So, you think anyone can make candles. Well, now that I’ve made a hundred and have tried to teach my friends, I’m not so sure! I decided a month ago that I wasn’t going to wait for a TEOTWAWKI situation to figure out how to make them! I’m making them now and thought I would share my “lessons learned” with you. I know that all of us have plenty of flashlights, batteries, oil lamps and kerosene lanterns packed away. But if the poles shift and batteries don’t work, if you run out of oil and kerosene…. then candles might just be something you need to know how to make. Or at least stock up on them so you have them when you need them.
Please note that many of the links in this article are to youtube videos that will clearly show you how to do the things I am talking about.
You can use sand or fine dirt for a mold. Empty tin cans. Hollowed tree limbs. Milk cartons. Anything that is hollow. You can drill a hole in the bottom of it and tie your wick through it, or you can simply tie your wick around a penny or a small stone and drop that to the bottom of the container. There are numerous commercial molds on the market today. Stick with simple designs that do not waste space when stacked for storage.
If you want a clean mold, attach a copper-scouring pad over a bottlebrush to get down inside crevices and corners.
If you have a mold with a hole in the bottom such as one of the many pre-formed molds available on the market today, put your wick through the hole and then putty it securely shut. Once this is done, anchor the other end of the wick with a wood skewer, dowel, or metal rod at the other end.
There are three common types of wicks:
1. Cored wicks. These are basic braided wicks with a piece of metal wire in the middle providing sturdiness. (I do not recommend metal core wicks.)
2. Flat braided wicks. They look like a standard braided wick, but are flat.
3. Square braided wicks.
You can make your own wicks using three strips of heavy cotton string or yarn. Soak it in a mix of 1 tablespoon of sale, 2 tablespoons of boric acid and 1 cup of water for 12 hours. Hang to dry, then braid together.
To prime a cotton wick, dip it in hot wax and allow it to dry.
Wicks can also be twigs, piths (stems of plants). From an old kitchen cloth mop – use 1 strand from the braid as a wick. Twist strips of cotton and use as a wick. For longer burning candles, pre-wax the wick by soaking it in wax and allowing it to hang dry. (You can do 25 repeat dips to get a simple taper candle). 75 yards of wick at your local craft store will run about $10 with your 40% off coupon. Pre-waxed wicks are lightweight and can be stored rolled up inside newspaper.
Thick wicks are needed for larger diameter candles so the wax does not pool and burn out the flame. Thin wicks are used for narrow candles. Pre-waxed wicks burn longer.
There are over 100 wick sizes on the market. Most manufacturers have charts. Just make sure you use the same wick with the same manufacturer’s wax or it might not work.
The earliest known candles were made from whale fat in the 3rd century. And while I doubt I have whale fat in an emergency, I can probably find a beehive, tallow (animal fat) or fish. Boiling 15 pounds of bayberries will give you one pound of wax. Not profitable, but not impossible. If you live in a tropical area, coconut oil can be used as well as palm oil from palm trees. Olive oil from pressed olives is the most ancient oil used.
Commercial waxes that you can purchase include paraffin, veggie, bayberry, beeswax and pre-blended candle wax. Each type of wax has a different melting point. Beeswax will burn longer and with less odor than other waxes.
Did you know that Paraffin wax could also be used as an electrical insulator? Might be a handy product to pack in your BOB.
Wax must be heated until it is fluid. It does not need to boil. You don’t need a thermometer, but may want one if you use a variety of waxes, as each will have a different melting point. Do not melt wax in a pan directly over a burner. Put the pan with the wax inside a larger pan with boiling water. This will prevent any possibility of a fire.
Soy wax is new, and can be melted in a microwave. It’s very soft, so use it in a container, or add candle hardener.
When the wax is fluid, pour it into your mold or dip your wick into it.
Heat the bottom of the candle to make it flat if it wicks up the wick.
Use sandpaper to get a flat bottom.
Refurbishing old candles.
I pick up old candles at thrift stores, often for 50 cents each. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been burned or not as I will melt them down, use new wicks and pour new candles. It’s the least expensive method of getting wax. Some have been sitting on a shelf in someone’s house for years and need to be cleaned up. The best product on the market is called “Wax Away” and it can be used to clean old candles and make them look brand new. You can use a heat-it tool or hair dryer to smooth out flaws on the top or the sides of old candles.
Many used candles come with a thin colored film over it, or painted elements. These can be removed quite easily using a potato peeler.
Practice makes perfect:
My personal experience making candles has been filled with many mistakes in the learning process. Make sure the hole in the bottom is well plugged. You do not want a pint or so of hot wax running out the bottom and all over your counter, table and floor. If this does happen, quickly life the mold over the melting pan. Or have a stack of folded paper towels that you can use to stop the leak.
Research and study as much as you can before you start! There are great instructions on the web. But the key is to study before you start, not after!
If you have a mold with a hole in the bottom such as one of the many pre-formed molds available on the market today, put your wick through the hole and then putty it securely shut. After you’ve done this, then anchor the other end of the wick by tying it around a cross bar (wood skewers work great for this.)
When you first light a large candle, burn it for an hour so that the wax melts and is absorbed by the wick. If the wick drowns in the wax, your wick is too small, too narrow, or the wax is too soft and needs to have more hardener added to it.
The opposite is true. If there is no melt pool, or you get a flickering flame, your wick is too large, or your wax is too hard.
Always cut the wick to ¼” each time you light the candle. Do not burn in a draft as your candle will burn unevenly. Glass hurricanes work well to protect the candle from wind. If the wick was not well centered, the candle may burn unevenly as well.
And while candles cannot tell time, they can be used for timekeeping. Burn it 1” for study, 1” for prayer, 1” for duties, 1” for rest….you can divide up your day into equal periods of time burning a candle.
As you experiment and practice, you will learn the right sized wick for each mold that you have. I usually pour a candle once and burn it for an hour to see what will happen. I can easily re-melt the rest of the candle if I’ve made a mistake or need to correct something.
The difference between candles and oil (lamps):
Olive oil, any type of cooling oil, liquid fat or grease will work. You will need a container to put the oil in and a wick. The oil is drawn up the wick where it vaporizes and gets burned by the flame. A few ounces of oil will burn for several hours and in some cases, may be cheaper than candles. That’s not my case since I recycle old candles from thrift stores. But I would recommend storing wicks and oil as an alternative. Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable for eating, but for burning, and it is cheaper than cooking olive oil. For an oil lamp, you can use a kerosene wick – about 1” wide and flat. These will put off a great source of light. You can run a thin wire down the middle if you want the wick to stay in a certain position.
Finally, something to consider. If power goes out and something happens to where batteries will not work, and you run out of kerosene (heavy to pack) and oil, at least you will know how to make candles with something as simple as beeswax or tallow, plant piths and sand or fine dirt. I highly recommend practicing now so you have these skills when needed.