Light Sources

Burning candles and oil-burning lamps are the most easily refueled light sources. To maximize the lifespan of each, use sparingly and reserve tasks that require light for daytime when you would not require a light source other than the sun. Below are instructions for making candles and lanterns. Always reserve wax drippings for making new candles.


The best materials for making candles a combination of beeswax, tallow, alum and saltpeter. Beeswax is a hard substance and smells pleasant, but is available in smaller quantities than tallow, which is rendered animal fat, such as sheep fat. The alum and saltpeter are additives that harden the candles and make them burn cleaner. The ideal ratio of all four materials is, by weight: 20% beeswax, 40% tallow, 20% alum, 20% saltpeter. If your availability of beeswax and tallow varies, you can use any proportion of beeswax you like, but keep the proportion of tallow to alum to saltpeter at 50% to 25% to 25% respectively. Wicks should always be heavy cotton, prepared adequately and be proportionately sized for the diameter of the candle.


Molded candles are efficient to make compared to dipped candles as the molded variety uses all the candles that is melted, therefore none is wasted, and it is also quick to make.

STEP 1: Collect, clean and dry any common containers such as milk cartons, jars and cans. Coat the interior of each mold with oil or grease to prevent sticking. (Waxed containers do not require coating.)

STEP 2: Tie one end of a wick to a metal washer and the other end to the centre of a stick. Place the washer end at the bottom of the container, and the stick across the top. Adjust the top tie so the wick is taut.

STEP 3: Place a pot half-filled with recycled water on a fire. Dent one side of an empty can to form a spout and place it inside the pot of water, creating a double-boiler. Add beeswax and tallow to the empty can. When materials are melted, add alum and saltpeter. Stir until all ingredients are melted and combined. If a thermometer is available, check temperature of melted substance and remove from heat when temperature reaches 190oF for metal molds, and 130oF for cardboard, plastic or glass molds.

STEP 4: Pour molten wax mixture into your prepared greased containers with wicks in place. Let cool for a few days, then remove candles from the molds. Cardboard molds can be peeled off. Allow candles to harden in a cold or cool place for 1 week before burning.

Wicks must be made of a heavy cotton yarn or rag prepared the following way to prevent it from burning too quickly. Soak cotton for 12 hours in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of salt plus 2 tablespoons of boric acid in a cup of water. You can also use a solution of turpentine, lime water and vinegar. Dry the cotton and braid three strands together to form the wicks. If using rag strips, twist them up while braiding to keep them tight and compact. Use a thicker wick or multiple wicks for candles with large diameters.


Another renewable light source is an oil lamp. You can use any seed, nut or vegetable oil, best when combined with tallow. The simplest lamps can be made from a shallow container like a small bowl or gravy boat, with the wick sitting in the oil and the tip resting on the edge or spout. For a larger lamp, use one of the following options:

1) Use a clean jar with a lid. Punch a small hole in the lid, thread the wick through the hole (you can use a thread or thin wire to hook the wick, then thread the wire through the hole to pull the wick in through behind it). Fill the jar with oil, replace the lid and allow the wick to saturate with oil before lighting.

2) Use a glass bottle with a screw cap. Proceed as for the jar lamp.

Do not allow the oil to drop more than 6 inches from the flame or the wick will dry out at the tip and burn off.

Read the next section, Home Conversions...

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