Friday, November 7, 2008


With Christmas just around the corner, I have been asked to put on a candlemaking demonstration for some collegiate ladies from church. I first became interested in making my own candles about 8 years ago. I suffered from a terrible addiction to Yankee candles but couldn't justify their price. So, I spent some time gathering information online, purchased supplies, and one evening made Rich stand by with a fire extinguisher as I embarked on my first batch.

It was so much fun! Not only could I very economically fill my house with yummy candles, I could give them as gifts! People loved them, and let me tell you it makes you look like one talented little cookie to give someone a homemade candle. It pretty much puts you in the same category as Martha Stewart! Candles are so great for all those little gifts you need - hostess gifts, gifts for kids' Sunday School teachers, bible study leaders, neighbors, etc. I love having a nice stash I can draw from as needed (and take one for myself every so often). So, in the fall, I make about 8 batches in preparation for the upcoming holiday season.
One fall many years ago, my kids (mostly Brady) urged me to sell my candles at the local farmer's market. So, we rented a booth, table and easy-up, and set up 8 different scents of candles in jars, votives and tealight forms. We actually had a lot of interest and did well. I think we only netted about $100 after all the overhead, but the kids were absolutely delighted interacting with the customers and they sure got a little lesson in small business. Most importantly, it made me feel like one of those "give your kids real life experiences for learning" types of homeschooling mothers. Well, at least I can say I felt like that one time in my home schooling career. I'm going to pause right now and relish that moment. Ahhh. I'm such a good mother.

So, since I'm whipping up a couple batches today, I thought I'd walk you through the process. Perhaps you are looking for a unique gift idea for this Christmas but are desperately uncreative and untalented like myself. I promise you, if I can do this, anyone can.

The trickiest part is rounding up the supplies. I get the wax locally, in North Hollywood, at General Wax. The rest of my supplies I get online at Bitter Creek Candle Supply. You can get the wax at Bitter Creek as well, but you are going to pay exhorbitant shipping charges due to its weight. Better to find a local supplier if you can. Later in the post I will give you more information regarding specifics on the supplies.

Today I am making one container candle and some votives. You can make a container candle in pretty much anything that is made of strong glass. I often just use canning jars that you can pick up at any grocery store. For votives, I use disposable 3 oz. size dixie cups rather than metal molds. That way, you can make a lot of them and all you have to do is peel the paper off when they are set. Each batch yields approximately 48 ozs. of wax, so you just do the math to figure out your containers/votives. The jar I am using today is 12 oz., which leaves me with 36 ozs. more wax. Since the votives are 3 ozs. each, so I can do 12 of them with what I have left.

Last year, I switched over from paraffin to soy wax. Soy wax burns cleaner and has many other benefits. For one, it requires only one "pour". With paraffin, the wax shrinks as it cools, leaving a huge crater down the center of the candle. You then need to melt more wax and pour it into the cavity. With the soy, there is minimal shrinkage, which allows the candle to be finished after one pour.

Soy is actually easier to deal with as well. Paraffin comes in block form (14 lb. blocks) and must be cut up. It is messy and requires herculean strength. Soy wax comes in flake form and is ready to go. And, the price of soy is cheaper. Paraffin is a by product of petroleum, and the price fluctuates with the market. I have paid anywhere from $8-15 a slab for paraffin, depending on the market. The soy wax that I buy is about $1 pound.

You basically melt the wax in a double boiler fashion. So, the first thing you need to do is find a good pot to make the candles in. I "sacrificed" an old Revereware pot from early on in our marriage- you might try the thrift store if you don't want to make any sacrifices out of your current pot arsenal. I have placed a metal trivet in the bottom of the pot. The wax goes into a candle pot with a spout (which you can purchase at my online supplier) and is placed on top of the trivet. This gives the candle pot a flat secure surface to sit on and keeps it from bobbing around.

Here is the type of set up you will need.

Since I am making a container candle, I need to prepare my jar and get it warmed up. The reason you warm up the jar is because if you pour hot wax into a cold glass container, it could crack. This happened to me firsthand, but not when I was candlemaking. One winter morning, I had pulled a 9 x 13 glass pan of apple pancake out of the oven, and placed it directly on a very cold granite countertop and it shattered!

You must wick the jar before warming it. I use a hot glue gun and put a generous amount on the bottom of the wick's metal tab, and press it into center of the bottom of the jar. Then, I warm the jar in a 175 degree oven, on a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Note on wicks: it is important to get the right size wick so the candle will burn evenly across the container. I can help you with that- I have learned just the right sizes to use for what, from experience.

Now onto the wax. I use 2 1/2 lbs. of soy wax per batch. Since the bags I buy come in 5 lb. quantity, I simply measure out 2 1/2 lbs. using my kitchen scale. Whatever is left in the bag will make another batch. So, for $5, I am getting two batches of candles.

