Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lanterns: Types and Proper Use

Do you know how to properly use a lantern? 

Yes, there is more to it than just lighting the wick and walking away for the night. Proper use of a lantern will provide brighter light, a more consistent burn, longer wick life, and fuel efficiency. This article covers lantern basics. All of the information applies only to cold and hot blast tubular lanterns (Did you know there was a difference? Did you know those tubes on the side are strictly a function of air flow and combustion design?)

First, what are the types of lanterns?

Most lanterns embody one of three distinct types of construction: Hot-Blast, Cold Blast, or Dead-Flame. Cold-Blast and Hot-Blast are tubular lanterns (e.g. those tubes on the sides).  In them, the fuel vapor mixed with air, in proper ratio, composes the burning mixture. The burner acts as a carburetor to which the side tubes convey properly controlled air in regulated volume. Result: perfect combustion and bright, clean light. A cold-blast lantern, easily the most efficient of all, is constructed so that only fresh, cold air enters the tubes, while the spent air is diverted and expelled. Hot-blast lanterns permit a portion of spent air to recirculate through the tubes. Cold-blast provides about twice the brightness of hot-blast. Hot and cold-blast lanterns produce much more light than dead-flame type.

Dead-Flame: A dead-flame lantern works by drawing in fresh air directly below the burner, while the hot exhaust air is exhausted out of the top of the lantern. 

A typical dead flame lantern.
Hot Blast: The hot-blast design, also known as a "tubular lantern" due to the round metal tubes used in its construction, was invented by John Irwin and patented on January 12, 1868. The hot-blast design collected hot air from above the globe and fed it through metal side tubes to the burner, to make the flame burn brighter. 

Hot Blast lantern.
Cold Blast: The cold-blast design is similar to the hot-blast, except that cold fresh air is drawn in from around the top of the globe and is then fed though the metal side tubes to the flame. This design produces a brighter light than the hot blast design, because the fresh air that is fed to the flame has plenty of oxygen to support the combustion process.

Cold Blast lantern.
The German army often used dead-flame candle and carbide type lanterns (see below).  However, as hot blast lanterns were patented on Jan 12, 1868, cold-blast on June 9, 1874, and little has changed in design since, almost anything you can buy new today is as "period" as it was in the 1800's. Hot and cold blast lanterns were certainly around during WWII, and are the most practical types to be used by reenactors.
A German carbide dead flame style lantern.
The best modern day, off-the-shelf, lanterns are German made (Feuerhand).  This company has been making lanterns in Germany since 1902, and are the last original tubular lantern manufacturers still producing lanterns in the western hemisphere.  If you are going to get one of these, look for the Feuerhand #276 "Super Baby." New, they cost around $30.00. They are worth every cent.

Cheaper lanterns often have shoddy welding and bad carburetion. Often the welds are of substandard quality and fuel can start leaking out, or the "tubes" separate with some time.  Due to cheaply made burner plate parts, they can also burn in a very erratic manner. Keep any eye out for these issues over the lifespan of any lantern.
WICK SHAPE: Cut straight across with shears (for either charred portion of old wick or fuzzy portion of new one.) A straight wick will burn more evenly, and give better, consistent light.

LIGHTING: Set the flame a little lower than is desired for burning, since the flame will burn higher after the lantern reaches operating temperature. Yes, lanterns need to "warm up" at bit.

FLAME HEIGHT: If flame is too high soot will form at the top of the globe.  A lantern should NEVER have soot at the top of the globe. If you see any smoke you’ve got the wick too high and need to lower it. When soot starts to form you are (a) reducing light output, (b) burning more fuel than you need to, (c) damaging the wick (the end has a tendency to burn instead of the fuel). If you see a sooty globe, is should be cleaned to maintain maximum light output. It does not take long for the globe to become hard to clean, and thus undermine the entire purpose of the lantern (e.g. to give off light). Soot can also be caused by the wrong type of fuel, or a "clogged" wick (see below). Oil lamps burn about 1/2 oz. of lamp oil per hour when correctly adjusted, and this should be around a 1/2 inch flame (give or take).

