© Arto Hanciogullari und T. Tsekyi Thür

Repairs on Burners

The burner is the "soul" of a lamp. Only when it works perfectly is the lamp ultimately a lamp. For me, a lamp must fulfil its purpose and burn well. If the burner is not functioning, or not ready for use for some reason, then the lamp is only a decorative "showpiece", but not a lamp. Maybe I'm a bit too narrow-minded, too demanding; but that saves me from stuffing my collection with countless lamps that look nice but can't burn because the burner doesn't work. So I invest a lot of care in repairing and maintaining a burner, especially if the burner is a rare and high-quality burner that one cannot or will not easily replace with another burner.

There are burners that are so badly damaged that they can no longer be repaired. If the burner has been perforated several times at the bottom or if brass walls have been sawn and bent to lead a power cable through, then this burner is hardly salvageable. You would have to detach all the soldered areas to get to the inner part of the wick tube and do repair work there. It is not worth the effort. Another hopeless case is when the gear wheels for wick drive are broken or have come out of their anchorage. In such cases, replacing the burner with another intact one is the much easier way.

Repairable damages are, for example, holes and cracks on the wick tube or on the deflector of the burner, if these places are rather in the lower area. Most of the heat from the flame goes upwards and the lower parts of the burner are cooled slightly by fresh air flowing in, so that soldering work in such places can be carried out without having to worry about solder coming loose again due to the heat from the burner. Holes and cracks in the walls can be soldered to these damaged areas with smaller brass plates pre-curved to match the curvature of the wall (using the method I explained for "cracked brass" above). This is always appropriate if the damaged burner is a rare and valuable specimen. However, if the damage is very high up, almost at the edge of the wick tube, then you should not solder anything here. In this case, brazing with silver solder would be advisable, but I have not yet done this myself.

Sometimes burners come to me that are bent several times at the top, at the upper edge of the wick tube (it is a mystery to me how burners can be maltreated in this way; there is no obvious gain to be made). These bends hardly allow the wick to pass through at these points. However, it is quite easy to bring these bent edges back into shape with needle-nose pliers.

It happens from time to time that solder joints have come loose on a burner so that, for example, the lifting mechanism no longer works properly. It is easy to renew these soldered joints after having studied the functioning of the mechanism. After all, it is supposed to do its job as expected. As already mentioned several times, the areas to be soldered must be completely cleaned down to the metal so that the solder adheres at all.

The pressed-in baskets can be pressed back from the inside. However, it depends on the thickness of the wall whether the mere pressure of a finger is sufficient to successfully push them back into place. In cases where bending back was not easily possible, I helped myself by rubbing some very large screw with a disc-shaped round head of about 2-3 cm diameter back and forth from the inside at the spot to be improved with proper pressure. In very stubborn cases, you can even fix the screw to a vice and now move the basket back and forth with strong pressure against the screw head until the damaged part of the basket regains its original convex shape. If you don't have such a large screw with a suitable head at hand, you can build a similar tool yourself, for example by soldering a large, thick washer with a diameter of 2-3 cm to a thick metal rod. I admit that it takes a lot of skill and sensitivity, but it's worth the effort when the burner looks good again.


Moulding back a depressed basket


It often happens that some prongs of the gallery are either broken or missing completely. The broken prongs often only have a crack on one of their bridges (in my jargon, these are the narrow bars that connect the upper part of the prong to the lower part of the gallery). These cracks can be soldered from the outside with a small soldering iron. It is important to grind the soldered joint a little flat afterwards, as the fitter of the glass shade must pass by unhindered, but again not so flat that the soldered joint comes apart again under the slight tension. The missing prongs can possibly be added by sawing off the prongs of a broken, no longer usable burner whose gallery prongs have an identical or very similar punched shape and soldering them back onto the places of the missing prongs. You have to weigh up for yourself whether this Sisyphean task is worth it. If only one or two prongs are missing, I wouldn't bother, because the remaining prongs have enough tension to hold the glass chimney firmly and securely. If there are so many prongs missing that the glass chimney can no longer be held, you have to think about how best to solve the problem. In one case, I got a burner whose entire gallery had probably been replaced because the gallery was visibly soldered to the basket all around. That would also be an alternative, at the cost of giving up the originality of the burner.

