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FEEDING AND RESTORATION OF KEROSENE LAMPS
Jump to the following articles on this page.
Never refuel a
lamp when it is burning.
That is why Kosmos lamps do not have a separate fill cap.
Fires an happen to the nicest people - even old lamp people!
Never fill a lamp
all the way to the top.
1/2" of empty space to enable the fuel to expand as it warms
up. The heat from a burning lamp also heats the fuel.
Clean spilled fuel
from the lamp.
residue will tarnish the finish over time. Nickel plate will
peel off, brass and copper will tarnish, ruining a
Start a lamp burning
at a low setting!
Let it warm up the chimney
and fount before turning it up to a higher flame.
Never leave a lamp burning unattended
for at least 10 minutes or until the
flame has stabilized. As the lamp warms up, so does the
fuel, and thinner fuel is more volatile. You may have to
lower the wick several times as the lamp and fuel get warm
before the flame will be stable.
CLEANING AND POLISHING OLD
Old lamps should be cleaned and polished to fill the
pores of the metal so it will not corrode. A liquid car polish/cleaner
such as Mequair's will clean the metal without destroying the patina,
then leave a beautiful finish that will last for a long time.
The polish will make the surface shiny. That can't be
helped. Brass is a mixture of copper and zinc. Zinc is a reactive metal,
and if allowed to be exposed to the air the zinc can corrode, leaving
the residual copper in a "spongy" state... dark and porous. You don't
want that! So the cleaner/wax will fill the pores in the brass and leave
a non-oxidizing coating.
Auto wax polish/cleaner is NOT a "metal polish" as such. "Blue Magic"
metal polish will clean the brass to make it look new... and leave the
brass virtually uncoated. Sometimes when an old patina is "spotty" and
not uniform, it pays to clean with a metal polish, wipe dry, do not
touch with ungloved fingers, and in 6 months or so there will be a
uniform patina. Then an auto polish will maintain that same patina.
Far left, an 1885 Lampe Pigeon as
purchased. The copper surface is dull and prone to oxidation.
Near left, the same lamp after a few
minutes polishing with "Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream" and a
coat of auto polish. The pores of the metal are filled
with polish, so the lamp will stay beautiful for many years
"Blue Magic" auto polish will indeed thin nickel
plating. Normal liquid auto polish will not because it is not very
abrasive. Auto "chrome polish" is lighter still and will clean a very
The problem with Blue Magic and Chrome Polish is that they leave the
surface raw, the pores in the metal unsealed. A very light coat of
liquid auto polish, wiped off with a dry cloth, allowed to dry
completely, then wiped off AND removed from all cracks and corners (a
toothbrush works fine for this), will leave the surface in a very clean
and polished state that will inhibit corrosion for well over a year.
You can use the absolute cleaning power of Blue Magic for specific
purposes. Let us say you have a brass lamp that you want to have a
patina, but an even, unblemished "aged look." Clean and polish with Blue
Magic, being careful to not touch the surface to not leave fingerprints
during the final polish and wipe down. Place the lamp on a shelf where
it will not be touched. In six months you should have a very nice,
uniform patina. The longer the lamp sits on a shelf untouched the darker
the patina. When you have the color you want, then apply a light coat of
liquid auto polish to seal the surface and preserve the appearance you
The vast majority of the lamps most of us encounter
are old, but they are not museum pieces that cannot be touched.
Restoration of function is important, as is stabilizing the finish so
they will not corrode. Removing a crummy "age patina" is expected
and right with these lamps, as it restores the lamp to the original
condition so it can be enjoyed by generations to come. Leaving a
lamp with a dry, porous metal finish is simply an invitation to
corrosion and a worthless lamp. Keeping a lamp in "as found
original condition" is in my opinion an excuse for laziness. Some
eBay sellers are very proud of the dust, dirt and grim on the lamps they
sell, proudly proclaiming them in "as found" condition. And those
lamps sell for far less than their potential if only given a little
care, as shown in the examples above. I was the sole bidder on the
Lampe Pigeon at $10.95, and one look at the photo above left shows why.
