Almost everyone loves candles. Their soft ambient glow, their subtle warmth, that faint but gorgeous aroma; they all combine into this fantastic experience that takes us back to simpler times. Let’s be honest, we’re a little bit overloaded in today’s world. The TV, computers, halogen lighting in the office, it all slowly starts to stress us out, strain our eyes, and give us a headache. And then we light a candle.
There’s no artifice to the light, no buzzing sound, no numbers to interpret or pictures to stare at: just a flame. This brilliant simplicity is such a radical departure from the norm that it’s shocking for just a moment, and we’re forced to take it in. Think about it: the next time you light a candle, pay attention to what you do right afterward. Do you just light it and walk away? No!
You stay still for just a moment, watching the wick slowly come alive, and then turn away.
But you still check on it, just to see what it’s doing. It’s a strange habit without much logic or reason, but we all do it. Not too often, maybe a few times an hour, but we love to see all the details. How much has it melted? Is it melting evenly? If not, where is the wax going as it melts? And the smell is simply intoxicating…
We’ve gone too far ahead! While we’ve all had that experience with store-bought candles, imagine experiencing a candle that you’ve made yourself. By knowing how to make candles yourself, you open up an entire new world of possibilities. How so? You aren’t trapped in the same boring scents! No more fresh rain, ocean breeze, clean linen, or midnight rose. It will smell however you want it to. Coconut lime, fresh curry, or even a marinara candle if you want to; any smell is possible. Of course, figuring out your own scents will come with time; first we need to get into the meat of how to make candles.
The very first thing that we need to do is get all of the supplies together. All we need is a mold, wax, a wick, a candy thermometer, and a double boiler. So what can you use as a mold?
Virtually anything! Here are the 3 criteria for a candle mold: it must be heatproof, it must be as smooth as possible, and it can’t be narrower at the top than the bottom. The reasons for these are pretty obvious; you need to be able to remove the candle as easily as possible and the mold can’t burn. One important note: glass doesn’t like fast temperature changes. If you are using pure glass for a mold, preheat it in a 200 oven so that the wax doesn’t cause it to crack or shatter.
Once you have found your mold just rub it with a little bit of vegetable oil to help the candle come out, and we’re ready to start thinking about waxes. Luckily, this is 90% a matter of personal choice.
When it comes to choosing a wax it is mostly up to you, just make sure that the wax you purchase can hold up to your project. For example, ‘container wax’ (so-called because it is meant for candles that are in something, such as a jar) cannot hold the shape of a pillar candle. This is a crucial aspect of candle making that you can’t overlook. If in doubt, check the packaging on your wax. Other than that, just stick with what you like.
Beeswax has a wonderful natural aroma and color, but can be expensive. Paraffin wax is the least expensive but can smoke. Soy wax is my preference, simply because it is extremely easy to work with and burns very cleanly. While you’re getting your wax, pick up a pack of pre-pinned wicks. They’re dirt cheap and will keep your candles safe and even burning. Trust me; it is several hours faster than making wicks yourself, just spend the few dollars!
Now we’re ready to start the process. Get a saucepan and put about 3 inches of water in it, then bring it to a simmer. Here you have another choice to make: just use any old pan for a double boiler or get a candle making pitcher. They only cost around $15 and they make the pouring process much easier, but it’s ultimately up to you. Whichever you choose, chip off some wax from the block with a screwdriver and hammer and add it to the top of your double boiler. Now we come to the first Zen aspect of how to make candles:
Attach the candy thermometer to the side of your double boiler and wait for your wax to come to the proper temperature. Read your packaging, but it is usually around 180 degrees. No, you can’t leave the room to go do something else. You have to stand there and wait. Why? Because it’s an enormous fire hazard! Overheated wax can burst into flames, which is definitely not Zen; so just be patient for a little bit!
Once the wax has reached its proper temperature, add whatever scents, colors, or fresh ingredients you want to the wax. I know what you’re thinking: fresh ingredients? This is the best part of making your candles, as well the least talked about. You can add anything that isn’t likely to catch fire, or on larger candles just move it to the outer rim away fro the flame. Here are a few example ideas: organic rose petals, lemon peel, shredded coconut, ad infinitum. After you’ve made a few basic candles and experimented a little, you’ll find yourself wanting to see what you have in your house to use to create new scents. It can be a very fun game, especially if you make your friends guess the scents! Back to the action:
You just added the scent, dye, or other fresh ingredients. Now just set your wick in the center of your mold and pour in the wax to the desired height of the candle. You’ve now reached the next Zen stage: waiting for the candle to cool. Depending on the size, it should only take a few hours (pillar candles can take days). After it has fully cooled it should release from the mold fairly easily, if now just put it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes so it shrinks slightly. Is it out of the mold? Now for the true Zen experience:
Light your newly made candle. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But there is so much more to it! It isn’t just the fun of lighting a candle anymore, of creating mood lighting or filling the room with a wonderful scent… it’s lighting your candle that is exactly the way you want it to be. Enjoy the quiet peace of watching your new creation slowly burn, warming the entire room (even if only in mood), and just relax.
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