With all our modern advancements, so many ancient ways of living have been lost. But that knowledge doesn’t have to be lost to you—how did people light their homes and businesses before that electricity that we rely on so much? How did they light their homes when candles were not readily available?
How to Make a Candle Rush:
To create a candle rush, first collect mature rush stalks and soak in water. Peel back the rind of the stalk, leaving one strip of it to hold the interior pith together and let dry. Soak rush into fat or grease and allow to dry before lighting it.
What is a candle rush, and what is its importance in global history? How does it play into the usage of candles, then lamps, and then electricity? What’s the difference between a rushlight and a rush-candle? Read on to find out more about how you can make your own.
What is the difference between a rushlight and a rush-candle?
There are two options when it comes to working with rushes as part of a candle—you can create a rushlight or a rush-candle.
A rushlight is one of the earliest forms of candlelight in our history. It is created by soaking a dried piece of rush—known as the pith—in fat or grease. Being extremely inexpensive, creating this sort of light was very easy for the poorest of people to create their own light in the darkness.
Rushlights were not meant to burn for long periods of time. Many reports state that rushlights that were about a foot long would only burn for up to fifteen minutes. Longer rushlights, although bright and clear, could burn up to an hour. They also were variable in how well they performed—some rushlights would not properly catch flame, while others would burn too fast.
A rush-candle, on the other hand, is when you create a normal candle, usually out of tallow or wax, and use the piece of rush as a wick. Both the rushlight and the rush-candle are antiquated forms of creating light, and both can be easily created.
Before you get started, it’s important to understand how candles have developed over centuries.
History of Candles and Candle Making
People have sought light in the darkness for thousands of years, and to understand the importance of creating a rush candle, that history should not be ignored. From the start of Antiquity, people have been making candles in various ways—including both wax and rushlight—and used it first to celebrate the birthday of the goddess Artemis. You can thank this tradition for starting the age-old celebration of placing candles on your birthday cake.
As Antiquity shifted, rushlights were being used throughout the world as that poor man’s candle. Descriptions of rushlights were first printed during the 17th Century, and in the late 1700s, detailed descriptions on how to make these simple candles were being circulated. Rushlights, due to their effectiveness and their cost to make, were even used in some parts of Wales until the middle of the 20th Century. They also saw a resurgence during World War II, especially in rural areas of England.
Rushlight holders have been found in the North Americas, but it is assumed that they were simply imported into the countries from their owners in Europe, meaning rushlights were not used, if at all, during the early days of North American colonization.
Because of the shifting tide of candle making, many started shifting more to tallow. Tallow and beeswax candles were popular during the Roman times, while Eastern cultures created candles out of whale fat. Alaskan indigenous peoples were known to capture a certain type of smelt fish, let it dry, and simply set it on fire for their light source.
Throughout this time, rushlights were still wildly popular, even as the whaling industry allowed candle makers to get spermaceti, the oil from sperm whales that were used in candle making to replace the horrible smelling tallow and the more expensive beeswax. The search for brighter light, less smell, and inexpensiveness led to the candle making industry shifting more towards this whale-based wax, at least until the Industrial Revolution, when paraffin was discovered. When this discovery was made, the candle industry shifted once more to use the inexpensively made—but environmentally damaging—wax made through the refinement of crude oil.
At this point, though, kerosene lamps were on the rise, and as soon as they were made in mass quantities, they overtook the candle industry and turned it from a necessity to a luxury. They were made antiquated by the invention of the lightbulb, plunging the old ways into simply hobbies or luxuries rather than need.
What is the modern purpose of a rushlight or rush-candle?
While our lives are filled with electricity day in and day out, knowing how to produce your own rushlight candles can be not only a historically based hobby, but a survival tool. For many interested in the historical aspect of these rushlights, it is a way to get in touch with the past and how our ancestors may have read and worked by candlelight.
On the other hand, for many people who seek solace in the wilderness or simply like to hike and trek, knowing how to make rushlights may be a decent survival lesson. If you find yourself caught in some sort of disaster without light for an extended period of time, knowing how to produce your own light can make or break a situation.
How to Create a Rushlight
To create your own rushlight candle, collect mature rush stalks, usually in summer or fall. Peel back the rind of each stalk, also known as the epidermis, until you can find the pith inside the rush. This can sometimes be made easier by soaking them in water first. A thin strip of rind should be left in place to make sure that the pith does not fall apart. Allow the rush to dry.
Once the rush is dried out, it should be placed in fat or grease. While any could be used, many reports state that bacon grease or mutton fat would be the best, as it dried harder than other fats. People also added beeswax to the grease if you wish to burn the rush for a longer period of time.
How to Create a Rush-Candle
You can also create a rush-candle by turning a rush into a candle wick. Follow the same process in creating your rushlight, and then you can use that wick in a candle form—usually with some sort of natural wax, like beeswax or tallow.
You can also create dipped candles by securing the end of the candle and dipping it down into hot wax and letting it dry. When making dipped candles, make sure that the tallow or wax is not too hot, allowing for the candle to start to solidify each time it is dipped, rather than melt completely upon each dipping. Be sure to let the candle drip any excess wax off to get a proper shape for your dipped candles.
By creating rushlights, you are tapping into a very old historical process that people did for thousands of years. Historians and hobbyists alike can truly appreciate the way that they did it back then, and as interest grows in both luxury items and providing light in case of emergency, you may find this knowledge helpful in the long run. For most cases, it simply provides a look into the past—whether back to our Medieval counterparts or even to those wanting light during a World War, understanding the process and making sure it is not forgotten will only help our future generations understand how the past lived.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are tallow candles?
Tallow candles are made from the hardened, heavily saturated animal fat from around the kidneys. Tallow can be made from any animal except for pork, and is typically created from cows or sheep. Used for thousands of years for candles, tallow is still used to create natural candle wax.
How is a rushlight burned?
If you are using your rushlight to light an area, you should have a proper holder for it. Rushlight holders are made specifically for that purpose—if you do not have access to one, your rushlight should not be perfectly vertical, but rather diagonal so the rushlight does not burn too quickly.
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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.