After 15 minutes of work that lamp is as beautiful and functional as a
new Kosmos Vintner's Lamp costing $65.00, and it has additional value
because it is 123 years old and still perfect in form, function and
CLEANING OLD GLASS LAMP FONTS
Question from reader Jeff:
I have some old kerosene lamps
that have red residue left in them from eons ago. I've tried
steel wool, and even paraxylene to get these stains out, and
nothing works. Do you have anything that I could buy to clean
these lamps with? Thanks again, Miles, and I'll be ordering
from you shortly.
******** Kerosene precipitates paraffin - wax. Nothing dissolves
wax, but wax melts at about 160 F. Heating the font slowly in a
double boiler to about 180 F, not even boiling, will melt most of
the residue. The residue floats to the surface, wax being lighter
than water, and can be poured off, then the font retrieved and
wiped pretty darn clean.
THANK YOU, MILES!!..Okay, you've
made a customer for life here with the tip on cleaning kerosene
lamps. I tried this tonight, and these lamps look as good as
they did the day they were made a hundred years and some change
ago. Thanks. Jeff J.
INSTALLING WICKS IN CENTER DRAFT LAMPS
Almost all center draft lamp wicks are provided full length without "tails" because of the great variation in the depth of
founts. Remove the top of gallery and measure the height of the draft tube with a thin stick like a bamboo skewer. That length plus 1" is the proper wick length. Four, two
inch "tails" should be cut in the bottom of the wick. That will give the tails room to splay out when the wick is lowered for extinguishing the lamp.
There were literally hundreds of patents issued for
wick raising assemblies for center draft lamps. Most of the B & H
lamps use a clamp which closes to grab the wick securely. Raising
the the clamp to the top engages a wedge which forces the clamps
apart...the wick can then be carefully inserted between the draft tube
and the clamps, then the knob turned to lower the wick, which disengages
the wedge and grabs the wick. Adjust the height of the wick after
you know it will raise and lower properly.
Other types of wick raising systems used sharp pins
to hold the wick securely for raising and lowering. Some lamps had
the the points next to the center draft tube, point outwards, while
others were the Aladdin style with an arm on each side of the draft tube
with the sharp points toward the tube. In either case, slipping a
wick past the sharp points can be a challenge without a wick guide.
With an inexpensive razor knife and an empty plastic jug of Mineral Spirits, making a
wick guide is simplicity itself. (See below)
At right is a
photograph of a wick guide made from a corner of a gallon size
plastic jug of Low Odor Mineral Spirits. It is 3 3/4" wide and
6 3/4" high. The stiff, very smooth plastic already has a bend
in the middle because it retains the shape of corner of the
container from which it was cut, so it curls easily to fit the
If the lamp has the sharp wick-holding
points against the pillar and pointed outward, slip the
wick guide around the pillar, slip the wick over the wick
guide, position the wick at the right height, and simply pull
out the wick guide while holding the wick down.
If the lamp has the sharp wick-holding
points on arms so the points are pointed inward toward
the air tube, slip the wick guide between the arms and the
central air pillar, slide the wick between the wick guide and
the tube, position for height, and then pull out the wick
guide while holding the wick in place below the wick guide
with needle nose pliers.
WICK HEIGHT FOR INSTALLATION
Heater wicks are installed according to height above the wick tubes. Center draft lamp wicks are just the opposite. Install the wick so it retracts about ½"
below the top of the wick tubes to reliably extinguish the flame when the wick is lowered. The height of the wick, and therefore the amount of flame, is adjusted by the wick
adjustment knob, and there should be a considerable amount of wick available for use so that the wick need not be raised until it has been burned for quite some time.
BEFORE THE FIRST LIGHTING
The new wick must be level on top to avoid
flame spikes. You simply cannot trim the wicks perfectly even with
scissors. Set the lowest section of the wick 1/16" higher than the
wick tubes. Put a couple of eyedroppers full of kerosene on the
top of the wick, put in the flame spreader, light the wick and put
on the chimney. After the kerosene burns off the cotton wick
itself will burn down level with the wick tubes. Rub the charred
wick down with a finger, cloth or stick in a circular motion
around the wick tube to get the charred wick even. Be consistent;
rub the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) every time.
