The Candle-making Process
Using a double boiler, place tallow/lard, beeswax or paraffin into the pot. Be sure to use a pot that can be dedicated to candle making if you’re using beeswax or paraffin. Heat over medium heat until fully melted. A thermometer is unnecessary for emergency candles since you’re not concerned about blemishes.
While candle base is melting, cover workspace with paper to catch any drips, and set out/prepare molds and containers. Keep a set of potholders handy in case you need to move the hot containers before the wax has time to cool.
Cut wicking several inches longer than needed. Tie a hex nut or other small but heavy item to the end of the wick to keep the wick from floating in the container or curling when dipped. The hex nut will be removed from the hardened taper or recycled after the candle burns out. Alternatively, purchase wick tabs and glue dots to fasten wicking to the bottom of the container. Use pencils, bamboo skewers or other items to keep the wick centered until the wax hardens.
Once the base melts, add beeswax or stearic acid (if using), and gently stir until fully melted.
Slowly pour wax into mold or container or begin making dipped tapers.
If making dipped tapers, dip quickly and hang wicking from a rack until hardened. Repeat dipping multiple times until taper reaches desired width. Once completed and fully hardened, cut the nut from the end of the taper.
For molds, allow wax to cool completely. Take mold apart or lightly tap on hard surface to remove candle. Candles may be burned immediately or saved for later use. It’s best to store tallow- and/or lardbased candles in a dark, cool location such as an extra refrigerator, root cellar or basement to prevent softening during warm weather.
burn time while minimizing their candlemaking costs.
Animal fat, which is my favorite, is likely the most ancient candle base, and it remains the most reliable material in times of need. Essentially free to hunters and livestock owners, any animal fat—sheep, elk, caribou, bear, etc.—may be used with mostly minor differences. For instance, lard made from pig fat tends to be softer, and thereby fasterburning, than tallow from beef or venison. Just know that the softer the fat, the faster it burns and the less likely it will make suitable pillars or dipped candles, unless a hardener such as beeswax or commercially available stearic acid is added. Instead, these softer fats are better suited for containers, which have the added benefit of being nice and tidy with no wax leakage. As for smoking or odor, none that I’ve made to date have had either, except
“Beeswax candles emit a slight honey smell and very little smoke with the right wick.”
a very slight “food” smell when extinguised; however, this smell has never lingered more than a few seconds.
Molds and Containers
Molds and containers may also be made from readily available materials. Cylindrical potato-chip containers, waxed drink boxes and even sturdy old paper-towel rolls will work. These will, of course, be one-use molds as
(below, left) Tying hex nuts or similar items to the ends of wicking when dipping tapers helps to keep the growing candles straight as they harden. PHOTO BY KRISTI
COOK (below, right) Recycled glass jars, soup cans and old cotton materials can be used to make sufficient emergency lighting. PHOTO BY KRISTI COOK
they’ll need to be pulled off the candle prior to lighting. Other options include PVC pipe sliced down the middle to make a two-piece mold. Just duct tape the two pieces together with a piece of cardboard taped to the bottom.
Once the wax hardens and cools, cut the tape away and pull the candle out. Or, if you’re preparing emergency lighting ahead of your time of need, you can purchase pre-made molds to fit any candle style. For container candles, almost any nonflammable container will do. Old jelly jars, mason jars, soup cans and even sturdy heat-proof pottery work nicely. Be creative, and you’ll find molds and containers just about anywhere.
Wicking is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of candle making. The problem is that each base and candle size requires a different type of wicking to produce the best burn. Purchased wicking is more reliable than hand-made wicks, as manufacturers have suggestions for which styles work best with each particular wax/base. The exception, however, is animal fat; most don’t list that base as an option. My general rule when using tallow and lard is to use wicking made for softer waxes, such as soy or vegan, yet this doesn’t always work. For instance, I have some zinc-core wicking that states it’s only good for paraffin wax, yet it works beautifully in my tallow containers. So, it’s best to experiment with a few small batches to determine which wicking works best for your situation.
If, however, you’re unable to access premade wicking, find sources of cotton material. Old cotton clothing, bedsheets and even cotton yarn may be used. While the burn won’t be as
efficient as with pre-made wicking, handmade wicks work just fine when the need for emergency lighting strikes. Simply cut thin strips of material, and braid or twist together tightly. Soak wicking for several minutes in your candle base prior to making the candles, and allow to harden as straight as possible. If your lengths are long, you can then roll it into a loose ball for easy storage and cut as needed. Again, experimentation is key. However, in this case, it’s best to experiment before a grid-down situation occurs to build your handmadewicking skills. That way, you’ll be sufficiently prepared in a crisis when resources are extremely limited.
Choose a Style
Once you have everything in place, determine if you want to make pillars, containers, tapers or votives. Each has its own benefits and downsides, so it’s wise to have a variety whenever possible. For low light that doesn’t travel far, small votives placed in a mostly covered container work quite well. For the brightest lighting, tapers and pillars seem to work best in a glass, lantern-style holder with reflectors. And yet, I like tin-can or container candles best when little ones or pets are running underfoot.
Let There be Light
Old-fashioned candle making is a fun and useful skill to have using materials you may already have at home. When burning your own creation, you’ll discover a sense of comfort knowing you can fill the need for lighting in a pinch, no matter the situation. Plus, it rekindles the ancient glow of our ancestors and the light source they always turned to long before flashlights and batteries were invented.
“If you let the fat render fully, the water will evaporate and won’t pose any rancidity issues …”
(above right) Container candles are a tidy option that’s especially safe and useful when pets and small children are present.