Candle Making Basics - Part 1
Newcomers to candle making may be having a
hard time finding useful information about it. Years ago
there were some good books on the subject. There are very
few candle making books available now, and most of these are
geared towards using granulated wax in boiling bags or
beeswax sheets ( which are fine for those with just a casual
interest). The real fun in candle making is the
experimentation. Fortunately, the Web has taken up the
slack, and there are many candle makers willing to share
Rule Number one - There are no Rules, with the exception of
safety rules. Candle making is about experimentation. It is
Chemistry, Art, Imagination, and Magic rolled into one.
There are many factors that affect the finished candle -
wick, wax, temperature, additives, type of mold, dye,
scents, etc... Always consider candle recipes a starting
point for your own experimentation.
One thing often overlooked by
candle makers of all experience levels is the importance of
keeping records. It would be a shame to develop your "ideal
candle", and not be able to reproduce your results. Keeping
a notebook handy in your candle making area is very helpful.
Some things to consider for your records are:
- Type and quantity of wax.
- Type and quantity of additives such
as stearine, vybar, luster crystals, etc...
- Type and quantity of dye.
- Type and quantity of scent.
- Type and size of wick.
- Type and quantity of mold.
- Pouring temperature.
- Double boiler - may be a commercial
double boiler, or use a coffee can in an old pot. A
seamless pot is highly recommended though.
- Thermometer - a candle or candy
thermometer that clips to the pot works fine. Do not
even consider making candles without a thermometer.
- Pot holders or pliers - depending on
whether you are using a pot or a can.
- Mold release - silicone spray is
easiest to use, but peanut oil works well also.
- Cutter for wicks.
- Wooden spoon - for stirring wax.
- Dowel for poking relief holes in
- Baking pan at least eight inches
square - numerous uses, but mainly for leveling the
bottom of molded candles.
There are many waxes available for candle making. I
recommend that beginners start with a general purpose
paraffin wax which melts in the range of 135 - 145 degrees.
As you progress into candle making, you will probably want
to start experimenting with other types of waxes such as
microcrystaline, beeswax, bayberry, and other melting points
of paraffin. For now get to know the properties of one
readily available wax.
The variety of candle additives commonly available has grown
tremendously in the past 2 decades. Here are descriptions of
the most common additives:
Stearine - Also called stearic acid. This has been the
standard paraffin additive for a very long time. Used to
make wax harder, release from mold easier, and increase
opacity of the wax. Use from five to thirty percent ( three
to five tablespoons per pound of paraffin). This is the
easiest additive to find, and I recommend it for beginners.
Vybar - Available in low melting point (Vybar #260) and high
melting point (Vybar #103). More economical to use than
stearine. Improves color and scent retention. Difficult to
find, and doesn't always release from mold easily. Use one
to five percent.
Plastics - There are a variety of plastic additives (mostly
polyethylenes) that will improve gloss, opacity,
translucence, strength, and hardness. Marketed under a
variety of names such as luster crystals, opaque crystals,
translucent crystals, etc... These are readily attainable,
but are difficult to use due to their high melting point.
Must be melted separately, then added to melted wax. General
usage is from one half to two percent depending on the
product. Not recommended for beginners.
There are more than 35
different wicks on the market, although only about six of
these are commonly available to retail candle supply
purchasers. Wicking can be broken down into three categories
- Flat, Square, and Wire Core. Flat and square are used for
molded and dipped candles, wire core for floating, votive,
and container candles. The starting point for wick selection
is to match the wick to the mold diameter. For a small mold
use a small wick, etc... If a test burn of the finished
candle shows a minimal wax pool the wick is too large for
your wax formula. If your wax pool is drowning the wick by
causing it to go out or have a small flame, go to a larger
wick. The wick size is the easiest way to adjust how your
candles burn, and it is important to keep in mind that
changing your wax formula may require changes in wicking as
well. If you don't have another size wick handy, adjusting
your wax hardness with more or less additives may help it
There are 2 main ways to color candles, dye and pigments.
Most candle making is done with dye. Pigments are very
concentrated colors primarily used for over dipping and
carved candles. As a general rule, never use pigments to
color the core of a candle - the particles of pigment will
clog the wick. Although it is common to see candle making
instructions using crayons for color, this can also clog the
wick. For the best results always use a dye specifically
made for coloring candles. If a really deep color is needed
consider an over dip in that color - too high a color
concentration in the core of the candle may cause burning
problems. Wax colors will be lighter than they appear in the
melting pot. To get an idea of the finished color place a
drop of wax on a piece of white paper. An even better test
is to put a half inch of wax in a paper cup and place it in
the freezer, this will give you the exact finished color in
a hurry. Keep in mind that wax additives affect the final
Candle scent is marketed in 2 forms - liquid scent oil, and
scent blocks. Although the liquid scent is a higher outlay
in cost, I feel it works far better than scent blocks. As a
general guideline follow the manufacturers directions.
Higher scent concentrations can usually be used, however too
much scent can ruin a candle. Use caution with acrylic molds
since high percentages of scent may ruin the mold.