Sunday, December 14, 2003

Light up the season

I like to make candles. Nothing fancy, just colored, scented votives and container candles. About two years ago I found a candle-making kit at a craft store during an after-holiday sale. Since I enjoy scented candles, I thought it might be fun to learn how to make them... I was right. I now find candlemaking very relaxing.

I recently made about a dozen votive candles of varying scents and colors that my wife gave to one of her co-workers in a secret Santa exchange. Santa wasn't so secret (and he usually isn't - it's pretty easy to figure out who got who what with only about 8 people exchanging) and now another one of her co-workers wants to know how to make candles... So, I present to you

Uncle Bubby's Guide to Candlemaking Click here for a printer-friendly version

Equipment you'll need:

  • Candle wax.

    • This is available at most craft stores in a variety of sizes from 1lb chunks to 10lb slabs.

  • Some sort of melting container.

    • I find it best to use a double-boiler but you can also use a glass measuring cup heated in a water bath [the heat dissipates quite a bit so it takes much longer to melt and get up to temperature using this method] or a specially-made aluminum melting pot [I've never used one because most outlets want $15.00 for one - I got my double-boiler for ten cents at a garage sale].

  • Candlemaking thermometer.

    • You may eventually be able to work without one, as I recently discovered when mine was mislaid, but it's best to start with one.

  • Molds or containers.

    • Molds are designed to shape the candle and can then be re-used. With containers, such as small glass jars, you pour the wax in and that's where it stays.
    • A hint about containers - a narrow neck and opening will cause the candle to burn in a tunnel, wasting a large amount of wax and easily drowning your wick. A large top surface area - or burning a votive without a holder, for that matter - will cause the candle to burn faster.

  • Pre-tabbed wicks or wicking material and tabs. (start with the pre-tabbed)
  • Color blocks (optional)

    • Color blocks are small (1-2 oz) blocks of densely-colored, unscented wax that you can use to color your candles. I recommend buying a red, yellow and blue block. That way, you can combine them to make any color you want.

  • Scent blocks or scent oils (optional).

    • Scent blocks are similar to color blocks. They are small uncolored, densely-scented wax that you shave off into your mix to give scent to your candles. I much prefer the scent oils, however, because they give off a stronger and longer-lasting scent.
    • Any type of scent oil will work whether it's made for candles, soap, light rings or whatever. The scent oils for candlemaking, however, are specially formulated to release scent as they are heated and will give optimum results.

  • Additives (optional)

    • There are several different additives you can purchase such as stearic, vybar, translucent crystals, and others that help to harden the wax for longer burn times, or even out scent and color distribution, or a variety of other effects.

  • Something to stir with.

    • I wouldn't recommend a plastic spoon. It may be difficult to get the wax off it and, depending on the quality of the spoon, you could possible melt some of the plastic into your candle.
    • Wooden spoons are best but the wax tends to soak into the woodgrain a bit. I usually use the handle of a wooden spoon or I used to use a wooden drumstick - until I lost it.

  • A hammer
  • A chisel or screwdriver
  • A pocket knife or paring knife
  • Toothpick(s) or a dowel


  • Prepare your melting pot. If it's a double boiler, put the water in the lower half, insert the top piece and set on stove. You can also attach your thermometer.
  • Set out your molds or containers. Since pouring can be messy, place a couple of layers of newspaper or butcher paper underneath. Be sure to insert your wick pins if you're using them.
  • Gather your scents and colors so they're handy when you need them.
  • Break up your wax - this is where the hammer, chisel or screwdriver, and pocket knife come in handy.

    • Melting wax is a little like melting cheese. If you throw a big block of it in the pot it will eventually all melt but it's going to go a lot quicker if you break it up.
    • One pound of wax will make 6-8 votives.

Making your candles

  1. Begin heating your melting pot. You can do this shortly after starting to break up your wax and, by the time you're done, most of it will be melted if you toss it in as you go along.

    • CAUTION: liquefied candle wax is very hot. Tossing or dropping items into your melting pot may cause splashing which can cause burns if hot wax comes in contact with the skin.

  2. Bring your wax up to pouring temperature, stirring occasionally. Your candle thermometer will show pouring ranges but, just in case you don't have one, here are some guidelines.

