Candles are old technology. In fact, it is so old that it probably began with rapping the ends of a stick with rags and perhaps straw, dipping the material in some sort of fat or oil, and setting it alight. As people experimented with their torches and candles, they discovered new ways to make their light source last. The best and finest candles were made with wax, which was obtained from honeycombs made by bees, or by cooking waxy fruits such as bayberries and skimming off the resultant substance that separated and formed on the top of the vats where the substances were cooked.
But poor people could not usually afford wax candles, so they resorted to other means to stretch their working hours. These were usually candles made from animal or vegetable oils, such as tallow, lard, or olive oil. You, too, can make emergency lights from hard, soft, or liquid oils using technology similar to that employed by our ancestors.
To make candles without wax, you will need tallow, lard, butter, solid vegetable shortening, or a similar substance to create candles, along with some sort of wicking material, a means to heat the solids, and containers for molding. Candles are not difficult to create without wax, but doing so might use some skills that are unknown to modern cooks and crafters. With that said, let us plunge into specifics about candle making.
Fuel Sources for Candles
Wax can be purchased in the canning section of most general merchandise stores, or it can be obtained from craft stores. Craft stores will often have good book resources for making a variety of candle types.
Non-wax substances that can be used for candles include rendered beef tallow or pork fat, vegetable shortening – the kind that looks hard and white, and comes in a can, butter, or margarine.
Rendering Meat Fats
Meat fat can usually be obtained in the butcher section of your grocery store. Not all stores will carry tallow or suet – the beef fat needed for this, but nearly all will have slabs of fat pork. It might be sold as unseasoned bacon.
You can render meat fat in two ways:
Technique One: In a water bath on the stove top;
- Place a fatty piece of beef, mutton, or pork in a container of water.
- Cook it on the stove top until it is well-done.
- Allow the meat and water to cool
- Skim the fat off the top of the liquid and reserve it to make candles or soap
- Have the broth and/or meat left after the solid oil has been skimmed away as seasoning for your dinner
Technique Two: On a rack in the oven (Some recipes recommend placing the rendering assembly in a Dutch oven. This cuts down on the risk of fire and on oven clean up.)
- Place slices of suet (beef or sheep fat) or a slice of pork fat (do not mix these three items– they behave differently) on a rack as if you were going to cook a goose or oven fry bacon.
- Place a pan beneath the rack and allow the oil to drip into it.
- Cook the fatty meat pieces at around 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours.
- Use the solids that are left on the rack as you would bacon or slow-cooked beef
- Line a sieve with a linen or cotton cloth (cheese cloth is too coarse)
- Pour the melted oil through the cloth line sieve and into a heat-proof container
- Allow the oil to solidify. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
Note: This oil can be used in cooking if you are careful about cleanliness and freshness of ingredients.
- Ready to use oil sources Usually available in the baking or dairy section of your grocery store:
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening
Note: Most non-wax substances will do best as a molded candle in a heat-resistant container, such as a glass canning jar or a tin can. Only tallow works well for dipped candles. Butter and lard are too soft.
Candle Making Basics (can be used for wax or non-wax candles)
Whether making candles from wax or other substances, there are some basics that you will need. They include a heat source, two pots or containers – one for a water bath, the second to hold the solid fuel source. You will also need wicking, weights, sticks to support the wicking while the candle dries, and molds if you are creating molded candles. If you are using unprepared animal fats, you might need to know how to render oil from fat. (See above.)
(Wax or beef tallow make the best dipped candles.)
- Insert a tall narrow, leak-proof container (a metal spaghetti canister works well), into a larger container of water. Place metal jar screw bands or a canning jar rack in the bottom of the larger pot to create water flow beneath the tall, narrow container. If you are fortunate enough to own dedicated candle making pots, that is excellent, and you should use that for melting your fats.
- Place your large pot, half filled with water, on your heat source.
- Place the tall, narrow container in the water. You might have to put a weight in the bottom to keep it from floating.
- Place chunks of your hard fat or oil in the inner container. Slowly heat the water, which will heat the inner pot, until the water is very hot and the fat that has been placed in the inner container has reached a liquid state. Note: you do not want to get the oil too hot. It simply needs to have melted.
- While the water is heating, or before you start the first step, prepare your candle wick.
- Measure out your wick to about three inches longer than the depth of the melting pot.
- Tie one end of the wick to a stick, pencil or knitting needle.
- Tie a weight, such as a metal washer or a piece of broken pottery, to the other end.
When the oil is completely melted
- When the oil is completely melted, dip the weighted end of the wick into the liquid oil.
- Place the stick, pencil or knitting needle across something that will allow it to hang without touching anything. It is a good idea to place a pan or newspaper beneath the hanging candles to prevent drips from sticking to the floor or tabletop.
- Allow the wax or fat to dry, then quickly dip it into the pot for a second coat. You want to keep it in the pot long enough to pick up a good coat, but not so long that it will melt the previous one.
- Repeat steps 6 through 8 until the candle has reached the desired thickness, or you run out of oil.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4, as if you were going to dip candles.
- Assemble your desired molds. Some options include:
- Jelly jars
- ½ to 1 pint canning jars
- Tin cans
- Waxed milk or juice boxes (place these in a baking tray to avoid problems if the container does not retain the oil.)
- Prepare the wick by measuring a wicking length about three inches longer than the mold is tall. As with the wicks for dipping, place a weight on the bottom of the string.
- Hang the wick so that it is more or less centrally located in the mold. Roll up any excess wick on the suspending stick.
- Pour the melted oil into the container, leaving at least ¼ inch at the top to hold the melting oil when the candle burns.
- With sufficiently hardened substances, milk or juice cartons can be torn away from the candle, leaving only the hardened fuel source. However, these candles should be placed on a flameproof clay dish (not glass) before burning. If a metal container is used, place it on a heat-resistant surface such as a thick wooden trivet while in use.
Selecting a Wick
A good wick is important if you want a candle that burns evenly and produces good light. You can purchase wicking. It will range from cheap stuff that is scarcely better than string salvaged from a pet food bag to really nice stuff that has a metal thread down the middle which helps it to burn steadily and long. Wool yarn actually works better than salvaged string and can be braided to variable thicknesses. If salvaged string is your only option, you can braid it to create a better thickness.
It is a good idea to put a weight on the end of the wick to keep it straight, whether you are dipping your candle or molding it. Washers from the hardware store are nice for this, but in a pinch, you can use a piece of hardened clay or a rock. Avoid flint or limestone, however, as they sometimes explode when heated. Ask any camper who has built a campfire in a streambed!
What are some good safety tips for making your own candles?
Never leave melting or melted candle makings unattended, and keep a box of baking soda or dry fire extinguisher at hand – for just in case. If you’ve never used a candle or lamp type before, try the first one out-of-doors in an area prepped for campfires or similar events. Use a fireplace match or lighted stick to light it so that you can stand well back from it.
Why use a double boiler or place a metal container in water to heat the oil for the candle?
Hot grease or oil of any kind can give you a nasty burn. It is also a good idea to keep small children and pets out of the work area. By placing the oil container in a metal container that is in water, you can more easily keep the oil from overheating.
Can you add color or scent to non-wax candles?
Of course, you can! Since you are working with an oil-based material, your best options are essential oils for scent, and children’s crayons for color. Crayons will even add some stabilizing wax to your solid oil candle.
Looking to start your own candle making business, check out my startup documents here
Please note that the contents of this blog are for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Any action taken based on the information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Additionally, all images used in this blog are generated under the CC0 license of Creative Commons, which means they are free to use for any purpose without attribution.
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.