Candles can be a big part of ritual. Sometimes the right candle is not easily found. A lot of colored candles that are available for purchase retail, especially tapers, are not solid color. They are a plain white candle over-dyed to make the colored candle. If that works for you, great. If it doesn’t then finding the right candle can cause some serious frustration. Who needs that when you can make your own? Making your own candles allows for customization of the candle itself by adding herbs, stones or oils to enhance the working planned.
Important – Do not leave burning candles unattended!
Candles can be extremely dangerous when not handled correctly. According to the NFPA, fire departments respond to more than 10,000 structure fires started by candles every year.
- Candles should be secure within its holder and the holder should be made with non-flammable materials.
- Keep flammable materials at least 12-inches away from burning candles.
- Extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to sleep.
- Place burning candles in a safe location away from pets and children.
- Never leave melting wax unattended.
You don’t have to break the bank buying specialty equipment. There are inexpensive alternatives to everything – hit up a thrift store or even your own kitchen, just be aware that once an item is used for candle making you probably will not want to use it for food again.
Never melt wax over direct heat. Instead use a double boiler. If you don’t have one you can create your own using a sauce pan and a pouring pot. Add a couple inches of water to the sauce pan along with a hand full of glass marbles, canning jar rings or something heat-safe that will raise the pouring pot off the bottom of the sauce pan. Add your wax to the pouring pot then place in the sauce pan.
The spout makes pouring candles much less messy. These are available for purchase from candle making suppliers and some craft stores. As a less-expensive alternative for smaller candles an old Pyrex measuring cup works well.
There are lots of types of molds available for purchase. Intricate shapes can be created using silicone/polyurethane molds while simpler shapes like tapers and pillars can also be plastic or metal. If using a plastic or metal mold invest in some silicone mold release spray. Want a simple shape without the expense of buying a mold? Make your own square mold using a cardboard milk carton or a small pillar using a frozen orange juice container. Simply rip the carton away once the candle is set. You can also create your own container candles in a canning jar, a decorative tin or remove the residual wax from a purchased jar candle and reuse the jar. Use your imagination for containers, just be sure to use containers that are heat safe.
For best results be sure to pour mold candles at the appropriate temperature based on the type of wax being used. This is not as important for container candles since only the top surface is visible but it is still a good idea. Pouring wax at too low of a temperature can cause trapped air bubbles while pouring at too high of a temperature can increase shrinkage as the candle cools.
While not a requirement a scale is very helpful. Weighing your wax will help with blending and knowing how much dye or additives to use. If you know the capacity of the mold or container being used weighing will also reduce melting too much or too little wax.
This is the finicky part. For the best burn your wick needs to be the correct size for your candle size and type of wax. Wicking available in craft stores is typically generic in size – small, medium and large – and although a candle size range may be included on the label the wax type is never mentioned. Trial and error can get expensive and a “small” of one brand wick may not be the same as another brand making it difficult to get the same results in future candles. Some candle making supplier web sites offer a chart to help identify the proper wick size and type for your candle size and wax.
Wood wicks are also available that provide a larger flame and a lovely crackle and pop like a larger fire. Much more delicate and easy to damage than cotton wicks, wood wicks are also more expensive.
Commercial scents are available in liquid and solid concentrates. Typically they are synthetic scents. Essential oils may or may not work in candles. I have not tried them myself yet but what I have read makes me think it could work depending on the oil being used. Keep in mind some oils degrade in heat and the fragrance usually does not last as long as its synthetic counterpart.
Commercial dyes are available in liquid and solid concentrates. Different wax types will take dye differently. Just need one candle of a color, especially a pastel, and hate the thought of buying a whole block or bottle of color? Grab a crayon of a darker color than your goal color and add it to the melting pot.
While there are other wax types available, the following waxes are types I have personally used. Wax is commonly available in a solid chunk like a block or slab and also in pastilles or beads of wax. The beads are easier to measure out smaller accurate amounts while a block may require a hammer and chisel to break into smaller pieces.
Paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product. If a commercial candle is not labeled with the type of wax used it is most likely made from paraffin. It can be used in molded candles but it is rather soft and burns quickly with a melting point of 125°F to 160°F. Burn time can be extended by blending with Bees wax or adding Styrine.
Paraffin can be used alone in container candles as the container will contain the melted wax allowing it to still be burned. It is an inexpensive wax readily available in craft stores or even in the grocery store as canning wax.
Keeping the wick short is essential for paraffin candles. A wick that is too long will result in a larger, less controlled flame that does not burn cleanly. A petroleum-based soot deposit occurs on nearby surfaces when burned uncontrollably.
Beeswax is a natural wax product produced by honey bees for creating their honeycombs. Pure beeswax burns the longest and cleanest of the other waxes, but it is more expensive. Great for molded candles, bees wax has a melting point of 140°F to 150°F. It has a pleasant sweet fragrance and is available in yellow and white. Yellow bees wax tends to have a stronger fragrance and sometimes is a little more sticky.
Bayberry wax is a natural vegetable wax made from the coating of the berries of the wax myrtle shrub. It is more expensive than bees-wax due to the amount of berries required to make the wax. Bayberry wax has a low melting point of around 115°F and a strong herbal fragrance. Blending with bees wax will make your Bayberry wax go farther, burn better and soften the fragrance.
