The Art Of Candle Making

Greetings everyone this actually represents the third article in the “Lost Arts” series . This series of articles is dedicated to the return of many Lost Arts. The First article was my article on making Mead and the second was on Trading.

Before we start I will warn you all ; that in working with hot wax you may burn yourself  ; so Be careful and take every precaution ! We assume NO responcibility for any actions you make take in making your own candles ; This article is only an informative guide.

   In the Middle ages or even just a hundred years ago ,people did all their everyday chores themselves. Things such as Soap making , Candle making , brewing , sausage making , mustard making , growing herbs , weaving and carding , as well as dying their own fabric. These are just a few of the things that every family would do for themselves.

      By our present day and age ; less than a hundred years later most of this information has become lost to the individual . I grew up wanting to learn so many of these things and there was no-one to teach me . It has taken me years to accumulate the knowledge to do these things myself . The knowledge was so common at one time people believed that if would never be necessary to write it down.  So when looking for this information there are few articles and even fewer books and of the few that do exist many of them are not very good.  All these Lost arts have become specialized ; much as the guilds were in the middle ages.

     So to try and reintegrate this knowledge I will write several more of these articles in the next few weeks. This one is dedicated to Candle making.

   In the middle ages most people made their own candles , but as I have said before ; these days it is a “Lost Art”.

   Candles have been made in many different ways with different types of wax and as many types of wicks as you can imagine. In the middle ages the most common type of candle was made with a combination of bees wax and lard ; however almost any type of oil can be added to bees wax . You can add almost fifty percent oil to the wax and it will still retain a semi-solid form. The Catholic church had rules about the “Purity of candles and still does. For them to be used in a Catholic church , they still have to be about sixty percent pure bees wax.  In many places they used Bay Berry wax to make candles ; I have always wanted to try this , but unfortunately the wax is very expensive ; so I haven’t had the opportunity to try it.

   Perhaps the most important thing in making candles is the wicks. In the middle ages many materials were used to make wicks . Some of these include : Flax , Hemp , and cotton . ( But not wool) Really anything that will burn can be used to make wicks.  The best way to test a material to see if it will make a good wick is to dip it in wax and light it . If it burns well , it will probably make a good wick . If it goes out easily it probably won’t be good for making wick. If it does not burn well you can try twisting two or three pieces of wick together. ; sometimes this will make the wick burn better. In earlier times the wick would simply be dipped in wax ; straightened and left to dry ; then it would be dipped. Today they have modern wicks that actually have metal running through them to keep them straight. I do not recommend these !  When you buy this type of candle and burn it you actually see little pools of metal at the base of your burning candle wick. To me this is very distressing. The advantage to using this type of wick is really not worth the sacrifice of the integrity of a beautiful hand made candle.

     Before we start making candles I need to tell you the two most important things about making candles . The first I have already mentioned and that is that the wicks need to burn well ; the second is “The Diameter of the Wick Must be matched to the Diameter of the Candle ! “

    In other words if the wick is too wide or the candle too narrow the candle will burn too fast . If the wick is not wide enough or the wax is too wide the candle will sputter and go out.  The best way to find out if the wick is too wide or too narrow is to experiment .

   In our modern times we have a substitute for bees wax which is called Paraffin ; however this is a very dangerous substitute for making candles in as much as it has a very low flash point. So I do not recommend using paraffin either.

   So before you begin making candles you need several things : First Wax  I prefer bees wax and usually the best way to acquire bees wax is from a bee keeper.  In your travels watch for signs along the road that say “Honey for Sale”. If someone has honey for sale ; they probably have Bees wax as well . If you are going to make candles on  a regular bases I would recommend buying wax whenever you see if offered for sale. The current value for wax is about Three dollars a pound. Remember that ; if you’re paying more than that ; you’re  paying too much . If you’re paying less buy as much as you can !

   Second is Wick ; I prefer either Hemp yarn or cotton wick. A good cotton string about one sixteenth inch diameter in width usually makes a good candle. Hemp string or yarn is usually available in many of the “ Head Shops” . Hemp yarn makes wonderful candles and can be a little wider ( about one eighth of an inch or slightly larger)

          Finally you will need to set up a “Double Boiler type” wax melting pot. First you need to buy or acquire a wax pot . You can order these from a variety of places ( unfortunately I never can seem to find them .) or you can make your own rather simply . You can use an empty Bordens Egg Nog can simply cut the top out of it and you can use it for up to eight inch candles . (The cans are only about seven and a half inches high ; but by angling the candles you can make them eight inches.)

