Additional Craft Information:
Ruth Tott teaches you how to make scented candles, learning along the way the differences and the similarities with last month's soap making venture.
DIY Craft Essential #1: Washi tape
DIY Craft Essential #2: Needle nose pliers
I set out with the naive thought that making candles was going to be just like making soap, as documented in last month's Home Farmer. What a fool I was! Actually, the principle itself is just like making soap, in that you are melting a solid, adding a fragrance and colouring, before pouring it into a mould. The differences are, however, non-negotiable! You cannot use the same fragrances and colours as you would in making soap – I know; I tried and succeeded only in failing! But, like soap making, it's creative and rather addictive, and once you have mastered the basics, off you go. And the basics are:
THE WAX Wax is wax, isn't it? Well, so I thought. Actually no. There are, in fact, different kinds of wax. I just plumped for good old-fashioned wax for moulds. You can buy blocks of wax of varying size from hobby outlets, or on the Internet. I was, however, quite taken back by the cost. In truth though, a block of wax goes a long, long way. You can get candle making equipment from outlets such as Hobbycraft together with the wax, or you can recycle any old candles and tea lights – but more on this later. You may, instead, find it more economical to buy massive pillar candles, melt them down and then reconstruct them into your own designs.
COOKING UTENSILS If you're a Home Farmer reader I'm going to take it for granted that you have some of these. I use a Pyrex jug, which is now used solely for crafts. You will also need a saucepan, and I find keeping some cocktail sticks/BBQ wooden skewers to hand is good for both the stirring and for keeping the wicks in place, which is something I hadn't even considered prior to doing this – but more about 'wonky, sagging wicks' to follow later.
THE MOULDS You can literally use anything that will hold hot wax. I've used jam jars (that become mobile candles, which, when not lit, can travel with you because they have a lid); small, clean, tuna or salmon tins (these work really, really well, and suit 'kitchen candles'); flat, silicone oven trays… The beauty, of course, is that if it doesn't work it's no great shakes, as you can melt it down and begin again. I've poured wax into a flat tray baking tin, removed it when cool, cut out shapes with cookie cutters, pierced a hole through the centre (for the wick, of course), and placed one on top of another, all stuck together by simply brushing melted wax on the surface and pressing the pieces together. Thread the wick through and you have a candle of character. You can even use 'Pringles-type' tubes for moulded pillar candles – for example for a Christmas table display.
THE WICK Goodness – it looks like whole theses have been written on the subject of wicks. When it comes down to it, the basic fact I have distilled from all this collective wisdom is the thicker the final candle, the thicker the wick will have to be. So, thick candle = thick wick, and thin candle = thin wick.
You can buy wicks ready primed and in a wick holder. The wick holder is simply the aluminium 'stand' found at the base of candles. You can also buy wicks in lengths, which you then just cut to the length you need and 'prime' it yourself; priming a wick is simplicity itself: just dip it into the melted wax and leave it to cool. THE COLOURS Do not be tempted to use food or soap colouring. Instead, you could use wax crayons, and the beauty of this is that you can get a tremendous variety of colours. Alternatively, you could go posh and buy specially produced wax colouring in either powder or solid form.
DIY Craft Essential #3: X-acto knife
DIY Craft Essential #4: Spray paint
FRAGRANCE You can use essential oils, and this does enable you to come up with your own mixtures – even creating 'mood candles' if you dabble in aromatherapy. You can also buy specific candle fragrances in either solid or liquid form. Both are good, and both have strong smells, so you will not need a lot. READY, STEADY, METHOD 1 Cut an appropriate amount of wax from a larger wax block or brick. I used a bread knife for the job. 2 Pop the wax into a Pyrex jug and put the jug into a saucepan with the handle on the outside so that it remains comparatively cool. Do not pick it up without using a towel or oven glove though, and always check to make sure the handle is cool enough to hold before picking it up! 3 Fill the pan halfway up with water and heat the wax 'bain-marie-style' in the jug. I keep my eye on it all the time and do not have it on a high heat. 4 Allow the wax melt. I have not actually measured the temperature. Maybe I should, but I reckon if it's fully melted it's ready to have the colour and/or fragrance added, and to be poured into your mould. 5 Prepare your moulds whilst the wax is melting, and make sure they are fully washed and dry. 6 Prime your wick and then thread it through the wick holder.
