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CANDLE-MAKING Part II: The Dipping Method

(Part I, Burning materials and the wick was published in Newsletter 9. The full article is taken from Candle Making in a Small Workroom by Frank Elsen and Pol Janssens of the ATOL Foundation in Leuven, Belgium. The full article first appeared in VRAAGBAAK Vol 14 No 2. (VRAAGBAAK is now renamed AT-Source).

Candle making by the dipping method gives many possibilities: all! lengths and thicknesses of candles can be obtained and a hundred to more than a thousand candles per day can be made under relatively simple work conditions and using home-made appliances.

Dipping works as follows: the wick is hung vertically and dipped into liquid (warm) wax, taken out and cooled. The wick at this point has a layer of wax on it.

This process is repeated until the desired thickness is achieved. The length of the wick determines the length of the candle. 80-100cm long. On these two sticks the wicks are hung as in fig 1*. Attach a weight to the bottom end of the suspended wicks, to ensure straight candles (any small piece of metal will serve as a weight).

Wax or paraffin should be warmed up in one or more large pans, so that the suspended wicks can be easily dipped into them. Both sticks (or rods) should be kept a distance apart from each other so that they can easily be taken out and placed back into the pans. This is done using the middle and fore fingers. One can also fasten crossrods to the main sticks to maintain the correct distance from one another. With a bit of inventiveness one can place many containers beside each other so that using two rods more than ten candles can be dipped. By changing and rotating several pairs of rods, one can easily produce hundreds of candles per day. At the beginning two rods with suspended candles do not weigh much, but by the last dipping they may weigh 1 to 2kg; the dipping itself takes about 10 seconds and should be done very quickly. If one works with more than two rods at a time, one must take into consideration the strain it gives to one’s arms; especially if working with paraffins where, to achieve an even thickness, an even greater number of dippings must be made than when using beeswax. Arm-muscles are known to complain when using the dipping technique! Do consider your back and set the containers in a way that allows you to work with a straight back (for example, wax height 80cm above the ground).

When working with beeswax consider the following:

The first dipping is of the bare wick, and it may take 1 minute to ensure that all the air escapes out of the wick. The following dippings take 5 to 10 seconds (longer, and the wax melts back off again!). Between dippings hardening/cooling-off time takes 3 minutes at the beginning and around 10 minutes at the end when the candle is thicker. To achieve a well-formed dipped candle, it is important always dipped to the same depth. The movement in the dipping must also be continuous and smooth. Jerking movements or irregularity will show on the final candle, either as ring-form bands, or thick and thin areas. If the dipping movement is too quick then the new wax layer does not have the chance to adhere properly to the last layer of wax. This creates a grained surface on the candle with light and dark blotches. This effect could be used deliberately during the last few dippings depending on one’s decorative ideas.

In the workplace where candles are dipped, be careful that there is as little air movement as possible, and no draughts. It is not always easy to limit this, considering heating systems that demand fresh air. A draught is a problem, not only as we have already mentioned because of impurities, but also it causes the wax on the suspended candles to dry faster on one side, producing slanting candles. These candles do give light, but no one will want to buy them! In airy conditions, these various factors could cause a loss of about 10% or more.

Wax dyes

If you are dipping with a pale wax or paraffin, during the last few dippings you can use a container to which colouring matter has been added. This way the candle has a shine on the outside. You can acquire deeper colours by adding dyes to all the wax, and in this case the inside of the candle will be coloured too.

Finishing touches

The candles are taken off the rods, after which the pairs of candles, attached by the wicks, can be easily hung somewhere to harden. After 24 hours of hardening, the blunt bottom, above the weight hanging on the wick, is cut off with a sharp knife. The weights can be recycled by melting the cut-off stumps.

Technical expansion

If and when circumstances allow, candle production can be expanded. With a relatively small amount of material a construction can be built which allows 1000-10000 candles per day to be made. This method of production is actually a technical improvement of the dipping which is described above. The first alteration is the attachment of the wicks to the top and bottom of the frame. Instead of hanging loosely, the wicks are spanned across a metal frame (fig. 2*).

The distance between wicks is determined by the thickness of the candle plus an extra centimetre in between. In the case of a candle with a 2cm diameter, the distance between can be adjusted by loosening the screws (e) and (f) so that the upper bar can be moved along the two side rods to the desired height. We can thus determine the length of the candle. The metal frame has hooks along the top and bottom so that the wick can be spanned in one piece. The wick Only has to be knotted on the first and last hooks. The whole frame can be dipped in the liquid wax and brought up again; the first dipping takes 1 minute, and subsequent dippings take 5-10 seconds. During the first dipping the wax temperature can be a bit higher (more than 70°C) and during the following dippings lower (65°C). When using beeswax, the hardening time is about 3 minutes between each dipping. When using Paraffins, the time is 3-5 minutes and when the candle diameter is 2cm or bigger it can be more in the area of 10 Minutes. The layers, when using beeswax, are about 0.5mm thick, this is a bit more than when using paraffin Mixtures (O.3mm).

A few tips

1. The higher the wax temperature, the more rounds of dipping are needed to achieve a given thickness of candle, since less wax is left behind.

2. The longer the time between dipping (ie: the longer the time that candles are cooled), the more wax they will take up, and thus less dipping is necessary to achieve the candle diameter.

3. Try to ensure proper air circulation; a low air temperature shortens hardening time, but do take care to prevent slanting candles.

The whole process becomes more efficient when one has a series of frames that can be alternately dipped. With 10 frames, one can efficiently make 200-300 candles a day.

Wax tends to collect on the side rods of the frames. This must be removed with regularly a knife (eg. every 5th dipping).

The wax that collects at the base of the frame is left so that it forms a whole with the foot of each candle. When the dipping is finished, hang the frame with its bottom edge in wax, with the surface of the wax just above the hooks, for 10 minutes. In this way the wax at the bottom melts away and the candles can be removed from the hooks. Leave the candles hanging for 1 day to harden.

This system of using frames has a number of practical advantages: the wicks are spanned, thus there is no problem of slanting products. The spanning of the wicks takes less time than measuring the wicks, attaching a weight etc, as in the traditional method.

A disadvantage of using the frame method is the larger size of wax container needed and the time necessary for melting the wax that has accumulated at the bottom of the frames.

When using frames it is that important dipping is done with a smooth, flowing movement. Candles made in this way have a slight cone form, narrowing towards the wick. When making candles longer than 30cm one must take care that the wax temperature does not become too high in the containers, or the time between dippings too short. In this case the candle would become cone-formed, narrowing towards the bottom. The bottom part becomes too warm, and less wax is left behind.

(Part III: Expansion to a carousel, to be continued in the next edition of Newsletter).

ATOL, Studie en documentatiecentrum voor ‘aangepaste’ technologie in ontwikkelingslanden, Blijde Inkomstraat 9, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.

* Where reference to figures is made, please see the original journal article