Tips for candlemaking

This tip is for relative, or actual, beginners who want to make impressive looking candles without too much fuss. 

When candles were made out of necessity it wasn''t a very exciting job. Tallow, animal fat, was melted in a big pot and a wick dipped into it to get a coating, pulled out to cool (and harden) then dipped over and over again until the coats built up into a candle. The job was made more efficient by draping lots of wicks over the spokes of a horizontal wagon wheel and dipping them all together; both ends of each wick at the same time. Not very interesting after a short while. Beeswax candles were, and are, a different thing.

Modern candles are made from paraffin wax and stearin (a vegetable by-product; good news for vegans who tend to get carried away at candle-lit suppers) in two main ways; some  are still dipped but usually only as part of another process. Large scale commercial candlemaking involves pressing powdered wax into a mould using a purpose built machine; hobby, and small-scale professional, candle makers generally cast their candles, in a mould, from melted wax and stearin. This is cheap, quick and very rewarding. With reasonable care it can be done in an ordinary kitchen.

If you''re candle-making for the first time you''ll need some candle wax (1 or 2kg); some stearin (1/2 kg); a mould (rigid plastic); some dye blocks (your choice of colour) and some wick. The wick comes in different thicknesses, choose a size to match your mould (i.e. 2" wick for a 2" diameter candle). If you already make candles you needn''t have read the last two sentences, sorry.

Having got your supplies, which should cost around £10, you''ll need an old saucepan and some clean, and dry, tin cans. Use the saucepan to melt the wax, and stearin, and the cans to mix the melted mixture with dye. This saves cleaning the saucepan every time you change colour. You''ll also need an old baking tray.

Candle wax melts at around 70c. Hot enough to hurt. It ignites at around 200c. Only ever melt wax, and stearin, on very low heat; it''s better to wait than to burn. The best way to be safe is to use a pair of wax melting pots. The pot on the heat contains water, the other pot sits inside this; the water only needs to simmer. You can improvise this with two old saucepans, of course.

Now that you know enough to make a career out of candle-making here''s the tip, at last: Melt and dye some wax and stearin (70-90% wax). For this part you''ll need a dark colour, dyed quite intensely. Pour this mix into the baking tray, to make a layer about 5 or 6mm thick. If the baking tray is cold (running water from a cold tap over the outside for a minute will chill it enough) the natural surface tension of the mixture will form a layer at about the right thickness for you. Let it go hard, it won''t take long at this thickness.

As you''re waiting prepare the mould by fitting a length of wick through the hole and tying the end to a narrow stick laid across the open end; make sure the wick''s straight. When the layer in the baking tray''s hard break, or cut, it into small pieces and drop them into the mould. You can put in as many different colours as you like, in any way you like.

Finish the candle by pouring melted mix, either uncoloured or very lightly coloured, over the pieces in the mould so that it fills in all the gaps. The mix will need to be slightly hotter than it would for an empty mould because the solid pieces will tend to cool it down. Once the melted mix sets you''ll have a light-coloured candle with lots of dark-coloured bits showing through from inside.

As a slight variation of this method put the final melted fill in a little hotter still and, carefully, stir the whole lot with a spoon handle. The moving solid pieces will melt slightly and leave a trail of colour behind them. The finished candle will have ''smudges'' of dark colour.

Another variation requires only a small chunk of dark coloured mix (made, in this case, from wax without the stearin because wax melts at a slightly lower temperature). This time fill the mould with lightly coloured, molten, mix and then slowly stir it with the dark chunk pressed firmly onto the end of a cocktail stick. The dark chunk will melt as it passes through the hot mix and leave a fine trail behind it. The finished candle comes out marbled and looks very ''professional''.

Candles you''re not happy with can be melted down and used again, ''though preferably not in your ''clean wax'' saucepan; and you can practice to your heart''s content without using fresh materials until you feel you''re ready. Do this craft safely and enjoy it. Candles make great ornaments, and presents, and when you''re tired of them you can burn them and make some more.

Every handicraft shop will have a range of candle making supplies; or you can get everything you need from Fred Aldous Ltd.



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