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Old-Time Techniques for Modern Candlemaking

There’s an element of romance to an evening spent by candlelight, with flickering flames casting shadows throughout the room. And dinners enjoyed by candlelight are ones that are unforgettable, leaving behind memories of not only the meal, but also the dining companion.

How can anyone resist the allure? But candles can be expensive, and it can be hard to find scents that are well suited for every occasion. That—along with a drive to learn as much about old-time craft making as possible – led me to explore the basics of making my own candles, a process that made me feel closer to my pioneer roots, even as it offered me a new creative outlet.

My oldest friend and I originally started the project in order to make some extra money at craft sales, and our candles – along with soaps, lip balms, and homemade jam – were big hits, especially our beach-inspired candles, dyed a soft blue and studded with tiny seashells.

It was really pretty easy for me to get started, and for anyone else with a desire to make their own candles –whether for emergencies or for the ambiance – I expect you’ll soon find yourself looking for new ways to put a personal touch on your own candle masterpieces, because the possibilities are endless.

Candle History

In early days, settlers used tallow and later whale oil to create the candles they needed to light their way after dark. But while both those substances burned, the aroma was less than tantalizing, so alternatives that were more pleasing to the senses were soon sought.

That led to the use of bayberry wax and beeswax, both of which are still great choices for back-to-basics candle making and offer sweet, clean aromas that are great on their own, without added embellishments.

Modern candle makers often use paraffin wax, which melts quickly and can be dyed with solid dyes, liquid dyes, or pigments, allowing you to control the depth of color. You can also create scented candles, adding either synthetic oils that recreate the aroma of fresh-baked apple pie or chocolate chip cookies, or essential oils like soothing lavender – perfect for a baby’s bedroom since the aroma of lavender has a calming effect – as well as more exotic choices such as sandalwood or patchouli oils.

Those with concerns about burning paraffin should use beeswax, a safer choice than paraffin wax, according to the American Lung Association. In addition, candles made from beeswax last longer than traditional paraffin candles, and the scent of them is soft and sweet with just a hint of honey, not too overpowering for a candlelight dinner, since it will still allow the aromas of the meal you’re serving to be the star of the show.

You can even unleash your own inner pioneer and make your own bayberry wax, although the process is a bit time consuming. The resulting candles have a fresh, bright aroma that brings to mind a crisp winter day, snow swirling outside, while the candlelight creates the sense of warmth.

Getting Started

Initial supplies for contemporary candle making – whether creating votive or pillars, jar candles or traditional tapered candles – include wax, wicks, dyes, and scents, as well as molds or containers if you’re not making dipped taper candles.

A craft store can be a one-stop shop, but if there are none nearby, there are also plenty of online sites that offer paraffin, soy wax, bayberry wax, wicks, candle molds, and other supplies that you’ll need.

Too, don’t forget your local farmer’s market as a source for beeswax, because farmers who sell honey are also likely to have beeswax available, unless they are saving it for themselves.

And once you have your supplies, the instructions that follow offer a back- to-basics approach to candle making that will yield amazing – and amazingly natural –  results.

Making Paraffin Jar Candles

Things you’ll need:

  • A block of paraffin wax
  • Wicks
  • Wick tabs
  • Scented oils
  • Dyes
  • Containers or molds of your choice

The simplest method for making candles is to start with jar candles. It creates less mess both in the process of making the candles as well as when you burn them. You can also buy reusable molds, which allow for votive, shaped or tea light candles.

Melt paraffin in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add your choice of dyes and scented oils if desired. Dip the wick base into the wax so it can be secured in place at the bottom of the container and won’t move when you pour. Pour the wax slowly into your molds or jars.

Use skewers or other slender sticks or toothpicks to keep wicks centered and elevated.

Tip: To clean up dried wax that might remain on your saucepan, pop it in the freezer. Wax will pop free after it freezes.

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Making Beeswax Candles


Things you’ll need:

  • A block of beeswax
  • A large coffee can, a little taller than your desired candle height
  • Wicks or cotton thread
  • Weights such as beads or washers
  • Skewers

Before getting started, cover the area where candles will be drying with lots of newspaper. Wax is messy, and drips can be particularly tricky to clean up.

Chop the beeswax into pieces and put some in the coffee can, which then goes into a pot on the stove to be melted as if using a double boiler. Again, because wax is messy, it’s best to use something easily disposable or that will be used solely for this purpose.

As the wax melts, add additional beeswax pieces until you have enough wax to create a candle that’s slightly longer than the length you want.

Cut a length of wick that’s also a few inches longer than your desired candle length, tying a weight on one end and a skewer on the other to be used as a support for drying your candle.

Remove the wax from the heat and dip the wick and the weight into the wax, removing it after the wax stops bubbling. Don’t wait too long between dips; the wax on the wick should still be warm when you drop it back into the melted wax. When the candle has reached the desired width, hang it to dry on a line, clipping in place with a clothes pin of necessary.

To burn, trim the wick and cut the bottom of the candle so it is flat and can be held in a candle holder.


Things you’ll need:

  • A block of beeswax
  • A large coffee can
  • Wicks with weighted bases
  • Glass containers like canning jars or small baby food jars

Melt beeswax as before, making sure that newspaper covers your entire work surface. Place wicks in your desired containers, using a bit of wax to secure them to the bottom of the container. Pour the wax into the jars, holding wicks in place with skewers to keep them elevated and centered.


Things you’ll need:

  • Sheets of beeswax
  • Wicks

This is one of the easiest candles to make and is a great project for parents to do with younger children that will get them started on the road to more challenging crafts.

Roll out sheets of wax flat on a clean work surface. Cut lengths of wick that are longer than the sheet of beeswax, leaving extra on both sides. Place the wick snugly against the edge of the wax sheet and begin rolling it up tightly, pressing to make sure the wax completely surrounds the wick. Roll the wax sheet up snugly, keeping it even as you roll to ensure even burning when you light the candle. When the sheet is completely rolled up, press the edge gently into the candle to secure it, and trim the top wick.

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Making Bayberry Wax Candles

Things you’ll need:

  • Six pounds of bayberries, stems and leaves removed
  • Aluminum pot
  • Two large metal coffee cans
  • Cheesecloth
  • Candle molds or small glass jars
  • Wicks

Place bayberries in a large pot and cover them with water, leaving a few inches at the top of the pot but making sure berries are completely submerged. Heat liquid until boiling, then set it aside to cool. The wax will rise to the top as the berries cool. Remove the wax that forms at the top of the pot and break it into pieces. The berries have now served their earthly mission and can be tossed on a compost heap.

Place the wax pieces in one of the coffee cans and place the can in a pot of water on the stove, heating the wax until it melts. Strain it into the other coffee can through the cheesecloth in order to capture any debris from the berries.

Place wicks into jars or molds and pour the melted wax into the jars, using skewers to keep the wicks both suspended and centered. When wax has cooled, candles are ready to burn and enjoy. These are especially nice during the winter months.

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