Festival of Lights: How to Make a Sustainable Oil Menorah & Wicks!

My husband and I have been on a journey this year to lead a more sustainable life, so I challenged myself to make not only an oil menorah, but the wicks as well, out of nothing but found objects around our home.

For the display itself, I used our Ikea SATSUMAS plant stand. It has a heat resistant metal top that is perfect for burning the menorah. We temporarily moved our herb plants so I could play with the setup before Hanukkah.ikea-sustainability-051The tricky part was going to be figuring out how to make the wicks; I wanted to create something that would be re-usable, cheap, readily available and would burn safely. I experimented so much with the wicks over the past two weeks that I was beginning to think I wouldn’t have this tutorial ready in time for Hannukah! However, there was one wick that passed all my requirements with flying colours that I can’t wait to show you!

My wicks will work not only for Hanukkah, but for burning oil candles any time of year; you could adapt this for Christmas too! All you need is some tin foil, nine K-cups (the kind used in single use coffee machines), cotton twine and a nine metal snaps (you’ll only need the post). I’m proud to say it’s the most sustainable thing I’ve crafted to-date!

Making the Menorah

A few years ago Hubs found an entire box of shot glasses in the garbage. He was going to donate it to our local thrift store and even put it in the car, but kept forgetting to drop it off. Luckily he mentioned it to me because the shot glasses were a great starting point for the Menorah. Although the glasses had advertising on them, I knew I could still work with them.hanukkah-002I needed 9 glasses in total (including one for the ‘Shamash’ that acts as a servant candle to light the others and re-light in case one blows out).

The Shamash needs to sit higher than the rest. To accomplish that I removed an old candle from a shallow glass holder and washed the glass so I could put it under the Shamash and raise it above the others.hanukkah

If you’re going to do this project, pick up some glass vessels from your local thrift store. It doesn’t matter what they look like, because we’re going to fix that!

Decorating the Shot Glasses

I wanted to add some sparkle so I incorporated metallic elements onto the glass – and hid the advertising in the process! Below you can see a side-by-side comparison.festival-of-lights-027_finTo add alternating squares of silver and gold, you’ll need to gather up some clear double-sided tape, rub-on silver and gold foil, painters tape, a pencil, scissors, paper cutter, and the glossy paper backing from a sheet of labels or self laminating cards.

Place a piece of 1/2″ painters tape over the glossy side of the lable backing and mark 1/2″ increments on the tape with a pencil. The green tape is only there to help see where to mark it since the glossy side is too slick and the reverse side is pretty busy.hanukkah-108

Cut the strip of tape into 1/2″ squares with the paper cutter and peel off the green tape.hanukkah-111You’ll end up with the white squares shown below. Also cut some strips of silver and gold foil slightly wider than 1/2″:hanukkah-113To prevent the glass from rolling as I worked, I used a curved piece of wood I had, but you could also nestle it into a towel to keep it steady.

Measure a piece of  the double-sided tape to the length of the graphic you want to cover; 2″ was perfect for my shot glasses so I could create four 1/2″ squares with the foil. Apply the double sided tape right over the graphic on the glass. If you’re piece is too long, trim it back to 2″ using an X-acto knife.

You can see right through the tape, but not for long!hanukkah-119Take the square pieces cut earlier and apply two of them to the clear tape – glossy side down – leaving a 1/2″ space in between (you can use one of the squares as a spacer as shown below). The squares will stick temporarily to the tape and act as a mask where you don’t want the foil.hanukkah-130Apply the silver foil (dull side down) to the first exposed square and rub it well to adhere it to the tape. Carefully peel it back to expose the foil that’s stuck to the double-sided tape. Move on to the next exposed square with the same colour of foil and adhere it in the same way. If there are any spots that were missed, you can rub a fresh piece of foil onto those areas to fill in, but it doesn’t have to be perfect!hanukkah-103_finOnce the first two squares are done, remove the white squares that are still covering the tape. Apply the gold foil to those remaining squares. You’ll end up with alternating silver and gold metallic squares.hanukkah-140

Alternating squares of silver and gold are complete and oh so blingy!

hanukkah-141If you have a straight glass, you could do this foil treatment all the way around if you wish. My shot glasses are angled so I couldn’t apply the tape in a straight line around the entire glass without wrinkling it.

A big advantage with this method (if you opt for cheap double-sided tape from the dollar store) is that the metallic feature can easily be removed to restore the glass just by removing the tape!