    • Sheet Metal Molds - Generally poured at 185 to 190 degrees F. Will usually withstand temperatures up to 225 degrees F. If poured much hotter than that, you risk ruining the mold (the solder seams will soften from excessive heat).
    • Seamless Molds - Generally poured at 185 to 190 degrees F. Will withstand very high temperatures if needed.
    • Chocolate Molds (all clear plastic molds) - Maximum pouring temperature is 165 degrees F. Never pour hotter than this for any reason. Any hotter and the mold will soften and begin to distort. It is a good idea to support these in a tray of sand.
    • Other Plastic Molds - Most plastic candle molds should be poured at 170 to 180 degrees F. Higher temperatures may damage the mold.
    • Silicone Molds - You can pour these at 190 to 200 degrees F. Very resistant to heat damage, so substantially higher temps may be used if needed
    • Latex Molds - Usually poured at 155 to 160 degrees F. Hotter temperatures will distort the candle, and may damage the mold
    • Containers - Usually poured at 180 to 185 degrees F. Lower temperatures may be used if the jar is preheated.

  3. Once your wax is at or very near your melting point, stir in any additives you will be using.
  4. Once your additives have melted, start adding your color(s).

    • To test your color, wait until the color additive is evenly distributed then spoon a small amount out onto the paper under your molds or any other piece of white paper you may have handy. Blow gently on the glob of wax to help it cool. Adjust your colors as necessary.
    • Remember, it is easy to add more color but impossible to take it out. Start by shaving small amounts of the color block off into your mixture using the paring or pocket knife. Add more as necessary.

  5. Once you have your color set and just before you're ready to pour, add your scent.

    • I don't know about you but I like my scented candles to have a strong scent. This is one of the reasons I prefer to use oils over scent blocks. You should initially follow the manufacturers instructions for the amount of scent-per-pound to add but feel free to adjust it to your preference.

  6. Turn off the heat and give your mixture a final, gentle, stirring. If you stir too vigorously, you'll get air bubbles.
  7. Slowly pour your wax into your molds. Pouring too quickly can result in air bubbles. Remember to reserve some of the liquid for your second pour (see below)

    • TIP: For better control, I usually pour the wax from my pot into a glass measuring cup then pour into the molds from the measuring cup.

  8. Let the candles cool for a couple of minutes, then insert your wicks (unless, of course, you're using wick pins). You can insert wicks immediately after pouring if you want, but I find it easier to place them if the candle has set up a bit around the edges and bottom.
  9. As the wax cools, it will begin to shrink. After about 10-15 minutes, using a toothpick or dowel, poke a small hole in the top of the wax near the wick to keep the wax from pulling away from the wick.
  10. After another 15 minutes or so, you will see the top of the candle forming a divot near the wick. You will need to do a second pour to get rid of the divot. Reheat your remaining wax to pouring temperature and fill in the void. Be careful to pour even with the top of your first pour for a smooth finish.

    • On large candles, you may need to repeat this step several times.

  11. All that's left now is letting your candles cool and set. Allow the candle to cure fully before attempting to remove from the mold. The larger the candle the longer it takes.
  12. Remove the candle from the mold by pulling gently on the wick. If it doesn't come out easily, don't force it.

    • Some sources recommend using a release agent - silicone spray or peanut oil - but I don't usually use any since my candles are so small.
    • With small votives, I find it easiest to give the mold a gentle squeeze, rotating it in my hand as I do. Eventually, I'll either see the edges release or will actually hear it release. Be careful, the top edges of the molds may be sharp.
    • If your release agent isn't helping or squeezing the mold doesn't work, some sources say putting the candle in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes will help.

Candle Burning Tips

  • Never leave a lit candle unattended. Watch your candles. This will prevent wax from spilling over and potentially harmful accidents from occurring.
  • Trim wicks to ¼ inch and re-trim before each burn. Wick length determines flame height, the longer the wick the larger and more unwieldy the flame. The larger the flame, the faster your candle will burn.
  • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets and remove all flammable materials from the vicinity of the flame. Remove all debris from candle.
  • Always burn candles on a protected, noncombustible, heat-resistant surface securely placed on an appropriate holder.
  • Extinguish candles by blowing them out gently, so as not to splatter liquid wax, or use a snuffer. Do not use water! In the case of jars, do not replace the lid while burning.
  • Containers may become hot. Handle with care.
  • Votive candles are designed to liquefy while burning and must be used in an appropriate sized container. The inside of the container should be of similar size to the votive candle. Too wide of a container will leave the liquid wax too far from the flame and excess wax will remain. If burned free-standing, votives will drip.
  • Always remove metal tabs or clips from the bottom of the container before adding another candle.

Although I cannot endorse any vendors I do realize that craft stores sometimes put a premium price on their supplies. Below is a list of internet vendors that may have better prices on waxes, molds, scents and other supplies. Shop around - the vendor with the best price on wax may not have the best price on molds, etc.

TIP: Some suppliers provide wholesale bulk packs of wax in minimum quantities of 50 pounds. If you run across this, look to see if they have a 10 pound sample pack. Many of them do.




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