There are, of course, other works on burners when essential parts, such as flame disc, extinguisher, etc., are missing. In the case of a rare, valuable burner, I would always try to replace the missing flame disc. Since individual flame discs are hardly ever offered, one has to rely on one's own skill here, because one has to construct the flame disc oneself. The prerequisite, however, is that you can borrow them from long-time collector friends who already own the good piece, so that you can copy the shape and size exactly. A good example of this is the elongated, chimney-like attachment of the Elektra burner (see L.119), which is usually only loosely attached and therefore unfortunately almost always lost. I was able to reproduce this attachment from sheet brass because a collector friend was willing to lend me his original piece. I admit, one needs some plumbing skills to successfully make such fine metal constructions. I know that the "collector's value" of my burner has not increased as a result, because the original attachment of the flame disc is still missing, but the faithfully completed appearance of the burner compensates for the painstaking work.


Completed flame disc from the 15''' Elektra burner by Gebr. Brünner, Vienna
From left: Elektra burner without the special attachment on the flame disc
The reconstructed attachment alone and on the remaining flame disc
The burner with the completed flame disc


A very similar repair is, for example, to replace the missing extinguisher, if this is possible at all. There are different types of extinguishing mechanisms, some of which have very complicated designs (see the subchapter on Raiser and Estinguisher in the chapter Kerosene/Paraffin Burners). But here, too, it is necessary to obtain an original model of the missing part. So I succeeded in reconstructing the completely missing extinguishing tube of a 20'' Matador burner with spare parts, after I was able to acquire a completely preserved burner of the same type. My reconstruction also works perfectly.,



Completed extinguishing tube of the 20'' Matador burner by Ehrich & Graetz, Berlin
From left: 20'' Matador burner without extinguishing tube
Original Matador extinguishing tube of another burner and my reconstruction from an original wick tube with inserted intermediate piece
The completed burner with my reconstruction


Repairs to Wicks

Now you will shake your head in disbelief. Why repair wicks when you can buy them quite easily? There are cases where it is well worth repairing the existing original wicks if they are damaged or too short. In my opinion, the newly manufactured wicks do not work as well as the original, old wicks, which were often even specially made for a high-quality burner back then. The creep rate of the kerosene/paraffin from the kerosene/paraffin tank to the top depends very much on the thickness and weave density of the wick. In this case, the expert speaks of the "capillarity" of the wick. If you can acquire, for example, an old 15''' Matador burner with the original wick in it, you will quickly notice that this wick differs considerably from other wicks for Kosmos burners. This old wick can still work much better than the newly made wicks, provided that you have taken it off the burner, cleaned it in an acetone bath from resinous and encrusted kerosene/paraffin residues, washed it properly with a detergent, carefully rinsed it clear and dried it.

As fate would have it, such original wicks may already be very short when they come to us together with the burner. In such cases, do not hesitate to sew other pieces of wick (if possible of the same width) to the end of the short wick in order to lengthen it so that burning is possible even when the kerosene/paraffin level in the tank has sunk. It is best to even sew two wicks to it, taking the old wick in their middle, and allow a generous contact area by not sewing the new wicks directly to the end, but 3-4 cm above it, but with full contact to the old wick.

Sometimes original wicks come with damaged areas. Damage often occurs at the points where the gear wheels of the wick knob engage with the wick to move it up or down. These places cannot be repaired properly, because the gear wheels will do their work again in the same places. If, on the other hand, there is damage to other parts of the wick that cannot be reached by the gear wheels, it can be repaired by sewing these parts together properly to ensure that the kerosene/paraffin can be transported undisturbed.

If you leave a lamp with kerosene/paraffin in the font for a longer period of time (1-2 years), the kerosene/paraffin may turn green over time (see photo). This colouring may look interesting or beautiful, but it damages the wick considerably, because the green crystals of copper carbonate that are formed really clog the capillaries of the wick. The wick can no longer transport enough kerosene/paraffin to the burner; the flame becomes weaker and weaker until it eventually goes out completely. Unfortunately, copper carbonate is insoluble in water; therefore, it does not help to try to clean the wick with a dishwashing detergent and a brush. You should discard the green coloured kerosene/paraffin and leave the wick in an acid solution (e.g. 10-15% hydrochloric acid; available in hardware stores) for a few hours. Acid dissolves copper carbonate gradually. Afterwards, you can clean the wick as usual with washing-up liquid.


Green coloured kerosene/paraffin


Self-made Shade Holders and Globe Holders

In the sub-chapter Shade Holders (see Shades and Shade Holders), I indicated that it is now necessary to build missing shade holders and globe holders with non-standard dimensions oneself, as such pieces are no longer to be found.

Such shade holders, which can hardly be found any more, include, for example, shade holders with a diameter of 210 mm. Larger shade holders, e.g. with a diameter of 280 mm or even larger, are also not available for purchase.