This may need to be repeated several times on thick lamp wicks.
Make sure the chimney does not touch the shade or the shade may crack from the heat!
The first burning or two should be with
kerosene, as Low Odor Mineral Spirits burn so perfectly that the
wick seemingly does not char at all. Burning kerosene in a
center draft lamp results in a "char" to the top of the wick with
every burn: when the lamp cools down, remove the flame
spreader and rub a finger one direction only to even the char.
After the wick burns perfectly even with kerosene, then you can
switch to Low Odor Mineral Spirits and the wick will continue to
burn beautifully for a very long time.
Flame "spikes" are caused by the wick being too
high at that spot. The height of the "spike" prevents
burning the lamp at even close to maximum light output because the
"spike" will cause sooting if raised too high: a full
"tulip" flame or even a decent curl of flame is simply not
possible to attain.
Don't even try to trim the wick with scissors -
it won't work because the top of the wick would be "clean" and not
have a char like the rest of the wick top. To correct
this problem and make the wick perfectly level on top, let the
lamp run out of fuel. When the flame dwindles because the
wick is almost out of fuel and thus "dry," lower the wick until
only 1/16" or so of wick is exposed above the draft tube. DO
NOT BLOW OUT THE FLAME! Move the lamp to a place that is
relatively draft-free yet ventilated and let the wick burn out on
its own. The wick is cotton and will itself burn down -
exactly 1/16" - level with the top of the draft tubes. Remove the
chimney and flame spreader and rub a finger over the top of the
wick in one direction only - make one or two "circles" around the
top of the wick to even the char.
EXTINGUISHING A LAMP
The best way to extinguish a lamp begins with
proper wick installation, as above. The wick can then be lowered
so it is 1/2" below the top of the wick tubes. There will be
residual fumes because the heat from the burning flame heated the
fuel in the fount and on the wick. After the wick is lowered
there will be some flame that will quickly dwindle to a "circular
dance" of flame as any residual tar and carbon deposits on the top
of the wick tubes or flame spreader are burned off. The chimney
will also cool naturally during that time. When the flames are
virtually gone, then the flame can be blown out by blowing down
the chimney. The cooler chimney will not experience a radical
temperature change that would result in immediately blowing out
the flame, and that will lessen the chance of cracking a
chimney. If plain glass chimneys could take radical temperature
shock there would be no need for the borosilicate chimneys I sell.
Wick thickness and weave is incredibly
important. Victorian era lamp manufacturers were in intense
competition to produce lamps with the greatest possible light
output per fuel consumption, and their methods of achieving that
were different. Miller designed the easiest wick replacement
system and brilliantly designed flame spreaders to achieve a tall,
white light from a thin wick. P&A used a nominal 1 1/2" diameter
wick on their Royal burners which was thicker on the outside
of the wick to induce greater capillary action and thus produce a
fine white light with the same draft tube measurements as a Miller
or B&H. The L&B "Belgian" 30''' lamp used a nominal 1 1/2"
diameter wick with the extra thickness on the inside of the
wick, requiring a smaller diameter draft tube. The Belgian
was so superb that is was copied by B&H's Radiant #5, P&A's Plumwood, and Miller's Dresden, Liberty 2/0 and Empress.
The L&B Belgian 20''' lamp used a thick 1 1/4" wick of the same nominal diameter as a Miller
#1, but thicker on the outside of the wick - and was copied by
Success and the B&H Radiant #4. The Rayo Jr. used a
thick 1" diameter wick. None of these wicks are interchangeable!
I had to have the specific wicks made using original wicks as
Wicks which are too thin do not fill the wick
gap; the wick itself can burn down the wick tube, and if not put
out in time can cause a fire/explosion in the font. For
example, a Miller #1 should never be burned in Success, Radiant #4
or Belgian 20''' lamps.
My wicks are designed to ensure the same
capillary action as original factory wicks - and thoroughly tested
by lamp experts in a variety of lamps. (Thickness and dimensions listed on
Lamp Wick page.)
