It’s confounding how a bit of wax and a wick can somehow cost as much as a decent dinner cooked up by a professional, but artisanal candle shops make a mint by doing just that. The ugly truth is that those costly candles are almost pure profit, and with a few easy minutes of work, you could be mixing up your own candles to give you the gorgeous ambience of a flickering flame along with the wonderful scent that a quality candle puts out into the air.
Chandlery was the medieval term for candle-makers, though the word has now been reappropriated to mean any maker of household goods such as soap, oil, or even producers of waxed canvas or ship materials. Chandlers would hand-make candles by the dozen, back when they were the primary source of cheap light, and they didn’t require anything more than tallow or beeswax and bits of string to get the job done. The good news is, you don’t need much else either, and probably have most of the gear in your home.
Get The Gear
You’ll need some some wax, with real beeswax being a popular option, even though it doesn’t burn well and is worse for releasing any scents you mix in. It’s also costly, so you might consider soy wax or paraffin. Soy is made from soybean oil while paraffin is a petroleum product that is sometimes linked to harmful effects. Soy and beeswax are more natural, but any option will work.
Your wax typically will come as a bag of pellets or a block. The pellets are easy to use, and all you need with a block is to cut it with a sharp knife.
If you already have a cooking pot, you can get a double boiler pan that sits in the top of it for relatively cheap. This is a necessity as it’s how you will melt the wax without ruining it.
They sell wicks in several varieties, but for candles you usually want the biggest size available, even if you’re making a smaller candle. Larger wicks burn more slowly and are better for sustained light, with smaller ones being better for fireworks or explosives, which we assume you don’t have. Ignore length, since you’ll be cutting it to fit your candle anyway.
These are what give your candle its scent. For the best results, you’ll want to purchase oils specifically made for candles. You can use bottles of essential oils, but the smell is usually far weaker, they make the candles a little more likely to break, and they can burn unevenly.
You need to know how hot your wax is so you can determine when to add oils. A cooking thermometer for jelly or candy is best for this.
You will need to stir the wax, which is messy. Don’t use any nice kitchen accessories, since the wax will coat it and get into everything. Hit a thrift store and spend 50 cents on a spatula or cheap, long-handled spoon.
Newspaper or paper towels can be used, but you’ll want to cover as much area as you can around your work area, because everything is about to get waxy. That’s chandlery for you.
You can use either a basic mold for making freestanding candles or a jar to put it into. Any glass or ceramic receptacle will work for this, it just needs to be able to withstand high temperatures, so avoid plastics. Metals tend to singe, but can work. Old, clean jars are best.
This will keep your wick in place while your candle cools.
The best place to make the candles is at your kitchen counter or a small table near the heated wax. You never, ever want to work over carpet, unless you love cleaning wax out of the fibers. Cover the work space with your drop cloths.
Measure out the wick length you need to reach all the way from the top to the bottom of either the jar you’re going to put the candle into, or the mold you’ll be using. Then cut the wick to the desired length. Typically wicks come with little metal discs that you then attach the wick to. They may also come pre-attached in which case you’re ready to go.
When you buy the candle wax or paraffin, it usually tells you how to do this, but the basic answer is to put a pot of water on the stove, turn it to high, then put the double boiler into it with the wax inside the boiler bowl. Stir it as it melts until all you have is liquid.
Each wax has a different temperature that is ideal for adding in whatever smelly oils you’re going to use, so find that information and add the oil when appropriate. If you don’t know, the easy answer is to wait until the wax is melted and pour it in. Usually you want to use about 1 oz. of scent per 1 lbs. of wax.
This step can sometimes come before melting the wax, since you’re anchoring your wick into the jar you plan on using or attaching it to the bottom of the mold. You can do this with any kind of strong adhesive, but we suggest dipping the metal disc into the wax, then centering it in your candle holder and letting the melted wax cool and stick to the bottom of the jar.
Beginners shouldn’t try to make your candle a different color, as it can be complicated. There are specific oil-based candle dyes you must use. If you try using crayons or food coloring, expect disastrous results. Different dyes work at different temperatures, so this is highly specific to your materials.
You don’t want to pour extremely hot wax into your container or mold, as it needs to settle a little bit first. Turn off the heat and watch the thermometer until the wax reaches about 130 degrees. That’s usually the ideal pouring temperature, though different waxes have different rules, so know your material.
Make sure your wick is being held by something, or you have a light grip on it so that it doesn’t disappear into the wax. You can hold it to the side while you pour, but then move it back to the center as soon as you’re done pouring and wait for the wax to cool further so the wick stays in place.
Note: Don’t use all your wax! You’ll need a little leftover.
Put a small rod or pencil across the top of your container. Attach the wick to it sitting in the center. Leave this while the candle cools. If the wick isn’t centered, the candle will burn oddly, so get it as close as you can. Practice will make this easier.
After the candle sits for a few hours, it will settle and form cracks around the wick and the edges. This is why you kept the extra wax in the boiler. Heat that wax up now and pour it over the top to fill in the gaps. It should cool smoothly making the candle look good and burn cleanly.
Cut off excess wick. Too much wick will give you too big a flame. About a quarter of an inch sticking out of the wax is standard.
Wax is best cleaned away by wiping it up in liquid form then disposing of it, or letting it cool and then scraping it off. Either way, avoid washing it off into the sink. Wax can get into your pipes and harden causing ungodly clogs that will cost you dearly in plumbing bills. Always throw wax into the trash, never down the drain.
You should now have a lovely little candle that smells nice, looks good, and costs much less than anything you’d get from the store.