Wax, Wicks, And Shapes
Okay, last time I talked about doing color and wax and candles. Today, I’m going to talk about shapes and wax.
It’s gonna be fascinating, I’m sure.
Okay, maybe I’m not sure…but, heck, we can all pretend, can’t we?
A square-ish candle.
Anyway, last time we chatted about using color in the wax of your candles. The other thing I’m playing with, albeit not as actively, is the actual shape of the candle.
Of course, I’m doing container candles (i.e., candles in which the wax is held within a glass), so most often the shape and size of my candles is determined by the container I have at hand. But since I’m scavenging…using old containers I’ve collected over the years…that means that my candles can be pretty dramatically different. I’ve got little ones, and big ones, and ones that come in shot glasses, and one that’s in a stone-thing that, I think, was originally meant to hold toothbrushes. Which brings a whole new meaning to the term “waxy yellow build up,” but we won’t go into that. It’s too horrible.
Actually, a word of advice. If you’re really serious about candle making, and maybe even thinking about selling them down at your local craft’s fair or farmer’s market, don’t do as I do. When you are experimenting with old, recycled containers, and playing with whatever waxes are at hand, you don’t have a consistency in your work. Sometimes the wicks are the right size, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the candles burn merrily away, other times — as in the case of the wax from the “curse reversing” candles that I’ve been trying to reuse — they barely ignite. Still others roar off like a jet engine on steroids.
So, if you’re really thinking about doing this on a grand scale, I’d suggest going to a supplier — I’m using Lone Star Candle Supply, but there’s lots of others — and picking a particular size container that appeals to you. Then, experiment with wax and wicks until you find the ones that work best with the containers in question, and just buy those. Maybe, just for example, a 10 oz jar with paraffin wax and a six inch zinc core wick. That way, you can be pretty sure you know how your candles will behave most of the time.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t always a few risks. Anything with a flame is a risk. Which is why, if you are going to sell candles, you’ll also want to purchase some warning labels to put on the bottles of your containers. They’re quite easy to get. Candle supply vendors offer them in handy, adhesive-backed rolls. Or, you can get templates and print out such labels on your own printer. Avery, the form and paper people, have them here:
Oh, and the National Candle Association, an organization you should know about anyway, also has templates for and information about warning labels. Visit the group’s site here:
And the organization’s page on labels is here:
Seriously, a label is worth it.
Anyway, once I had started at least the beginnings of playing with wax color, the next thing to look at was the wax’s shape. There are, by the way, lots of ways of doing that. You can mold the wax, for instance, or even sculpt it.
I have only done a little bit with molding. You can buy molds for wax from various companies. They range from simple things, designed to just give you a perfect, free-standing cylinder — a “column” as they call it — to quite elaborate molds to build various little statues. I’ve seen molds for trees, human figures, cupids, fairies, you name it. Mostly the molds are made of flexible silicone, but you can also get metal ones.
I’ve never, ever done that sort of thing, though I know of folks who have. A friend of mine back in Massachussets, in fact, had a business for a while where she made fanciful rubber molds and sold the resulting candles all over the country. She finally let the business slide, though, after it stopped being a fun hobby and started being an exhausting career.
Oh, and for you political junkies, there are companies out there that make candles in the shape of Donald Trump’s head. If you love him, you can pretend you’re lighting a votive in his honor. If you’re on the other team…well, watching him melt slowly provides a certain sinister kick.
Like I say, I have never done anything as elaborate as that. I have molded free standing candles, though. I mean, they’re candles that are not in a container. They are not dip candles, which are made by “dipping” a wick into a container of hot wax. That’s beyond my skill, and my courage.
What I have done, though, is pour wax into paper cups, then let them cool, and finally tear the paper cup away. It produces a good serviceable little candle that you can stick on a plate or other non-flammable surface.
Truth be told, though, I’ve never been particularly successful with these. My freestanding candles tend to burn badly, or drip all over the place. Or, my most dramatic semi-success involved a very large candle that burned only in the center, i.e., directly around the wick. After a bit, if finally collapsed in on itself in a weird little prolapsed tube.
Honestly, it was one of the most obscene things I’d ever seen in my life. But maybe I’ve just got a dirty mind. And a dirty candle.
Really Sad. Or Really Sick. Or Maybe Both.
Oh, on a kind of related topic, I’ve also recently tried my first double-wicked candle — that is, a candle with, obviously, two wicks. For some reasons, I’ve always thought those particularly cool. You know, like classy, the sort of candle James Bond would have in his apartment just after Tatiana Romanova got there. But before Goldfinger showed up. All a question of timing, you see.
Anyway, I had a container that hadn’t worked well in the past, and, of course, I had that dang curse-reversing wax that won’t burn to save me. I figured that, well, maybe the wick needed to be hotter. So I got a larger wick. And if one wick was good, two wicks ought to be great, right?
So I busily poured a two wicked candle with the cursed wax.
Both wicks went out. Twice as fast. And with what I can only call the sad sweet smile of a classical martyr. Just before the lion finishes saying grace.
It seemed like such a good idea.
It wasn't. Went out after maybe a minute and a half.
As an aside, I have no idea what, if anything, is going to make that dang curse-reversing wax actually work. I just ordered some paper core wicks — those are the ones that burn hotter than almost anything. I’ll give them a shot.
If that doesn’t work…
Well, I mentioned melting the wax and spreading it on paper print-outs with pictures of people I don’t like on them, and then toasting the whole thing in the fire ring in the backyard. If worse comes to worse…
I mean, really, it is getting chilly here…
But getting back to shapes…
My most thoroughly disastrous experiment with shaping wax came when I tried to make “ice candles,” (again, using the curse-reversing wax).