FUEL: What NOT to Use: DO NOT USE PARAFFIN OIL IN TUBULAR LANTERNS WITH 5/8" or LARGER WICK. (Use Paraffin only in lamps with 1/2" or smaller wick.) Paraffin in the UK is kerosene. Paraffin Oil in the UNITED STATES is Liquid Candle Wax , and is often mis-labeled for use in oil lamps and lanterns, when in fact it is only suited for Candle Oil Lamps that use small diameter (under 1/4”) round wick. 99% or 100% Paraffin Oil is NOT designed or suitable for use in tubular lanterns or oil lamps that use flat wick, or Kosmos or Matador type oil lamps. Further, it burns only 1/2 as bright of any of the correct fuels listed below. Paraffin oil has a much higher viscosity and a flash point of 200 degrees or higher, as compared to the flash point of 150 degrees for kerosene. These differences inhibit the necessary capillary action of the wick, and will cause lamps and lanterns with 7/8" or larger wick to burn improperly and erratic. Once a wick is contaminated with paraffin oil, it must be replaced in order for the lantern to burn properly. If you must use paraffin oil, it may be mixed 1:10 to 2:10 (one to two parts paraffin,) to ten parts standard lamp oil or kerosene so that it will burn satisfactorily. Paraffin Oil is sold in the United States under the following trade names, which should be avoided except for use with lamps or lanterns with 1/4” round or 1/2" flat or smaller wick:

Aura Oil
Crown Royal
Firelight Glass
Orvis Lamp Fuel
Northern Lights
Pure Lite
Recochem Ultra-Clear Lamp Oil
Soft Light
Tropical Lights
Weems & Plath

FUEL: What TO Use: Standard Lamp Oil, Synthetic Kerosene, or Kerosene Substitute are recommended for use indoors. The correct fuels for indoor or outdoor use in Tubular Lanterns and Flat Wick Oil Lamps are:

1. Lamplight Farms Clear Medallion Brand Lamp Oil (This my personal favorite fuel, and easy to come by). Flash Point: 145 Degrees Fahrenheit
2. W.M. Barr & Co. Klean-Heat Kerosene Substitute. Flash Point: 145 Degrees Fahrenheit
3. Crown Brand Clear Lamp Oil. Flash Point: 141 Degrees Fahrenheit
4. Genuine Aladdin Brand Lamp Oil. Flash Point: 141 Degrees Fahrenheit
5. MVP Group International Florasense Brand Lamp Oil (Sold by Wal-Mart). Flash Point: 142 Degrees Fahrenheit
6. Recochem Clear Lamp Oil. Flash Point: 124 Degrees Fahrenheit
For ONLY outdoor use:
1. Non-Dyed (Clear) Kerosene with a Flash Point Between 124 and 150 Degrees Fahrenheit
2. Sunnyside Brand 1-K Kerosene. Flash Point: 125 Degrees Fahrenheit
3. Coleman Brand Kerosene Fuel. Flash Point: 130 Degrees Fahrenheit
4. Crown 1-K Fuel Grade Kerosene. Flash Point: 150 Degrees Fahrenheit
5. Crown Citronella Torch and Lamp Fuel. (cut 50:50 with kerosene to extend wick life.) Flash Point: 141 Degrees Fahrenheit
6. Tiki Brand Citronella Torch Fuel (cut 50:50 with kerosene to extend wick life.) Flash Point: 145 Degrees Fahrenheit

Dyed kerosene or lamp oil will eventually clog the wick and inhibit proper operation. It can also permanently stain the lamp or lantern. If you purchase kerosene from a gas station, make sure that it is from a "blocked" pump so that it is clear and not dyed red. (Un-blocked kerosene pumps by law must dispense dyed kerosene which will clog lantern wick, and cause it not to burn properly.)
Standard clear lamp oil (Lamp Light Farms Medallion Oil,) is available nationwide at: Target, K-Mart, Ace Hardware, True-Value Hardware, etc.

"Klean-Heat" Kerosene Substitute is available at or through most hardware stores and home centers including: Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True-Value,

Genuine Aladdin Brand Lamp Oil is available from Aladdin Lamp Dealers nationwide.

Much of the above material included was sourced from This is a great web site for lantern sales, information, and supplies. [3.PGD is not affiliated with in anyway.]

1 comment:

  1. Is this still relevant for today? Or have things changed? What I'm curious about is how this will carry out, like what will the trend be for this type of stuff?