I pull the wick through so that it has a tiny 'overlap' of wick at the base of the holder, which is useful for securing the wick onto the holder. To secure it you can use a bit of melted wax, or get yourself some special 'tacky wax' designed to be used in a 'blue tack' way. 7 Secure the wick/wick holder to the base of your mould as centrally as you can. Don't worry too much if it doesn't stick. As soon as you pour in your melted wax it will lift anyway, and you will have to use a wooden skewer to 'hold it in place' for a few seconds, allowing the wax to solidify a little. Always leave the wick at least 3 cm more than you need it. Longer if you need to tie it round the 'wick sustainer' to hold it in place. (see point 11) 8 Once the wax has melted, add your colour and stir it in, then add the fragrance just before pouring the melted wax into the mould. 9 Pouring the melted wax into the mould is the trickiest part of the operation! As you pour, all your careful efforts to secure the wick/wick holder to the base may look as if they have been in vain. You can begin by pouring just a centimetre or so of melted wax over the base (but put the jug back on the water to keep it melted, if you do this), and use a wooden skewer to keep the holder at the base for a few seconds – this method is certainly recommended if filling a larger vessel such as a jam jar.
10 Keeping the wick holder in place with one hand, take the jug and slowly pour the melted wax into the mould to fill it up. This will give you far more control than trying to keep the holder in place at the bottom whilst pouring all the melted wax in at once. If making tea lights or using other similarly small moulds, you do not need to pour in stages. 11 The next tricky bit is keeping the wick in place whilst the wax sets. You will need wick sustainers! So, what is a wick sustainer? Actually, it's simply a couple of ever-versatile wooden skewers, chopsticks, or even a clothes peg, although I am sure someone is selling an expensive product to do the job somewhere. All you are actually doing is providing a prop for the wick to keep it in place as the wax solidifies, otherwise it will work its way to the side of the candle through the still soft wax. I found keeping a wick straight particularly hard with moulds such as jam jars, with the situation not helped by the glass giving a distorted view of the wick. For larger moulds/holders you will have to leave the wick long enough o tie the top to the sustrainer to keep it taut and in place.
12 Now leave it to set. The wax will contract as it sets, leaving a slight dip in the centre. Keep a little wax melted in reserve for 'topping up'.
CLEANING UP Wax melts and sets, making it the devil to remove from fabric – you have been warned. Also, do not pour melted wax down the drain – I find the best method to clean out your jug is to do with a kitchen towel while it's still hot. If you've left it to cool, pop it in the microwave, if you have one. A quick blast, then wipe the jug clean using some kitchen towel. RECYCLING OLD CANDLES I bought 100 tea lights from IKEA for just 96p, and they had been sitting a drawer for the last two years. I simply 'deconstructed' the candles, gently removing them from their aluminium holders (which I keep for refilling). Cut up the wax and remove the wick and the wick holder, putting them to one side ready to be reused. Melt the wax, add your colour and fragrance, then pour the wax back into the tea lights, jars, etc. You can use this same method very successfully with old pillar candles – the ones you've had sitting on the mantelpiece since Christmas 2005 (or is that just our household?). I just put the whole candle, wick and all, in the jug over a low heat, and let it melt. Don't worry about the wick – it's actually far easier to remove from the melted wax than trying to dig it out of the cold candle.
This may sound obvious, but do be careful. These candles will be lit, and anything lit can be dangerous! Also, do not introduce any substances that do not mix with fire! Be aware that wax is flammable at high temperatures. Whilst it is heating it should never be left unattended.
Note: Wax should never be heated to the point that it sputters or smokes. If it does catch fire, cover it with a lid and turn off the stove. Never, ever pour water on a wax fire.