How to make carved candles
How to make candles.
I usually write on more mundane subjects like reality and consciousness. But I used to make candles for a living and had my own business for almost ten years.
I was having a conversation with Mr Happy, a Hub Pages contributer recently, when he asked me to explain the candle carving process. So here it is.
As you see in the picture these are the type of candles I used to primarily make and demonstrate at shows in malls. Particularly around Christmas time. We made most of our year’s profits in the months leading up to Christmas. But we did alright in between as well until the craft market went bust in the late 1970s. No. I did not make this one. I found the picture on the net.
So first let me tell you about the set up. To make candles you need wax, of course. To start my business I bought half a ton of paraffin that melted at around 130 degrees F. This is a medium wax. You can buy wax that melts at lower temperatures but then you have a lot of drips when you burn them. Or you can buy high temperature wax which does not drip when burned.
When making these candles you want a medium wax because you don’t want it to stay warm for too long or your work sags and you don’t want it hardening before you are finished carving. So the medium wax works best for these kinds of candles.
The next thing I needed was a vat. I made a tub out of metal. You can make it out of galvanized sheet metal but it is hard to solder. So a light gauge to medium gauge is probably best. You want several colors of wax going at the same time so the tube has to be big enough to hold at least 6 to 8 5 gallon metal pails.
So the tube has to be at least 2.5’ by 6 to 8 feet long and at least two and a half feet deep. Your vat should have a cover so you can cover it at night. You can save electricity that way. I have seen round vats as well. The choice is yours.
Next you have to get a heater. I used a 120 volt heater for an electric water tank. You can get them in most hardware stores. You also need a thermostat to regulate the temperature and you should really have a safety relay that shuts it all down if the thermostat fails and it gets too hot.
So you are never heating the wax directly. The water is heating the wax. It is so much safer that way and so much easier to control the temperature of the wax and keep it even.
You want to do this preferably in shop away from your house and you need insurance. But we did it out of our basement most of the time, and later we converted a detached garage.
Once everything is assembled you have to fill the tube with water and fill the pails with wax. The wax comes in sheets about two inches thick by 18 inches by 24 inches. You may need a hammer to break them up to put them in the pails.
So once the wax is melted at around 155 to 160 degrees, you can add colour. The wax, of course comes clear so if you want colour or scent you have to add it. However, for carved candles you wouldn’t usually add scent.
You can buy colour for wax at most craft shops. But if you are making a living with it you can usually find a wholesaler.
One pail always stays clear because as you use wax you need to add wax that is already at the right temperature or you would have to stop work while the wax melts again. You will also want one pail full of white. White wax is hard to get. There are no good white wax dies. So what is used instead or was at the time I was doing it was white paint. It has to be a special white artists paint with titanium in it. You therefore do not want to make any candles that are pure white. In these carved candles the white never burns so it is ok.
You obviously also want yellow, blue, green, and red. If you have eight pails you can add orange and purple or whatever you like. You can always have extra pails on hand for special orders. Or you could build two vats.
So now we have the hot wax all ready and coloured to taste. Next we need moulds. You can buy moulds in most craft shops but it you need a lot of them a wholesaler is obviously better. The moulds in the case of these candles is a tapered star. It has at least 6 points.
The moulds are galvanized sheet metal and have a hole at the bottom for a wick. You string the wick through the mould and then tie the wick to a metal bar that is long enough to lay on top of the mould where the wax goes in. You can then center the wick, tighten it a bit on the bottom, and pour in your wax. You want to leave your wick sticking at least 4 inches out of the top of the candle. Eventually you will be tying a hook to it for dipping.
So now you have made a bunch of coloured moulds. You can get these tapered star shaped moulds in several sizes. The most popular is the 12 inch. But you can get 18 inch and 6 inch as well. When the moulds are cool and dry you need to remove the candles from them. At this point they are already candles. But you want to make them look artistic and appealing. Right now they are one solid colour.
So now you are ready to start. Well almost. You will need a thin flexible kitchen knife. Something you might use to peel potatoes. I found the perfect knives for the job. They were dirt cheap and available almost anywhere. You also need two tools out of a wood burning set. One is the round cutter, the other is triangular. You can use other shapes but those two are standard and the minimum required equipment.
So now you have to tie your tapered stars hooks. We made our own out of coat hanger wire. You also need a stick or metal bar to lay over top of the pail with the same colour as the tapered star. Otherwise you end up mixing colours and you end up with a brown mess. Now you put the tapered star in to the pail and leave it there for less than a minute. The tapered star is now warm enough. You remove it from it from the pail and dip it in a large pail of cold water.
Then you start by dipping in white. After each dip in wax, you dip in water to cool the surface. After you have dipped a few layer of white you can dip a few layers of another colour. Then white again. You always want to end up with white and you need to give the last layer at least three to five dips in white to finish it depending on the thickness each dip leaves, which is determined by the temperature of your wax.
I cannot be exact anymore because I have not done it in almost 30 years. So if you try this you will have to play with the temperature to get it right.
When you have dipped for the last time and cooled you need to hang your candle on a stand so that you can carve it. So yes, you need to make a stand for carving in advance.
The first thing you do is cut the bottom off. At this point it has become a series of peaks from the dipping process. You want a flat bottom so you have to gauge where the bottom is and cut off the excess as straight as you can. Now you are left with a bunch of wax in different colours that cannot be re-melted. It is essentially waste. What I used to do was shape mushrooms out of it to use in decorative wax scenes, or just to give to the kids at shows.
Then the fun begins. You have almost exactly seven minutes before the wax is too cold to carve. But seven minutes is a long time. You can start on any point of the star, of course. You start you first cut almost halfway up the candle and coming down to about two inches from the base and pull that layer down. Then you do it again and curl the next cut. You can make bows in the center, barber poles up the sides using the triangular blade, etc. The picture shows the cuts and how they are folded.
At the end you take down the candle and put it on its bottom. You can still mould it a bit at his point so if it is not straight you can fix it. Then you need you carve out the top. You use the round blade for that. It makes a nice pattern around the candle and opens up the core so there is no white wax on the top at all. Then you put it back in cold water until it is hard and cold.
At that point you cut the wick to right length and you are done.
Again, you can use many different shapes of core candle. But the 6 sided star is standard.
For your regular tapered candle you just need a wick. You keep dipping the wick in the colour you want and then in to water to set it until you have the desired thickness. Once you gain some experience with your set up you know exactly how many times you have to dip for exactly the right thickness every time.
You can make a rack and dip several wicks at the same time. You can also get a device to shape the bottom of your candle to a standard candle holder.
Once you have the set up and the tools you can do amazing things with wax. Limited only to your imagination.