Some of you may have read my recent review
of several oil-burning lanterns. Even though that post was dreadfully long, I felt that there was more to be said on the subject of tubular lanterns, for three reasons:
1. Tubular lanterns are really inexpensive. For around $25 you can have a lantern and enough fuel to run it for a fortnight of evenings. Anyone
can afford to have one of these as part of their emergency preps. Save the batteries for your radio and flashlight.
2. For those fellow ZSrs interested in a tubular lantern, there is a dizzying variety to choose from, and I thought I could help distinguish among them.
3. Finally, and most influentially, after my prior post on lanterns, I was contacted by W.T. Kirkman Co. with the offer of a free lantern if I would review it on the Zombie Squad board. (Hear that hissing sound? That's my ego inflating.)
I had to give this last point some serious thought. On the down side, posting what could be perceived as a paid review could cause considerable damage to the credibility of my own bogus, anonymous online persona. (Heaven forbid!) On the plus side, there was the matter of a free lantern for yours truly. (Woohoo!) But there's more. A review posted on ZS at the behest of a vendor lends a degree of credibility and prestige (whether deserved or not) to Zombie Squad and contributes to the greater glory of us all. In that light, how could I refuse? When I emailed Mr. Kirkman back, I told him that I would accept his offer with the understanding that I would pull no punches. I made reference to the previous review, and the lambasting that the Britelyt Petromax lantern suffered at my hands. He said that he expected no less than my frank and honest opinion.
Why would Mr. Kirkman make such an offer? While he sells Dietz lanterns (Dietz is the big name in tubular lanterns, for those who don't know), his company also manufactures its own lanterns. They are made using a combination of original American Dietz tooling and new proprietary tooling. Some of the improvements are really retrograde to the days before the lanterns were made offshore, and make the lanterns truer reproductions. Other improvements continue a long evolutionary process that began in 1868. Having had a Kirkman lantern to play with for the last couple of months, I can say that he is justifiably proud of his product.
Enough back story. On to some talk about lanterns.
If you shop for lanterns on the internet, you'll find that there are a huge number to choose from, and at first glance they all look pretty similar. But there are several variables that distinguish one from the other: Hot blast vs. cold blast, wick size, fount size, tall vs. short globe, shape, and finish.Hot blast/Cold blast
: I discussed this at length in my previous review, so I won't re-hash it here. The bottom line is that cold blast lanterns burn marginally brighter, and hot blast lanterns do a tiny bit better on fuel. If you are worried about using less fuel, get a cold blast lantern and dial it down a smidge. At least you'll have the option of having more light if you need it. The only reason I can see for opting for a hot blast lantern is if you require historical accuracy.Wick size
: Tubular lanterns have a flat wick which can vary in width. It is the width of the wick that determines the breadth of the flame, and hence how much light is produced. A wide wick with a broad flame throws more light than a narrow wick with a narrow flame. Dietz lanterns are available with wicks varying from 1/2 inch to 7/8 inch in 1/8 inch increments.Fount capacity
: The fount is the fuel tank. Sometimes one can see two versions of the same lantern, and the only difference between them is the size of the fount. Lanterns with larger founts can burn longer before refueling. Lanterns with smaller founts are lighter. If there is another rationale for a smaller fount, I don't know what it is. Dietz lanterns vary in fount capacity from a diminutive 8 oz. up to a colossal 84 oz. for the Dietz #2500 Jupiter, which gives an astounding 75 hours of burn time between refueling. That's more than six days straight!Shape
: In the 1930's the Dietz lantern was redesigned to produce a "streamlined" version that was more in tune with the industrial design of those years. The modern version of that streamlined lantern is known as the "Air Pilot" and is still available.Finish
: The two tubular lanterns I have both sport a plated finish. Most tubular lanterns produced today are painted. You can find some that are tin-plated steel, some galvanized steel, and a very few that are solid brass. The finish you choose depends on how you plan to use your lantern, and the look you want as it pertains to historical authenticity or your aesthetic whim.
I saved the globe shape
for last. Differences in fount size, wick, and finish are all pretty much easily explained, but the differences between and the reasons for the tall and short globes are not so obvious. It's the one thing that really sets one lantern apart from another visually. I read that the tall teardrop-shaped globe is the earlier of the two, and that the short round globe came later.
The two lanterns that I have happen to be very similar, with the exception of the globe, so it seemed fitting to compare them. In the image above, on the left is the Dietz No.90 "D-Lite"
, with its short round globe. The D-Lite appeared around 1919, and was the progeny of prior Dietz models and those of another lantern maker which Dietz absorbed in 1914. On the right is the W.T.Kirkman No.2 "Champion"
lantern, which resembles the Dietz No.80 "Blizzard." It has the taller teardrop-shaped globe, which dates back to the 19th century. Next - dual throw-downs: Tall globe vs. short globe, and Dietz vs. Kirkman.Tall Globe vs. Short Globe
The short globe lantern has two distinct benefits. It is shorter overall and requires less storage space. The round globe is very easy to clean, owing to the larger openings on the ends. I also think that the short globe lantern is more attractive. In addition to the round globe, I really love the look of the tin plate vs. the galvanizing. (Whether tin or zinc, each finish is historically accurate for its lantern.)
