Whether you’re a candle maker wanting to learn all the ins and outs of your industry or a historian looking to add some authenticity to your next project, knowing what a rushlight is and how long it can last, along with the history of the light source, is imperative to your hobby or job.
How long does a rushlight last?
A rushlight, made from the pith of a rush plant and soaked in animal fat, varies in burn time depending on length, angle of burn, grease used, and stability of the rush. Most twelve-inch rushes will burn about ten to fifteen minutes, while longer rushes can burn up to an hour.
But what is a rushlight, and what is its historical significance? When did people use these rushlights? How can you make your own? Read on to answer your frequently asked questions about this historical innovation.
What is a rushlight?
Made from plant matter, a rushlight is one of civilization’s earliest attempts at finding light. A rushlight is a soaked piece of pith from a rush plant that is then set up and lit for a light source. These rushlights were typically homemade and used kitchen grease as a sort of wax, so it was very easy for people of all economic status to create—most typically, they were used in poor rural homes.
What is a rush-candle?
A rush-candle is a normal wax or tallow candle created with a rush as a wick. To create one of these candles, you can prepare your rushes in the same way you would your rushlights by collecting them, pulling off most of the rind and letting them dry before dipping them in preferably the wax you are going to be using in your candle—this will help prepare it for burning.
After preparing your rushlight, create your candle. Rushlights are best used within candles with natural waxes like tallow, soy, or beeswax. You can create your candle normally with a rushlight wick.
With a rushlight wick, you can also create a dipped candle. To do so, secure the end of the candle by the wick and dip it into warm wax. Keeping the wax at a lower temperature will help the wax to solidify around your wick as you dip your candle. Let the candle lose excess wax as you work, or it will come out misshapen.
When did people use rushlights?
The history of light and candle making in our global history is very interesting and varied—the profession has been around for thousands of years and only recently, with the advent of electric light, has gone from a necessity to a luxury item.
Candles were made during the Greek and Roman times specifically for religious and utility reasons. Because candles were used for the birthday celebrations of Artemis, we can trace the tradition of blowing out candles on your birthday cake back to this custom.
Rushlights were used in many poor areas throughout the world, especially in rural England. As candles became easier and cheaper to make the 1800s with the whale trade, many switched to candles. As the Industrial Revolution took over in America and Western Europe, candles were made with paraffin wax, which made the price of candles plummet even more—because they were so cheap, and electric light came soon after, poorer households could afford to purchase candles, eliminating the need for rushlights.
What is the connection between rushlights and the 20th Century?
Because of World War II, many households were using rushlights to light their homes in rural England when supplies were scarce and air raids were being conducted.
Were rushlights used in the American Colonies?
Because rushlights typically had some sort of holder, it is fairly easy to track where these rushlights were used in civilization. That being said, there have not been any of these holders found in North America that were not made by manufacturers overseas, meaning that the custom of using rushlight did not transfer over to the American colonies. At that point, candles were used frequently instead.
How long does a rushlight last?
Because they were created simply by plant matter and animal fat, rushlights vary in the length of time that they can burn. The burn time is completely dependent on both the type of fat or grease used, the length of the rush itself, and the stability of the rush, along with even the angle of which it is being burnt.
Rushlights that are about twelve inches long can have a burn time of about 10 to 15 minutes. Longer rushlights can burn up to an hour.
One thing to remember when using rushlights is that they are completely natural—which means there is a margin for error. Sometimes they do not light or they burn too fast, and that is of no fault of the creator—it’s simply the process of using a natural item instead of an industry standardized candle.
How do I make a rushlight?
Making your own rushlight doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take some legwork. First, you must collect mature stalks of the rush plant—you can find these in many wetland areas or close to a body of water, usually during the summer or autumn months. Look for rounded plants that produce seeds. These plants will provide the best plant material for a rushlight.
After your plants are collected, soak them in water to soften them. Peel back the rind of the stalk, but leave a singular strip of the rind around the interior pith to keep it all together. Let this part of the rushlight dry.
Once it is dry, soak it in fat or grease, allow that to dry, and then your rushlight is ready. In most cases, a grease like bacon grease or mutton fat would work best. When rushlights were originally created, most used runoff from their kitchens, so natural fats will burn the best with your rushes.
How do I burn a rushlight?
Simply put, you should have a designated holder for your rushlight. While it does not have to be the intricate holders than many used in England when these were popular, make sure you have a way to prop up your rushlight so it does not burn through a flammable surface. You should also keep your rushlights diagonal—burning them vertically, like a traditional candle, will make them burn too fast,
What is the purpose of a rushlight in the electric age?
While using electricity has eliminated the need for rushlights, they can be helpful in many situations. For historians, it’s a way to create ambience and truly understand that when candles were not available, other forms of light were. For writers or educators, it’s a great way to shed some light—pun intended—on our ancestors to teach readers and students a very authentic part of our history. For survivalists, on the other hand, knowing how to create your own rushlight can help save your life in a situation where there is no electricity accessible to you. If you find yourself within some sort of disaster or weather situation, you can create your own rushlights in order to see past the sunset.
Rushlights have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to light people’s homes across the world. Knowing how they are made and how you can make them at home can help you appreciate your candle making business even more—or change the way you interpret history. Whatever you reasons are for asking questions about rushlights, come away knowing your questions have been answered.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a tallow candle?
Tallow is created from the fat of an animal, usually a sheep or cow, from around their kidney area. This, when hardened, can be used in place of another type of natural candle wax. While they can smell bad when burned, it can still be used by cleaning the tallow thoroughly and adding fragrance.
How do you make tallow for tallow candles?
While using tallow is still an option today, it tends to be an antiquated way of creating candles. That being said, you can acquire animal fat, usually sheep or cow, but animals that are not considered pork can be used as well. Render the tallow by heating it over a heat source, and as it melts, remove the hard pieces of fat that may rise to the top. After rendering, remove from the heat and strain it through cheesecloth before creating a candle out of your rendered tallow.
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Meet Shawn Chun: Entrepreneur and Candle Business Fan.
I’m a happy individual who happens to be an entrepreneur. I have owned several types of businesses in my life from a coffee shop to an import and export business to an online review business plus a few more and now I create online candle business resources for those interested in starting new ventures. It’s demanding work but I love it. I do it for those passionate about their business and their goals. That’s why when I meet a candle business owner at a craft fair, farmers market, retail location or anywhere else I see myself. I know how hard the struggle is to obtain and retain clients, finding good employees all while trying to stay competitive. That’s why I created Candle Business Boss: I want to help candle business owners like you build a thriving business that brings you endless joy and supports your ideal lifestyle.