The basics of dipping beeswax candles.
Before I began my candle making venture nearly four years ago, I was somewhat intimidated by the process, thinking that it looked much too complicated for the amount of time I had to put into it. After I started though, I was surprised at just how simple it was and wondered why so many people did not make their own. I would like to tell you that you can make your own candles very simply, without a lot of cost and spending less time on the project than you would imagine. In one afternoon of dipping by myself at a propane stove in a small kitchen, I can turn out 24-plus candles. With a helper and a wood stove, you could dip even more. This is definitely one of the easiest homestead crafts to undertake, and you will be surprised at how often you find reasons to burn candles just to add that "special touch," making it a very useful skill to learn, as well.
You actually need very minimal equipment to begin.
2 double boilers: I like to have two pots of wax on the stove, one full of melted wax for dipping, and one to hold wax that is melting to refill the dipping pot. The double boilers that I have found to work best are actually very economical. We bought the 1-gallon metal canisters of olive oil, emptied them and cut the top off with a can opener, then washed them. We use each one with an enamelware pot found in a thrift shop, deep enough that the water will reach about 2/3 of the way up the wax pot (i.e. olive oil can).
Beeswax: I would start with at least 6-8 pounds of beeswax. While this will make quite a few candles, due to the depth of the pot, you cannot really use all that is in the pot when dipping and need to keep refilling from the melting pot.
Cotton square braid wick: You will need 21" of wick for every pair of 8" tapers you desire to make.
Cardboard: Cut an old cardboard box into 3" squares, and on two opposite sides, cut a slit into the square that is about 1" long on each side and centered (Illustration 1).
Long stick: You will need a long stick to stir your wax as it is melting, make sure that it is enough longer than your wax pot to be able to stir the bottom without getting hot wax on your hands.
Long pole or rack: You will need something to hang your cooling candles on. This could be a pasta drying rack, a cheese draining rack, or simply a long pole or (sturdy) stick supported on each end. Be creative--I am sure that you have something already around the house that will work perfectly!
Scissors: I have a pair of old craft scissors that I have devoted to candle making, as it is very difficult to get the beeswax off of the blades once it has been used for candle making. They are very helpful in making sure that you get the correct length of candle when dipping, and also making sure that the bottom edge of your candles are more level.
Wax paper: It is helpful to have a small piece of wax paper laid out on the counter as you finish up your candles. I draw two lines all the way across the sheet--one at 10" from the bottom edge, and the other at 2" from the bottom edge. This helps to ensure that my finished candles are the desired length when I am trimming them.
Once you have collected the materials, you are ready to begin. While it works okay to dip candles in the heat of summer, it really works best if you do it during the cool, drier days of fall and winter. This allows the wax to harden properly after each dip, while the summer heat keeps it from cooling and you will end up with candles that are full of drips and very misshapen.
Place the beeswax in the olive oil can, breaking and cutting it as necessary to make it fit. Only put 2-3 lbs. in the dipping can, and about one pound in the melting can. Place each can into an enamelware pot, and fill the pot (not the can containing the wax) with water, about 2/3 of the way up the side of the can. Place these on the stove and heat at a moderate temperature until the wax is melted. Be careful when checking to see if it has melted; often there will be an unmelted layer floating on the top, and when you go to press on it to check underneath it will sink quickly and splash you with hot wax.
While the wax is melting, begin prepping your wicks. Cut 21" lengths, one length for each pair of candles you wish to make. On each end of a length, make a pencil mark 8" from the edge to show you how deep to dip (this is for an 8" taper). Find the center of each length and place on the center of a cardboard square (as seen in Illustration 1), bringing the ends through the slits. This will give you something a little more solid to hold onto while dipping, and also helps keep the newly-dipped candles from sticking together. Repeat with each length of wicking.
Hang the cardboard squares with the wicks attached on your cooling rack. When the wax has melted, make sure that the dipping pot stays full nearly to the rim by refilling it with wax from the melting pot. Replenish the melting pot with unmelted wax as needed. Holding one square with wicking firmly, slowly dip into the dipping pot of wax until the wax reaches the 8" pencil mark. Slowly lift out of the wax and hang on your cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining squares, lining them up on the rack in the order of dipping.
Take the first pair of "candles" that you dipped in the wax and re-dip them up to the 8" mark. As you lift them out of the wax, hold them for a few seconds until they cool enough to handle, and then gently straighten them out. Repeat with the remaining pairs. As you dip, make sure that you keep two very important things in mind: 1) Be sure that the candles are totally cool between each dip into the hot wax, and 2) be sure that the candles in each pair do not touch each other as you lift them out of the wax. While the second point is not critical to performance, it does greatly affect the look of the finished product. The first point, however, is critical to both looks and function, affecting how the layers of wax bond and burn.
Continue dipping and straightening the candles until they are close to your desired thickness (the standard candle holder seems to be slightly smaller than 3/4"). While the wax is still warm, take the first pair and lay it on the wax paper, marking with the scissors where you will need to trim from the base, in order to make the candles 8" long. Gently trim each candle to the correct length with your scissors and then gently straighten them. Repeat with the other pairs. Dip each pair about two more times, cooling between each dip, being very careful not to allow the candles to touch as you are lifting them out of the wax. Let the candles hang until totally cool, preferably overnight, before removing them from the rack and cardboard squares.
Store your candles laying flat in a cool, dark location. If you want them to stay looking like freshly dipped candles without any scratches or blemishes, you can wrap them in wax paper for storage. If they do manage to get bent in storage or handling, you can run very warm (not hot) water over them and then gently reshape them.
I like to tie ribbons, raffia, or kitchen twine around each pair for gift giving, and everyone that I have given a pair of candles to has loved them!
Have fun candle making!
BY LAUREN MASSEY
Lauren Massey is the oldest in a family of six children. A stay-at-home daughter and homeschool graduate, she enjoys many aspects of the family homestead, including gardening, sewing, cooking, candle making, and the simplicity of this lifestyle (though it is definitely very busy!). She is also striving to build up her small home business, http://naturallycraftedcandles.weebly. com, which has been a fun experience, though very slow-going. She dreams, along with her family, of the day when they will be able to farm a larger amount of land off-grid and raise more of what they use.