If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can get one for under $10.

I fill my spouted candle pot with the soy wax - it goes all the way to the top:

I do use one additive in my candle formula. It is called vybar, and is a chemical that helps whiten the wax and help the scent molecules bind to the wax molecules. If you do not use vybar, your scent will sink to the bottom of your candle. I use 3 tsp. of vybar 260.

Vybar looks like teeny tiny wax pellets.

Now fill the large pot a little more than half full with water. Remember the trivet is on the bottom, keeping the candle pot from being in direct contact with the flame. You want to get as much water in the pot as you can without causing the candle pot to float and/or bob. If it is doing that, take some of the water out. Be very careful not to let any water get in contact with the wax.

This is how you put the water in the pot! I knew you'd need help with that one.
Put the pot on the stove and use medium heat. Add a candy thermometer into the wax so you can monitor the temperature.

You do not want the wax getting above 175 degrees. Wax is flammable at higher temperatures. If your wax is getting too hot, turn the flame down. The process of the wax melting takes about 20 minutes and looks like this as it melts:
After about 10 minutes...

15 minutes...


Now that it's all melted, it's time to add the color. I'm making some yummy gingerbread scented candles today, so I want a nice brown color. I start by adding some "chocolate brown" color block. Color blocks are basically highly concentrated colored pieces of wax. I start with about this much and add it to the wax:

It's a good idea to put wax paper down on your cutting surface, to avoid stains.

The color goes in...

It takes about 5-10 minutes to fully melt and color the wax evenly. Once it is all melted, I stir it with a sacrificed metal spoon that is just for candlemaking.
I do a test of the color by pouring a small amount into a dixie cup. I want to see what the "dry" color will look like, so I speed up the drying process by refrigerating my little sample. Wax is much darker when it is melted, and you want to see what your end result will really look like.
Here is the colored wax wet...

And dry...

See how different it looks?

So, after my sample cools, I look at it and decide that it is too light. So I add the same amount again. I repeat the sample process of pouring some into a dixie cup and refrigerating until dry.

I am still not happy with the color - now it's a bit too caramelly for me. So, I add some regular "brown" color block to the wax. I repeat the sample process again...
Now it's perfectly gingerbread colored. Color is something you just have to play with, until you get it right. This is where my going to Art Center actually proves to have been relevant in my life.

Time to add the yummy scent!

I use a synthetic, highly scented oil. Remove the pot from the water pot and place on a paper towel on the counter (only if you have granite or tile - if not use a trivet). Now add 6 Tbsp. (2 ozs.) of the scent oil to each batch and stir very gently but thoroughly.

It's now time to pour!

Retrieve the warm container and tray from the oven. Count out the votive cups and place them on the pan.

The best deal on these dixie cups is at Smart & Final.

Stir the wax very gently again. Begin pouring the candles, very slowly. It helps to hold the votive cups in your hand or hold them down as you pour. I cannot stress that you need to pour slowly. You do not want to spill hot wax on yourself or anything else. Like the cordless phone, which I did today.

After you are done pouring, set the timer for 10 minutes. You are going to come back and drop your wicks into the votives. Since they are smaller in size this is my preferred method of wicking.

This picture makes me feel like the Pioneer Woman.

There should be some tackiness on the bottom of the votive which will help the wick tab stick.

Now, just put them in a safe place and wait for them to dry, which will be about 6 hours for containers and 3 hours for votives. I like to stop by periodically and make sure the wicks are centered, adjusting if necessary.

When dry, carefully peel away the paper of the votive cups. With a sharp scissor, trim the wicks to 1/4". Sometimes, if the centers are sunken, I use my little heat gun to smooth out the tops. But that's just because I'm a perfectionist. You probably aren't even sure what a heat gun is. It's one of those things us former rubber stamp people bought thinking they would use it for embossing. It sure does come in handy now though!

So here's the finished product! I top my jar with a cute stenciled screw-lid. I usually store like-scent votives in a large ziploc bag. Keep them away from light, so they don't fade.

So there you have it. If anyone is interested in having my detailed, step by step instructions for candlemaking in a word document file, just email me at I would be glad to email it to you. The document also includes buying information, wick sizing, color, scent, etc. I would be glad to answer any questions you might have as well.

Happy Candlemaking!
(I can't get rid of all this white space for some reason...)


The Mom said...

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this, I've wanted to try candle making for awhile, but I'm always nervous and don't necessarily have the time these days to devote to learning by trial and error :o)

Anonymous said...

This is GREAT! I store up a candle vault every summer, for the dark winter months here in the PNW. Yes, it is pricey. Thanks to you, now I can make my own! I'm a big believer in soy too, especially after cleaning all the soot off my ceiling from wax...grrr! Off I go to research a local soy distributor...