On these nights where the dark is beginning to creep in sooner and sooner, a candle keeps the funk at bay. And oh the funk, it’s coming on stronger now.
My very favorite kind of candles to keep at home are made from beeswax. They’re slow- and clean-burning, even air-purifying. Plus, they’re easy to make (or re-make) yourself. I don’t have a huge candle-making operation at home. I’m not dyeing candles, or dipping candles, or even, typically, scenting candles, but I do keep a few supplies tucked into different corners so that when the mood or moment strikes, I can get the place feeling cozy. In case it’s helpful, here’s a little overview of my candle-making habits:
+ A small vintage enamel double boiler (stowed in the very back of the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink) for melting down solid beeswax and beeswax scraps. (You can also use a tin can inside a regular cooking pan, but after accidentally spilling and needing to scrape beeswax out of my stainless steel saucepan more than once, it’s been better for me to have a dedicated pan for wax only.)
+ A designated pair of heat-resistant tongs for helping maneuver anything hot or waxy or otherwise to touch with bare hands or kitchen implements you don’t want covered in wax.
+ A roll of 2/0 square braid 100% cotton wicking (stashed with the other ribbon and strings in the linen closet)
+ Sheets of 100% beeswax foundation for rolling tapers (stored in the cardboard sleeve it’s sent in and tucked behind the tool boxes in the linen closet)
+ Eight tea light tins and wick tabs, saved from past tea light purchases (tucked inside a ceramic pitcher inside the linen closet)
Wicks: Because I typically make tapers or small tea lights or pillars, I use a 2/0 square-braided wick that’s best for candles no bigger than 3 inches across. I confess that I don’t always prime my wicks (priming just mean dipping them in melted wax before rolling or pouring), but when I do, it does seem to make a notable difference.
Tips: I used to buy my wicking by the yard, but ultimately went for a larger spool to make it considerably more cost-efficient. When you’re looking to buy wicking, just keep in mind the size of the candles you’re hoping to make and read the seller’s description before buying. The wrong size wick could mean a candle that burns too quickly or a flame that never gets big or bright. I like to use 100% cotton wicks.
Tapers: A beautiful set of dipped beeswax tapers is going to cost you, but they’re elegant enough to warrant the occasional splurge. I love to give them to people as special gifts. Solid tapers definitely burn slower than the hand-rolled kind made from wax foundation, but I love keeping sheets of wax foundation on hand that I can use to quickly roll a set to give as a gift or use on the dinner table. If you cut the wax sheets to size before rolling them, you can also use wax foundation to make your own birthday candles, (or controversial Christmas candles), or even a chubby pillar candle if that’s what you’re after. Here’s my basic candle rolling tutorial from several years ago, if you need some pointers on how it’s done.
Tips: Roll your candles as tightly as possible. The tighter you roll, the slower they’ll burn and the longer they’ll last. As your candle burns, save the melted wax, if any, that falls down the side of the candles.
Whenever I have an extra little scrap of wax, I toss it directly into the enamel saucepan that I keep under the sink to melt down for next time.
Tea lights: Tea lights of the variety that come 100 to a plastic bag are typically made from paraffin wax—a non-renewable by-product of petroleum or coal—and these cheap tea lights often have wicks with a metal core that could be made of lead, tin, or zinc. Inexpensive, yes, but at a price. Still, I love the twinkly effect of putting tiny tea lights into small vessels to cozy up a dark evening. Because they’re self-contained they’re less messy than, say, simply filling a glass or cup with a candle.
Tips: Save the little metal cups that tea lights come in and refill them over and over again. You can either buy pre-poured tea light inserts to put back into your used cup, or you can melt down your own wax and refill those babies yourself. (If you still have wax or wick left in your tin, just warm it up in a bit of shallow hot water and pour it back into your beeswax stock—removing the burned wicks with a pair of tongs.) If you pour your own candles, you’ll need to use a wick tab to secure your wick and keep it from flopping over once the wax begins to melt. Reusing old tabs is admittedly a little onerous—the wick tab shaft get pinched when the wick is first put in and so you’ll need to use a sharp object (I started with a pair of pliers and had better luck with a closed pair of sharp scissors and yes, I swore a few times) to unclamp the tab and rethread with fresh wick. Alternately, you can purchase new tabs and thread them yourself but decide not to pinch them all the way shut so that you can rethread wick more easily once the candle burns out. You can also buy pre-threaded tabs. So many options. If you opt out of using tabs altogether, you can expect that your tea light will burn about half way before the wick tips and you’ll have to remelt and start over. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)
When pouring candles, I always pour first, and place my wick second. In this case, I was using wick tabs, which I rethreaded first and then primed in melted beeswax. (I didn’t repinch my tabs shut since they were already pretty well pinched.) Pour your hot wax in to the tins and then wait a few minutes before sinking the wick.
By pouring first and placing second, you’ll get the wick centered but the still-liquid wax won’t crack when you put in the wick. Once the wax has hardened, trim the wick so that it’s just half a centimeter or so long.
Other kinds of poured candles:
If making and remaking tea lights doesn’t excite you or seems too tiresome, you can certainly pour melted wax into a larger vessel instead. Think carefully about the vessel you use: it’s true that the majority of the wax will simply burn away, but you’ll always have some amount of residue left behind post-burning and when I’ve used a vessel I wanted to use later for something other than candles, that’s usually created more cleanup than I’m in the mood for. (Though freezing a container with wax in it helps a great deal to dislodge stuck wax.) You’ll also want to be careful about the kind of glass that you use. Untempered glass can heat up too much and could break as it heats up. To be safe, stick with glasses that are designed for having candles in them; it’s a great opportunity to reuse old candle vessels. In these cases, using a wick tab (see above) is also a good idea. I didn’t use one here and I had to remelt my wax and start over once the candle was burned about 2/3 down.
A reminder: These are tips from a layperson. This isn’t a post designed to turn any of us into an expert candlemaker overnight. We can certainly leave that to the pros. But these are a few of the things I do to extend my candle-life at home and to keep the place glowing through the deep midwinter. As one needs to be when embracing this sort of thing, I’m gentle with myself about inconsistencies. As always, keep a watchful when burning candles of any sort.
In case you want to leave things to the professionals, a few beautiful candle options:
Greentree Home, exquisite beeswax candles made in the Catskills.
Pioneer Candles, hand-dipped in Oklahoma.
Bayberry candles, beeswax + bayberry.
In case you’re looking for candlesticks, a few favorites: