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First lessons in candlemaking.

Candles in our home are primarily a source of atmosphere, and, secondly, a source of light in emergency situations. For emergencies it's hard to compete with the kosher household candles we buy by the dozen for under a dollar. Candlemaking, therefore, must produce a quality of candle fit for family and company dinners.

The article by D. L. Salsbury and Paula Simmons (77/1) filled the gaps in my own knowledge and experience. The recipe for wick is excellent, but they failed to state the anticipated yield of wick. The quart of solution recommended would produce a "whole ball of string worth" of wick. A cup of solution would be plenty for small batches (a few yards) of wick.

The Salsbury-Simmons method of rendering the tallow was satisfactory though slightly different than my own. I disagree fundamentally, however, with the idea of making pure tallow candles. My experience confirms the insights of the grandfather in their article: tallow candles are soft and stinky, repugnantly so. For quality candles, beeswax is essential, not optional.

The recipe we used with considerable success is from Ashlawn, a home once occupied by President James Monroe, in Charlottesville, Virginia:

five pints tallow

one pint beeswax

one teaspoon alum

one cake camphor

This will make dozens of candles. One third the quantity should yield about one dozen candles, depending upon length. We substituted aromatic oil for the camphor. Alum is an additional hardener. As a general rule, the more beeswax, the better, up to 50%; some tallow is needed because of the stearic acid in it.

If you do not keep bees, find a neighbor who does and who extracts honey. He (or she) will have caps which he may render or which he may just throw away. If he throws them away, ask him to throw them your way. Purify them in much the same way as tallow. If the beekeeper renders his own wax and does not use it, he is probably selling it to makers of honeycomb, and is as likely to sell it to you.

I agree with Salsbury-Simmons that dipped candles are preferable to molded. The problem is that no matter what kind of pot is used for holding the molten candle-mix, the chandler reaches the point where the level is too low to dip any more candles. We will be buying a mold to use up the balance of the mix. Now we re-cool the mix, and add to it the next time. That's all right once or twice, but eventually the leftovers need to be used or thrown away.

A three-pound coffee can (or what used to be a three-pound coffee can -- today it holds two pounds seven ounces) makes a good candlemaking pot. Do not use any pan you value. Candle-mix i and beeswax, specifically, are hard to remove when cool. The three-pound coffee can is free, makes a taper up to six and a half inches long, and is wide enough to dip more than one wick at a time. Whatever pot is used, measure its liquid volume before you start. Then you will know how much beeswax and tallow you need.

A dowel (like the ones that linen calendar towels come on) is perfect to hang the wicks. Notching the dowel helps keep the wicks where you want them.

Here is an interesting point: the more dowels the better. Candlemaking is an activity in which it is easier to make many than few. It is faster to go slow than fast. That is because the wax needs to cool and harden after each dip. Ten dowels of four candles each, dipped two at a time, will take long enough to dip that the first set will be ready to dip again after the tenth. Dipping only a few candles at a time necessitates a break between each dip, so dipping many candles fills the break in the most efficient way.

In this same vein, keep the wax only as hot as is necessary to hold it in a liquid state. The cooler the mix, the quicker it hardens. Also, dip as quickly as is reasonable. Holding the wick in the mix will melt the hardened wax from earlier dips.

I was surprised how easy it is to keep the wick straight. The wicking solution makes the string stiff enough to hold its shape. As the dipping progresses, the candle will form a point on the bottom. Cut this off from time to time, and place the excess back in the pot.

Our candles hold their shape well, but they are still a little sticky to the touch. They should be hung instead of boxed to keep their form.

We have pronounced our candles a success. They are attractive, odorless, slow-burning, dripless. The tallow and beeswax came from our farm. We have the satisfaction of having made them ourselves. We are planning a day next autumn, one of those crisp, cool fall days, when we can set up our outdoor stove and make a year's supply of candles. We have the satisfaction of carrying forward into the future an ancient tradition.
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Author:Wilson, Jeffrey
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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