Among the globe holders, those that either have a rare inner diameter (e.g. 62 mm for 16''' Central Vulkan burners or 47 mm for 12''' Kosmos burners) or those that would be suitable for unusual combinations of burner and shade size are very rare. For example, if you want to use a tulip shade with 85 mm fitter width with a 10''' Kosmos burner, you would have to find a globe holder with an inner diameter of about 42 mm and an outer diameter of about 86 mm. Such globe holders are not available anywhere, so you have to construct them yourself.


Construction of Globe Holders

The construction of a globe holder with unusual dimensions, but for widely used 10'' and 14'''/15'' burners, is very simple, as it can be assembled from two conventional globe holders. You only need to screw or solder the two globe holders together exactly concentrically; the smaller ring preferably under the larger one. In this way, you can use larger tulip shades or ball shades with a fitter width of up to 100 mm on small burners, for example with 10''' Kosmos burners, without any difficulty.

The missing globe holders with 62 mm inner diameter can be built from a standard 85 mm globe holder (inner diameter approx. 55 mm) by enlarging the inner diameter to 62 mm. This can be done, for example, by making several horizontal cuts and bending up the prongs to create a larger inner opening, or by sawing out the inner part completely to 62 mm inner opening. The latter method, however, lacks the bendable prongs to fix the globe holder firmly to the burner. If you need a 100 mm globe holder instead of an 85 mm one, you have to combine such a prepared 85 mm globe holder with a 100 mm globe holder.

Globe holders for 12''' Kosmos burners can be made in the same way from 70 mm globe holders for 10''' Kosmos burners by increasing the inner diameter from 42 mm to 47 mm by slitting and bending the inner prongs.


Globe holders with unusual dimensions
Top row, from left: 85 mm globe holder for 10''' Kosmos burners (combination of 70 mm and 85 mm globe holders)
An original 85 mm globe holder for 12’’’ Kosmos burners (very rare!)
85 mm globe holder for 12''' Kosmos burners (combination of 70 mm and 85 mm globe holders; the former slotted and adapted)
Bottom row, from left: 100 mm globe holder for 14'''/15''' burners (combination of 85 mm and 100 mm globe holders; the latter in decorated form from the USA)
85 mm globe holder for 16’’’ burners (slotted 85 mm globe holder)
100 mm globe holder for 16’’’ burners (2-stage, self-made with brass ornamental band)


Tulips with a fitter width of more than 100 mm are actually for gas lamps, but can also be used on kerosene/paraffin lamps. However, you have to find suitable globe holders with a diameter of more than 100 mm, which is hardly possible in Europe. In the USA, on the other hand, you can get newly manufactured 5 inch globe holders (125 mm) for 20''' burners. I have built some 125 mm globe holders myself by combining suitable inner rings and 125 mm shade holders.


Globe holders with 120-125 mm diameter
Top row, from left: 120 mm globe holder for 14'''/15''' burners (2-stage home-made with brass ornamental band)
125 mm globe holder for 20''' burners (combination of 100 mm and 125 mm globe holders, the latter from USA, but here with cut-off brass arms)
125 mm globe holder for 20''' burners (combination of 100 mm globe holder and 125 mm shade holder; the latter here with cut-off brass arms)
Bottom row, from left: Silver-plated 125 mm globe holder for 20''' burners (combination of a 125 mm shade holder and a matching inner ring)
125 mm globe holder for 20’’’ burners (new product from the USA)
125 mm globe holder for 20’’’ burners (2-stage globe holder from Great Britain; rare)


Construction of Shade Holders

The construction of shade holders with an unusual diameter requires a lot more work, because for this you have to make the missing hoops and the S-shaped arms yourself. For the matching inner ring you can use ordinary globe holders. I describe my procedure here in a concise form, unfortunately without photo demonstration (I failed to take photos for the step-by-step instructions when I constructed shade holders myself, but instead I have included three diagrams below that also visualise the procedure well).

On a large, flat wooden board, I first draw the exact fitter width of the shade using a suitable compass. I then nail several sturdy nails, each about 3 cm apart, exactly perpendicular to this circular line, just deep enough so that they are immovably fixed but their tops remain 3-4 cm out. In this way you have created a circular "template" for the shade holder.

Now I put a suitable brass band of about 1 cm height very tightly against the outside of the nails. In order to prevent the brass band from springing out, nails must be nailed directly to the outside of the brass band every 10 cm or so. This band later forms the hoop. Brass bands are available in different thicknesses and sizes on the internet. I use an ornamental brass band that is about 12 mm high and 1.4 mm thick.

Once the brass strip is neatly laid out in a circle and really tight, I cut or saw off the protruding remainder. If the brass band is quite thin, you can leave one end protruding 1-2 cm to solder this end to the other end. With the quite thick decorative band I use, I saw off the ends completely flush and solder them together with a piece of brass that I put on their inside.