The tall globe has advantages also. Most importantly, it burns brighter. The draft created in the tall globe lantern stretches the flame higher, and the result is a bit more light. See?
I have read that the tall globe is preferred at altitudes over 5000' because of the greater draft it produces. Inevitably soot is occasionally produced by both lanterns. In the tall globe, it will accumulate first up high in the globe, away from the flame, which doesn't reduce the light output of the lantern as much as with the round globe, wherein any soot that is created decreases the output. It's also easier to get the globe out of the Champion. With the D-Lite, when the chimney is raised to remove the globe, there's barely enough room to tilt the globe out. The glass worrisomely grinds against the chimney just slightly. When removing the tall globe there is no issue at all.Hey Biff: how do I know my lantern is putting out as much light as it can?
What an astute question! But nothing less than I'd expect from the discerning readership of ZS. Make sure the globe is clean
. That's first off. Obviously, a sooty globe will reduce the light output. A little soot is produced even with the lantern burning at its greatest efficiency, and it can build up gradually so a thin veil of soot accumulates over the entire interior of the globe over several days without being noticed. I give the inside of the globe a wipe every time I refuel the lantern.Use the proper fue
l. I've tested it. It makes a difference. "Lamp oil" is a very generic term. Here in the U.S., 99% paraffin oil, synthetic kerosene, and kerosene are just a few of the fuels that fall under the "lamp oil" umbrella. Paraffin oil is suitable for oil candles, tiki torches, and smaller lanterns. It burns with the least odor, so it's tempting to use in your tubular lantern, but it won't burn nearly as bright as kerosene, and if the lantern has a flat wick wider than 3/4", the flame will burn erratically and the wick can be prematurely consumed. Synthetic kerosene promises to burn odor free, but the best that can be said is that it burns with much less odor than the real stuff. As it seems to burn as brightly as kerosene but gives off less odor, synthetic kero is what I buy in quantity. Fuel with Citronella added will gum up your wick, over time.Keep your wick trimmed
. With normal use, the very end of the wick will become charred, affecting how the fuel is drawn up the wick and burned, and diminishing the performance of your lantern. Trimming the burnt part off will bring the lantern back to life. I trim the wick every time I refuel it (my lanterns have comparatively large founts - with smaller lanterns one might trim the wick every other filling), or I'll have a look at it if the lantern seems to be burning funny. Usually only about an eighth to a quarter of an inch needs to be trimmed - at that rate a wick will last a really long time. They can be prematurely burned if the flame is set too high, or if the lamp is allowed to run out of fuel while lit. While trimming the wick take care to cut straight across with a nice sharp pair of scissors. A diagonal cut, off by even so much as one weft, will produce a lop-sided flame and prevent you from getting the most light from the lamp, so take your time.
I had indicated in a prior review my skepticism of the idea that trimming the wick in any other way but straight across would make much of a difference in how it burned. Well, I was wrong. In an effort to make the D-Lite burn as well as the Champion, I started to experiment with wick trimming.The image above shows a silhouette of the D-Lite with the wick trimmed three different ways, with three different flames as a result. My goal was to increase the white area of the flame. Merely increasing the flame size doesn't increase the brightness if the increased flame area is orange. With the wick cut straight across (left image) the flame is rather wider than the Champion's flame, and when the wick is raised to give a flame the same size as the Champion's, there's a lot of orange in it. When the flame is cut convexly, even subtly, there is a convection effect which makes the flame narrower and higher in the center. While this reduces the amount of orange in the flame, it also reduces the amount of white. Raising the flame beyond this point sooted the globe quickly. After much experimentation, I tried chamfering the edge of the wick. More than an eighth of an inch was too much. Just a nip off of each corner helped to make the flame narrower, higher, and whiter, without the obtuse convection effect of the convex cut. FWIW, I tried these cuts on the Champion lantern too. The Champion likes a nice crisp flat cut with no funny business - perhaps a testament to how refined the design is. The bottom line is that subtle changes in the shape of the wick make a huge difference to how it burns.Know how to properly light and adjust the flame
