For creating ambiance there is nothing quite like candles. Whatever atmosphere you are trying to create, candles are a wonderful addition. They provide the kind of soft lighting that no electric lamp can emulate and they can infuse your home with scents to enhance your mood. They have been used for centuries to aid relaxation and meditation because there is something deeply meaningful about watching a candle flame. It stirs something ancient within us.
History of candle use
Candles have been in use for over 5000 years. The first candles used by the ancient Egyptians were wickless and made by mixing animal fat with reeds. It is thought that wicked candles were first used by the Romans and Egyptians around 3000 years ago. These were made by dipping rolled papyrus in melted beeswax or animal fat. Around the same time in China, candles were made with wax from insects with rice paper wicks, in India with cinnamon oil, and in Japan with nuts.
Candles, it is no exaggeration, changed the world. By providing people with a source of light they enabled them to continue with their activities once the sun went down leading to greater productivity, better education, and ultimately more longevity.
Around the 13th century, candle-making became a recognized guild. Candlemakers were called Chandlers and would visit households using the tallow the household had collected through cooking meat to make the families candles. A by-product of cooking meat, tallow was the cheapest and most convenient and therefore most widely used ingredient for candles. Although, for religious purposes the better quality and more expensive beeswax would be used.
The importance of candle making as a craft is seen in the numbers of people who still bear the surname Chandler; it remains in the top 500 most common surnames.
Science of Candles
Candles seem so simple it is easy to take for granted the science that lies behind this common item that has been a common feature of households for thousands of years.
There are numerous scientific principles that can be proved with a candle. Conduction, convection, radiation, vaporization, and capillary action to name just a few. Famous Scientist Michael Faraday used a candle in series of lectures in 1860 to illustrate these and other scientific principles. Students echo Faraday today; using candles in their science lessons all over the world. The humble candle was also recently used by NASA to help understand microgravity in space.
Types of Candles
Candles can be mostly be categorized into the following groups:
- Pillar candles – freestanding candles, usually large
- Tapers – typically long thin candles which are thicker at the bottom than the top. Used in candlesticks
- Tealights – a small round, short candle which comes in metal or plastic containers. They have a diameter of 1.5” (38mm) and height of ½ – 1“ (16-25mm)
- Votives – are small (though larger than a tealight). They are designed to fit into small glass containers called Votive cups and do not have their own container. Often used for prayer; the word votive means to offer in devotion, prayer, or as a vow
- Floating Candles – usually similar to a tealight in size but with no case and no metal base on the wick and often more rounded
- Decorative or molded candles can come in all shapes and sizes. From geometrical shapes or flowers to human, animal, mythical or religious figurines
- Container candles – these remain in the container they were made in, usually glass or tin. Handy for giving as gifts.
Supplies for Candle Making
Different types of wax
Craft and candle making suppliers usually sell a selection of the waxes featured here. Blends of these waxes are also available and can be good for beginners.
- Beeswax – this expensive, natural wax burns with a pleasant scent, it does works especially well with essential oils. The wax itself has air purifying qualities. It is of excellent quality, is versatile, and can be used for most types of candles.
- Paraffin wax – a mineral-based wax that is a by-product of the petroleum industry. It has a long burn time, is inexpensive, and easy to mold even into the more unusual shapes. It has an odorless, clean burn and carries scents well.
- Soybean wax – an environmentally friendly and vegan (double-check with the supplier to ensure this) wax. Which is less likely to induce allergic reactions in people with sensitivities. It has a good scent throw, but has a low melting point and is therefore not always well suited to larger pillar, or molded candles.
- Gel Wax – is a mixture of polymer resin and paraffin wax. It is translucent, has a long burn time, and carries scents well. This wax may carry an increased risk of triggering sensitivities in people. Gel wax has a very high melting temperature so the container you choose for this sort of candle must be able to withstand high temperatures.
Other types of wax sometimes found in wax blends include: palm, apricot, and coconut.
Molds and Containers
There are a wide variety of candle molds available to buy from craft, chandlery, or some other suppliers. There are also plenty of things around the home that can be repurposed, reused, or upcycled into beautiful candle holders such as jars and tins even cardboard.
Reuse a Candle Container
Shop bought candles often come in jars or tins. Once the candle is used up you are left with a small amount of wax in a container that could easily be used again. Here’s how:
- Wash the jar removing any stickers or labels (as much as possible)
- Put the jar in an ovenproof dish with sides
- Turn your oven to the lowest temperature possible
- Watch the wax in the container melt and once melted remove from the oven
- Immediately tip the wax into a suitable container (use oven gloves)
- While the wax is still warm use a paper towel to wipe out the remnants, if it hardens before you have got it all simply put it back in the oven for a few minutes
Jars and Glasses
Turning old food jars or glasses is an excellent way to upcycle items. They can be left plain for a simplistic look or can be decorated in numerous ways. Be aware that glass can crack or break when exposed to heat, especially thin glass so exercise caution.
- Tie natural or colored string around the outside of the jar
- Use glass paints
- Decorate the jar with ribbons
- Use pictures, stickers, or colored paper
Tins and Cans
Carefully washed and dried food tins with the labels removed can make excellent container candles as they are heatproof (although be warned they can get very hot). They also make interesting textured candles if you spray with mold release spray and remove the candle once cooled.
Drinks cans with the top cut off can also be used as molds as are a great shape for pillar candles.
Warning: the edges of tins and cans especially if they have been cut can be very sharp. Use all caution necessary including protective gloves.
Around the home are multiple things that can be transformed into candle molds.
- Toilet roll or kitchen paper tubes (cut to required size), simply use a glue gun to stick on a cardboard base
- Cardboard juice or milk cartons but ensure the plastic is not textured or it can be difficult to remove the candle and ensure the plastic is quite thick or it will not hold the hot wax
Mold Release Spray
When using a mold or receptacle that you intend to remove the candle from (as opposed to a container candle) if it is not made of silicone it might prove difficult to release.
To prevent this a light layer of mold release, baking spray, or silicone spray into the mold will help it to slide out easily.
These sprays can be purchased from candle making supply shops, craft shops, baking suppliers, and some other retailers.
Using a quality wick that is the right size for the candle is essential for creating a candle with a good, clean burn. Individual manufacturers supply their own sizing guides which should be consulted when buying candle making supplies.
When buying wicks it is often easier, especially for beginners, to choose wicks that already have sustainers or tabs in place. These are the metal, circular holders for the cotton thread or wick that will be lit. They are available to buy separately for more experienced candle makers.
Wicks are made, for the most part, of cotton. However, they have additives that help them to burn evenly, help the wicking to remain straight, and can affect burn temperature and melt pool size.
- Zinc core wicks are perhaps the most commonly used wicks and are suitable for most candles
- Paper core wicks create a bigger melt pool because they have a high burn temperature this means they are better suited to larger candles
- Eco wicks are a blend of paper and cotton and are generally best suited to natural waxes such as beeswax and soy
Scented candles add even more ambiance to an occasion and are a great way to freshen your home.
When talking about scented candles the term used is scent throw. The two types of scent throw are cold throw – when the candle is not lit, and hot throw for when it is.
Scent throw refers to how well the fragrance from a candle fills the space it is in. It is not just about how much scent is in a candle but the throw will vary depending upon the type of wax used; paraffin and soy wax are generally considered to be the best in this regard.
The throw is also affected by how well the fragrance binds or mixes with the wax. The best temperature to mix the fragrance with the wax is around 180°F this temperature ensures that the wax molecules have expanded so that the fragrance molecules can be trapped within them as the wax cools.
The scent throw is also improved by curing, that is storing the candle in an airtight container away from heat, light, and other/different strong odors before burning. The optimal time for this process is around 2 weeks, the minimum is 3 days.
Perhaps the most obvious element to getting a good scent throw is the amount of fragrance used, if using a ready-mixed or made fragrance it is important to follow the directions accurately.
As a basic rule waxes can hold around 10-12% of fragrance oil without affecting setting or burning ability. So 10% is a good amount to aim for and makes it easier to work out the ratio. This means that for 1lb of melted wax you would add 1oz of fragrance. For candles with less scent, you can reduce this ratio.
Types of Scent
There are synthetic or natural scents that can be used in candle making.
Many people prefer to use natural scents or essential oils as they are less likely to irritate those sensitive to fragrances and to avoid some chemicals in synthetic fragrances such as parabens and other VOCs. They are also more likely to be cruelty-free or vegan. However, others prefer to have the wider variety of fragrances that synthetic scented oils offer.
Whether natural or otherwise scents for candles can be organized into Fragrance Families such as:
- Fruity (berry, melon, apple)
- Citrus (lime, lemon, orange)
- Woody (pine, cedar, sandalwood)
- Sweet (vanilla, chocolate, honey)
- Sensuous (ylang ylang, rose, patchouli)
- Floral (lavender, jasmine, lilac)
- Herbal (sage, thyme, basil)
The fragrance family or blend will depend on what you want the scent for; to mask unpleasant odors to create a romantic atmosphere, to invigorate, or for relaxation.
Using essential oils in candles can not only create scents that are pleasant and evocative but that can have therapeutic benefits as well. Although, there have been some arguments over the scientific basis for this, aromatherapy continues to be popular around the world with many people swearing by the health benefits essential oils offer.
When using essential oils in candles the oil to wax ratio is usually less (by half) than with other fragranced oils. Therefore for 1lb of wax add ½ oz of essential oil/s.
Some examples of essential oils and their therapeutic benefits are as follows:
Eucalyptus – relieves cold symptoms
Lavender – relaxing, relieves headaches, reduces anxiety
Lemon – purifying, insect repellent, energizing, increases appetite
Sweet Orange – relaxing, relieves headaches, anti-anxiety
Bergamot – lifts mood, energizing
Camomile – relaxing, stress relief, aids digestion
Peppermint – invigorates the mind, relieves nausea and headaches
Thyme – relieves coughs and respiratory discomfort
Warning: As with all scents and perfumes keep candle fragrances and essential oils out of the reach of children as they can be toxic
White candles have a simple elegance that is perfect for many occasions and settings. However, sometimes colored candles add a splash of brightness or cool calm that creates just the right atmosphere.
When making scented candles, coloring them to match the scent is often a good idea, or using coloreds candles to complement the interior design of a room can be the perfect finishing touch.
To color candles, specific candle pigments are best as they do not affect the setting ability or burn quality. Buying specific candle dyes also ensures that the pigment will not leach any potentially toxic chemicals into the candles which could be released upon burning.
Candle dyes are available from chandlery and craft suppliers and can often be bought in flake form making them simple to use and relatively mess-free.
How to Make candles
Ensure any surfaces are covered with old sheets, newspaper, or similar to make the clean up afterward easier. Be aware that anything you are using for the candle making process will get waxy. Wax can be removed from most things with hot water. But, anything that might be difficult to clean might be better off out kept of the way.
Step by Step Guide to Making Candles
- Measure out the wax
- Prepare the molds; ensure they are clean and dry
- Measure the wicks, place them in molds/containers and pull the wick up so it is straight; this will make sure it burns evenly. Tie the wick around a skewer, pencil, or lollipop stick and put the stick over the top of the mold/container
- Put water in the saucepan and put it on a medium heat
- Place the chosen amount of wax in the heatproof jug
- Place the heatproof jug in the pan of water and heat the wax until it reaches 180°F
- If you are using color or fragrance add these now and stir for two minutes to be sure it is all well mixed – this will give even color and scent throw
- Carefully pour the melted wax into your containers/molds
- Leave to cool completely – overnight would be best before removing from the mold or container (unless they are going to be used in the container such as a jar or tin)
- Similar to marinating food before it is cooked, candles are best left for at least a week for the fragrances to fully permeate through the candle giving you a better scent throw
- Never leave candles unattended.
- Containers holding candles can get very hot, very occasionally, this can cause glass containers to crack or even explode. Always put candles on an appropriate fireproof surface and check them regularly when lit.
- Keep lit candles well away from children and animals.
- The heat from candles rises – do not light candles underneath anything flammable
- Don’t use them near flammable or combustible materials.
- When making candles heat and pour the wax carefully, wear appropriate protective clothing and keep children and animals at a safe distance.