How Terracotta Oil Lamps Work

It is easier to understand how a Terra Cotta lamp works, if the structure and principles are presented systematically. Terra cotta lamps are basically lighting devices consisting of a wick and a holder. These lamps are fueled by naturally flammable oils.

Terra Cotta lamps have an ancient historical background and even now are used extensively in Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The three basic components of this lamp are:

  • The container.
  • The wick.
  • The fuel used.
  1. The container varies in shapes and sizes but is a basic dish with two holes. One meant for the wick and the other to fill in oil.
  2. The wick is made of fibers that are chemically treated so it is fire resistant. When the lamp works the tip lights but rest of the wick does not get incinerated.
  3. Different varieties of flammable fuel are used in these lamps. The most commonly used is Kerosene.
  4. The basic mechanism of a Terra Cotta lamp relies upon a phenomenon known as the capillary effect. The simplest Terra Cotta lamp has a dish usually made of clay, filled with any flammable oil. A wick made of fiber is dipped in it with the other end hanging out. The wick of the lamp draws oil by the capillary action. It is when the oil gets sucked up the wick due to the surface tension of the oil. As we know that every action sets off an equal and opposite reaction. The action takes place as a reaction to gravity that pulls the oil down.
  5. When the wick is lighted, the tip catches fire as a result all the fuel in it gets consumed. This produces a void in the wick that has to be filled by drawing more oil from the root of the wick. A constant suction process sets in motion as a result. The wick keeps on sucking oil for the lamp because of the capillary action.
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