Large, circular wick, center draft lamps should be
burned at near maximum light output to properly heat the flame
spreader to burn up all fumes. If used turned down to minimum
light output, they will produce an aroma when
burning, but not when properly adjusted for maximum light output.
The exception is the tiny lamps, like the Tiny Miller, Little
Jewel and Tiny B&H: these miniature center draft lamps
should be burned with no more than a 1" high flame front to avoid
overheating the fuel.
KEEP LAMP BURNER
VENT HOLES CLEAN AND CLEAR
There is a small air vent in virtually
all lamp burners, which is a safety feature to keep air
pressure equal in the tank even with a solid fill plug.
The vent hole must be keep clean and clear of obstruction.
The photograph at left shows the bottom of a duplex burner, but
single wick burners also have a vent. Click on the photo to enlarge it
to see the vent tube directly above the top wick slot.
See the three star wheels attached to the shaft in each wick
slot above? Those cog toothed star wheels must turn in
fairly precise slots, and if one tooth is bent the wick will
only turn back and forth until the bent tooth hits the side
of the slot. Look closely and you should be able to
identify the bent tooth. Gently push the errant tooth
back into alignment with a thin bladed screwdriver, then try
the wick raising knob again. It may take a few tries, but it
is often possible to make a seemly broken flat wick burner
work again just like new. This is also the time to
gently push any dents in the fairing above the wick back
into place, which will result in a smooth air flow over the
wick and thus a nice, even flame. Be gentle. All
of these parts are usually brass.
REPAIRING THE FONT
It is not uncommon to find pinholes in the base of
the fuel tank on century-old fuel fonts, both lamps and Perfection
heaters. Then they leak fuel.
One brooder heater I purchased on eBay in early February,
2007, had a LOT of tiny pinhole leaks. I tried radiator epoxy, but
it was too stiff to fill all the tiny holes. So I sanded the base
smooth again, picked at the holes with a stout sewing needle to clean
debris from the holes, removed any oil from the metal with acetone, and
applied a thin layer of J-B Weld epoxy over all areas that even appeared
to have indentations or pits. After 24 hours, I sanded the J-B
Weld smooth, put the tank on a piece of newspaper, and poured in some
fuel. It worked! No leaks. J-B Weld epoxy can be
easily applied with an artist's paint trowel, so little sanding is
required. Of course all the sanding required to get to bare metal
(so the epoxy will stick) removes the galvanizing, so the tank
must be painted with an anti-rust type spray paint to prevent
LAMP CHIMNEYS - go here
LET'S PUT ALL OF THE
ABOVE TOGETHER FOR A SIMPLE LAMP RESTORATION
This Veritas lamp had been in storage for a
century. The shade ring arms needed to be re-soldered
and the the entire lamp polished. At this point it could
be hung in it's frame, as intended, but it is only for
decoration so far. The photo at right
was taken after initial assembly and a very minor polish job.
This involved some minor soldering and polishing with "Blue
Magic Metal Polish Cream" until the buffing rag no longer
removed dark tarnish.
The fount with flame spreader and outer
wick tube removed. The burner could not be disassembled
further because the threads were stuck. The original
wick is visible, hardly burned at all. When
kerosene evaporates, it leaves a stick residue and a waxy
deposit that can literally "glue" parts and pieces together,
particularly threaded joints.
The inner wick tube measured 1" diameter.
The burner was placed in the stock pot
shown at right, covered with water, and a quarter cup of
liquid laundry detergent added. Wax melts at
approximately 155 degrees F. Simmering water is 212 F.
- that is enough to melt the wax and the detergent will
dissolve a lot of thick oily residue. This is a smelly
project best done outside. An
Original Haller stove from
the 1890's need not be used, but it did seem proper (if a
little nutty) to use a Victorian era German stove (Ottensen)
to boil the Victorian era German (Nurenburg) lamp fount.
It worked! Two hours of simmering and
the burner unscrewed easily. While still hot I cleaned
the threads and then applied a very light coat of "Never Seez"
to the threads. The photo at right shows the burner with a
new wick installed.
