With the gift-giving holidays right around the corner, I thought it would be the perfect time to offer up this classic DIY from the pages of CRAFT Volume 04. Leah Peterson teaches you the fundamentals of candle-making, whether you want to reuse old candles to make new or make new ones from scratch. Who doesn’t love candles?
Candles from Scratch
Gather old cans, containers, and half-used candles to make brilliant, new light.
By Leah Peterson
You don’t need expensive equipment to make your own candles at home. You can use a variety of containers with smooth sides for molds, including thick plastic or metal measuring cups and muffin tins. An old pancake hot plate and cleaned food cans make a great double boiler. Just remember that whatever you use will most likely be covered in wax and not a good candidate for food use afterwards. Paraffin wax can be purchased at craft stores in large blocks, but you can also use old candle leftovers.
Molds or reusable candle containers
Empty food cans 16 ounces or larger
Candle scents (optional)
Wax, new or used
Heavy pliers or oven mitt
Long-handled Phillips screwdriver
Small Phillips screwdriver
Metal core wick and wick tabs
Never pour used water down a sink drain after candle making — instead, discard the water on a dirt patch in the yard.
Never leave melting wax unattended. Flash points for wax vary by type. Keep the temperature below 210°F to avoid a fire hazard.
The water in the hot plate should never boil. If bubbles begin to form, turn the temperature down immediately by at least 5°, otherwise a can could overturn. When the water is the correct temperature, you should see a slight bit of steam and a few slow, small bubbles rising to the top.
If you do accidentally spill hot wax on an uncovered surface, don’t disturb it until it’s cooled completely. Large sections of cold wax are much easier to clean up with a dull blade than warm wax that has been smeared thinly.
You can coat the candle mold interior with a small amount of cooking spray. Use a paper towel to rub the inside, and make sure the coating is even and thin. Bubbles or puddles of spray will leave pockets in the wax.
Reuse non-metal candle containers by putting them in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time. Use a blunt knife and a paper towel to wipe softened wax residue in between turns.
Before starting, cover every work surface with thick plastic — a few layers of trash bags will work.
1. Melt the wax.
Wash the metal food cans, one for each color. Break large pieces of wax into smaller chunks (to melt faster). Use a hammer if necessary. When recycling candles, remove old wicks and labels as completely as possible. Weigh the cans down with wax chips, then fill the hot plate with water, about ¾” from the top. Heat the water to 210°F.
2. Prepare the molds.
While the wax melts, get the molds ready. When choosing a wick, consider the diameter of the mold. Use thinner wicks for votives, and thicker wicks for larger molds. If the container is very wide, you can use a couple of wicks placed a few inches apart. Wicks with metal cores can be easier to work with since they are stiffer and straighter. Cut the wicks a few inches longer than the molds.
For votives or reusable containers, insert the wick into the metal wick tab, and crimp with pliers. Store-bought metal molds come with a small hole drilled into the bottom, where the wick will be pushed through. Use a small screw, available with candle supplies, to tighten and hold the wick on the outside. Use mold sealer to completely seal around the screw and wick poking out of the end. This will be the finished candle’s top.
3. Color your candles.
Add dye after all the wax chips have melted. You can make endless combinations with red, yellow, and blue. White is also helpful to soften a color and make it creamy-looking. If desired, add a few drops or chips of candle scent right before pouring.
4. Pour the wax.
Use pliers or oven mitts to hold the cans. When lifting the cans, do not drip water into the other cans of wax. You can also use a measuring cup to fill the molds. Fill the molds to about ¼” below the rim. Save some wax for topping off. After filling the molds, lower the hot plate to just under 200°F.
Deep or wide molds need a wick-centering stick. Use the stick to hold the wick in the center after pouring. Tying the wick around a pencil also works. Use metal-core wicks for votives and small molds. Wait 60-90 seconds after pouring, then use a long Phillips screwdriver to center the wick. Press down firmly to stick the wick to the slightly cooler wax on the bottom of the mold.
5. Top off the candles.
Smaller and thinner molds cool quickly. Wax will begin to seize and form a nipple around the wick. When the outside of the mold is warm but not too hot to hold, and the wax appears opaque, use your reserve wax to top off the candles. Completely fill the molds, allowing the new wax to crown slightly. Cooler wax works best for topping off and should give an even top when fully cooled.
6. Cool down.
Let thicker and taller molds cool overnight. Smaller ones need only about 3 hours. When fully cooled, put the molds directly into the freezer for 5 minutes.
7. Release the candles from their molds.
Turn votives on their sides and tap. They should slide right out. For larger molds, take off the mold sealer, remove the screw, and place the mold in the freezer upside down. Candles should fall out on their own after a few minutes, or may require a few taps and gentle tugs on the wick. Trim wicks to ½” before burning.
Did your candle not turn out as perfectly as you had hoped? Smooth rough edges out on the bottom of a warm hot plate. When the hot plate cools, use a dull blade to remove the wax.
For Stripes: Let each color cool 1 hour before pouring the next color. Thicker stripes need longer. When using a mold, don’t let the layer completely cool, or the next layer may not adhere properly.
For Sand Candles: Place wax-filled cans directly in hot coals. While the wax melts, use paper cups or sand toys to create votive shapes in moist sand. Poke metal core wicks into the centers, about 1″ into the sand, and extending at least 1″ over the tops of the molds. Using pliers or oven mitts, carefully and slowly pour melted wax into the molds, aiming for the centers and trying not to disturb the sand along the edges. Reserve some wax for topping off and place the cans back in the coals. Let the candles cool until tops are thick and opaque. Remove the cans of wax from the coals until you see slight thickening along the sides, then top off your sand candles. Let them cool completely. Remove the candles, trim the wicks, and brush off excess sand.
About the Author:
Leah Peterson is a crafter, writer, photographer, artist, mom, and human. She reuses, restores, and recycles. You can find her at leahpeah.com.