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
If a lamp was put away 'wet' with fuel and left for
decades, the fuel will evaporate and leave a gummy residue that
virtually glues all of the parts together. Don't force anything to
move! Read the page on
Beginning Lamp Restoration first.
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.