Candlemaking Basics

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I made these, yo. And as festive as these look, anyone who’s ever received a gift from me knows that I hate fussing with gift wrap, so practically all my gifts are given with baker’s twine and brown paper.

Yesterday I cranked through a few batches of bayberry/beeswax candles with the intent to give them as holiday gifts to my friends. In the process of posting a few pictures to Facebook, I realized that aside from a couple posts on re-filling 7-day candle jars, I’d kept my secret life as a chandler hidden from this site. That struck me as a bit ridiculous seeing as the only reason I took up candle-making was because of the sheer number I use in my pagan practices. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my process for making beeswax taper candles, which account for the majority of candles I use in my practice.

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Assembled supplies. Not pictured: a mold rack, because these molds are fairly short (8 inches), so they’re unlikely to bend. They’re still prone to tipping over, though, so they require a steady hand and no pets or small children running about.

I don’t like to make hand-dipped beeswax tapers, which — in order to produce candles that don’t look like syphilitic phalli — requires fiddly equipment, a ton of wax, and hours standing over a hot stove carefully monitoring wax temperature. Instead, I use silicone taper molds. In order to take this route, I use the following items:

  • Silicone or polyurethane taper molds (7.5″ spirals used in these pictures here, but I also love my regular 8″ standard tapers)
  • Rubber bands for molds (if needed for mold)
  • Wicking needle
  • Candle wicking (square braided cotton for beeswax)
  • Scissors
  • Bobby pins or T-pins for holding the wick
  • Wax (I’m using a 50/50 bayberry/beeswax blend here)
  • Wax dye or dye chips (optional, and not used here)
  • Scale
  • Pouring pot
  • Thermometer (not pictured)
  • A 4-6 quart saucepan or dutch oven (not pictured)
  • White vinegar (not pictured)
  • Paper towels (not pictured)
  • Surface protection (You will drip some wax, and this makes clean-up a breeze. I usually use old newspapers to cover my table…but I didn’t have any. So here I used a sheet pan and aluminum foil.)
  • Tape measure (not pictured)
  • Mold release spray (not used here…I find I don’t really need it if I make sure to wash my molds properly after several batches of candles)

I really should have busted out a taper mold holder for this project. Being long and skinny, taper molds can bend, which means the final candle will be a little curved. Mold holders help keep the molds straight. They also are excellent to help keep the molds from tipping over. However, this particular candle mold is fairly short at 7.5 inches, and they are all pretty new and still quite rigid. I also have a really steady pouring hand, so I decided not to bother unpacking the mold holder for this project.

You start by preparing your wax to melt, as it will take at least a half hour for it to completely melt and rise to pouring temperature. To begin this, you *should* first calculate how much wax you’ll need for the project. These particular molds require 1.4 ounces of wax for each finished candle. If I wanted to make 12 candles, I would therefore need 16.8 ounces of wax. I would probably actually put in 1 pound 7/8 ounces to make my life slightly easier and to account for an over pour or spill. (That wax wouldn’t get lost…I would just wait until it cooled, scrape it off, and pop it back in the melting pot.)

Once you’ve measured your wax and popped it into the pouring pot, you’re ready to set up your double-boiler. It’s not hard. You just fill up a 4 to 6 quart pot a fair way with cold water, throw in a splash of vinegar (to help keep hard water deposits from precipitating out as water evaporates), and rest your pouring pot inside. If you leave the handle of the pouring pot outside the heating pot, as I have shown, it will stay much cooler for pouring.

You *should* also clip a thermometer to the inside of your pouring pot so that you can monitor the temperature of the melting wax. In general, beeswax should be poured between 145°F/63°C and 185°F/85°C. I tend to prefer the higher end of the spectrum for the silicone molds. If I am to be honest, though, I usually skip taking the temperature when making tapers with silicone molds as 1) the candles are small enough and the silicone insulating enough that they’re really forgiving and 2) I’ve gotten quite good at recognizing when the wax is where I want it with visual cues.

