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Kerosene lamp

The Kerosene lamp, widely known in Britain as the Paraffin lamp, is any type of lighting device which uses kerosene (paraffin) as a fuel. There are two main types of kerosene lamp which work in different ways, the "wick lamp" and the "pressure lamp".

Wick lamp

A wick lamp is a simple type of kerosene lamp which works in a similar way to a candle this type of lamp is also known as an "Oil lamp". In a wick lamp there is a small fuel tank at the bottom of the lamp. The lower half of a wick, usually made out of cotton, is dipped into and absorbs the kerosene. The top part of the wick sticks out of the top of fuel tank.

When the top part of wick is lit, the kerosene which has been absorbed in the wick burns and produces a yellowy flame. As the kerosene is burnt, capilary action inside the wick draws more kerosene up from the fuel tank to be burnt.

On this type of lamp, the size of the flame can be controlled by adjusting how much of the wick sticks out of the top of the fuel tank. This is usually done by means of a small knob. If the wick is turned up too high it usually produces smoke. The flame is usually protected by some kind of glass screen or shade, to prevent the flame from being blown out.

This type of lamp produces only a dim orange light and is not much brighter than a candle, and they can also be quite smelly. Wick lamps are rarely used today, but were popular before the advent of electrical lighting became widespread.

Pressure lamp

This type of lamp is far more sophisticated than a wick lamp and produces a much brighter light, although they can be quite complicated and fiddly to use. This type of lamp is commonly known in the UK as a "Tilley lamp" after a manufacturer of the same name.

A pressure lamp has a fuel tank at the bottom with a small pump to pressurise the kerosene. There is a narrow gap up to the top of the lamp called a flu, and at the top of the lamp there is a burner. Directly underneath the burner there is whats called a mantle which is a piece of fabric coated in chemicals which glow brightly when they get very hot.

To work a pressure lamp the kerosene needs to be heated to the point where it is vapourised. This is necessary because vapourised kerosene burns much hotter than liquid kerosene.

The kerosene burner has to be heated by means of a Primer usually Methylated spirit which is burnt in a small tray underneath the burner to heat it. The kerosene in the tank needs to be forced into the burner, this is done by pumping up the air pressure in the fuel tank, which forces the kerosene upwards through the flu.

After the primer has stopped burning, the flames from the primer should have got the burner hot enough to vapourise the kerosene. When a valve is opened the pressurised kerosene is forced into the hot burner where it is vapourised. This kerosene vapour is then directed downwards into the mantle where it burns hot enough to make the mantle glow and produce a bright white light. The heat from the burning vapour in turn vapourises the liquid kerosene which is being forced into the burner.

This type of lamp is popular amongst campers and people who like outdoor activities. However, it has lost out in popularity in recent years to portable lamps which burn Butane or Propane gas as these are easier to use, although more expensive to run.

There are portable kerosene stoves which work in much the same way as pressure lamps.

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