Making candles is both an art and a science, which is the main reason why I love it so much. It satisfies my natural scientific & meticulous nature, working with weights and volumes, creating formulas, and precise measurements. Candle making also scratches the itch on my artsy side: designing labels, candle appearance, and DIY’ing the heck out of my kitchen candle space.
So you want to learn to make candles? Here’s how to start.
PART ONE: DO YOUR RESEARCH
There are so many different candles out there. What are you interested in? What do you have time for? Are you making them for just you, or do you want to make a business out of it someday? You have so many choices when it comes to candles, so read everything you can to help your brain lead your heart. Since flame is involved you have safety issues to consider, and since different waxes are made from different sources, you have some ethical considerations to make as well. Your first question to answer is:
- What kind of candles do I want to make?
Container candles are very popular and are the easiest type of candle for a beginner. The wax is poured directly into the container so you don’t need to worry about the candle wax being hard enough to support itself (like a pillar). You can choose a bunch of different container shapes & materials. The most popular are glass containers and travel tin containers. Be sure to choose a container that is both cost efficient for you, and safe for open flame. Occasionally I’ll see a pinterest photo where someone has made a candle in a wine glass, but the thin walls of a wine glass just aren’t safe! Choose a container that isn’t going to shatter easily when heat is applied.
Votive candles are poured into a mold, but are burned inside of a small container. The wax needs to be hard enough to release from the mold, but not support itself during the burn. Some votive candles require multiple pours and much more time, but it is fun to make little 3oz candles.
Wax Melts are similar to votives because they don’t need to be as hard as pillars, but they still need to be released easily from a mold. You’ll need a wax that is firm but still has a low melting point so that it will melt in a warmer. Container wax is too soft and makes removing the wax difficult to remove from the melter, so you need a different type of wax.
Tealights are small, 1.5” candles designed to sit inside a container. Tealights can be made using most wax types, but do not typically have a very good scent throw because of their small size.
Pillar candles are burned independently of a container, so they require a hard wax. Wax shrinks as it cools, and that helps release the candle from the molds. But the shrinkage will also require 2 or 3 more pours when making the candle. Pillars are beautiful when placed in a flower arrangement, a hurricane glass, or even just a small platform or mirror.
Taper candles are long narrow candles that sit inside of a candlestick holder. Traditionally these are made by dipping a weighted wick into the wax over and over again. Today molds are available to make the process quicker. I personally like the thought of dipping to create candles, but can only wish to have the time for it.
Gel candles are made from polymer resin and mineral oil, and Penreco Corporation holds a patent on gel wax. They use a very narrow cut of mineral oil which provides safety in relation to the flash point. I would recommend using the Penreco Versagel for your gel candles instead of mixing your own gel to ensure better safety of your final product. Gel candles require more thought and research on the safety topic, so be sure to cover your bases when trying gel.
After you choose a candle type, you need to decide:
2. What kind of wax should I use?
The majority of candle makers are interested in the fragrance of a candle. The strength of the scent – the scent throw – depends on several variables, including the type of wax you choose.
Soy wax is made from hydrogenated soybean oil that is available in several forms. Soy wax flakes are my favorite for making candles – it’s easy to measure, clean up, and store, plus its sustainable, eco-friendly, and burns clean. Soy doesn’t have the best reputation for a good scent throw, especially when compared to paraffin wax. But one burn of a Mountain City Candle Co. candle will show you that it is definitely achievable. You need to choose a quality soy wax, and put your time into creating a quality candle by researching and testing and finding the formula that works for you.
Paraffin wax is the most commonly used and least expensive candle wax. It can be used to make containers, voties, tealights, tapers, pillars and melts. Be careful about what you read online about paraffin wax – it has a bad reputation among small candle businesses. But Bath & Body Works, as well as Yankee candle, and probably a few others, all use paraffin quite successfully. You can read my thoughts on paraffin vs soy wax here.
Palm Wax is 100% natural, produced by hydrogenating palm oils. But while it works quite well with pillars, votives, and tarts, my opinion is that it should never be used. The production of palm oil is devastating for the environment and wildlife in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Tropical forests and peatland are destroyed for palm oil production, leaving orangutans nearly extinct due to their habitat loss. Participating in that type of destruction seems unnecessary to me when there are other choices available.
Beeswax is another 100% all-natural wax. It’s one of the best candle waxes on the market and can be used to make all sorts of different types of candles. It’s a very firm, hard wax, and it has a very high melting point. It’s a little messy, but it has a natural yellow color and a very distinct scent. You can purchase beeswax online in bricks or pellets, but a quick online or Facebook search could direct you to local beekeepers in your area. Purchasing your beeswax locally is the absolute best way to help your local bee keeping community.
Check back soon for Part Two of our candle making blog series where I’ll discuss types of wicks.