|I bet that you have heard of the Inuit, the
Native American people living in the far north. I
once read in a book by Les Stroud that the farther
you get from the equator, the less edible plants
there are. Have you ever heard of the boreal forests
the Inuit lived in, with the vast species of
abundant edibles? Me neither! If you are not
familiar with their climate, it was icy, snowy
landscapes. Most of them survived off seal meat,
and, since most indigenous cultures would not waste
any part of any living creature they killed.
Since they had to eat only meat, and there was very
little wood for making fires, they would carve
simple soapstone oil lamps, called kudliks. They
were basically shallow stone bowls that were filled
with rendered seal blubber, and would light these
with a wick made from arctic cottongrass. These
lamps were convenient because they were fairly small
and provided light and heat for cooking. However, I
imagine one could only roast meat over the flames,
or heat up hot rocks.
I live in the
northeastern United States, and where I live we get
a good bit of snow. Since I am a back-to-earth guy,
I pecked the entire bowl out with a hammer stone
made from sandstone. It also worked great for
grinding. I have worked with soapstone before with
metal tools, but I actually found it easier. I am
not going to teach pecking in this article, as I am
inexperienced with it, but I will give tips on
If you are working with a raw
piece you found yourself, or if the piece is bumpy,
grind the longer, flatter part into a flat surface.
Grind the rest into whatever shape you want.
Traditional ones are half-circle shaped, and are
somewhat thin, but some have an elongated
diamond-shaped top and the bottom was pointed, like
if one took a mountain and stretched it out
lengthwise. Mine is still very irregular, but it
works. Basically it needs to have at least one flat
surface, and maybe a base.
For those of you
working with a "nicer", smoother block like I did,
you'll have to make a flatter one with a base.
First, lay the stone on what looks more like the
base. You may need to flatten out the surface.
After you made the basic shape, then comes the
harder part: hollowing it out. Depending on how w
much oil you want to hold, make it wider and deeper.
For cooking, it will be longer and deeper.
After you have shaped your lamp, the next part is
the wick. Wicks can be made of any cordage material
except sinew, or any good basic tinder. String works
well, though must be all natural. I have not used
jute before, but I have used cotton, and it had to
be prepared for best results. Preparation is not
necessary for inner bark or tinder wicks.
prepare it, cut a string about 5-6 inches long. Then
run the string thru a flame until it starts
blackening. It's usually good to get the end aflame,
though put it out after 5 seconds. This will smolder
for a long time, so you might have to run it under
some water. Unless you have a huge lamp (over 7
inches long) then you will have to cut the wick in
The last step is the oil. Where I live
there aren't any seals, and I don't hunt. I used
some bacon grease and it works great. Here is a list
of oil you can use:
schmaltz (chicken fat)
•olive oil (I suspect it
Basically any fat from any animal
Before lighting, soak your wick
in the oil. That way it lasts longer. Try soaking
some milkweed fluff, cattail or thistle down, or a
cotton ball in the oil and rest a flaming wick on
that. It also helps to bend up the end of the wick.
You can use one inside your own house and will
not set off your smoke alarm. Just remember to make
sure that the wick doesn't hang over the edge of the
lamp. Always rest it on a rag to keep the heat from
damaging your table, and for picking it up (these
things get super HOT!!!)
I encourage you to
make one. I lit one with tyree different wicks at
night, and had enough light that I turned the
electric lights off at my house and could still read
comfortably! If you are camping in a tent, however,
don't use one. The lamp could melt the plastic. Good
luck and get in the woods!