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The Art of Candle Making

Starting out...

Making your own candles is fun, and hand-crafted candles make great gifts! It requires very little special equipment. You'll need a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the melted wax and plenty of newspaper to work on (and spill on). You'll need some kind of wax, wicks, and either a mold (to make molded candles) or tin cans (to use for dipping candles).

Although paraffin has come to be the chief ingredient in almost all candles, there are other materials you can use. Beeswax can be expensive, because modern day beekeepers don't harvest the honey comb. However, you can still buy beeswax at craft stores, or you can make your own if you want to keep a bee hive and are willing to sacrifice some honey. Tallow, made by renering animal fat can also be used. Beef fat is best, but sheep fat will work as well. Use 1/2 pound of alum and 1/2 pound of salt peter to each pound of melted tallow to harden the candles and make them burn cleaner. Bayberry, made from the tiny wax-coated fruit of the bayberry shrub, is a favorite for Christmas candles. Gathered berries are boiled in hot water for 2 hours, then the green fat is skimmed off the top, re-boiled and strained.

Note.When melting wax, a double boiler (a pan use to melt the wax, that sits inside a pan filled with water)should be used.
Paraffin, a petroleum byproduct, is by far the easiest and least expensive material for making candles today. It comes in several grades, the hardest of which can be found at craft stores. One 10-pound slab makes about 4 quarts of liquid wax. For firmer, ber-burning candles, add 3 tbsp of powdered stearin per pound of paraffin.

To make wicks the colonial way, soak heavy cotton yarn for 12 hours in one of these solutions:

  • 1 tbsp salt combined with 2 tbsp boric acid and 1 cup of water, OR
  • A mixture of turpentine, lime water and vinegar.
When the yarn is dry, braid 2 or 3 strands together to form the wick. The easier way is to buy ready-made wicks at your craft store. Be sure that the wicks you buy fit the candles you plan to make. A wick that is too large will cause your candle to smoke, too small will cause the flame to go out.

You can buy dyes for wax at most craft stores or candlemaking supply company . Dyes come in solid (cakes or chips), powdered or liquid form. To know how much dye to use, you should test the color of the dye by dripping a little bit of the melted wax onto a white piece of paper and letting it dry. The actual candle color will be darker than what you see on the paper, but this should give you an idea of the finished color, and you can adjust the amount of dye accordingly. You can also try using leftover stubs and pieces of old candles. We do not recommend using crayons to color candles, unless the candle won't be burned. Crayons contain pigments that can drown out the flame, giving you a poor burning candle.

Fragrance oils can be purchased at many craft stores, candlemaking supply companies, and specialty fragrance companies. For best quality (and for the best burning candles), it is best to use oils that are specifically made for use in candles. The air freshener type oils you see in grocery and drug stores will work, but they may not blend as well with the wax. The oil should be pure oil with no water or alcohol base. You'll want to experiment with the amount of fragrance oil. Some candlemakers use anywhere from 3 to 10% fragrance per pound of wax, some measure in tablespoons and use from 1 to 3 tablespoons per pound, and some measure in ounces and use from 1/4 oz. to 1/2 oz. per pound.

Essential oils (commonly referred to as EO's) are all natural oils derived from plants and fs - not artificially composed like fragrance oils. They are generally more concentrated and stronger than many fragrance oils (and much more expensive). Candlemakers have differing opinions as to whether EO's should be used to scent candles, due to their ability to bind with the wax. Some candlemakers have success with them using a special dilutant agent and some say they work fine on their own. But many have said they do not blend and burn well. If you want to try using EO's, it would be best to get a book on aromatherapy and do some research before experimenting. Many of these oils should be handled very carefully.

Dipping candles:
You'll need two tall cans (taller than the candles you'll be making). Melt the wax by

  1. Filling a wide-bottomed pan (large enough to completely cover the burner) half-full of water. Place the pan over a low heat.
  2. Put your paraffin into the can and place the can in the water.
Never try to melt wax in a container set directly over a burner or flame.

Keep the melted wax at 150°-180°F during the dipping procedure. The second can should contain water about room temperature. Cut wicks 4 inches longer than the finished candle. Tie a washer to the end of each wick for weight. Dip the wicks individually into the melted wax - or tie several to a piece of doweling and dip several at a time. Pull up smoothly and dip in cooling can. After cooling the first dip, pull the wicks straight. It will take about 30-40 dips to make a candle 1 inch in diameter. For the final dip, add an extra tbsp of stearin per pound of wax to harden the candle's outer layer. Cut the candle base straight with a sharp, heated knife and trim the wick to 1/2 inch.

Molded candles:
Just about anything can be used for a candle mold: cardboard milk cartons, heavy glass mugs or old jelly jars, plastic foam cups, old plant containers. Start by coating the inside of the mold with oil or silicone spray to make the candle easier to remove. Some molds, like milk cartons, may need to be secured by tying string around the middle and base so that it holds its shape.

Cut a hole in the bottom of the mold. Thread wick through the hole and seal the hole with putty. Pull wick tight and secure at the top of the mold by wrapping the end around a pencil or dowel.

Melt wax as described above. For pouring wax, you might want to use a coffee can or other container that you can bend - just pinch/bend the rim to make a pouring spout. Heat the wax to 130°F for cardboard, plastic or glass molds, and 190°F for metal molds. Lift the can with potholders and pour the wax into the molds. Let the molds cool for 24 hours, then refrigerate for another 12 hours. Cardboard or plastic molds can be peeled off. For glass or metal molds, turn the mold upside down and tap until the candle slides out. If it sticks, dip the mold in hot water.

Layered Candles:
These will take a little longer to make, as you'll need to give each layer time to harden before pouring in the next color. Choose contrasting colors for a nice effect. Another interesting effect is to alternate a layer of fine sand between the colored layers of wax. Mix the sand with a little bit of melted wax, then pour in around the outside edges of your mold. Let the next layer of colored wax fill in the center.

Lacy Candles:
This is a neat effect. Use a milk carton or other cardboard mold. Fill the carton with ice cubes, and then pour in your melted wax. For a solid base, pour about an inch of melted wax into the bottom of the mold, wait until it hardens just slightly, then add ice cubes and wax to fill the rest of the mold. When the candle cools, peel the cardboard off carefully.

Dripping Candle Effect:
Take a finished molded candle and enhance it by dripping a different color wax down the sides. Just light a tapered candle and hold it sideways over your molded candle, allowing the wax to drip down the side.

TIPS! *Candles should age for at least a week before use.
*Smooth rough spots on the candles by rubbing with a nylon stocking.
*To make candles burn longer and drip less, give them a light coat of clear varnish.
*Always test burn your candles before you give them as a gift or sell them.

Re-Use Old Candles:
Don't throw away old candle stubs. Melt them down and make more candles.

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