Kerosene lamps, just like candles, and oil and alcohol lamps need wicks to burn. A wick draws up fuel, oil or alcohol to the flame by capillary action to keep the fire burning. When making a homemade kerosene lamp, you may want to make your wicks as well. In addition, if you already have an old kerosene lamp, you may need to replace the wick or make extra wicks for future use. There are different types of wicks and different ways to make them to produce the flame needed for your kerosene lamp.
Make wicks from old paper bags. Cut the paper bags into strips measuring 3 by 10 inches. Roll and twist the strips from one end to the other. Then, dip the strips in 2 cups of water mixed with ¼ cup salt. Air-dry the paper wicks on a tray overnight before using. The salt on the wicks prevents the paper from charring as it burns.
Make wicks using cotton balls. Loosen the fibers of three cotton balls by unraveling the cotton fibers to stretch the cotton to an elongated shape. Then, place the elongated cotton balls on a flat surface. Connect the ends of the three elongated cotton balls by overlapping ½ inch of the bottom part of the first cotton ball to ½ inch of top part of the second one; repeat this for the third cotton ball. Then, using your fingers, roll them up together tightly to produce a long wick.
Use gauze--similar to that used to dress wounds--to make wicks. You can purchase a roll of gauze from a pharmacy or department store, or you can buy ¼ yard of gauze from a fabric store. Then, cut it in strips measuring 3 inches wide and the length you need for your kerosene lamp. For an average-sized kerosene lamp, up to 10 inches long should work.
Use knitting yarn to make wicks. Cut three pieces of yarn measuring 10 inches long each. Then, loosely braid them together. Tie a knot on the top and bottom ends of the braid to keep it from unraveling.
Use rope fibers as wicks. Use ropes made from trees and not the synthetic or plastic types. Loosely wind together several strands of rope fibers--enough to fit the opening of your kerosene lamp--or make a braid using the method described in Step 4. Dip the rope fiber wick in salted water to prevent charring (see Step 1).
Make wicks using old cotton shirts. Cut the shirts in strips the will fit into the kerosene lamp opening. Insert one piece through the opening, leaving enough fabric outside to hold the flame.
Use old shoelaces to make wicks. You can braid two or three shoelaces together, depending on the size of your lamp opening.