The construction of a shade holder ring from a brass band
Top row, from left:
Drawing the circumference of the shade holder ring on a wooden board
Nails hammered along the drawn circle
Bottom row, from left: Brass band leaning against the nails from the outside; the ends cut flush (a) and fixed with nails
The two ends soldered together from the inside with a matching brass sheet (drawn in red) (b)


I form the brass arms from 2 or 3 mm thick basic brass rod in a suitable S-shape, which I first draw on a quite thick wooden board (preferably hardwood) and construct a corresponding bending template with several strong nails hammered along the drawing. 3 mm rod thickness requires quite a lot of force and it is not possible to achieve the desired S-shape straight away. Therefore, I then bring the arms into their final shape by gently bending them further with two nippers. In the process, I always check that the arms get as much of the same shape as possible by placing them on top of each other more often and seeing if they still need to be worked on. You also have to make sure that the bent brass rods lie completely flat on the plane.


Diagramm for bending a support arm (all views vertical from above)
Top row, from left: The desired shape drawn on a wooden board
Nails hammered in approx. 2 mm above and 2 nails to the left below the drawing
Brass rod inserted at the bottom between two rows of nails
Bottom row, from left: First bend of the brass rod on the nails
3 new nails hammered in at the upper bend below the drawing
Last bend of the brass rod at the top right


I prepare the inner ring of the shade holder from a globe holder of a suitable size. I drill three matching holes in the outer wall of the globe holder, into which the S-shaped brass arms will be inserted and soldered. Drilling on the thin outer wall is tricky and difficult. Instead, you can also saw in 3 large notches (e.g. with Proxxon® cutting discs).

Soldering the hoop together with the three arms and the inner ring requires quite a bit of precision, because everything has to be centred exactly and soldered horizontally. To do this, you still leave the hoop in its nail template, because it is fixed there immovably. I mark the three places on the hoop where the ends of the brass arms are to be soldered. At these three points I place three wooden plates of identical height so that the ends of the brass arms are fairly flush with the upper edge of the hoop.

Exactly in the middle I place the inner ring with the top side down on prepared wooden blocks in order to place it accurately horizontally. The wooden blocks also serve as spacers from the lower wooden plate. The height of this distance depends approximately on the overall size of the constructed shade holder. You need to derive this approximately from existing shade holders and have also shaped the S-shaped support arms accordingly. Finally, push the three brass arms through the prepared holes (or notches) in the inner ring. Make sure that the arms are of equal length. If necessary, correct the position of the inner ring a little.

When everything is placed satisfactorily, I stick the parts in their final places with scotch tape (even better with painter's masking tape) as best I can so that they can no longer move and slip away. Then I solder the three support arms at their ends to the hoop and the inner ring.

I admit, this is a very labour-intensive, elaborate and at the same time nerve-racking job. It requires skill, patience and unconditional will. The result is, of course, a unique piece of which one can be proud. In the next picture I show schematically the final arrangement before soldering. In the following photos you can also see details that somewhat illustrate what I described above.


Schematic arrangement of the shade holder parts for soldering
A = Brass band formed as a hoop
B = S-shaped carrier arms
C = Ordinary globe holder as inner ring of the shade holder


Self-made shade holders in different sizes
Top row, from left: Very large shade holder, Ø 44 cm, with attached textile hanging, inner ring made of two 100 mm globe holders (L.023)
Shade holder made of decorative brass band, Ø 28 cm, inner ring made of 100 mm globe holder (L.212)
Bottom row, from left: Shade holder made of American support ring for hanging lamps, Ø 25 cm, and American shade holder without outer hoop (L.233)
Shade holder made of decorative band, Ø 21 cm, inner ring made of 85 mm globe holder (L.088)


Self-made, 44 cm diameter shade holder for the floor lamp L.023
Top row, from left: The shade holder made of thin brass strip, with 4 support arms and attached textile hangings; wooden plates to protect the fitter of the shade
The inner ring made of two 100 mm globe holders, seen from above
Bottom row, from left: The brass ground rod soldered to the inside to stiffen and stabilise the circular hoop
The inner ring made of two 100 mm globe holders, seen from below


Self-made 28 cm shade holder for lamp L.212
Top row, from the left: The shade holder made of thick decorative brass band and with 4 support arms
The inner ring made of 100 mm globe holder, seen from below
Bottom row, from the left: The small brass plate soldered on the inside to connect the two ends of the decorative hoop
The soldered joint of a carrier arm on the inner edge of the hoop