An Introductory Guide to Candle Making
With the advent of mass-produced candles in the 19th century (not to mention electric lights), candle making disappeared from the list of regular, ongoing household chores. But machine-made candles just don't have the lovely shapes or the lush colors of homemade candles. And even learning the basics of the craft provides rich rewards. The tools and methods of home candle making are almost as simple today as they were five thousand years ago. Here, you'll learn how to make poured candles using melted wax, as well as rolled and cutout candles using sheets of wax. The results are not just beautiful, but they're also useful and make excellent gifts.
Tools and Materials
First, you'll need your wax and additives. Good quality wax will burn cleanly and slowly. All-natural beeswax ($19.99, michaels.com) has a gorgeous pale golden color and a faint honey scent. Soy wax ($11.99, michaels.com), made from soy-beans, is another natural option. Petroleum-based paraffin wax ($7.49, michaels.com) is less expensive and sold in bead pellets. Wax is sold in blocks for poured candles and in sheets for rolled and cut candles; sheets are usually beeswax. For poured candles, you can save money by mixing beeswax with a paraffin that has a similar melting point (it will be marked on the package), but use a majority of beeswax to retain its characteristic pale shade. Additives—stearic acid is a common one—are often used to make paraffin wax harder, the colors more opaque, and the candles slower to burn. You can buy wax that already includes additives, and formulations specifically for votive candles, pillars, or other shapes, but a general purpose wax should suit most projects.
Then you'll need molds. You'll find that the number of molds available today is impressive and inspiring. Simple shapes like rounds, ovals, squares, and stars are often made of metal (from $7.65, etsy.com). More intricate molds may be made of plastic or flexible rubber (from $6, etsy.com). Dyes used to tint melted wax come in several forms, including blocks, cakes, chips, flakes, and liquids. The ArtMinds Liquid Dye Color Kit ($9.99, michaels.com) is a good beginner's starter bundle; add drops to the melted wax gradually until the desired color is reached.
Last but not least, you'll need a wick to burn. Your candle mold should come with instructions as to which type of wick to use, but in general, you'll use thinner wicks for small candles and thicker wicks for larger candles. (If a wick is too thin, the flame will be small and may be snuffed out while burning. If a wick is too thick, the flame will melt the wax too quickly.) Check to see that the wick will work with your wax type; flat braided cotton ($19.99, michaels.com) is a good general purpose wick. Square-braided cotton wicks are sturdier and good for larger candles. Cored wicks, usually with a zinc core, are stiffer. Use this type for votive and container candles, and make sure to use wicks with metal tabs on one end (you can buy wicks with tabs, or purchase the tabs separately and put them on yourself) to help the wicks stand up.
Adding fragrance to handmade candles is not necessary—in fact, it's almost a shame to cover up the subtle honey scent of pure beeswax. If you wish to make scented candles, however, use natural essential oils or fragrance oils intended for candle making, as some oils are flammable. Natural essential oils ($52 for four, vitruvi.com), the more costly of the two, are extracted from the bark, berries, roots, or seeds of a plant. Their names reflect the plants they're derived from—peppermint oil and lavender oil are two popular essential oils. Fragrance oils ($9.99 for three, michaels.com), which are usually mixed with synthetic oils or substances, can be made to mimic the scents of essential oils, so you'll also find peppermint and lavender fragrance oils. Oils with whimsical names—"Fresh Laundry" or "Christmas Morning"—are fragrance oils. People can be sensitive to both essential oils and fragrance oils, so use them very carefully and extremely sparingly, according to package instructions.
Create candles in any shade by mixing custom colors with a ratio of amount of wax shavings used to tint one pound of bleached beeswax. However, the process isn't an exact one—the results depend both on the size of shavings and the brand of colorant used. Experiment to find colors you love—and keep your own notes about how much colorant you use so you can re-create the results if you like.
How to Make Basic Poured Candles
To prepare the mold, coat the interior with mold-release spray or nonstick cooking spray. Fix a length of wicking to the mold according to its instructions (wick putty can be used to keep the wax from leaking out; strong tape also works).
Turn the mold over. Place a pencil, skewer, or stick across the opening of the mold. Pull the wick up the center of the mold and tie it to the stick, so that it will remain taut once the wax has been poured. Melt wax in the microwave at 30-second intervals until fully liquified.
Pour the melted wax into the prepared mold until it is about 1 1/2 inches below the rim. Using pot holders, place the filled mold in a cold-water bath—a bucket works fine. (This will cool the wax more quickly, but it is an optional step.) Let the mold sit for about 30 minutes. As air bubbles rise to the top, a small well will form around the wick. Insert a long, thin instrument, such as a wooden skewer, into the well to allow air bubbles to escape, then fill the well 3/4 full with more melted wax. Repeat the process again after 45 minutes, then remove the mold from the water bath. Allow the mold to cool and harden completely, up to 24 hours.
Remove the putty from the bottom to release the wick. Working from the other end, gently pull the candle from the mold. The end that was at the base of the mold will be the top of the candle. Trim that wick to 1/4 inch, and the wick at the other end (which was attached to the pencil) flush with the candle.