. There are two aspects to this. First is knowing that if the flame is too high, a lot of soot will be produced and the globe will be darkened quickly. Second, the lantern burns better when it warms up. Don't ask me why. Maybe as the lantern warms up, the fuel becomes less viscous and travels up the wick more easily. In any case, the procedure for lighting and adjusting is this: adjust the wick height so that it is just protruding above the wick tube in the burner. Raise the globe with the lever, and apply fire to the wick. As it begins to burn, lower the globe, and as soon as the wick is burning across its whole width, set the flame height somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch. Now wait a few minutes for the lantern to heat up, and you will find that the flame is higher than when you set it earlier. Now set the flame to its brightest level. Note that I didn't say "highest level." This is because as you slowly raise the wick, the flame will grow, and as it gets bigger the edges will go a bit yellower, and then orange, and finally the flame begin to belch soot and foul the globe in about a half-second. The flame will be putting out as much light as it can just at the point where the edges begin to go orange - which is before it reaches its highest height and spews soot. BTW, it's hard to set the max brightness while looking at the flame. Look at the light cast on your surroundings if you can. If you omit the warm-up and just set the light level of the lantern right after you light it, the flame will grow as the lantern warms up, and will soot the globe. Light it, set the flame low, re-adjust after the lamp is warm, and it will burn clean and trouble free for hours. Even days, with large-fount lanterns.Dietz vs. W.T. Kirkman
- or - Will LanternNet get its money's worth:
There are several features of the Champion which distinguish it from any of Dietz's modern offerings.The finish
: AFAIK, W.T.Kirkman is the only manufacturer currently galvanizing their lanterns. The huge majority of Dietz lanterns are painted. The tin plating on my D-Lite is a rarity, and it's very attractive, but as tin is higher in the galvanic series
than zinc, the tin doesn't provide as much corrosion resistance - barely more than the common steel beneath it - and after just a few months the tin plated lantern is already showing the first signs of corrosion. I've had to give it a prophylactic coating of Boeshield T-9
.The Loc-Nob globe
: In 1915 Dietz began to manufacture "Loc-Nob" globes, which were held into the globe frame by means of ears or tabs protruding from the glass. Modern versions of the lantern have thinner, less expensive, less authentic globes that lack this feature, but Kirkman manufactures their own globes in the old way. In addition to the loc-nob feature, the glass is thicker and more robust.Above, upper left: the two lanterns with their globes tilted out. This is how the lantern would look for globe cleaning or wick trimming. Upper right: The Dietz short globe is easier to clean. The Kirkman Loc-Nob globe is as thick as a mason jar. Lower right: the knob can be seen protruding from the edge of the Kirkman globe. It helps prevent the globe from accidentally slipping out of the globe cage. Lower left: the Dietz and Kirkman burners side-by-side. Almost identical, but not quite.The burner
. The Champion is supposed to have an improved burner, and I wondered if the Champion's greater relative brightness was due to the burner or the globe. So I swapped the burners. With the Dietz burner in the Champion, the Champion still burned brighter, so it is indeed the taller chimney that makes the difference. The Kirkman burner has a smoother action, and fits more precisely into the body of the lantern that the Dietz burner. It also is supposed to help the lamp warm up faster because of the thermal characteristics of the brass wick tube.The reflector hood
: Whether or not this was once an accessory offered by Dietz I cannot say. The hooded reflector that W.T. Kirkman offers is well made and has the same galvanized finish as their lanterns. It's more expensive than a lantern (because it's hand made in the U.S., while the lanterns are made offshore, I think) but worthwhile in two circumstances: if you want to light a table or workbench, putting the hooded reflector on your lantern will direct a portion of the light downward, removing the shadow cast by the fount. I bought the reflector to use on the D-Lite when I originally purchased it. It fits well, but the reflector casts a much more even light downward when mounted on the Champion, for which it was designed. The reflector is also a blessing when you set the lantern on the surface that you are working on or eating off of. It shields your eyes from the direct flame of the lantern and protects your night vision a little bit.Here is the reflector, seen on both lanterns. While it fits both of them, notice in the photos on the right that the pool of light cast below the lantern is brighter and more even in the case of the Champion.Metal thickness
: I can't remember if it was in one of Woody's emails or on the website, but I remember a claim that the Champion is made of stouter sheet metal than modern Dietz lanterns. Well, I wasn't going to let that one just fly by unassailed. So I broke out the micrometer and got busy. There aren't many places on the lanterns that one can wrap a micrometer around. I could have band-sawed the lanterns apart, and that would have given me many more measurable spots. I like you guys, but not that much. Not all of the Champion is made of stouter stuff than the D-Lite, but I can tell you that the chimney is.The filler cap
: easier to replace on the Dietz. A bit fiddly on the W.T. Kirkman.
I can prattle on, can't I? I'll finish by reiterating that a tubular lantern is a very worthwhile addition to anyone's preps. And as far as W.T. Kirkman lanterns go, in our correspondence Mr. Kirkman wrote that he'd bet his No.2 Champion would become my favorite lantern. He was right.