An ice candle is something rather clever. You take a disposable container — say, a waxed milk carton that you were just going to throw away, anyway — and you put a wick down the middle of it. Then, you get a bunch of ice — not cubes, but not crushed, either. Say, about the size you get from the ice machines you find at hotels.
You fill the container with ice. Then, you pour molten wax into the container so that it flows around the ice. You wait a day or so for it to cool, and then you remove the container and let the water drain away.
The result is a wax candle that’s full of interesting little cavities. When done well, it looks like a mysterious cavern, or maybe an alien city on a distant planet. You light the wick and the light from the flame slowly descends into the wax, creating an otherworldly glow. Quite beautiful, really.
That’s if it is done well.
When I did it…
I think I described it a few columns back as looking like a killer meatloaf from hell. That was, if anything, far too kind.
Think magma chamber with a side order of sinus infection…
An artist friend of ours saw photos of the beast and suggested that I stick little green army men into the chambers and take photos of it to suggest that war really is, no question about it, hell…
Killer Mutant Meatloaf
Looked even worse up close and personal.
The one place where I have had some success with shaping wax is the candle I’ve already mentioned—my infamous A&W Root Beer candle. And, because my triumphs are few, and I must milk them (or root beer them) for all they’re worth, I’m going to mention it again.
I rarely purchase containers. Most of the time, I’m reusing ones that we have around the house already. But, sometimes, on days when we’re looking for an outing, we go over to the local Goodwill store and I’ll see what they have on offer in the way of glass bottles, jars, and what-not. On one such occasion, I discovered a quarter-sized root beer mug, the famous A&W logo on the top, and priced at about two bucks. I suppose it must have been a souvenir or something from long ago and far away.
I bought it, brought it home, and set to work. First, I needed to produce a wax that was, well, sort of the color of a carbonated drink. Turns out that here was a place where the curse-reversing wax was useful. The addition of a bit of blue and a bit of reddish orange dye produced a rich and attractive dark brown wax. It really did look a bit like root beer. I then put a wick in the glass and filled it with the brown wax.
That left the foam on the top. For that, I used white wax and I frothed it…no kidding…by taking a metal straw (one of the ones you get nowadays so you aren’t polluting the universe with plastic straws), sticking that into the liquid wax, and blowing into the other end of the straw. The liquid wax bubbled away merrily and, when all was done and said, actually looked kinda like foam.
And that was my famous root beer candle. It isn’t perfect, but it is the best candle sculpture I’ve done so far.
I did light it once, just to show that it burned, but I probably won’t allow it to burn all the way down. I’m keeping it as a Work Of Art. Okay, maybe not exactly a masterpiece of Post-Metamodern, neo-Vorticist, Reformed Progressive Nerdrum-esque Kitschism like mother used to make…but, heck, I’m proud of it. And I’m keeping it. So there, too.
It's root beer, and I'm sticking to it.
And that, pretty much, sums up my experiences making candles.
I’m going to continue making them, of course. And, now and then, I shall post an update on some candle that’s turned out particularly well, or, more likely, that’s been a uniquely horrific and amusing fiasco.
BTW, there’s a candle link to that term. “Fiasco” is related to the same word from which we get “flask.” And, traditionally, Italian Chianti wine was placed in a “fiasco,” that is a glass bottle with a woven straw cover. But, in Italian slang, “to make a bottle” — "fare fiasco” — means to screw up on a grand scale. That’s how we get the word fiasco, meaning a disaster, in English.
But, “fiasco” bottles were for a long time ubiquitous in Italian restaurants in the US. Which is where the candles come in. It used to be consider very cool to take an empty fiasco of wine and stick a dip candle in the open mouth of the bottle. Then, you’d light the candle and let the wax drip down over the glass to give it a rustic and lived-in look. I had one in 1970 that had the drippings of not one but ten different colored candles.
Made me the envy of everyone at Hoover Junior High.
Or, at least, the unquestioned supreme geek at Hoover Junior High.
Hey. It ain’t much. But I’ll take whatever honors I can get.
But, anyway, except for the occasional update on my candle projects, this will probably be my last written entry for a while on the subject. I will, however, have one more posting on my candles, but it will be mostly a gallery. Next week, I’m going to post some photos and graphics of my more successful candle ventures.
Some of them are rather pretty…which surprises me.
I’ve got a plan for a new series. You remember how I said that I got into doing candles out of sheer boredom during Covid lockdown? Well, there is a little more to the story. I first got really interested in candles in February of 2020. That was when we had an ice storm here in Texas that basically crushed the state’s (extremely fragile) power grid. Everything went down. There was no electricity. Water was off in many places. Even natural gas had problems.
And the state is probably going to have the same problem again…maybe not this winter, but soon enough. As near as I can tell, the state’s power grid remains tenuous at best. There are various reasons for that and I will get into them later.
But, last February, as we were sitting in the cold and the dark, we were able to get a bit of light from flashlights and…candles. And, some weeks later, when the power was back on and the sun was shining, I remembered those candles and thought I’d try to make some.
However, as I write this, it is November. Here in Texas, we are creeping back into cooler weather. And I have begun to prepare for what I pray won’t happen…
That is, for the collapse, once more, of a system upon which the well-being of so many people depend…but which has been rendered fragile because of the stupidity and greed of a tiny minority of powerful men and women.
So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to write about my preparations.
And about why, alas, they are so very, terribly necessary.
Until next time.
Onward and Upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker