bright diversions for dark days
i like peak candle for supplies, because they're local, and they're really nice -- every time i order from them i get a free fragrance sampler, and they pay attention: they seem to intuit that i like food smells, so i get free stuff like apple pie, raspberry, amish harvest and so on.
also, they're reasonably priced: an important factor for someone so cheap that she actually recycles her wax. :)
so, to do this in your kitchen, you need some basic things:
- wax, which you have been collecting old bits and ends of all year long
- a shape to put it in, unless you want to spend all day dipping tapers. (i collect all my bits and ends in one place, and i happen to like jars and seven-day candles a lot, so i collect empties of those too. if you like pillars, you can buy molds in dozens of shapes and sizes. since i almost exclusively use containers, that's what this howto will concern. if you want howtos for pillars, there are bunches on the intarwebs. ask me and i'll point you at one.)
>>note: you want to test your containers first, for watertightness. wash it out, then fill it. it if leaks, or drips, use it for a plant instead.
- wicking, so it will burn when you set fire to it. (i buy wicking one size larger than i need. it helps the flame not drown in its own meltpool. i use unwaxed flatbraid. have not tried zinc-core wicking yet, but i do notice that most seven-day candles use it. )
- a double boiler, to melt it down. i use a large pot and an old jumbo metal coffee can.
some other things which will help:
- wick tabs, which will weight the wick's bottom and help keep it straight.
i use the leftovers from tealights and votives and my seven-day candles: you can use them several times. i just take a big old knitting needle and yoink 'em out, clean them (carefully; the edges can be sharp) with an old rag, open them up with the needle and a hammer if necessary, and they're ready to go.
>> note: some people also do things like tying a small metal washer or nut to the bottom of the wick to weight it, or use a safety pin to stick the wick to the bottom of the mold or container. you could do that if you don't want to buy wick tabs, although tying the wick sounds like a waste of wicking to me. i might consider the safetypin method if i weren't so fastidious about saving my pre-used wick tabs.
- wax dye. as you know if you ever tried to make a GIANT SUPERCRAYON from your crayons in your errant youth, when you mix all different colors of wax together you get something not unlike the color of a peat bog. if you don't care about this, right on. if not, you can get liquid dye, dye chips, or pigment chips. i like the color of red wine, so i use magenta and coffee brown, and i use liquid because a little bit goes so very far.
- smell-good. bits and ends have all sorts of different fragrances, some of which may smell funky indeed when blended together. also, wax dye has its own smell, which you will recognize as soon as you smell it: it's the smell of every cheap candle you've ever bought in your life. if this doesn't bother you, read on. if it does, you can get any of hundreds of different scents on the intarwebs. i usually do this in the winter, and i like food-scents: cinnamon goes well with my color scheme (and i'm inordinately attached to it: someone once walked into my house and yelped, "french toast!" or something similarly inspiring), and so do hazelnut, pumpkin spice, apple-whatever, coffee scents, et c.
you picks what you likes.
>> note that adding things like actual spices or extracts for this purpose isn't the best idea: finely ground things can travel up the wick and clog it, and things like whole cloves can actually explode. doesn't that sound fun? i want to try it but i know i really shouldn't. think about it! you could have your own etsy shop just selling Fabulous Explodey Clove Candles!
okay, yeah, bad idea. don't do that. things that are oil-based may or may not work correctly with the wax, things that are waterbased will likely just evaporate out during processing, things that are powder-based will get gummy and/or sink to the bottom, solids... yeah.
- a bunch of small sticks or even sections of old straws, to hang the wicks at the top. each needs to be wider than the mouth of your containers or molds. i make mine about 3" long; if you're making a big ol' 3-wicked fat pillar, make yours longer. you need one for each wick.
- implements, the disposable kind, like used bamboo skewers and other pokey-stirry things.
- potholders, rags and wipey-things.
things which i use because i am insane:
- an awesome pair of goggles
- a bloodspattered-looking lab coat
- huge gloves
- a frequent maniacal cackle
because, you know, when you're doing kitchen alchemy is really when you should feel free to let loose all your mad-scientist. reprazent.
cut goes here before the directions.
so you've got all your implements together, your array of little bottles of additives, your cooking rig, your containers, your box/bag/tub/garbage bag/storage unit full of bits and ends of wax, and your game face on. do not light the stove yet!
the first thing i do is peel off all the extra, non-wax stuff that i can. there can be plastic, gel candle medium (highly flammable shit with a very high flamepoint; i don't like it and have burned myself badly on it at least once), paper labels, stuck-on old wicks, all kinda things mixed in there. you'll still have old wick tabs and old wicks in the bottom of your melt boiler, but we'll fix that later on because we can't get to it now. go through your bits and ends and take out as much extraneous junk as you can, and throw it away.
now you can dump in your bits and ends of wax. right in that old coffee can. you can fill it as much as halfway to start with. it will melt down a lot, and you can add more at that point. cram it on in there and punch it a couple of times. laugh maniacally. (try it.) little pieces melt faster.
now you add water to your pot. NOT the coffee can. you want to add water in the bottom of the pot until your coffee can full of bits just floats a little.
now you turn on your burner. i use gasflame and keep it on the next-to-lowest burn i can, to melt initially. later i turn it down.
here is the mildly dangerous point: you melt, and wait. check it every five minutes, if you *must* leave the room. wax can give off weird vapors, depending what went into it originally, so you need to check it frequently to make sure your flame is low enough to keep it from igniting anything gassing off. make sure that the water in your pot does not bubble furiously enough to dump the can contents: wax is flammable, and if you get it in your flame or burner you will have a big old holiday fire. you want the water to just barely simmer just BARELY. the wax will melt. it takes a while, but it will, and by keeping it on the low-heat you will avoid chance of catastrophes.
eventually you will have a nice can with an integrated fluid in it. it is thin, but it has more body than water. you don't have a whole lot of it, because it melted down a lot. you need more, so you can add more. turn down your flame to the lowest setting, and gradually add more bits and ends until all are rendered.
in between bouts of adding and melting, you can construct your wicks. i use my old wicktabs. look at your containers: you need one or more appropriately-sized wick(s) for each. i take my cleaned wicktabs, thread some wicking through, then hold the wicktab at the level of the container bottom and pull wicking through until it reaches the top: then i pull about 4 inches more through. more on this extra later. then i crimp the wicktab where appropriate with pliers, and snip the wick just beneath the bottom of the tab.
rinse, lather, repeat. one for each container (or more, if you're doing multiwicking).
once your wax is all melted, including any filler or new wax (i use soy wax filler: it holds a lot of fragrance, melts low, burns clean, and is ecofriendly) you want to add to increase the amount, you take a small, SCRUBBABLE hand strainer -- i use a finely slotted spoon, because my hand strainer is too fine-meshed to scrub wax out of it -- and rake out all the extraneous crap that's fallen to the bottom. this should be old wicks, wick tabs, and if you live in my house, cat hair. toss that stuff on a paper towel to the side. do it a few times.
once all your wicks are made and your wax bath is filtered, you can prime your wicks, if they're not already waxed. some people do this in batches, a bunch at once, on a stick, and then hang them free to harden straight. i think it's easier to just do them individually: that way you get them ready to pour and can set them aside without further thought about them. all i do is take each one, bathe its whole length (except for the achilles' tip of wick where i hold it) in the wax bath for 20 seconds, drop the tab into the container and, with my other hand, use a pokey-thing to mash the tab down good onto the bottom. i hold it there long enough to stick, and then i hold the wick straight, wrap it around a short stick or straw across the top to keep it straight down the middle of the container, and let it harden somewhere out of the way. and the next, and the next, until they're all done. i've done as many as 25 containers at once this way, and it takes about that many minutes.
i add them just before i pour: first color, then fragrance. i color to my satisfaction, a dribble at a time, --remembering that melted wax is paler and, obviously, more transparent than cooled; when cooled, mine are almost black, but when liquefied, a gorgeous, bloody, deep garnet -- and then add fragrance. most howtos will tell you that you should add color last, but i don't need visual confirmation that everything has melted together: i stir for one minute to make sure, then sniff test, then adjust as necessary. >> NOTE: most commercial howtos will tell you that you need to add a stabilizer to your wax if you're adding fragrance: but if you're using remelted bits, odds are good you already have more than enough stabilizer in the mixture to go 'round. at least, i've never had a problem with it.
this is a two-step process. when you're satisfied, grab some potholders. turn your burner OFF. place some newspapers down on a clear place on the floor, and your ready-and-waiting containers on top of them. don your protective gear and proceed to lift the coffee can out of the pot with both hands. turn to your waiting containers, squeeze the coffee can so it's a little narrower, and pour at the narrowest part.
i fill each container to almost the very top. here is what: i do these in winter because they not only scent your house and keep you cosily standing around a warm stove, but they also process faster. pour, set aside, then duck out to the back porch and set them outside to lose their heat. this makes them sink and crack as they harden. after six hours, or overnight, i remelt the wax bath, and pour again to fill cracks and sinks, to the very top. put outside again to set.
and then you're done. trim the wick to 1/4" and light, or store to light later. burns with a fabulous light, smells great, matches your house, and you got it for pennies on the dollar of a commercial candle.
wick trimmings and leftover wicking/wicktabs can be used for tealights, or other short lights.
when i say "seven-day candle," i'm referring to the tall glass ones you find in the ethnic section of the grocery store (sans labels). i use 30ply flatbraid wicking.
color variations between wax batches are no big deal: as long as you burn them a few hours at a stretch, they melt into each other quite admirably, and no variation of pouring layers is noticeable.