Candle Making

Making candles is one of those things most people think about but rarely undertake. The Modern Herbalist is not such a person. As with most things, cost is a factor. I love to burn candles, but I can't afford too many at $12 a piece. Rather than cramp my candle burning style, I decided to make my own out of old candle wax I had laying around and some simple candle making equipment.

It helped that I had just indulged in a snack pack of aromatherapy oils from our local alternative health store. I had purchased three 5-oil assortments so I had plenty to experiment with in terms of fragrance. I chose to make a yellow lavender and lemon balm candle, and a green lavender and vetivert candle.

Time Allotment:

To be truly fair, it will take you at least two hours to make a batch of candles (not counting the time it takes the candles to set). Better reserve three hours, and plan to make 3-6 candles in that time. The following recipe is for 4 candles, give or take.

You will need:

1 lb. parrafin
1/4 - 1/2 lb. bees wax
molds (I used clean 1 pint half-and-half or cream cartons)
sticks or pencils to tie the wicks to
wick (buy at craft store)
electrical tape (to secure the bottom of your molds)
essential oils
color chips (buy at craft store)
some 16 oz. aluminum cans, washed, to melt the wax in

How to Make Candles:

Begin by hacking up your wax into manageable size. I try to do everything over a towel, as well, to keep things from flying all over. About 1 inch chunks or smaller is good. I use a knife and a steady downward pressure to break the bricks apart. Bees wax is more intractible than parrafin. You can also melt down old bits of candle you have left over. Expect to have some wax on the floor when this part is done.

Start up your double boiler: put about an inch of water in a large pan, and place the aluminum cans in it. Remember that one 16 oz. can of melted wax will make one pint-size candle. Turn the burner on to medium, and begin adding pieces of wax to your tin cans. If you're using recycled candles, mind the colors so you don't turn all your candles mud green. And be sure not to cook your wax at too hot a temperature to avoid combustion. Just a gentle simmer should be fine.

Now is as good a time as any to make your molds. Get out your dairy cartons, your wicking, scissors, sticks, and tape.

Cut your wicks to the proper length. They should be long enough to reach through the carton, with a half inch sticking through the hole at the bottom, and enough slack at the top to tie the wick to the stick.

Open the cartons up, and using the pointy end of your stick or another sharp instrument, poke a small hole into the very center of the bottom of the carton. Now, run the wick down into the mold, and using the same pointy instrument, push the wick through the hole and out the other side. Pull it out until you have about half an inch out the bottom. Get out the electric tape, and tape securely, across the bottom and up the sides, in both directions. This will keep wax from running out of the hole in the bottom, and making a big mess.

Check on the wax. Stir with a chopstick and add more as it melts down. If you're using a lot of parrafin, you should add a tablespoon per can of stearine at this point, to make the candles harder.

Returning to your molds, take the wick at the top and tie it securely to your stick. Make sure the wick is taut and centered.

Continue melting wax until each of the cans is about full. Then carefully, using tongs or potholders, grab a jar of wax and move it to a hot pad. Add the color (about a quarter chip should be fine) and fragrance (10-15 drops of essential oil). Mix with a chopstick and pour into the candle mold, reserving a few ounces of wax to top off the candle later. Depending on how much parrafin you use, candles can sink considerably when drying, so you may need to remelt the wax and fill in the well that's formed as the candle hardens.

Let candles sit for a few hours and then look to see how much of a well has formed around the wick. Remelt some wax and pour into the well, filling almost to the top.

Let sit for at least 8 hours or overnight. Then cut off the wick below the stick, tear off the carton, and trim the wick to about 1/4 inch. And enjoy your fragrant new handmade candles!

It may take you a while to get the hang of color and fragrance, not to mention how much beeswax to use. But the results are worth it. Even the most lame efforts look magical when lit.

Any inexpensive aromatherapy guide can give you advice on which oils are best, if you're interested in therapeutic fragrances. Otherwise, just use the oils you like best, and bask in the warm glow of herbal candles.

by Mairi