How to make oil lanterns out of test tubes

March 6 | Guest post by cecille

test tube lanterns 1

Who doesn't like test tubes and fire? No one, I tells ya. I thought these DIY lighting projects came out pretty cool, so I figured I'd teach you how to make them, so you can learn from my many mistakes.

Materials

Equipment:

  • drill or drill press (drill press is easier)
  • glue gun and lots of glue sticks
  • small triangular file (you can probably use the side of a flat file too)
  • butane torch (we just used a brulee torch from the kitchen)
  • cloth
  • permanent marker for marking glass tubing
  • burn-resistant surface (like a glass cutting board or really anything that won't go up in flames that you don't care about getting scorch marks on. We used a scrap piece of wood.)
  • small funnel

Test tube bases:

Step 1: Make sure your test tubes fit into the taper candle holders. It doesn't have to be tight, because we're going to fill the taper holders with hot glue.

Step 2: Apply a liberal amount of glue into the bottom a taper holder and immediately push the round bottom of the test tube into the glue. Give it a twist to distribute the glue around the test tube.

Step 3: Hold the test tube upright until the glue dries and assure the test tube is secure

Stoppers

Step 1: Using a drill press (or drill if you're careful), drill a hole the diameter of the glass tubing down the center of the stopper, starting from the small end of the stopper. You want the fit to be tight. Don't squeeze the rubber stoppers too hard or they will deform. Starting with a smaller pilot hole helps.

Step 2: Find the height of your stopper and approximately double it to get the length of tubing you need. You want glass tubing sticking out of either end of the stopper. We used two-inch glass pieces and a standard rubber stopper.

Step 3: Measure that length from the end of the tubing and mark with a permanent marker.

Step 4: Carefully run the file across the tubing at the mark to score it. You don't need to score the entire circumference, just a small bit at the top.

test tube lanterns 2

Step 5: Cover the tube in a cloth and hold the tube in both hands with the score mark facing away from you and your thumbs behind the score mark.

test tube lanterns 3

Step 6: Gently bend the tube, applying pressure with your thumbs at the back to snap the tube at the score mark. You should get a clean (or clean-ish) break at the score location.

Step 7: Fire up your butane torch and hold the end of the piece you just snapped off into the blue part of the flame. You should see the ends start to soften and round out. Do one side at the time and allow to cool on your heat-proof surface before you pick it up again. The picture below shows the un-heated and heated glass tubes. This is actually a really important step because you don't want to cut yourself on the glass when pushing it through the stopper.

test tube lanterns 5

Step 8: Once the glass piece is cool and rounded on both sides, gently push through the stopper. A little oil can help ease the piece through if it's tight, as long as you wipe it off after.

test tube lanterns 6

Wick and lamp oil

This step requires a bit of trial and error, so you may need to light and test a few lanterns to get the wick right.

Step 1: Cut the side off the flat wick and push it through the glass tubing in the stopper. You want the wick to fit through the glass tubing fairly loosely so lamp oil can travel up the wick and air can get through, but tightly enough that it won't fall down into the tubing.

Step 2: Fill the test tube with lamp oil using the funnel and wipe down any excess

Step 3: Push the wick and stopper into the test tube, and let it sit for an hour or two, so the wick soaks up the lamp oil before lighting.

test tube lanterns 1

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  1. Those look pretty phenomenal, I love them! Nice job, hopefully I can carve out some time to do a set of my own ­čÖé

    1 agrees
  2. I just came across a pile of old test tubes cleaning out part of the lab! WOOT! Lanterns for everyone!

    2 agree
  3. Thanks so much for sharing this! It's above my skill-level, but they look totally Bad-A and I know some friends who will just love this tute.

    1 agrees
  4. Have you had an issues with the test tubes coming lose from their candle holder base? I think I want to make some of these for myself and as a house warming present for a friend of mine; but I think I might use e-6000 or another non plastic epoxy to adhere them. I made a steampunk tea table candle holder/vase and had the same issue getting the items to stick to the mirror I used as a tray.

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