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Candle making

1. Burning Materials and the Wick

1. Beeswax Beeswax is the oldest and best known material in candle making. The raw beeswax is melted in warm water, strained and cooled. In fresh water the hardened wax is again heated, melted, strained and cooled. The whole process is carried out for a third time. In this way, impurities are gradually removed from the wax: if left in the wax they will gather moisture and cause faulty burning of the candle.

Every time the wax is reheated during this cleaning treatment, it turns a darker colour. In many countries, the lighter the wax, the more valuable it is considered, although light colour does not improve burning quality in any way. Light-coloured wax can be obtained simply by placing the wax out in the sun; after the last cleaning the warm, fluid wax is poured into a rotating water bath (see figures below*): on the wet cylinder the wax gathers in the form of small pellets. Once in the waterbath placed in the sun to lighten. Older, darkened wax can be lightened by this same manner—but a reminder: this does not alter the burning quality one bit!

Concerning the preparation and incorporation of the beeswax take care with the following:

— Keep the wax and air within the workplace as dust-free as possible. Particles in the wax reduce burning quality.

— The use of copper causes an irreversible dark colouration of the wax. Do not use copper appliances (for example brass pans, strainers, sieves or moulds). Wax is a useful extra income for the beekeeper, provided that there is local demand and possibilities for the beekeeper to negotiate and sell wax. Where there is demand for beeswax one should be careful that one is paying for the real thing. If inexpensive fat is added to beeswax, the beeswax becomes more flexible and not as crumbly. This can be tested by feeling the wax and taking a good look with an experienced eye. Sometimes warmed wax is whipped-up (just as eggwhite is beaten to make it stiff) and air is entrapped. The wax is then cooled. By this method the density of the beeswax is reduced, and a candle made from this beeswax will feel lightweight.

2. Paraffin wax

Most paraffin waxes have a melting point between 54°C and 58°C; but wax with a lower or higher melting point is also available. Microcrystallized wax is a special form of paraffin wax with a melting point between 60°C and 93°C. If added to ordinary paraffin wax, the wax layers adhere well to one another, and the wax becomes flexible and results in a firm candle. According to the mixture used, the quality of wax can vary greatly, varying from flexibility for better hand moulding to the firmness needed when using candle moulds.

Too much microcrystallized wax in a mixture causes brittleness in the candle. The solution is obvious; the candlemaker has to experiment.

Paraffin waxes are by-products of petrol distillation and they are therefore widely available. Paraffin wax is available in 5 or 25Kg blocks, or powder form. If it is imported, paraffin wax can be very expensive.

3. Stearin

Stearin is a firm, non-poisonous, white-coloured wax. In candles it produces a positive, white colour, reduces transparency and gives a candle a glossy and hard finish. It is used with paraffin wax, usually at a proportion of 5-50%. Stearin is an organic product, sometimes made from vegetable fat (for example cottonseed oil) although more often from animal fat.

4. Mixtures

The burning ingredients described above can be mixed in different ratios without much problem. If beeswax is very expensive and paraffin wax is cheaper, one could have a candle made of 30% beeswax and 70% paraffin wax. There are many mixtures possible, all giving a good result—it just calls for experimentation.

Two important factors are:

1. Melting point: 2 products with the same melting point can, when mixed together, give a product with a lower or higher melting point.

2. Adhesion: the force with which the layers attach to each other. This is important with dipped candles, for example a mixture consisting mostly of wax adheres quicker to the last layer than a mixture with more paraffin in the ratio.

The choice of burning ingredients depends on your own preferences, but it is important to promote the advantages of beeswax—whereas paraffin wax often has to be imporated and transported in, beeswax is a readily available product.

5. Wicks

Wick weaving is a very sensitive and specialized industry: the woven pattern as well as the stiffness of the cotton strings are very important. The wick woks by a capillary method (melted wax travels up a wick to ‘feed’ the flame with vapour) and bending of the wick in the flame is important for complete burning in the blue part of the flame. It is possible to make your own wick with the best, purest cotton string: using normal spun cotton string, and twining it as one traditionally twines cord or rope (for example 6 x 2 strings where each string has diameter 0-5 mm). Good results can also be obtained using hand-woven or plaited cotton. There is therefore a choice between buying wicks from commercial industry (this often means importing) or using handmade wicks. The answer depends on the burning quality required, and whether hand-made wicks are really worth the time and can result in an income.

What kind of wicks?

The burning material and the production method will determine which wicks are best.

A few tips:

1. For the choice of the wick, one must look at the burning of the candle. It must not drip and yet give a smooth, continuous flame that burns thoroughly to the bottom of the candle. The flame must not smoke, and must be centred as well as possible. If the wick is too thin it will not burn enough wax: the amount of melted wax will increase and the candle starts dripping.

Or: if the wick is too thin and the melting point of the wax is too high, then the heat will not be enough to melt the wax from the wick and the candle will extinguish itself.

If the wick is too large, the candle will burn too fast, with a smoking, dirty flame.

2. If one wants a candle with a non-dripping yet completely burning flame, then the diameter of the candle ought to be no larger than 4-5 cm. If it is larger, the wick will burn a hole through the candle while the outer layer of wax will serve as a vertical coat or shield.

To make very thick candles, use a mixture of beeswax and paraffin with a low melting point.

3. If the beeswax is not free of impurities, use a thick wick.

4. There is an international standard for flat-woven wicks. The wick type is determined by the numbers of strings used (english: ply) to make the wick.

For example paraffin candles:

Diameter of the candle   /   Wick type (flat-woven)

1cm                7ply

2-5cm            9-12ply

5cm               15ply

7cm              24ply

Industrially fabricated wicks vary greatly (round, square, etc) according to the maker.

5. The wick-maker gives advice about which wick to use for the candles a workshop plans to make.

The necessary information is: production method, ingredients and quality, burning elements, diameter and length of intended candles.

From our experience, the advice from the wick-makers is not always reliable. Try out the wick varieties for yourself in your own

workshop. Testing-out must be done before starting production. Some wick-makers send samples on request*

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

(Part II, The Dipping Method, to be continued in the next edition of Newsletter).