       If you desire longer candles simply buy a water tight aluminum paper box and cut it off the appropriate length . ( Which should be about an inch longer than the length of candle you want to make.) Paper boxes are normally around four inches wide while the egg  nog cans are about three. While this is not important in itself ; the smaller the diameter of the wax pot the smaller the initial investment in wax . ( Which will never be used; since you will constantly reuse this initial amount of wax.)

   Though not necessary a wood dowel about three eight’s inch in diameter and one and a half to two foot long will come in handy . You will also need a Sharp knife and a Cutting board. ( And I do mean a Sharp Knife !) Also a Candle holder that you intend to use will be helpful. You may also want some nonstick Teflon lined muffin or cake pans to pour the leftover wax into when you are finished making your candles.

   The final item you will need is an old pot ; buy one at salvation army or anywhere as long as it is cheap and you feel you can ruin it with wax. This will be your water pot for your double boiler. The chief concern of this pot is that it is not too wide in as much as the wax pot will be in the center of this one and this pot will be at least half full of water . The water level in the double boiler should be about half the height of the wax pot. If the water pot is too wide ; the wax pot will start to float. If the wax pot floats when it is only half full of wax the water pot is to wide. So in sort ; place wax in the wax pot until it is about half full then place it in your other pot that you will use as a double boiler and add water until it is about half full and about half way up the side of the wax pot. ( the double boiler system is one which keeps the direct heat off the wax and thereby reduces the risk of “Flash Fires”)[Which is actually rather low with bees wax , but very high with paraffin )

    When you buy Bees Wax it will most likely come in very large “Cakes” ; ranging from about three to ten pounds all the way up to several hundred pounds . Before it can be used it will need to be chopped down into small pieces . To do this I recommend a very large and heavy butcher knife or cleaver. If you cool the wax first ( to about forty degrees [Put it in the refrigerator]) it will be much easier to chop. It should be chopped down into one and a half to two inches squares ( Approximately ; there’s no way you’ll every get perfect cubes unless you cast the wax into some thing like muffin pans) in order to make ten pairs of candles you will need at least five pounds of chopped wax . (Hand dipped candles are always made in pairs.)

So that you may keep up with the demand  I suggest having a preheating wax pan also this will be a small pan ; it should only hold about  four ounces of wax. Heat it on a very low temperature so as not to cause “Flash Fires” . Never heat more wax than you will be pouring into the wax pot each time! And Never allow wax to burn ( turn black in color) in your preheat pan ; if this happens you’re got the heat too high !  Also before making candles you should always put on some old clothes . ( Since you will always get wax on yourself while making candles)

    Okay , so now you are ready to start. Cut your wicks double the length of your candles plus about eight to ten inches . For instance ; if you are making eight inch candles ; Multiply eight by two ( you get sixteen) and add eight inches ; so your wicks would be twenty-four inches long to start . Bend the wicks into a “U” shape and dip only the ends of the “U” into the wax up to  about the eight inch mark . This will leave and eight inch stretch of wick between the two candles for holding onto or for hanging. Hold them straight until they dry.

     After the initial dip of the wicks they will need to dry so that they will be stiff before you try to make candles with them . For this reason I would suggest that you make the wicks a day or more before you get ready to make candles this will also save a lot of time when making large numbers of candles.

   Now you are ready to dip . Start with your water pot and fill it half full of water . (heat the water) Then fill the wax pot  half full of wax chunks and place the wax and the pot in the water pot. Set you four ounce preheat pan on the stove and start melting some wax ( this is to get the wax pot full quicker. )[This is also where the wood dowel will come in handy] Use the wood dowel to stir the wax chunks in the wax pot until they are completely melted. Now start pouring your preheated wax into the wax pot . ( Do not put any more chunks into the wax pot in as much as it takes an extremely long time to melt them in the wax pot .)

