this answers some of the questions. If not, feel free to ask. I will try to answer as best as I can.