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Candle Clocks

Updated on November 8, 2014

Many years ago, there was a short lived but wonderful drama series on TV called Beauty and the Beast (1987 - 1990). It was about the love between Catherine (the beautiful lawyer who lived in a Manhattan high-rise), and the Beast (a lion man named Vincent) who lived deep below the New York City Subway system.

They met when Catherine was attacked, beaten and left for dead in Central Park. She was rescued by Vincent and taken down below to be nursed back to good health.

What does this have to do with candles? You see, in the world that is down below there is no natural daylight, therefore there is no normal means of noting the passage of time. There is no day and no night. So the only way to mark the passing of time down below, is to use Candle Clocks.

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Candle Clock with markings
Candle Clock with markings

How to calibrate a candle clock

Now this lens is not going to tell you how to make a candle - there are plenty of other lenses and webpages to do that. This lens will however teach you how to callibrate your own candle clock.

You will need a minimum of 2 candles of the exact same length and thickness. If you want to callibrate several candles at once, that's perfectly acceptable provided ALL the candles are the same height and thickness,. They all have to burn at the same steady rate and they can't do that if they are not the same size. You will also need a timekeeper or a stopwatch and a permanent marker of some kind..

Secure all the candles to a base - either with playdough or wax or in a candleholder as long as all the candles at the same level and height.

Light one candle and start the timer.

For small candles you can mark off every 1 minute - but you have to be quick and make a dash with the marker against all the other (unlit) candles at the 1 minute mark, and then the 2 minute mark and so on.

For taller and wider candles that take longer to burn, you must quickly mark the (unlit) candles in 5 ,10 or 15 minute increments, or any time intervals you choose.

If you wish to use any other candles that are of a different height and width, you must callibrate them again as described here.

The Early History of Candle Clocks

First let's get one thing straight - a Candle clock does not actually tell the time. It merely shows how much time has passed.

No one knows when the first Candle Clocks were used. The first written mention of them was in 520 CE in China by the Chinese thinker You Jiangu.

The most famous candle clock was invented in England by King Alfred the Great around 878 CE. Alfred's clock consisted of 6 candles all the same height and width in a special candle holder. Each candle marked a total of 4 hours and was marked in increments of 20 minutes. All 6 candles burned one after the other could measure one full 24 hour period.

Al-Jazari (1136-1206 CE )

Al Jazari's Discourse on Candle Clocks
Al Jazari's Discourse on Candle Clocks

Al Jazari was a polymath - the Arabic equivalent of a renaissance man. He came from the Jazari region - roughly between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers - in modern day Iraq and Syrian border area .

As a man of many talents, Al Jazari dabbled as an inventor, engineer, writer, mathematician, artist, astronomer and craftsman. He wrote a book called Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices which was published in 1206 CE - the year he died. This book listed 50 common mechanical devices, described how they worked and how to build them.

Candle clocks fell out of favour when mechanical clocks were invented during the 12th century CE

A Candle Clock

Candle Clock - from All Posters
Candle Clock - from All Posters

This little invention consists of a candlestick furnished with a glass dial, the finger of which is moved by a chain (c) passing over a pulley (P) and connected with a strong spring (s) which produces the ascent of the candle (n) as fast as it is consumed. The candle is made to burn just fast enough to move the finger at the proper rate.

A Candle Clock

Candle Clock
Candle Clock

Come on - Don't be shy - Feel free to tell me what you think.....

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    • Ninche profile image

      Ninche 5 years ago

      Wow, very,very cool!

    • countrypeople profile image

      countrypeople 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens!

    • ryokomayuka profile image

      ryokomayuka 5 years ago from USA

      I like it. They are interesting.

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 5 years ago from US/TN

      That's so interesting! I don't think I'd heard about candle clocks before.

    • profile image

      myspace9 5 years ago

      They are cool candle clocks.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Candle Clocks are cool

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

      What a way to mark time. Thanks for enlightening us about this timepiece.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 6 years ago

      Very interesting - I had never heard of these before.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      Never heard of candle clocks. Fascinating. You piqued my interest with the Beauty and the Beast reference. I loved that show.

    • bechand profile image

      bechand 6 years ago

      I remember hearing about a "courting candle" which the daughter carried so she knew when to be home from her dates ... I always thought those were cool ... they had the spiral that they turned the candle up etc...

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      Ingenious twist to a RocketMoms challenge -- I really enjoyed it.

    • pimbels lm profile image

      pimbels lm 6 years ago

      Great lens, Very interesting, thank you.

    • simplyoasis profile image

      simplyoasis 6 years ago

      Very interesting lens, great job!!

    • profile image

      WeirdStuff 6 years ago

      Great idea, candle clock has to look great!

    • retta719 profile image

      Loretta 6 years ago from United States

      Oh! I remember that TV show <3