Adventures in candle making.
Candles. They seem like an easy enough thing to DIY. Get some wax, melt it, pour it into something. Don’t forget to add a wick. Done. So, as a complete novice, I dove right into this project, and found that it is easy and satisfying, but I did run into some bumps that could have been smoothed out with a tad more research. So, here are some tips to help you get lit without getting out of wax!
Not all wax is created equal
The type of wax you use depend on the type of candle you want to make. I picked soy wax, because I heard you could melt it in the microwave and it was easy to clean up, but I didn’t realize that it's not the best choice for some of the candles I wanted to try making. Here’s a quick guide to the wax we stock at collage:
Soy wax is the best wax for scented candles. It is practically odorless on its own and absorbs scent very well. It is a soft wax, best suited for container candles, but since I didn’t know this when I started, I made some molded candles that turned out just fine. Here’s hoping the pillar candle I made doesn’t get so soft when I burn it that it collapses and burns my house down.
Beeswax is great for all types of candles and it smells lovely on its own. That’s a good thing, because it does not hold other scents very well.
Also great for all types of candles
Great for all types of candles and has the added bonus of being able to hold scent better than other beeswax.
Same great features of beeswax but with the added bonus of having the yellow color filtered out of it so it can take other added colors well.
Just what it sounds like... wax that is formulated especially for use in glass containers.
How much wax do I need?
Here’s an interesting factoid: One pound of solid wax will yield 20 ounces of melted wax. Weird huh. It's because candle wax is less dense than water and weighs 20% less than water by volume. So, figure out how many ounces your candle vessel or mold will hold, multiply that by the number of candles you want to make, and divide the result by 20 to figure out how many pounds of wax you need. For example: if you want to make four 5 ounce candles, you’ll need one pound of wax!
Wax gets really freaking hot!
I tried 3 methods of melting wax.
This is a fast and easy way to melt soy wax only, but it can be difficult to control the temperature. I recommend melting your wax in one minute bursts, stirring and checking it between bursts. Your wax will be ready when it is just melted, there may even be some solid wax left when you take it out, but that should melt when you give it a final stir. If you get your wax too hot, it can cause some of the problems discussed below. It's likely at the perfect temperature if you can swirl it around in your container and it leaves a bit of a thin film on the glass. You also need to be very careful removing it from your microwave. It's hot!!!
This method takes a while but its good if you have more important things to do than watch wax melt. Add some water to your crock pot, set it to low, put your wax in a glass container and put it in your pot. Wait a couple hours or more for it to melt. Don’t forget about it!
This was my favorite method because I could control the amount of heat easier. Like the crock pot method, you add water to a pot and melt your wax in a glass container either sitting in the water or perched above it in a glass bowl sitting on top of your pot. Keep your water at a very low simmer. Do not let it boil. I used this method, combined with the crock pot method, but with the crock pot set on warm to keep my wax from hardening while I worked.
You could also skip all of the above and get a handy dandy all in one candle making kit that includes a melting/pouring pot!
Easy and straightforward. You just add bits of it to your wax before pouring.
Not recommended for melting with your wax because they smell kinda bad. You could melt some separately and then drip or dip or paint the melted crayon on your candle to avoid the smell of burning crayola when you light your candle.
Your spice cabinet
You can infuse color into your wax with herbs and spices! I tied up some turmeric and paprika in coffee filters and steeped them in the wax warming in my crock pot for a couple hours. I got lovely yellow and orange shades. You can also use rosemary or parsley to get a green shade. The longer you steep, the more intense the color.
Painting and dyeing
After hardening, you can paint designs on your candle with acrylic or dye it with alcohol ink! As long as you don't paint the part near the wick, the acrylic won't affect the burning of your candle at all. Alcohol ink sticks beautifully to wax and once its dry the alcohol part evaporates leaving behind only pigment, so its safe to use on candles.
These work best because they are formulated for safe use in candles and it only takes a few drops to get a good smell.
It takes a lot of essential oil to make a candle smelly. I used about an ounce in about 8 ounces of candle wax and I can barely smell it in the candle, and it doesn’t really smell when I burn it. Maybe if you use something super pungent like mint or rosemary it will work better, but it will still take a lot of oil.
Other perfume oils
Perfume oils for the body or the home can be a little risky unless you know exactly what is in them. They could react with the wax and form crystals that make your candle burn unevenly. Some could even ignite and start a fire.
Choose the perfect vessel
Anything heat safe will do so get creative with it and recycle some glass jars, old teacups, or tins. The possibilities are endless and a trip to the thrift store could yield all sorts of options. I used an old teacup and a votive holder.
Wick size matters.
Wicks come in many different sizes. The size you use depends on the size of your candle. If you use a thin wick in a large candle, your flame will be weak, and your wick will drown in a pool of melted wax. If you use a thick wick in a little candle your candle will burn too fast and hot, creating flickering, soot and smoke. Most of the pre-made wicks we carry are suitable for candles up to 2.5 inches in diameter. I probably could have used a bigger wick, or used two wicks in my teacup and floating heart candles.
You can make your own wick with natural, undyed cotton or hemp cord. Cut the length you need and submerge it in melted wax for 30 seconds. Let it hang dry or dry on a covered surface. You can make custom wick sizes by braiding cords together or by pulling apart the individual strands of your cord.
When securing your wick to your vessel or mold, make sure that it is centered and straight. Lopsided wicks will make your candle burn unevenly. Secure the tab on a pre made wick with a glue dot to hold it in place while you pour your wax. If your wick doesn’t have a wick tab at the bottom you can attach a paper clip and secure that to the bottom with a glue dot. If you don’t have any glue dots, you could try hot glue, or even just pour a little schmear of wax in first, add your wick and let the wax harden around it to keep it in place. I do recommend the glue dots because they are easy-peasy.
After securing your wick, oh so carefully pour your wax into your chosen vessel. I forgot the wick once and added it after the wax was poured. This resulted in a crooked wick and an unevenly burning candle. I also highly recommend covering your work surface with paper or something to minimize your cleanup effort after you spill wax all over the place.
Using a mold
You can use one of these easy, conventional molds for pillars, votives and tea lights, or you can get all creative and make your own using things like:
Vintage doll heads! One from my collection made a particularly good little mold.
Cardboard tubes - I made my pillar candle out a cardboard tube and a ton of Duck Tape
Egg shells from blown out eggs
Tin foil - scrunch it up into any shap you want!
Baking and gelatin molds - I made two floating candles. One in a heart shaped tart pan and the other in a fluted hors d’ouerves mold. Rubbing a little oil in the mold before pouring helps your candle release nicely.
When things go wrong:
The candle on the left has a problem called "frosting". Apparently it is an almost unavoidable problem with soy wax. You can try to mitigate it by making sure your wax is the right temperature for pouring, but that's not a guarantee it won't happen. If you really want to avoid it, make your soy wax candle in an opaque container.
I really don't know what happened to the candle on the right. I couldn't find any answers on the internet. Shocking, I know. I bet it has something to do with the temperature of the wax, or maybe it was the paprika I used to get that color.
Its best to clean up your melting pots while they’re still warm. Use a paper towel to wipe out as much as you can and then follow that up with a little rubbing alcohol. If your wax has dried to any surface, scrape up what you can and then wipe it down with rubbing alcohol. No matter how clean you get your tools, its best to keep them only for candle making purposes when you use any wax other than soy.
Soy wax is water soluble and can be cleaned up with soap and water, so it's safe to reuse your melting tools for other purposes.