The Can­dle-mak­ing Process

Modern Pioneer - - Candle Making -


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.

The Wick

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.

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