Thursday, 5 April 2012

Hermitcraft: Rushlight (Candle Lantern)

Every hermit needs a rushlight. It's a meditation candle, a trail light, and general illumination where there is no electricity. I made this one before I went into the woods last summer, and it served daily and well.

As you can see, this is bindle technology: a tin can with holes punched in. (I used a power drill for cleaner, more uniform holes.) Ordinarily you'd shift every other hole column up half a space, so that its holes are midway between those in adjacent columns. This maximises light and conserves metal strength. For even more strength, make the staggered holes smaller.

That said, you'll note that this rushlight has slits instead of staggered columns. I cut them with an angle grinder, thinking I'd get more light. And I did, but I probably won't do it again; the slit sometimes focuses a beam straight into my pupil when I meditate, forcing me either to endure it or break posture and poke the lantern with my monk stick. And a few minutes later it rotates back and lasers me again. A hole can only do this until the flame burns past it, but a slit can pester you all night.

Worse still is the metal lost; with ten full-length cut-outs, this rushlight crushes easily in my pack. The situation is not helped by the fact that both holes and slits go all the way to the bottom. This is overkill; both should stop about two inches up. The extras don't give much more light for the removed metal, and they leak wax that might otherwise extend candle life.

It's a fine design for home, though. The bottom tray is a candy tin cover I added after I came out of the woods, to catch run-outs. These aren't a disaster outdoors, though messy and wasteful, but unconfined dripping is a deal-breaker inside.

The tray also makes the rushlight much more stable when standing, which is otherwise a concern. The rubber feet (see photo below) were cut with a half-inch gouge from a tire I found on the beach, and attached with Gorilla Glue. They grip surfaces and eliminate marring. The tray does prevent me from stuffing the lantern into a pack pocket, but the detachable upgrade won't be a hard brainstorm.

I used hoarded notebook wire for the bail, because it's cheap, heatproof, and easily worked. The bail must be long enough to carry the light without burning your hand, and to hang without setting the support on fire. You'll also need a mesh cover (not pictured) outdoors to keep insects out. This is not just good karma; the dead will otherwise catch fire, inciting the chain reaction described in the next paragraph.

Possible complications include drowning wicks, blow-out, and worst of all, the Volcano of Atonement: molten wax breaks through the rim of the pool, cuts a channel that prevents a new one from forming, and the whole thing melts down in a single gushing flare. At best you're left with a cinder cone of wax and utter darkness. Other times you set the forest on fire, producing more light than is ideal for meditation.

Therefore, always keep your rushlight in view when you sit outdoors. I like to hang it just above and to one side of my field of vision in lotus. That way I can check it just by shifting my eyes.

A final note: there's a small trick to carrying one of these. If you just, like, carry it, the unshielded flame blinds you till all you see is it, surrounded by a giant doughnut of pitch black. If walking around with a tractor inner tube around your waist isn't your idea of safe navigation in a dark forest, turn your palm upward, slip your index finger through the loop in the bail, and carry it that way, hara-high. (See photo below.) That way your hand blocks the direct light, saving your eyes for the rest. For improved effect, carry something else in that hand as well, like a book or folded handkerchief.

In another post I've illuminated (sorry, couldn't resist) a cheap and easy method for making the candles that go inside. There are also plenty of storebought ones that fit. Just slide one in, whatever the provenance, and banish the darkness.

Not bad for stuff you were gonna throw out, eh?

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)
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