It may be tempting to skip using the double boiler and to just heat wax directly on your stove. Please don’t. If you’re not closely monitoring the wax, it could overheat. The aerosolized wax can easily catch fire. Don’t believe me? Blow out a candle, then put a lit match a few inches above the wick. The aerosolizing wax still rising from the candle will ignite and travel back down to the wick, “magically” relighting it. Picture that process with your kitchen cabinets and save yourself a few thousand dollars by using the double boiler. The double boiler also means you can save energy between pours. You can turn off the heat when you’ve poured a batch, for the water in the boiler will keep the wax hot enough that even an hour later, you’ll only need a couple minutes of active heating (rather than the initial half hour) to get your wax back up to pouring temperature.

I’ll admit that the double boiler method isn’t without its drawbacks. It is a pain in the neck to clean the pot afterwards. Even with glugs of vinegar, the water spots are a nightmare. The pouring pot also “floats” a bit unless there’s a ton of wax in the pot, which means it could tip. And, of course, the handle will get hot, even when left outside the pot. I may look into getting a Presto Multicooker in the future. Lots of candlemakers use them to directly melt wax, and they are a good bit safer than the stovetop, because you can set a ball-park temperature. There’s no worrying about igniting wax that way. When using a multicooker, you melt the wax in the cooker, then pour it into a pouring pot. Others just put the pouring pot directly into the cooker. Couldn’t be simpler.

While your wax is melting, you wick your molds. As you can see, there’s a small hole in the middle of the mold’s bottom. This will be the top of the finished candle, and will be where the wick emerges from. If you have a wicking needle, getting the wick through this hole and up the long taper tube is a piece of cake. Thread the eye of the needle with your wicking, then stick the point of the needle into the small hold. Turn the mold so that you are looking straight down the “pour end”, then push the needle up through the mold. Watch carefully as you go so that you don’t start pushing at a diagonal and pierce the side of the mold, which would ruin it. (You will totally feel like you’re going to poke your eye out. You won’t. Your eye is probably a good foot or so away from the opening, and the needle isn’t that long. But feel free to wear protective goggles if it makes you feel better.) When a few inches of needle emerges from the pour end, grab it and pull the rest of the needle and the wicking through.

Wicking needles can’t be found at the local craft store, so you do have to remember to add one to your order when you order your molds. If you’ve forgotten, you can take a length of thin, flexible wire like a nylon-coated beading wire or a small guitar string (not one with the coils…one of the little ones), fold it in half, poke it through the wick hole, and push it through to the pour end. Then thread that loop with your wick, and pull it back through the hole. (A bit like using a needle threader to thread a sewing needle.) If you do this, you’ll have to feed a whole lot of wicking through the mold to make it self-wicking for the rest of your project. It’s not a huge deal, but you may end up with a bit of cotton lint in the tip of your first candle if you do that.

If you know you’re going to be making several batches with the same mold, add an inch or two to the length of the mold and multiply that number out by the number of batches you want to make. Measure out the appropriate amount of wicking, and cut your wick there. If you leave this long tail, you’ll only have to thread your mold once, for as you pull out a finished candle, the wicking will feed through automatically. This particular mold is 8 inches long, and I leave a 2 inch “tail” at the pour end, which usually gives me enough to grip when I go to pull the candle after it has set. So after I threaded this mold for round 1, I measured 31 inches of wicking (10 x 3 plus a little wiggle room) for the next three batches and cut my wicking there before I went to wick the next mold.

This particular mold is for a spiral taper, which would be quite hard to pull straight out of the mold, so the top half of it is split. Once I’ve threaded the mold, I pull apart the split to check for any debris or trapped wax, then carefully re-align the split to make it as invisible as possible. I then pop a few rubber bands down the length. As your mold ages, you’ll need to use more rubber bands to hold it together, but it will still be good to go for thousands of candles. Once I’ve banded my mold, I pull the wick taut, clamp a bobby pin over it, check that it’s center…and then I’m good to pour the wax.

