My Wick-ed, Wick-ed Ways
So now that we’ve had a few digressions to deal with meatballs and meatheads who spent more money on sports than smarts, it’s time to get back to …candles!
Okay, when I left off last time, I said that I had decided to do something with all the left over candle wax we’d collected over the years. Some of it was from just ordinary candles we’d had, some of it was from the curse-reversing candles I’d gotten as a lark, and which, so far, haven’t reversed too many curses. Or if they have, we haven’t noticed.
It was also Covid lockdown, and I was sort of out of things to do. There are only so many long walks you can take, and only so many times you can re-read P.G. Wodehouse in a single sitting. (Although, if pressed, I suspect I could thrive on a diet of Jeeves and Bertie, E.B. White, Gerald Durrell, and James Herriot, with occasional blow-outs of Byzantine and Fatimid history. A balanced menu is everything.)
But, anyway, I figured, well, what the heck? Let’s make some candles. I gathered up the wax we had, and cleaned up a whole bunch of glass containers we had in the garage, and got some wicks from my local hobby store—Michael’s, to be precise. I won’t go to Hobby Lobby if I can help it. I will explain about that later.
Anyway, I watched a few YouTube videos, and set out to …tah-dah!…make candles.
That was my first mistake.
Lots more followed.
Okay, I ought to start with wicks…
There are many, many different kinds of wicks. Basically, they are all a piece of cotton string that burns at the top and carries liquid fuel (oil, in a lamp, or melted wax in a candle) from a reservoir to the flame. There are thin wicks and thick wicks, and, as a rule, thicker wicks burn hotter than thin wicks.
More, many wicks have some sort of stiffener inside them which keeps them upright. At the moment, I’ve got 100 wicks (purchased by mail order) that are stiffened by tiny zinc wires. Zinc is relatively new to the game, btw. Until recently, a common stiffener was (wait for it) lead wire. Which meant that in an inclosed space you could get lead poisoning. Talk about aromatherapy gone very bad. Fortunately, in the US at least, lead-stiffened wicks have been illegal since 2003. Which isn’t to say that a killer candle might not slip through the cracks in this age of imports and offshoring.
And there are a bunch of other stiffeners you’ll sometimes find in candle wicks. Copper wire, for instance, shows up once in a while, though I’ve never used it, and I suppose they’re getting a bit expensive in this age of sky-high copper prices. (Metal dealers tell me, “Copper is the new silver,” and some of them have suggested that I invest in it. An aside, that’s why people keep ripping off copper roofs and wiring. I also wonder what it is going to do to American coins. The penny is now worth more as copper than as a coin. That’s…interesting.)
Oh, there are also paper core wicks. These burn hot and quick, so they tend to be used only on the largest candles, where you have a lot of wax that needs to get heated up, somehow. I’ve never used them, but maybe I will give them a shot, someday, when I feel like pouring a candle about the size and flammability of a Katyusha rocket launcher.
Further, most of the wicks that you find for sale, or which are already in your purchased candles, have a metal tab, or “clip” at the bottom. This little beast helps keep the wick upright while you’re pouring the wax, and also is supposed to protect the bottom of the glass container from coming into the actual flame of the wick. That can be kind of important because glass can get surprisingly hot, and if it is sitting on something which is also flammable…well, you get the point.
Now, once you have your wicks, and your glass containers (and most to the candles I’ve made are “container candles,”), your next problem is to somehow affix the clip at the bottom of the wick to the bottom of the glass container. There are lots of ways of doing that. One of the most common is to use glue, and someday I’ll buy a glue gun for just that purpose. I have used ordinary white glue sometimes, but, well, er, ah, I soon discovered that unless the glue is really dry…and hard…it tends to melt in the hot wax. Meaning, the wick goes sailing off wherever it damn well pleases. Which is a pain. In the neck. Or someplace. You pick.
But once you’ve got the glue thing under control, you then face the issue of getting your wick precisely fixed at the exact center of your container. This is important because if you get the wick too far toward one side or the other, you end up with a candle that either burns only on one side, leaving a wall of untouched wax on the other, or a candle which ends up suffocating itself when all the melted wax on that one side ends up drowning the wick.
Now, I should mention that I do not have a whole lot of control over my wayward digits. I don’t suffer from tremors or anything, but rock-steady hands and nerves of steel are just not in my repertoire. More like Jello-steady and nerves of tin foil. But we won’t go into that. It is too weird.
