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"How To" Tutorial Series
How to Make/Modify and Use an Alcohol Lamp
by  John Gustav Delly, Scientific Advisor, Hooke College of Applied Sciences, Westmont, IL

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Some Examples of Alcohol Lamps


Figure 1 illustrates two alcohol lamps found in a typical industrial laboratory; they are both glass-stoppered, and employ a cork surmounted by a metal disc and wick support – both show evidence of having burned around the cork, following flooding; notice also the buildup of soot in the ground-glass cap on the left, and the general corrosion of the metal parts.  Both lack a vent.


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Figure 1


Figure 2 illustrates, on the left, an almost new version of the same kind of glass-stoppered alcohol lamps as in Figure 1, but with a cork that fits lower in the neck.  On the right of Figure 2 is an example of an alcohol lamp with a threaded neck, and an aluminum screw-threaded cap, with integral wick support, and a loose-fitting aluminum hood.  Neither lamp has a vent hole.


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Figure 2


Figure 3 illustrates a Balsam bottle that has been converted into an alcohol lamp; the hood, with ground-glass base, is missing – perhaps that is why someone converted this container.  The hole in the cork has not been bored straight, and the wick does not protrude enough.  There is no vent hole.


On the right, in Figure 3, is illustrated a replacement cap and wick assembly for an alcohol lamp with a threaded neck.  It features a captive wick cover, and the wick end has been bound to prevent fraying.  This assembly could be improved upon by drilling a 1/16” or smaller hole in the top of the metal screw cap, to act as a pressure vent.


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Figure 3


Figure 4 illustrates two examples of faceted fuel reservoirs.  The faceted feature is not merely decorative; it is an old design purposely made so as to be able to tip the lamp while it is in use, as illustrated by the lamp on the right.  The reason for tilting the lamp while in use is so that when soldering, or using the blowpipe, or when performing borax bead and microcosmic salt tests, or sharpening tungsten needles with molten sodium nitrite, drippings will not fall on to the wick, extinguishing the flame.   This style of alcohol lamp is often called a “Jeweler’s Alcohol Lamp”.  The jeweler’s lamp on the left has been fitted with a cork, and modified for micro use.  The jeweler’s lamp on the right employs a threaded metal cap and hood.  Neither lamp has a vent hole, which would be a marked improvement.


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Figure 4


Figure 5 illustrates several designs of wicks and their feed-through supports.  The brass feed-through on the left is paired with a woven glass fiber wick; this fitting replaces a cork.  The woven-cotton wick on the right has been paired with a formed glass feed-through support, which would have to be fitted through a cork, or used without one.  The upper wick assembly uses a combination glass and ceramic wick support, paired with a glass fiber wick.  All three of these are intended for contemporary oil-burning lamps used for decorative purposes, with or without optional aromatherapy intentions, but they can be adapted to the laboratory alcohol lamp.  A vent hole is not generally necessary when using these wick supports, as they fit loosely in the mouth of the reservoir – another reason to avoid overfilling.


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Figure 5


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