Alas, I could not take any pictures while I was pouring wax as that’s a two-handed job. What you want, though, is to pour a thin stream down your wick in a sort of medium-slow, steady rate. I think it takes me like 15 or 20 seconds to fill a mold. I think I get better burns if I pour down the wick. My philosophy is that it helps to force air out of the wick, and if you pour slowly enough, you’ll avoid the air in the wick being forced into the candle in bubbles. It’s a bit like a cheater’s pickle. (Oh! “Pickling your wick” is the practice of soaking your wick in wax before you thread a mold. I don’t like to pickle for silicone molds.) Most bubbles in wax, though are from aggressively stirring your wax and from pouring too fast, so I may be entirely off the mark with my whole “pour down the wick” practice. I like it though, and it helps me pour more slowly and more neatly.

After that, you wait a few minutes until the wax starts to get opaque and contract at the top. You’ll also likely see a sinkhole or two. Your candle is not finished! Right under that surface cap, it’s still liquid or at least jelly-like but to have a nicer bottom to your candle, you add a few more drops of wax to even things out. Once that’s done, let the candles sit for at least a half-hour. Frankly, I prefer to let them zone out for an hour or 90 minutes.

Once they’ve set up, you’re ready to de-mold. If I was making a straight taper candle, I’d simply just pull up on the wick, firmly and slowly, until the candle slid out. With these spirals, I do have to split the mold a few inches before I pull, and I need to release the wick once or twice during pulling, because the spiral “spins” out of the mold, a bit like a drill bit. Once the candle is out, I snip the wick flush to the candle bottom and leave a 1/2-inch wick at the top and let them rest in a safe place at room temperature for a day or so. I wouldn’t light the candle for at least 24 hours (1 week if I was making a pillar or container candle) as the wax is still settling out and “curing”. But for all intents and purposes, you’re done at this point.

The bottoms of my candles are usually a bit ragged as I tend to not leave any space at the pour end of my molds, so when I’m gifting candles, I usually smooth out the bottoms. It’s easy enough to do with a fry pan covered in foil. Heat the pan until it’s just about at the point where you’d start to fry an egg, then turn off the heat. Hold a candle as straight as you can, and lightly rub the base in circles over the center of the pan. Don’t press down too much, as you can seriously lose a lot of wax in this process. Repeat for all the candles, mopping out wax with paper towels and reheating the pan as necessary, then discard the foil. I may someday invest in a candle base former…but I think this works for me now.

Need to see a video in order to visualize? Here’s one from a lovely lady who makes competition-level candles.

6 thoughts on “Candlemaking Basics

  1. Very secret life! I’ve enjoyed your posts on candle-making so far though, as it’s something I’m tempted to start myself – but for votives rather than tapers. Making my Imbolc candle would be a lot easier with the right equipment…

    I love the spiral shape too, is that your usual ritual shape, or are they gift candles only?

    • Eh, both? I think the spiral shape is pretty, and I do make plenty of candles in this shape, both at this 7.5-inch size and a 4-inch size (those are more like chime candles). I tend to make them as gifts because they’re unusual and tend to impress people a bit more than a plain taper. But I do use them in magic, too. I’m more prone to use the larger spirals as “illumination” candles more than spell candles, as there’s not much room to carve on them. But I use the smaller spirals all the time for quick spell work and various meditations and dedications. The little ones just take 45 minutes or so to burn out, so I don’t have to make a big production of it.

      • Good point – I hadn’t thought about carving issues. One of my local metaphysical shops sells red spiral tapers, and I’ve been so tempted to use them as my altar illumination candles were it not for the fact I’m still in love with the colour-coordinated sabbat candles that I’ve been using for the last three years.

    • You don’t need anything between the melting pot and the cooking pot…just make sure there’s lots of water in the cooking pot! You want to hit the sweet spot with the water where the jug isn’t floating all willy-nilly. And a good glug of vinegar in the water will help keep hard water precipitates from getting too bad.

      I think I showed using my good cooking pot here. To be honest, I think I’ll probably pick up some beat-up pot at a thrift store for these purposes at some point. Or I’ll go electric!

      • Cheers hun. I’ll have to try and remember the vinegar, as hard water is definitely a thing here. The last couple of years I wasn’t sure, so I stuck a folded-up duster underneath the old enamel jug I used for melting the wax for my Imbolc candles, but I sprung for proper equipment this year.

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