But, the point is, a whole bunch of my early efforts ended up with their wicks off-center. I mean, way off-center. As in the poor things looked like a cross between an inebriated tiki torch and Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. During an earthquake. On springs.
Lately, though, I’ve been doing a little better. I’ve discovered an interesting tool. You take a tube…say, a drinking straw or the plastic body of a pen…and you put the wick through it with the tab sticking out of the bottom. Then you use the tube to control the wick and the placement of the tab.
It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it is better than Quasimodo & Co., LTD.
One quick aside. I’ve heard from friends that there are other kinds of wicks out there, including a very recent innovation, wicks of wood or bamboo. I have never used or burned one, though I gather they work rather well. I’m also told they’re harder to light than regular wicks, but once they do catch flame, they burn merrily, and some of them make a nice cracking noise, like a wood fire.
That would come in handy for us here in Texas. This is a hot state much of the year. Supposedly Mark Twain once said that if he owned hell and Texas, he’d rent out Texas and live in hell.
Which means that there are days in Autumn and Spring, or even in Winter, that would be best served with a nice blaze in the fireplace. But, it’s too hot. So, instead, we put candles in the fireplace and pretend we have a fire. If they also had a good crackling noise, that would be a nice addition to the illusion.
Anyway, if you’re interested, you can find a lot of wooden wicked candles on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/market/wood_wick_candle) and you can get the wicks themselves from many suppliers, for example, Lone Star Candle Supply (https://www.lonestarcandlesupply.com/candle-wicks.html?cat=111) and The Flaming Candle (https://www.theflamingcandle.com/wooden-wicks/)
Okay, so that’s wicks. There ought to be a joke in there someplace. Wicked good time. Wicked witch of the west. No rest for the wicked. But I won’t be saying any of a those things. Because you’ve probably already thought of all of them and more. And I wouldn’t want to insult your intelligence. That’s because I admire and respect you. And because some of you are large and strong. Or take karate. And would pop me in the nose if I did so. And nobody wants that. Well, at least I don’t. And my nose has a few opinions, too.
Which brings me to actually melting the wax and pouring it.
It is a process, by the way, full of adventures.
And a few burns.
But that’s for next time.
Onward and Upward.
Oh, I promised to explain why I don’t go to Hobby Lobby if I can help it. Nothing against Hobby Lobby and I’m sure that its employees are fine. But it is owned by the Green family. The Greens are very successful business people, but they are also Christian evangelicals and Biblical Literalists. That is, they believe the Bible is actually true, word for word. For literalists the Garden of Eden is real, the whole world really did get flooded out except for Noah and his family. And so on.
Okay, personally, I don’t believe that, and, frankly, I think Biblical Literalism is not only wrong but dangerous in that it teaches irrationality and an absurd view of the universe. But, I can see how some people might believe such things, and I recognize their right to do so, no matter how much I disagree with them.
The problem though is that the Greens founded a Museum of the Bible to promote their position. Which is fine, except the museum is full of ancient artifacts and texts which, they say, show the truth of the Bible as a history book.
Which is where things get kinky. A number of those objects and texts have proved to be …shall we say…questionable in terms of provenance. That is they were stolen, or looted (many came from Iraq after the war), or they were otherwise acquired by rather shady means.
Again, this is not to say that the Greens or their museum were dishonest. They, and the museum’s staff, claim that they were merely a bit naive at worse, and were simply taken in by swindlers. They had no idea the goods were hot, as they say, and have recently made efforts to return them to their rightful owners.
But…I’m a little bit of an historian, by hobby if not by trade, and I kind of feel that the theft of the Past is unconscionable. So, I guess, just to keep as far away from that sort of thing as possible…
I’ll buy my wax, and wicks, and colors…somewhere else.
Someplace where a thousand vanished men and women…ghosts and memories…
Do not rebuke me.
“That Robby Hobby: The Museum of the Bible wants you to believe it’s the victim of swindlers. It’s not,” by Erin L. Thompson, Slate, Oct 04, 2021, 5:33 PM, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/10/museum-of-the-bible-looted-art-track-record.html
“Hobby Lobby Billionaires, Skeptical Scholars, and the Museum of the Bible,” by Glenn Moots, November 16, 2017, Public Discourse, https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/11/20529/
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tu