Where to Find Supplies
Craft stores like Michael’s, A.C.Moore and Jo-Ann will usually have a selection of basic supplies including paraffin, bees wax, pouring pots, dyes and scents as well as a limited selection of molds.
For a larger selection of molds check the internet. My favorite supplier for wax and wick is Candlewic. They offer a range of wick types in multiple sizes and a chart to help you determine the best fit for your needs.
Bayberry wax is offered by fewer suppliers than other wax types and has quite a price range. I purchased from Better Bee. The 8 taper candle mold showing in the picture above was also purchased from them and they have a rather extensive selection of polyurethane molds.
If all else fails, Google and Amazon are your friend.
Making the Candles
Now comes the fun part. Making your candles. Protect your work surface from wax spills and splatters. Container candles are the easiest so if you’re nervous start there.
Wick your mold or container. Pre-waxed and tabbed wicks are available and are great for container candles. They are still rather pricey but wooden wicks are now available for home candle makers.
Polyurethane molds can be difficult to wick – a LONG needle will help with this. I will wick my polyurethane molds with a very long length, working from the outside to the inside and leaving the excess wick next to the mold. When I pull the finished candle out of the mold, it will pull up wick for the next candle. Metal and plastic molds have a larger hole for the wick that will need to be plugged after the wick is through. I use a good size ball of mold putty. A little seepage is to be expected. Attach the wick at the top of the mold using a wick bar. As a replacement you can tie the wick to a chopstick or a skewer laid across the top of the mold. The wick should be centered and pretty straight.
Measure and melt your wax and add any additives, scents or dyes. When the wax is at the right temperature (see wax types above or check the packaging of your wax) then pour your candle. Be sure to wipe off the outside of your pouring pot to prevent water drips from getting into your candle. I always place my molds and containers on an old rimmed cookie sheet before pouring to catch any drips and also to contain the wax if a mold leaks. Pour the wax slowly to avoid splashing and introducing air bubbles that will impact the shape and how your candle burns. Carefully tapping the mold or container after it is poured will help release any bubbles that may have formed.
As your candle cools the wax will contract creating a well near the wick. Reheat the left over wax and top off the candle.Do not let the candle cool too much before topping off. If the candle is cool when topped off, there will be a visible band.
Larger candles, candles poured at too high a temperature or candles made with a high amount of paraffin may need topping off more than once.
After the last top off pour the remaining wax into a plastic container. I have used Chinese soup containers or other food containers, usually one that has lost its lid. Once the wax sets, pop it out of the container and store in a plastic bag. It is helpful for future use to label the bag with the wax recipe (wax type and additives.)
Once your candle has cooled completely carefully remove it from the mold. Polyurethane molds usually release pretty easy but if you are working with an intricate shape, work slowly and carefully to flex the mold around the candle to avoid breaking off any pieces. Metal or plastic molds may benefit from being placed in the freezer for a few minutes to further contract the wax to help it release from the mold. Be sure to remove any putty before freezing.
Stones or herbs can add to the power of your working. How they are added depends on the type of candle and the inclusions being used.
Chips will work the best due to their small size and light weight. I recently made a molded candle and included a few chips. I added these just before the second pour of the mold to keep them on the bottom of the candle. If the stones are intended to be closer to the middle then pour the mold half full and let it set until there’s a nice surface crust but is still warm and pliable. Add the stones then finish pouring the candle. Timing on this will depend on the size of the stone. The crust needs to be strong enough to hold the stone but still warm enough to blend with the rest of the wax to avoid a visible line in the surface of the candle. You could also take advantage of the line for a color change.
For container candles you can place the stones in the container then pour the candle or use the same procedure as a molded candle to keep the stones off the bottom.
Herbs are best added as stems around the outer edge of the candle to avoid them actually burning. One way to do this is to double mold your candle. If a 3″ pillar is the desired candle size, first pour a 2″ pillar. Place the created 2″ pillar in the 3″ mold, add the herbs in the space between candle and mold then fill the gap with wax. The same method can be used for container candles replacing the larger mold with the final container.
As an alternative to having actual plant matter in your candle that could pose an increased fire hazard, you can also infuse your wax with the herbs. Place them in the melting pot with the wax then strain them out when pouring the candle.
Pockets/bubbles of water might be in the wax. This is why I wipe the water and condensation off the pour pot before pouring my candles.
Candle Keeps Going Out
A large wax puddle that drowns the flame probably has too large a wick. Try a smaller wick to slow down the melting of wax.
Wick falling over into wax and drowning probably is too weak of a wick. Try one with a metal or paper core.
Wick burns out before candle melts is usually too small of a wick. Try a larger wick to melt the wax to feed the flame.
Air Pockets in the Candle
This can happen when pouring the hot wax too quickly into the mold, especially when working with intricate molds. Pour the hot wax slow enough to allow air to escape. Be sure to tap the side of the mold often during pouring. This helps the air bubbles rise and release.
Take notes as you make a candle. Did you blend your wax? If so how much of each type did you use? What size wick was used? Did the candle burn too fast? What mold was used? How much wax does the mold hold? If you don’t know how much wax was used, weigh the finished candle before lighting so you know for next time. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you duplicate a candle you liked or help you figure out how to adjust a candle that did not burn the way you wanted.
For my wax blends, click here.