How to Make an Oil Lamp from a Rock
Amazing Oil Lamp Made from a Stone
This warmly glowing oil lamp looks as though the flame comes dancing from inside the stone. Beginning with an ordinary rock found along the road, I created a twinkling oil lamp elegant enough for a dinner table, durable enough for outdoor entertaining, and easy enough for you to copy. All you need is a drill with a special bit, a little elbow grease, and a few easily found parts. Make several--these lamps are great one-of-a-kind gifts!
All Content and Photos on this page are the copyright of Shelley H. Stewart
Choose the Right Rock
Rocks abound around creek beds, in road cuts, in fields, or even in your own yard. Garden supply stores may be willing to sell small quantities of flagstones or river rocks as well.
Look for a rock that is about 2 inches thick with a fairly flat bottom. It may be rough on top —in fact, texture is interesting— but the bottom needs to be flat enough and wide enough to attach a receptacle for the lamp oil beneath it. (I have experimented with drilling several holes in one rock and using a couple of receptacles. I have also glued one rock atop another with the holes aligned.)
Sandstone, limestone or other fairly soft rocks are easiest to drill, but avoid rocks with hard seams of quartz or iron ore that will dull your drill bit and wear out your arm. I tried to drill one for 10 minutes before I had to admit that the dark layer of iron ore was too much for me!
Wash the rocks you choose to remove any loose soil, and let them dry overnight. Then spray the entire rock, including the bottom, with a very light coat of matte acrylic to enhance the color of the rock. Let the spray dry.
Drill the Rock
Insert a carbide drill bit (made to drill masonry) into your power drill; I used one that was 1/4-inch wide and 6 inches long to be sure that it would go all the way through my rocks. Place the rock on a piece of scrap lumber before drilling.
Holding the drill in a vertical position, press the bit down firmly in the middle of the rock and begin drilling.
You will immediately see dust (particles of rock) coming from the hole. The friction of the drill against the rock creates a lot of heat. Don’t touch the drill bit when you withdraw it or you’ll burn your fingers! I keep a pitcher of water handy and occasionally pause to shake out the dust and pour some into the hole as I drill, cooling things off a little.
Keep drilling until the drill bit emerges on the other side of the rock. This usually takes only two or three minutes depending on how hard the rock is.
Acrylic Spray for More Vibrant Color
I like this matte acrylic spray because it brings out the natural color of the rocks and also keeps them from absorbing oil. Just a light spray is all it takes ... too heavy, and the rock won't look natural.
Attach the Receptacle
I selected a thick-walled glass container made to hold a votive candle as my receptacle because it looks elegant yet is large enough to hold a good bit of oil. It also has a flat rim that provides a broad surface to adhere to the rock. I have found these candle holders on Amazon and occasionally at discount stores such as the Dollar Tree. You can use any small metal or sturdy glass container you wish, but those with thick rims work best.
Here's a VERY important tip: Wash the container in soap and water. Then rub the rim with white vinegar to get rid of every speck of oil. This ensures that the silicone caulk will stick to it. For good results, don't skip this step.
Place the receptacle on the underside of the rock, making sure it covers the hole, and draw around it with a pencil. Run a line of clear silicone caulk just inside the penciled line, making sure that there are no gaps. Run another line of silicone caulk around the rim of the candleholder. Gently press the rim down onto the rock, joining the circles of caulk so there are no spaces through which oil can later escape. Wipe away excess caulk with a paper towel. Leave the rock upside down and undisturbed until the caulk cures, which can take a day or two.
Add the Wick and Oil
Cut a short length of 1/8-inch-wide fiberglass wick (I used a piece about 5 or 6 inches long). Insert one end through the top of the glass wick holder and then through the rock, curling it into the receptacle. Your oil lamp is now complete!
Before using it, you must fill the receptacle with lamp oil, of course. I like to transfer a small amount of oil to a small squeeze bottle with a pointed nozzle tip. To fill or refill the lamp, I lift both the wick and the glass wick holder just enough to insert the tip of the squeeze bottle into the hole in the rock. I squirt in the oil, and if a few drops spill, I simply wipe it off. Before using the lamp the first time, let the wick soak in the oil for about an hour.
Fiberglass wicks last a long time. Keep the wick trimmed almost even with the top of the wick holder because if it is too long, the flame will burn too high and the lamp will smoke. Using the small candle holder shown in my photos as the receptacle, my lamp burns for several hours without needing to be refilled.
Supplies for Rock Oil Lamp
Use these, or else close substitutes
Flat rock approximately 2" thick
1/4” Carbide-tip drill bit from 6 to 9" long
Crystal clear matte acrylic spray
Silicone Caulk (clear)
Receptacle for oil (I used a heavy glass votive candleholder with a wide rim)
White vinegar (to clean the glass)
2”-long Glass wick holder
1/8”-wide fiberglass wick (5” long)
Small plastic bottle with nozzle tip
Clear lamp oil
Using your lamp outside?
Drive off mosquitoes by filling your lamp with oil that contains citronella. This is for outdoor use only; don’t use this type of oil inside. And after using it, keep your lamp where rain won't get into it.
Oil and water don't mix!
Battery-powered Drills can be Used Anywhere
This is an ideal drill for the project because it's sturdy enough to do the job yet light enough to hold for the time it takes to drill through a rock. I also like not having to contend with a cord. With batteries, I can use it anywhere outside. And while I use one battery, the other can be charging.
Buy a Drill With a Super-hard Tip
A regular drill bit won't drill through a rock; you'll need one with a tough carbide tip. This one is ideal because it's long enough to go through most rocks that you'll be using to make your lamps. If the drill is too long, it tends to wobble as you drill.
Glass Tubes Hold Wicks in Place
Wick holders come in both metal and glass but I prefer these glass ones because they'll look almost invisible. The flame from the wick will appear to come directly out of the rock. These particular wick holders are 2 inches long, which means that you can use rocks up to 2 inches thick (for thicker rocks, buy the longest wick holders you can find). They come with fiberglass wicks almost 5 inches long, which is long enough to burn for many hours yet not so long that the excess won't coil inside the container.
Clean-burning Odorless Oil Works Best
Some people prefer lamp oils that are scented, but with my allergies, I always choose kinds with the least fragrance. That's why I like this brand. It's also clear, and burns with a strong, beautiful flame. You'll control the height of the flame by trimming the wick with scissors before lighting it.