Large Scale Central

Smoke Fluid - Revisited

This topic never fails to get responses - for dedicated large scalers, a discussion of smoke fluid is what a salt lick is to deer.

So the not famous research study I conducted years ago on five brands of smoke fluid is still topical. Get your keyboard ready.

Basis for Study: Five LGB motionless locomotives were used with their LGB (Seuth) smoker at the ready. Each loco received one of the five brands of smoke fluid and were activated simultaneously with 15 volts from an excessive 15 amp power system.

Criteria of Measurement: Each was timed for smoke duration. Each was noted as to what smoke fluid remained, if any, when the smoking ceased. Each was subjected to the assessment of smoke plume density.

Products in Study: Off-the-shelf products included LGB’s pricey elixir, Aristo, Bachmann, San Val (now defunct), and WalMart’s lamp oil.

Outcome: As to duration, LGB and the lamp oil were within a minute ahead of the others. Smoke plume density was similar to all. A cry of exclusion was made when the five were favored and Department 74’s smoke fluid was declined. Since is was Christmas time, Department 74 (or is it 54?) had displays of their huge inventory of Christmas buildings and the fluid was available. It was thicker in viscosity yet performed similar to the others.

Assessment: All of this nonsense added conversation to why not buy the lamp fluid or lamp oil or whatever the brand calls it. For certain it is much cheaper! For certain, the product NOT to use is Tiki Torch fluid – because if will do as advertised and burn!

Until we get sooty black smoke I don’t much care and with batteries don’t use it.

Did you try the scented? Any make you sneeze?

Snake oil? What kind of snake?

There I’ve done me duty.

Have a nice day.


I am dieing to know how you measured smoke plume density. Please, please tell me you just eye balled it. I am being sarcastic, I actually like your approach because it is a real world evaluation. I wont be using a smoker so it is only of passing concern to me. But it is a valuable test for those like me who will use it. If lamp oil works in the real world and is cheap and available it would be what I would use based on this test.

I would caution folks to not use lamp oil. Yes it works, yes its less expensive then “real” smoke fluid. But I tried in in my Bachmann Shay, and it must have ignited, and I didn’t notice. Good news, I didn’t burn down my Shay. Bad news, the bottom end of the stack, only the part that fits inside the locomotive, is melted and bubbled. From the outside, all the observer may notice is the stack wobbles around a bit when the Shay is running. There is no visible external damage. Yes, I used lamp oil, the same type as shown on George Shreyer’s website. No, I didn’t have flames in any of my other locomotives. But from now on, my lamp oil goes only in my lamps.

Thanks David,

These are the kinds of info that are actually useful. This whole conversation is based on practical application and real world not the hypothetical.

I am using 50/50 BBQ lighter fluid/Tiki oil, MTH, USAT, ARISTO and like the results.

I like the Mega Smoke, I use the coal smell and like it.

Jerry Barnes said:

I like the Mega Smoke, I use the coal smell and like it.

Wow! I hope you Don’t use that stuff in a closed room Jerry.

David Maynard’s comment above warning use of lamp oil because of flammability is certainly reasonable. The “key” feature is the flammability - some brands of lamp fluids were not volatile from heating. Granted it has been a few years since the testing of the lamp products – check Wal Mart’s offering and read the labels. It may be David’s caution fits all now.

Wendell, since it only happened in one of my locomotives, I suspect that maybe, just maybe, that unit got hotter then the other ones. But how will I know what units will get that hot at 12 volts? Or 14 volts? Or 18 volts? I decided, that for me, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Excellent question: What is the voltage, consistently, of the smokers? Early LGB Stainz had 18 volt units - this is data I was told by a dealer a zillion years ago. I know some of the smoker packaging has smoke units listed at 5 volts. The literature has reported 5 volts and the reason is the loco’s electronic board reduces the voltage to 5 volts for the smoker and lighting. So what is the trusted number? The “study” was done with 15 volts running on the track to each of the locos. I know none of the locos had an 18 volt smoker. A voltage meter was used to affirm.

The lamp fluid used didn’t result in any fire – I have used it for 10 years and no fires. So what is the content variable in the brands that causes fire from “overheating” at 5 volts? 18 volts? Good question.

I wonder if chicken oil would produce smoke. I didn’t mess with household items (vegetable oil, Pam, etc. )to see if they would smoke - other than a light wax (wax used in home canning) which simply made a mess and didn’t stay fluid.

It’s not the voltage, it’s the power given off, which is related to watts of heat generated, which is volts times amps of the heating coil… the operating voltage can vary of the “unit”… seuth makes 5, 12 and 18 volt units I believe… USAT and Aristo have 12 volt units, but they normally apply a regulated voltage to the heater.

To make it more complicated, different heating units will have different surface temperatures depending on construction.

A small heating unit consuming 5 watts will be much hotter than a larger one consuming the same amount of power.


Greg, and that is where I was at. What ones will get hot enough to ignite the lamp oil? The one that seamed to have ignited the oil, was a Bachmann unit in the Shay. Was it regulated? I think so, but I am not positive. I know usually I run the Shay with about 14 volts on the rails. Would it have ignited at 12 volts on the rails? I don’t know. Maybe it ignited when it was low and almost dry. I don’t know.

Bottom line, for me, I just didn’t want to risk anymore damage. I had no problems with the lamp oil in my LGB and Aristo smoke units, but I didn’t know how thin that margin was. Could I, possibly, cross the line and have another fire in a different locomotive someday? I paid too much money for my locomotives, to char broil them, to save a buck or 2 on smoke fluid.

At about the time I had that issue, Aristo had a sale on cases of smoke fluid. So I bought a case of the Aristo fluid. Right now I still have an ample enough supply of the Aristo fluid.

Note that LGB used over 6 volts on the 5 volt smoke units in older engines. Same for the lights.

One of my engines (NON DCC) measured 6.5 volts and gives great smoke and still has the original smoke unit.