Saturday, July 8, 2017

Butcher? Baker? Nope - candle maker!

I should be into more arts and crafts since I'm such a homebody. Truth is, most hobbies I pick up never take off. Lack of discipline. But who cares, the short time that I do spend on them gives me happiness and that's what matters.

So with that said, I can now expose myself to lots of teasing and laughter because I actually made candles.

My beginner's basic candle-making kit. Most of the items I already had!

Not to make candles. It happened because I was trying to reduce waste, which is why I'll share this with the Australian War on Waste facebook group and hopefully get some cool feedback!

Basically, I light a lot of tealight candles. A lot. Sometimes as many as 10 a day, scattered throughout the house in carefully and strategically selected corners. I'm often stressed, and the ambience of the warm softly flickering light is very soothing. Nothing more cosy and comforting than winding down after sunset, surrounded by a gentle amber glow. Search hygge and you'll see what I mean. The fragrance is also very nice to get rid of lingering cooking smells after dinner.

It does tend to make the house look a bit like a cathedral, but it works! I think it's mostly the ritual that does the de-stressing. I had a friend over recently, and while I was busy in the kitchen, I asked him to find all the candles around the house and light them. He set off on his very slow treasure hunt with a stove lighter brandished like a magic wand. When he came back and we finally switched off most of the electric lights, he had a big smile on his face and looked so relaxed. Win!

When a candle burns down to its base, almost always there is wax left behind in the bottom of the jar or container. Not a big deal most of the time, but when you light as many as I do, it adds up to a lot of wax. I started to feel guilty about throwing it away into the rubbish bin. What could I do instead?

So I thought it would be pretty simple to collect the wax, melt it down, and pour it back into the container. And what do you know, it is!

I made these 5 candles by collecting, melting and repouring the residual wax from lots of little tealight candles.

It took me, hm, say a couple of months?, to collect enough wax to make the five candles in the photo above. Not bad! Imagine if all that wax went into the trash?! (I had already started lighting the first candle by the time I took this photo which is why it's so low.)

Besides not wasting wax, I also didn't want to waste the glass jars some candles come in. After researching reuse options, I didn't feel comfortable repurposing them to hold food. Nor do I have much of a need for multiple 100-200ml sized jars around the house (even though they would be great for organising small items like stationery or craft materials or toiletries). So by remelting and pouring the old wax, I feel good about not constantly buying and disposing of perfectly serviceable glass jars! They can also be used even more simply as tealight holders!

I bought these candles from a shop and wanted to make use of the glass jars afterwards instead of throwing them away. I've repurposed one glass jar as a brand new candle (wick still untrimmed). The second one is a handy tealight candle holder!

I won't explain how to make candles because there are a lot of videos and how-to's online that will teach you far better than I can. I had a pretty good idea already of what the basic process would be. Then I watched This Video and it told me everything I needed to know for the kind of candle I wanted to make. Like most things, once you start researching, you can tunnel deep down into a giant mountain of detail about all the various factors that can change the end result - but really, candle making is easy. You just need the right materials.

Wick tabs and a wick coil I purchased online.

I bought wicks and wick tabs online from All Australian Candle Making. Didn't know what I was buying and there were a lot of measurements and specifications that meant nothing to me, so I just guesstimated.

If I can eventually come up with a way to make these things myself, I will not need to buy them in future. For now, it's easiest just to source these supplies directly.

Can't tell you how excited I was to give this candle pouring bizzo a try! That's fine, laugh it up, I'm not embarrassed (not much). I'm pretty happy with the result if I do say so myself!

Couple of things to note:

1. The larger the wick, the larger the flame.

Makes logical sense, right? The wicks I bought are 39 ply (total gibberish, who knows what language that is? I just followed the guide on the online store). Because they burn bigger and more steadily, I find my handmade candles burn not only all the way to the edges, but they also burn right down to the base with almost zero wax leftover.

I was stunned at how big and high that flame burned! Notice all the wax has melted to the edges of the jar, meaning none is wasted, and the candle burns evenly.

2. The larger the wick and the flame, the more soot that is produced.

You know those really big beautiful scented candles you can buy from home design shops and department stores? In the past I thought it was harmless to light them while sleeping because they burn so much more slowly than the small candles. But I would always wake up with soot in my nostrils and my throat, and probably in my lungs too. It's even worse when you burn candles with wood wicks - they make a beautiful campfire sputtering spitting sound, but so much soot! My handmade candles give me the same soot problem even though they're small. It must be the wick size. So please ventilate! Health and safety first.

Big candle v small candle? Similar large wick size = similar sootiness.

3. Remelted wax is impure.

This is because the wax picks up soot and charcoal from the flame while it's lit, and also dust from the air when it's still liquid and cooling down. Once it's resolidified, the colour and translucency has probably changed too. So has the texture. If you're like me, and you don't plan anything but simply mix all the residual wax from several different tealight candles of different scents and brands, guaranteed you'll end up with a weird hybrid secondary wax of uncertain hue and fragrance. I don't care about that, but you might.

I also noticed that after I poured the wax and watched it solidify, the surface of the candle was not flat but slightly sunken in the middle where it met the wick. Could be for a couple of reasons: perhaps the altered chemistry of the wax had changed its structure? Or perhaps I'm supposed to gently tap the candle as it cools so the wax settles? (The lady in the instructional video advised exactly the opposite, but I'm not using new soy wax like she does.)

This isn't a problem for me, because I'm not selling my candles so aesthetics is not an issue. However I do find they burn very fast. Is that because the original candle wax was designed to burn quickly as a tealight candle? Or does remelting wax always change its chemistry so that it evaporates faster? Or does it have nothing to do with the wax composition at all but the fact that I'm using larger wicks? I'm not sure.

Slight depression in the candle wax after repouring.

The biggest challenge for me so far is actually finding a good pouring jug for the liquid wax! I've been to 3 different charity shops and can't find any secondhand cookware! I'm using an old milk pot at the moment. Unfortunately it's as terrible for pouring wax as it was for pouring milk. Look at that pathetically shallow little spout. Look at it! Ugh. It always dribbles without fail. Lay down newspaper first before you pour!

I may end up buying a cheap barista's jug at Kmart. Thankfully since I'm only making one or two candles at a time, I don't need a high volume jug.

One thing I haven't solved yet is how to avoid throwing away the depleted wick tabs - I don't think I can prevent wasting those. I also considered reusing those tiny little aluminium containers from the tealight candles too, but eventually decided against it because it doesn't seem safe.

To be honest, I'm not even sure how many times I can safely reuse the glass jars! If you have an answer to this I'd love to hear it! In the meantime, I'll just have to be careful and watch that the glass does not crack over time with repeated heating.

I'm considering buying wax chips online and making candles from scratch. I do still love tealight candles, but I could at least reduce how many I purchase by making more of my own candles. The upside is that some of my own candles would be made with clean wax instead of secondary wax. This would allow me to handmake some candles as gifts! Pretty cool.

However, it's one thing to buy a couple of inexpensive craft accessories, but to actually buy wax? Is that taking the grandma geek chic just a step too far? I'll let you decide 😏

So there you have it, my first time making candles! What do you think? If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

As I get better at doing this incredibly nerdy thing, I'll post again with new tips and tricks I learn. If you want to give this a go yourself, I encourage you to try! But final safety note - boiling hot liquid wax is both messy and dangerous! So please be careful, and keep clear from kids!

Happy weekend!

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