Before the advent of electricity, candles and oil lamps provided light indoors and out. Candles are still valued for their soft glow, although they’re rarely used for utilitarian purposes these days. From a survivalist perspective, though, knowing how to make candles and stocking up on them is a smart strategy. If you’re without power, candles provide an economical, constant source of light.
And even when there is no emergency, candles create a peaceful ambiance that no electric light can duplicate. Stock up on candle making supplies and try your hand at homemade candles. Chances are, once you try it, you’ll be hooked.
Types of Wax
Tallow Wax: Tallow wax from rendered animal fat was used for centuries to make candles. It is still one of the most economical types of wax and the one you’ll most likely use if you can’t get commercial candle-making supplies. Keep in mind that the major disadvantage to tallow candles is their smell, which is heavy, and frankly, downright unpleasant. Tallow candles also give off more smoke than other types of candles.
Beeswax: Beeswax comes, as you would expect, from the wax bees use to build their hives. Collectors gather the wax once bees move on, melt it down, filter it to remove purities, and use it for candles. Early colonists preferred beeswax to tallow, which produced a lot of smoke and odor. Beeswax candles have a lovely, mild scent, but they melt quickly. Beeswax comes in sheets, chunks, or pearls. It has a low melting point and is rather sticky. Add a candle-hardening product if you’re using it in candle molds and fill the molds quite full because the wax tends to shrink. In a survivalist situation, I’d much rather use beeswax candles than tallow candles—just one more reason to own your own beehives.
Bayberry Wax: Bayberry wax is another natural product made from the bayberry plant. This plant produces bluish aromatic berries and exudes a waxy substance. The candles are also very aromatic and are naturally dyed olive green. Bayberry wax is among the most expensive types of wax because making it is quite labor intensive. It takes as much as fifteen pounds of berries to make one pound of wax.
Paraffin: Paraffin wax is the least expensive type of wax and is widely available. Made from petroleum products, it is easy to work with, melts evenly, and has very little odor. It comes in chunks, sheets, or pearls.
Soy: Soy wax is marketed as a “green” product that produces less smoke, odor, and irritants than other wax types. However, I haven’t seen any third-party research verifying this fact, so it might be nothing more than a marketing attempt to manipulate consumers interested in environmentally friendly products. Soy wax is a renewable resource made from soybeans ,and it can be melted and reused easily. Like beeswax, it is very soft, so use it to make container candles or add candle hardener.
Candle making is a useful, enjoyable hobby, but don’t forget safety. After all, wax is a type of fuel. In fact, the ingredients used to make paraffin wax are the same ingredients used to make rocket fuel. Practice the following tips to ensure a safe candle-making experience:
- Wear protective clothing, such as an apron and latex gloves, when making candles.
- Keep a bowl of ice water nearby to treat burns.
- Keep baking soda and a fire extinguisher on hand. Never put water on a wax fire, which will just spread it. Treat it as a grease fire.
- Keep young children away from hot wax while you make candles. Supervise older children and teach them proper candle-making safety techniques.
- Don’t pour leftover candle wax down the drain. It coats your pipes, causing clogs and potential fires. Instead, pour candle wax into an empty milk carton or glass jar.
- Melt candle wax in a double boiler, rather than over direct heat. Using a double boiler allows you to control the heat better, reducing the chance of fire and making a better product as well.
Authentic hand-dipped candles are not only beautiful, but they are easy to store in large quantities and make wonderful gifts. Because you must wait for the wax to dry between each dipping, making hand-dipped candles is more time consuming than other candle types. Get several large pots going at once to speed up the process.
- Cover work surfaces and the floor with newspaper or a tarp.
- Heat wax in a wax melter or a double boiler.
- Tie three to four wicks to a wooden spoon or long dowel. Make the wicks at least six to eight inches long, depending on how large you want the candles. Space the wicks on the dowel three inches apart so the candles don’t touch, and pull on the wicks to straighten them.
- Dip the wicks in the melted wax, leaving at least one inch at the top. Rest the dowel on a stack of books or two chairs to allow the wax to dry completely between each dipping. Dip the candles about twenty-five times, allowing the wax to harden slightly between each dipping.
- Cut the candles from the dowel and trim the wick to ¼ inch. Cut the bottoms of the candle with a sharp knife to make a flat surface. Wrap the candles in wax paper and store them in a cool, dry place.
Rolled Honeycomb Candles
Honeycomb candles are the easiest candles to make because they require no melting. The wax softens by the heat of your hands. Honeycomb candles are a good choice for children or beginning candle makers. Here’s how to make them:
- Lay a sheet of honeycomb wax on a clean, flat surface. Use scissors to cut it into the desired width. Cut a wick to fit the sheet of wax, plus 1 inch.
- Press the wick into one edge of the wax, leaving 1 inch above the wax. Slowly begin rolling the wax up tightly and evenly.
- When completed, smooth the raw edge with your hand to blend it into the candle. Store honeycomb candles in a cool, dry place.
Milk Carton Candles
Milk carton candles are easy to make and are long burning, making them an ideal choice for your emergency candle supply. Using the same method, you can also use plastic yogurt containers, glass jars or commercial candle molds. Spray the molds with a candle mold spray to remove them more easily.
- Wash an empty paper milk carton and dry it thoroughly. Cut the top off the milk carton with scissors to the candle size you want.
- Melt candle wax in a wax melter or double boiler.
- Cut a wick three to four inches longer than the milk carton. Thread one end of the wick through a metal wick tab. Dip the wick in the candle wax to harden and straighten it. Allow it to dry on a piece of wax paper. Tie one end of the wick around a craft stick or wooden spoon.
- Ladle a small amount of wax into the bottom of the milk carton. Press the wick and metal wick tab into the wax and allow it to dry. Rest the spoon on top of the milk carton so it holds the wick straight and secure.
- Ladle wax into the milk carton until full. Allow it to harden completely. Carefully cut away the milk carton with sharp scissors.
Early American Candle Supplies (www.earlyamericancandlesupplies.com): Buy paraffin candle wax in bulk at this site.
Candlewic (www.candlewic.com): This site offers volume pricing on beeswax, as well as other types of candle wax.
Ebeehoney (www.ebeehoney.com): One of the best sources on the web for beeswax.