Now that the glasses are out of the way, it’s on to the wicks!

Making and Testing the Wicks

I scouted the house for items I could use and found a roll of cotton twine and some metal snap components (you’ll only need the post part that’s shown on the right).


To that I added some tin foil, a metal skewer and a used K-cup that was headed for the garbage (good thing I started drinking coffee again). I tried many different experiments with other variations and was pleasantly surprised that this one worked so well! It may seem a bit far fetched that these few components  are going to create a sustainable wick, but if you follow the steps below you’ll end up with a beautiful display of light like I did.

hanukkah-0771. Tear off the top to open up the K-cup and expose the spent coffee grounds.

hanukkah-0782. There are many ways to recycle used coffee grounds (see this link for 14 great ideas). Wash the K-cup and cut the sides off it down to just the bottom + 1/16″ around the edge so you have a bit of a lip.

hanukkah-0803. Use an X-acto knife to cut an ‘X’ through the middle so you can insert a piece of cotton twine for the wick. I inserted the Xacto knife in the middle and then rocked it back and forth to each of the four corners of the ‘X’; I found that this gave me a precision cut.

Don’t worry about the original hole in the K-cup; the whole thing will get wrapped in foil.hanukkah-013_fin4. Wrap the plastic disk in foil. The picture below shows the disk face down – all the ends of foil get wrapped to the back. Poke a hole through the middle of the foil where the ‘X’ is in the plastic using a metal skewer (or you could even use a toothpick).hanukkah-003_fin5. Fill a shot glass about 3/4 full with water and then add in 1/2″ of olive oil into the water (the oil will float on top). Olive oil is a great option for the ‘fuel’; it burns clean and has no odor. There’s no need to buy extra virgin olive oil – regular cooking oil works just fine.

hanukkah-0316. Cut a piece of cotton twine to about the height of the glass and soak it in olive oil; I soaked it in the remaining oil in the spoon and allowed it to absorb for the tutorial, but will soak all the wicks at once assembly-style for the real set-up. Add more oil if you need it to be sure it’s thoroughly saturated. I have to say, with all the soaking I’ve done in olive oil, my hands have never looked so good!

Insert the ‘wick’  through the hole in the foil so some will be below the water line and some above the foil disk.  Note: the wick that’s below the waterline can be cut back to only the depth of the oil; it doesn’t need to extend into the water as shown on the video. You may need the skewer again to help poke it through – or if you have a wide eyed needle that you can thread, even better!  Float the disk on top of the water/oil combo in the glass; note that the rim of the disk should now be facing upward.

hanukkah-016Lastly, use the post portion from a metal stud and insert it on top of the foil disk, threading the wick through the centre of the post (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE PLASTIC FOR THE METAL):


Finally, it’s time to light it. My lighter ran out of fuel when I took this shot and just singed the wick, so I used my backup to light it.

hanukkah-047Success the second time; the ‘wick’ (aka cotton twine) lit beautifully!hanukkah-050_finI transferred the shotglass to the SATSUMAS stand to see how it would look; it burned there for at least an hour! To further enhance the display, I added a Star of David around the Shamash and magnets that spell ‘Hanukkah’ onto the vertical face of the metal top. If I have time I may apply the same foil rubbed treatment to the letters too!hanukkah-116_finThe foil disks bounce the light around and make it look magical. The foil also enhances the metallic foil that’s decorating the shot glasses. When I do another test before Hanukkah, I think I might line up the water level with the top of the metallic band around the glass. Once I see how that looks when it’s lit, I’ll decide the final water level.

My measurements may be different than yours because of the size of glass you use so if you are going to make this project for Hanukkah, be sure to test your own oil/water/glass container ratios to ensure your vessels will burn for at least 30 minutes every day and one-and-a-half hours on Friday evening (for Shabbat).hanukkah-112_finThis oil menorah is an upcycle that you can use over and over (but of course, you’ll need to replace the cotton twine for the wick each time). Don’t forget to soak the wicks in oil first before you light them and only use a metal snap.

Here is the menorah ready to add the wicks and oil to; I can’t wait to see it fully lit over the eight days of Hanukkah!hanukkah-146_fin

Be sure to check out the video of this tutorial on YouTube: Hanukkah Menorah Video Tutorial.

For those interested in the story and history behind Hannukah, you can read a bit about it in this recent article. This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on December 24th.

Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate and happy holidays to all! If I don’t post again this year, I’ll see you right back here in the New Year with more sustainable ideas!