Photo at right - the little used original
Veritas wick. The original wick was 0.110" thick over a
1" draft tube, so the proper replacement was a Success/Belgian
20''' wick. Note the notch in the wick, which had to be
duplicated in the new wick.
The Veritas 20''' burning brightly for the
first time in a century! Before burning, the wick as
saturated with kerosene, raised 1/16" above the draft tubes,
and lighted. The chimney and flame spreader were
installed and the wick allowed to burn out, thereby leveling
it evenly. The fount was then filled with Mineral
Spirits, and lighted after 15 minutes. The flame was steady, no
flickering, and quite bright. There was a reason why Veritas lamps were held in such high regard - they worked, and
worked well. With a little restoration and decent care,
a good lamp like this will easily last another century.
Another illustration of restoration by boiling. The first photo at shows a Rochester Jr. as purchased.
It was stored "wet" and was glued solidly together. The middle photo shows the lamp disassembled after simmering for an hour, with a bit of polishing to
the very top of the fount. Photo at right shows the lamp after a couple of hours of polishing with Blue Magic. Click to enlarge.
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Heater Information below
Center Draft Wicks - Wicks
available only from this Wick Shop.
Flat lamp wicks
Aladdin Lamp Wicks
Center Draft Lamp
from "Tiny" Junior to Mammoth lamps.
Fabulous "Sans Rival"
borosilicate chimney for 14''' Kosmos lamps
Student Lamp Sans Rival Chimney with
1 7/8" fitter!!!
Standard glass lamp chimneys
Sonnenbrenner Lamp Chimneys
Information on lamps:
Center Draft Kerosene Lamps
(Photos, information and history, etc)
restored center draft lamps
Care, Feeding and Restoration of Center Draft
installation for many)
Lamp manufacturers and brand names
- Dimension of
nominal base diameter by make, model and "line".
Early American Metal Font & Specialty Lamps
Aladdin Lamp History
Aladdin Lamp Wicks & Chimneys,
Aladdin - Exploded burner views
Flame Spreaders and
Vulcan, Imperial, Veritas,
Belgian, Hinks, Messenger's, Young's Court, etc.
Articles by Alex Marrack:
Site Index for all things Perfection
Kindler Wicking For Oil Stoves & Ranges
Alphabetical list of most kerosene heaters and the proper wick,
& cart checkout.
List by wick number and the heaters that fit them. (A
helpful guide for buying on eBay)
Measurements needed if you have an unlisted heater.
Care and Maintenance of Kerosene Heater Wicks
Installing Kerosene Heater Wicks - generic for unpinned
Owner's_Manuals & information for many kerosene heaters
Heaters - General types, how they work, recommendations
for some good ones - and those I would avoid.
Economic Benefits of
Troubleshooting kerosene heater common problems
In New Kerosene Appliances
Kerosene Heaters at Night
WATER IN KEROSENE causing "dwindling" and poor
Flame Spreader Heaters
and Lamps -
A Century of Excellence
Kerosene Heater Carts
why carry your heater around?
Kerosene Fuel Primer
Kerosene tank cradles
Building a Cradle
HEATERS MADE IN THE NETHERLANDS
Beatrice Boiling Stoves & Mini kerosene heaters
you can make
Sad Iron stoves; Wicks &
Wicking For Oil
Burning "WICKLESS" Stoves & Ranges
Kerosene Stoves, Lanterns and Ovens
Kerosene Stoves -
Recommendations on different models
Stove Maintenance and Storage
Butterfly A-822, 22 wick, all-aluminum
Butterfly #2487, 16 wick stove.
Butterfly #2412 Pressure
instructions for virtually any pressure stove.
Double Burner Stove;
good with any gravity flow stove.
Oven for Kerosene Stoves
Butterfly #2641, 10 Wick Stove
the least expensive emergency stove.
Butterfly #2698 Cook Stove -
THE Best Heavy Duty Cook Stove.
#828R Pressure Lantern;
same for most pressure lanterns.
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