This technical brief contains the essential information required to begin the small-scale production
of both functional and decorative candles. Candles have been made since the earliest times and
they are still commonly made by well established methods requiring only simple equipment. This
brief describes how a candle works, and specifies the materials needed for making candles. Four
common production methods are also explained with ideas for decorative variations.
How a candle works
A candle is a very simple product which in its simplest form is made up of a central string, (known
as the wick) which is surrounded by a fuel source that nowadays is almost always a type of wax.
When the wick is lit the heat of the flame melts the surrounding fuel (wax) into a liquid pool which
is absorbed by the wick. The heat produced causes the liquid wax to vaporise and this vapour
becomes the fuel for the burning flame. In a well designed candle the wick and the wax will burn
off at a slow and uniform rate to provide a steady flame and dripping will not occur.
Waxes (the fuel for the candle)
Historically candles were made from animal fats such as beef, sheep and whale fat, but today
cleaner and more efficient waxes are used. Most modern candles are made predominantly from
paraffin wax which is usually mixed with a small proportion of other wax such as stearine.
Paraffin wax is the most important raw material used in candlemaking. It is available in most
countries in solid slabs or as pellets or flakes. It is usually white in appearance but goes clear
when liquid. It is odourless, tasteless and firm to the touch. Paraffin waxes are supplied with
various melting-points ranging from 46° to 68°C. Those waxes which melt at around 58°C are
ideal for candlemaking in temperate climates, although wax with a higher melting point is required
for use in hotter climates.
Stearine is a component of many animal and vegetable fats and has become an important material
in candle making. It is important as a hardening agent for paraffin wax owing to its good
temperature stability. It helps to overcome the problem of 'bending' which is sometimes
experienced with paraffin wax candles in hotter climates. Stearine also helps in the release of
candles from moulds, and improves burning qualities. It is commonly supplied as white flakes or
granules. Stearine is usually added to paraffin wax in quantities of about 10% but this can be
increased to achieve quality improvements. Candles can be made from 100% stearine.
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