     Now take your predipped wicks (that should be dry and stiff by now ) hold them in the centers of the undipped top part of the wicks. Or the middle of the “U”. Grab the wick on both sides of the “U” just above the wax dipped part and in a smooth motion , briskly move the wicks into the wax pot until they touch the bottom and remove them very quickly .( If you don’t do this very fast ; you will melt off the wax you have already added) If you are going to make candles you should always try to make at least twenty pairs at a time. The reason for this is by the time you get to the twentieth pair the first pair will have dried enough to be dipped again .

  If you are dipping too fast you will get swirls around your candles . This is an indication they are still too warm to dip again and they need to cool more. Make about six dips ; then you should start straightening your candles ; in other words the wicks will have bends in them and you will want to make them straight ; but if you try to straighten too early you will break your candles ; so wait until after your sixth dip . Don’t be afraid to bend your candles to get them straight. If they “Break” you’re not letting them cool enough.

  As you go along you will need to replenish the wax . So whenever the wax pot gets about an inch low add more wax ( you will probably need to keep your four ounce refilling pot going all the time ) Never add hard wax into your wax pot ! The hard wax takes a very long time to melt in the bottom of the pot and will stick to the bottoms of your candles.

  As you dip your candles you will notice several things ; first as you dip them they will form tails on the bottom ends of your candles . These will need to be trimmed off . So after about the tenth dip slice off these tails .( this is where the sharp knife comes in ) the tails will be about three quarters of an inch to one inch . Just slice them off to the ends of the wicks. Do this every ten dips .

There are two or three other things you may notice ; first you may notice bubbles in your candles ; if you do you can and should get rid of them by smoothing them in with the back of your finger nail. Second you may notice some Bee parts in the wax or on the candles . If they are in the wax don’t worry about them ; if they are on the candles ; remove them . Occasionally you may get a “Wick Hair “ sticking at right angles out of your candles if you do; trim them off with either a sharp knife or some scissors . Finally you may notice an “Uneven Dip” this occurs when you get a large bubble of air trapped on one side of your candles ; to correct this ; dip your candle back in the hot wax and “Melt Off” the runs ; do this by swirling the candle in a circle until the run is melted.

           Thorough-out the process of making your candles ; from the sixth dip on keep constantly straightening. After the tenth dip you will alternate between a full dip and a partial dip . This partial dip should be alternately one half , three quarters and one quarter. In other words  eleven would be a half dip twelve would be a whole dip thirteen would be three quarters , fourteen a whole dip and fifteen would be one quarter ; then keep repeating the whole process until you are done . Sixteen would be a whole dip and seventeen would be a half again. It should take between twenty-six and thirty dips to finish your candles. When you get to the twentieth dip trim the tails off the bottoms again.

  When you get to about twenty-five you should start checking the diameter of your candles with the candle holder you intend to use. They should be dipped one or two dips beyond the width of the candle holder so that they will fit tight . About three dips before you are done ; make your finale trim on the bottoms. From now on you will flatten the bottoms every-time you make a dip . To do this you can use a cookie sheet , a stove top or even a cutting board. Simply dip and then touch down your candles (before they dry) on the top of the stove or the cookie sheet. If you do this three times this will give you a nice flat bottom. If you do this correctly and well ; the candles will then stand up by themselves on almost any flat surface.

        When you are finished use the “U” end of the candles to hang them on the wall. Enjoy the wonderful fragrance of the honey they produce . If you choose place some decorations on the outside of your candles before the finale dip. If you only place one or two  coats of wax over them ; they will show through.

One final thing “Be Careful” Hot wax can Burn !  If you’re burning yourself you’ve probably got your Wax Too Hot!

  Well there you have it I hope this Helps you to make your own hand dipped candles. Below is again the list of materials you will need to make candles

  Wax pot (Bordens Egg Nog can or Water tight Paper Box)
  Double Boiler pot ( to put the wax pot in.)
  Bees Wax (chopped into cubes about one to two inches)
  Wood Dowel ( three eight’s inch ; eighteen inches long)
  Wicks ( usually between twenty-four and thirty-four inches long)
  Cutting board ( to place the candles on while trimming
  A Sharp knife ( For trimming the bottom of candles )
  A Cleaver or Large Heavy Knife (for chopping wax.)
  A Candle Holder ( for measuring your candles.)

Well I hope I have given you all the information you will need . I’ve put down every relevant thing I can think of.