So, you like candles? Of course, you do! What other items can add romance, mystery, and elegance to any setting for only a few dollars? While candles can easily be purchased in a wide variety of stores, some prefer to craft their own. Be it frugality or simple pickiness that motivates you, candles are incredibly easy to make, and I’ll show you how.
First, I’ll help you select a wax. This is the complicated part, but only if you want it to be. There’s nothing wrong with plain old paraffin wax, but far be it from me to choose for you, so I’ll help you choose exactly what you want.
Next up, we’ll go through the actually melting of the wax and making of the candle. There are numerous ways to do this, but I’ll only go into detail on the big ones.
If all that’s not enough to sate your hunger for candle-making knowledge, I’ll give you a few ideas for some projects with extra spiffiness after we’re done with all the other hullabaloo. Ready? Good!
Without wax, you don’t have a candle, you have a fuse. The wax of a candle gives the flame something to burn without destroying the wick immediately. There are a few different kinds of wax, and they each have their own traits to keep in mind. How can you pick the right one for you? Easy!
The two big factors to look at when you’re buying candle wax are melting point and flashpoint. Melting point is the temperature at which the wax… well, melts! Generally, the warmer the area is where the candle is going to be used, the higher a melting point you want. This will make your candle last longer. Flashpoint is the point at which the wax will burst into flame. Obviously, it’s best to have this nice and high, as flaming wax is very dangerous and exploding wax is even worse!
- Paraffin Wax
One of the most commonly used types of wax; paraffin is petroleum-based and generally cheaper than other kinds of wax. It usually comes in chunks or a powder. It can be purchased either pre-colored or without any pigments added so that you can make it whatever color you like.
Paraffin Wax is also often used to make wax crystals, which can be molded by hand or used to fill a mold. It comes in bags and can be purchased pre-scented and pre-colored.
Beeswax comes from… wait for it… bees! Beeswax comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: sheets, blocks, chunks, or little spheres. Beeswax actually has a melting point so low that you can warm it with your hands and shape it that way! This makes it ideal for projects for children or people who (like me) are far too clumsy and accident-prone to be fiddling around with melting things.
Beeswax is more expensive, but also has its own natural scent, so there’s no need for fragrances. If you decide to use beeswax in a mold, you should get some candle hardener so that the final product will hold its shape better. Also, when the wax cools in the mold, it will shrink quite a bit, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough wax left to fill in the gap.
- Soy Wax
You really can make anything out of soybeans! Soy wax is, as you can imagine, the choice for environmentally-minded candles. It’s biodegradable, a renewable resource, and burns cleaner. Like beeswax though, this wax shrinks a lot, so you’ll need to top off any molds you use. Also, it’s even softer than beeswax, so you’re going to need to use lots of hardeners and a bigger wick.
As an added bonus, soy wax can be melted in the microwave. Nice and easy!
- Gel Wax
Gel wax is how those candles that have bubbles in them are made. It’s a combination of mineral oil and a substance that gets the oil all goopy. It’s clear and rubbery and reminds me of hair gel. The longer it’s heated, the less “bubbly” the final product.
This is a very dangerous wax, however, since it has such a high melting point. You have to watch this stuff like a hawk when you’re heating it. If you don’t, and it hits the flashpoint, it’s going to have explosive results! I strongly recommend avoiding the use of this wax until you’re confident in what you’re doing.
Something similar is Jelly Candle Wax. Pre-colored, pre-scented, and no melting! It comes in a squeezable tube that’s just perfect for kids to use.
Fragrances and colors are the most common candle additives. Scents are generally liquids that are poured into the melted wax and are fairly straightforward. Colors come in chunks, either “chips” or “buds.” Some colors are pigments, meaning they aren’t going to melt. They have to be stirred into the candle and aren’t really meant to color the entire thing, so be careful what you’re buying. For added “cool factor,” some of these colors are blacklight-responsive. Groovy, man.
Stearine (AKA stearic acid) hardens wax that has a low melting point and lowers the melting point of wax that has a high one. It’s an animal product, but if that’s an issue for you, there are vegetable-based substitutes available.
Luster crystals and clear crystals are polymers that change the final look of your candle. Luster crystals give the candle more of a glimmery, opaque appearance, and clear crystals will give the candle a bit of a glow. They also act as a hardener.
Another hardener you can get is Vybar. There are different versions for different waxes, so read your labels carefully. It will give your candles a creamy texture and also help the scent from any fragrances travel better. Adding too much will deaden the scent though.
Putting your candles somewhere sunny? You’d better get some UV inhibitor. Purple and red candles fade very quickly in sunlight, so you’ll need it if those are your colors of choice.
Starburst Wax adds a snowflake-like pattern to the outside of a candle. Once you’ve got a candle finished, hold it by the wick and dip it quickly into some starburst wax. Poof! Snowflakes!
Microcrystalline Wax will help tapers stay rigid, keep pillars from looking mottled, and help wax stay where it belongs inside of a container. It comes in different grades for different purposes and can either harden or soften the wax, depending on which one you get.
Of course, if you want your candles to be mottled, you can. Adding a couple of tablespoons of mineral oil per pound of wax will give you a more mottled look.
No, you’re not done making decisions yet. You have to pick a wick. You’ll need to choose a size, as well as decide whether or not you want a core, a braid, and wax with your wick. Ultimately, you’re just going to have to experiment, but I can give you some pointers.
