DIY Preparedness: The 5 Minute Tin Olive Oil Lamp

by Todd Walker

Got a minute or 5? Last night I made an emergency lamp out of a breath mint tin, wick, and olive oil… in 4:41 minutes. It will probably take you less time but I’m slow.

I love to re-think and re-purpose common items we usually throw in the landfill. I build my signature “outhouse” birdhouse out of old barn wood and used pallets. I’ll have to post a DIY article on that soon. Back to today’s quick DIY adventure.

An easy project is this oil lamp. You can use any container you like. I chose a breath mint tin since I have a large collection of them from each school year. I always hated teachers bending down at my desk and breathing horrid, putrid breath on me. So I eat lots of mints teaching. I also like the tins with lids so I can throw one in my bag for wilderness trips. Just render some animal fat for fuel and you’ve got a long-lasting source of light. It creates great ambiance after the meat has been cooked over the open fire and the lies around the campfire begin to fly. Whatever!

Here’s how I made mine. You’ll probably make one that beats mine like a drum. Please share if you do.


Breath mint tin (color to match wife’s decor – I gave her three color choices. I’m nice like that)

Wick – Use only material with natural fibers. Man-made polyester wicks will melt. If you want to get all primitive, you could use cordage you made from natural fibers. I used what I had on hand.

Fuel – I used the last of a bottle of olive oil in the pantry that had gone rancid. As Rachel Ray says, EVO. The benefit of this oil is that its odorless and burns without smoking. Also, if it’s spilled while lit, it won’t cause a flash fire like other lantern fuels.


Sharp object (I used a utility knife and Swiss Army Knife)

Nail punch (Just because I had mine handy and my wick was about a 1/4 inch in diameter. I guess I could have used the SAK for the whole project.)


Step 1: Gently make a hole in the lid of the tin with your sharp object. Be careful not to gash a huge hole in the lid or you hand. Don’t press the knife straight into the lid. Use a gentle twisting motion with the point of the knife to start the hole. This allows you to control the size you create. The hole size is determined by the diameter of your wick material. The larger the wick, the larger the flame. I tweaked the hole until the wick fits snugly. In the first photo, I included two other possible wick choices.

Create starter hole…carefully

Step 2: I used a nail punch that is cone-shaped to slowly tweak the starter hole to match my wick’s diameter.

Tweaking the hole for the diameter of my wick

Step 3: Make a small hole to the side of the main hole. This allows for air circulation and venting.

Vent hole

Step 4: Now, insert the wick into the hole with a small amount exposed on the outside of the lid. The remaining wick is curled into the bottom of the tin.

Wick inserted

Step 5: Add your olive oil. Don’t fill the tin to the top. You’ll discover a leak where the lid is connected to the side of the tin.

Fuel up!

Step 6: After adding the fuel, allow the wick a couple of minutes to saturate. Then light your lamp and impress the misses.

Burn baby, burn!

Keep Doing the Stuff,


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Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Frugal Preps, Preparedness | Tags: , , , , | 46 Comments

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46 thoughts on “DIY Preparedness: The 5 Minute Tin Olive Oil Lamp

  1. Thanks for the reminder that these things don’t have to be expensive, complicated, or store-bought. It looks like similar could be done with glass canning jars. I’m picturing a little lamp made from a wide mouth half-pint.


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  3. Pat

    Just found your blog. Love it. Will be back!


  4. Really cool web sight


  5. doug

    ive seen it also done with pint (jam jars) ball mason containers or larger, depending on the size of lamp you want and using 1/4″ wide wick or whatever you prefer.


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  7. I was looking for something to do with all of the mint tins I have.
    Such a simple and great idea!


  8. Nancy

    Can the tin be re-used or will it be bent or disfigured in any way?


  9. Brad

    I tried this with candle wick and it wouldnt draw the oil fast enough to not burn the wick down. What else could I use?


  10. RoyG

    i did this with the small canning jars and used hemp cord.. walmart sell it for about 5$ a ball.. the ball jars are nice as you can see the fuel level and are slightly spill proof unless you break the jar on impact.. op’sss… also if you add another cord in another location you can get a little more light from the build but uses more fuel…


    • That’s what inspired my tin lamp, RoyG. I had an empty tin, cordage and oil. I like the jar lamps for the reasons you mentioned.

      Mine was spur of the moment project. I’m guessing any container would work with a little creativity.

      Keep doing the stuff!


  11. Judi

    You could use wax or hot melt glue to seal the edges of the can. Of course they will melt after lighting the wick, but it enables filling and carrying the oil in the tin.


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  13. Misty burton

    Great idea! Will definitely try this one! Approx. how long is the burn?


  14. denise

    Brilliant idea! Do you have any idea how long will the oil last? we’re thinking of using the regular cooking oil since olive oil is too expensive.. we’re planning to do this as part of our mission for the typhoon victims in the Philippines.


    • Hi Denise, I haven’t run a burn time test on the lamp. Glad to hear y’all are passing the lamp on to folks in need. Blessings on you!

      Keep doing the stuff!


  15. Shoes Summerfield

    I’m new to your blog, but already a fan. I have a few (dozen) tins of snus in my garage that were looking to be repurposed somehow. This is a great build. I have one qWick question (yeah, aren’t I clever), will a length of 550 work as a wick or should it be more cotton oriented?


    • Thanks Shoes! Glad you found us.

      Better not try paracord as a wick. It melts. You need to use a natural fiber for the wick. 100% cotton cloth, rope, towel will work. 🙂 Let us know how your project turns out.


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  17. I love to use the little ariplane liquor bottles and a smaller wick or cotton cord.


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  23. Eddie Kilgore

    if you want to stop the leak just wrap the opening with electrical tape always handy to have it around


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  26. Baby food jars will work best for this application….secure the lid to make holes and resecure to keep from spilling…also a little melted wax will secure the jar to most flat surfaces. Jim


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  29. I am new to all of this, just wondered how do you keep the oil from coming out of the breath mint tin, or do they have to stay level to store them. Maybe I missed a comment on that.


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