instructional article

Pine Sap Use #247: the sap lamp

pine sap lamp

One of my favorite parts of being in the woods has always been the challenge of creating usable objects from natural resources. It requires creativity to make due with what nature provides. There are an abundance of materials available in nature that make things easier, if you know how to use them. Pine sap is one of them. There are a million ways you can use pine sap, and eventually I plan on talking about more of them. But for now I will focus on the pine sap lamp. 

The pine sap lamp is simple and can be improvised just about anywhere there are pine trees. There are 4 items you will need: a bowl shaped rock, pine sap, moss (or something else to act as a wick), and a flame (or at least a good spark).

 This is the rock I ended up with. I recommend something with a deeper divot, if you can find one.

Once you have a nice rock picked out, start collecting sap. It can be old and dried out or fresh and gooey. Doesn't matter. I collected a palm full for this exercise. Don't worry if there are chunks of bark in the sap, they will melt out.  

pine sap

I used a piece of moss for the wick. I imagine a sturdy piece of bark or even grass would probably work. In a dire circumstance, you could cut a strip off of a bandana or a pair of jeans to use as a wick. 

 Here's my wick. This stuff grows everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest.

Next you put the wick in the rock and place the sap around the wick leaving just enough of the wick exposed to light. I used a ferro rod to light the moss this time. 

pine sap lamp

The wick will begin to burn and heat up the sap. It eventually will make a dark pool of sap at the bottom of the rock. It will burn as long as you keep feeding it sap. This one handful burned for over half and hour! Not too shabby.

Once the sap begins to melt it will run all over the place. That's why I recommend a good deep rock. In this case it ended up pouring out the side. Once it cools you can just throw those pieces of sap back into the lamp.

pine sap lamp
 Here's a chuck of run away sap. Back into the fire with you. 

It puts off heat and fair amount of light but I wouldn't recommend cooking over it. The smoke that comes off is thick and black. If you were roasting meat over this flame it would certainly take on a very unpleasant and probably unhealthy flavor. If you were to use a pot it would be blackened something fierce. But for a makeshift light and heat source, it works quite well.

This would also make an excellent base for a campfire if you are having a hard time getting a fire going in damp conditions (another Pacific Northwest specialty). Sap is by nature waterproof. If you don't believe me just try to wash sap off your hands with only water. If you can find a good pile and get it lit, it will give you a nice burn to get other, more stubborn kindling blazing. 

I would love to hear about your favorite uses for pine sap.

John