A bigger candle needs a bigger wick. If your wick is too small, you’re not going to melt all the wax. If it’s too big, it’s going to smoke. Generally, every wick you can buy is going to give you an idea of the packaging of what size it’s for, so I won’t bore you with details.
For core, your options are going to be cotton, paper, or metal. A core will help a wick stand up in a gel candle or a votive. Paper burns hottest and metal, the coldest. Remember the melting point of your wax? That’s how you pick.
Waxed wicks are good when you have a wax that doesn’t draw up into the wick very well. That way, they’ll slow down their own burn.
Braided candles are designed to curl over as they burn, and are good for pillars. Square-braids go well with beeswax and flat-braids with paraffin.
Making the Candle
Alright, meat and potatoes time! You’ve chosen your wax and concocted a delicate blend of coloring and fragrance to achieve waxy perfection. Let’s get down to business
First things first, realize you’re probably going to make a mess. Put on old clothes, and put newspaper down where you’re going to be doing the pouring.
Have some baking soda and a fire extinguisher ready. Like a grease fire, do NOT put water on burning wax. It will just spread and make the problem worse. Smother burning wax with baking soda.
An electric stove is safer than a gas stove. If by accident, you heat the wax to flashpoint, the wax is much more likely to catch fire if it can find an open flame.
Watch your temperature. Watch your temperature. Watch your temperature! Wax doesn’t boil, so you’re not going to have any visual sign that it’s about to burst into flame. Get a thermometer and pay attention to it. If you detect an acrid scent coming from the wax, immediately turn off the heat. You’re overheating it and risking a fire or explosion.
Any leftover wax you have should be poured onto a cookie tray and cut up for chunks to use later. If you pour it down the drain, you’re going to regret it.
Melting the Wax
You’re going to need a double-boiler. Get a pot suitable for pouring wax from and a pot big enough to for the pouring pot to set inside.
First, put your wax in the pouring pot. Then, fill up the big pot with water and put a metal cookie cutter in the bottom to act as a base for the pouring pot. Bring the water to a boil, put your pouring pot in, and then bring the temperature on the burner down to a simmer. Make sure to keep the water level in the big pot up. If it runs dry, it’s not doing its job very well anymore. Once your wax has reached the proper temperature, you’re ready to go.
In addition to the wax and wick, you’re going to need a metal mold, mold sealer, and a couple of chopsticks, wooden shish-ka-bob skewers, or something similar. The mold will have a wick hole, and you should thread the wick through it. Tie the end of the wick around the chopstick (or whatever) and set it on the edges of the mold. The chopstick will keep the wick in place. Secure the wick with the wick screw (don’t over-tighten, or you’ll cut it), seal the gap with mold sealer, and you’re ready to go.
Pour the wax in, making sure to save some in the pouring pot for when the candle shrinks. Let the wax cool until it has a shell on it, and use the other chopstick to poke holes down until about an inch short of the bottom of the mold. You may have to renew these holes as the candle cools.
Once the candle has reached room temperature, re-melt the leftover wax to just a little bit hotter than you heated it last time, and fill in the holes (and newly formed sinkhole) with it. Don’t go quite up to the lip of the sinkhole though, or you’ll ruin the outer appearance of the candle.
Once it’s cooled, take the candle out of the mold (if it’s stuck, put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to loosen it up) and cut off the wick on the end where the chopstick is. That’s the bottom. If you want to flatten this out, put a cookie sheet on top of a pot of boiling water, and use the heat of the cookie sheet to melt off excess wax until the bottom is flat.
Trim the wick to ¼” and bada-bing! You’ve got a candle!
Using a tabbed wick will allow you to make a votive candle. The process is basically the same, except the wick is supported from inside.
Dipped candles are amazingly simple, if time-consuming. You need your wax mixture, your double-boiler, wicks, some washers or nuts to serve as weights for the wicks, and a “dipping frame.”
You can either buy a dipping frame or make one. Anything that will securely hold one end of the wick and allow you to suspend it over (but not in) the pot of wax will be perfect. Try reshaping a wire coat hanger.
Tie one end of the wick to the dipping frame and the other to the washer. Using multiple wicks, or a single long wick strung up so as to have two separate dangling parts will allow you to make multiple candles and improve the efficiency of this method.
Melt your wax in the double-boiler. Using a smooth motion, dip the wicks down into the melted wax and pull them back out. Hang them up to cool. Once the wax is hardened, repeat the process. You’ll have to do this several times. And I do mean several.
Once you’ve reached the desired size, let the candle harden and cut the washers off. You can either stop here or give the tapers a few more dips so that the bottom becomes rounded. Trim the wicks to ¼” and they’re ready to burn.
Pro tip: If you want your tapers to have a shiny finish, after they have their final dip, submerge them in a bath of cool water. Everybody loves shiny things!
Want a REALLY SIMPLE candle? Buy beeswax in a sheet, lay it flat on a sheet of wax paper, warm it up with a hairdryer, and set a wick down it on one side. Tightly roll the wick up in the sheet. Trim the wick and you’ve got a candle!
How about using a milk carton as a candle mold? It’s already waxed on the inside, so it’s easy to remove. Use a tabbed wick and a chopstick for support.
Make a dent in a bucket of sand. Toss a tabbed wick in there and fill the indentation with wax. This will give the candle a shell of sand that looks very beach-chic.
And the best idea of all: STOP LISTENING TO ME! Go out and experiment! Just have fun with it, and be safe!