Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Qulliq Reproduction

Soapstone lamp
This is a reproduction of an Inuit soapstone lamp, or qulliq, that will accompany the set of Inuit artifact props that I shared on Saturday.  I dragged my feet a little on this one and suggested some places around town where I'd hoped that the props department could find an Inuit artist to do the work.  This style of oil lamp is still made and used today, however, I guess they couldn't track one down in time, so they asked me to make one.    
Lamp with wood wick trimmer.  The wick
trimmer is important to tend to the flame and
spread the wick evenly along the edge of the
Behind my workshop, I found a nice piece of soapstone that I'd collected for a project like this years ago on the Baie Verte peninsula.  The finished lamp is about nine inches across.  I wanted it to look well made, but functional and worn.  I left some tool marks and finished it with layers of polish, sanding, and scratches.  I wanted it to have a nice form, but it should look like it's spent years travelling around the tundra by pack and dog sled.  I was secretly hoping that it would break so that I'd have an excuse to repair it with some holes and stitching, but it held up to the carving and test burns, so no luck there.
Burning lamp with a lamp stand.  This
is the back view of the lamp.  The
person tending the flame would sit on
the opposite side.

The bottom is flat, so it will sit level on a flat surface, but lamps would usually be elevated on a lamp stand.  The simplest stand would be three rocks at one end of the sleeping platform.  An elevated lamp will radiate heat for long after the flame has gone out.  The lamp burns oil, which would have usually been seal fat and the wicks would be arctic cotton or dry moss.  In this instance I'm using canola oil and cotton balls.  For filming, I'll suggest adding some floating chunks of fat in the oil.  The cotton forms a continous wick that burns along the top of the long straight edge and trails down into the oil.  I experimented a bit with the lamp last night to see how much tending it would need.  A wick that is soaked in oil, but isolated from the oil reservoir will burn on it's own for about 15-30 minutes.  If the wick is connected to the oil, it will burn continuously as long as the oil is replenished.

You can see the flat cotton wick in the flame along the edge of the pot.  The pot gets hot.  I have had soapstone lamps shatter from thermal shock, but if that is going to happen it should happen in the first five or ten minutes.  I've had this lamp burning for hours and it seems like a good piece of stone.

Top view.  I left some tool marks inside the lamp to emphasize that this is a functional lamp, not an art piece.

The underside has a more polished surface.  I wanted it to look like it spent as much of it's life tied to a sled as it did sitting lit on a stand.

Shallow lamp.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Hi Tim, I love your Inuit lamp! I am researching Palaeolithic lamps that might have illuminated cave art. Do you think the flame would look different, if you had used a moss or twig wick? Have you tried it? Do you have any film clips you would be willing to share? Thanks so much for any information, Yours Tamsin

    1. I recently got a quilliq in Alaska. Made out of fossilized bone. Could be very early. I'll show you pictures.


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