Like more than a few people, when I first thought “I’ll just make my own candles” I was convinced it would be super simple. It’s just wax, a wick, and a jar for crying out loud, totally something I can be awesome at. Well, if you’re also like me then you quickly discovered there’s a bit more to this candle stuff than you originally thought. Pour temperatures, what temperature to add fragrance, how much fragrance to add, what kind of wax, what kind of wick, how much fragrance can a certain type of wax hold before it “bleeds”, do I heat up the container, and on and on it goes.
The sheer amount of information I didn’t know when I started was kind of astounding to tell the truth, I had no idea about any of that stuff. All I knew is that I wanted to work with soy and beeswax, soy was probably too soft to make a pillar candle out of, and I liked wood wicks because they crackled like a fire place. That’s it, all I knew was what I wanted to do.
When I first looked into buying my first batch of soy I wanted to cry because I didn’t know what the difference between 444 or 464 was, how the EcoSoy would affect the beeswax I wanted to blend into my candles; so I spent a solid week researching soy wax. Which wax works well (or had great hot and cold throw) when it’s blended with another kind of wax, which wax had a decent max fragrance load, and how long the candle would burn at different temperatures. By the end of that week I was completely overwhelmed with all this different stuff I’d learned but had no idea what to do with. So, I started writing things down that I liked: 6-10% fragrance load, higher burn temperature, mixes well with other waxes, low shrink rate, doesn’t require a second pour because it sets evenly.
Note: If you ever do want to start making your own soy candles (or already do) and you’re jumping between different kinds of soy, CandleScience has a really great post in their learning section on how to choose the best soy wax for you here.
I knew what soy wax to use, item #1 taken care of; I bought a 10lb bag and moved on to the next hurtle. Beeswax is EXPENSIVE. Like, insanely expensive for something that occurs naturally all over the friggin’ world. It took me months of trying different vendors before I finally found the one I currently buy from but you’re going to pay anywhere from $10 – $13 per pound for any kind of beeswax, then you’ll add shipping on top of that… it’s expensive for anyone on a shoestring budget.
Beeswax figured out though, so item #2 taken care of. Sweet, we’re making progress! Containers were pretty easy to find, most run about a dollar or less nearly anywhere you go, get something simple and you’re sitting pretty at around $.70 per jar. Which knocks out item #3, oddly enough. Man was I on a roll! But that’s where I hit a brick wall…
Wicks and what on earth to use for fragrance. What to do, what to do. So, I bought wood wicks from a pretty awesome supplier just to see what I was getting myself into and I messed up with that same line, it’s just wood “how hard can it be?” Turns out, in case you don’t know, that different kinds of wood burn at different temperatures and put off different temperatures once they’re lit…I didn’t have a clue.
So I’m sitting in front of a few little test candles, did my melt temperature and my pour temperature absolutely perfect in a cheap little jar I found for almost nothing, with these pretty bits of wood I’d cut myself. Oh it was gonna to be AWESOME, I finally figured out “how to candle” and everything was golden. The heavens would part, doves, red carpet, champagne… but the wood I’d used to make my wicks with was too soft and unseasoned.
Needless to say, the heavens did not part as I stared dumbfounded at this rather pretty candle that was just too stupid to stay lit. The wood burned, oh yes it did, all the way down to the wax where it finally decided to quit. So the first thing I thought was “okay, the wick is too short to start with and it’s not building up enough heat before it reaches the wax.” Oh, I tried EVERYTHING to make my poor cedar wicks work; seasoning them in the stove, infusing them with a burn catalyst, I tried everything except dousing them in gasoline I was that desperate to make them work. But like I said, cedar is too soft, it doesn’t put off enough heat to burn itself and the wax around it, so the flame continuously choked out and died.
Okie dokie, so I needed a hardwood then. Researching what wood is really hard is every bit as embarrassing as it sounds, “hard wood” or “dense wood” or “what kinds of wood put off lots of heat” the internet was not my friend that day and I had to sort through a million puns before I finally found myself on track. Miraculously(!!!!!) once I found a pretty common hard wood, got it cut to size, and ignited it the darned wick stayed lit. Oh it burned my pretty little test candles right down to the sustainer clip. SUCCESS! Take that candles. Item #4 burned right down to the GROUND!
So all that was left at this point was “how am I going to make them smell good?” This part, for me, was really difficult because I’d heard all this bad jazz about fragrance oils and how essential oils were this super awesome thing (and that’s not to say that they aren’t) So I wanted to try a thing: put essential oils in candles (if you know where this is going don’t get ahead of me) I bought all these awesome essential oils, really did my research, you know, because I wanted to make these super awesome, completely organic/natural candles. I found these different blends I could put together, experimented with some blends of my own creation, aromatherapy candles it’s gonna be awesome!
But the thing about essential oils is that they’re meant to be diffused or heated up just a little bit (even some wax melters get just a tad too hot, but you can still smell the blend) So when I added them to my candles I could really smell them when the wax was solid (that’s cold throw, folks) and they smelled wonderful. I was so proud…until I lit my awesome wicks. You see, essential oils are effective when you diffuse them because they’re pure and potent OIL, put a flame to them and everything goes haywire. I had flames dancing across my candles just burning the oil off to the point where I couldn’t smell the blends I’d worked so hard on (and essential oils can be expensive, too) It wasn’t anywhere near the same scale…but it felt like this:
So, I modified just how much essential oil I was putting in the candles…hoping that would fix my problem. Well…my wax didn’t have flame dancing all over the surface, but I still couldn’t smell the essential oils. So, drat, still no champagne or heavens parting. Back to the internet that’s not my friend, right? Because you really have to get in the habit of doing lots of testing and LOTS of research before you’re going to get your candles exactly the way you want them. Turns out, some essential oils can be toxic or even poisonous if you burn them…so when I felt super loopy after burning a few of my test candles it was because I was aromatically poisoning myself. Which, in hindsight, totally made sense because I felt sick and dizzy and it was just about as completely unpleasant as something can get when you’re doing it unintentionally.
Very well then, no essential oil in open flame candles, I’ll leave my awesomesauce blends in wax melts (because those actually smelled rather nice without the possibility of poisoning me) Which left me with fragrance oils… Which really kind of harshed my mellow because I was being pretty uppity about this “all natural” thing. I pretty well and good pulled a Merida, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me!” Again, back to the interwebs (but I’m not going to like it)!
Turns out, not all fragrance oil is as terrible as it seems. Yeah, most of your super cheap stuff (like the stuff you’ll find at Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart) is completely synthetic, but it kind of has to be in order to be so appealingly cheap. There are a bunch of companies that put a lot of research and effort into making fragrances that work just like the essential oils I wanted to use. A greater majority of the more expensive fragrances have natural oils and such in them, which is why the high-end oils smell so good.
With that super awesome discovery I started buying up all the 1oz sampler kits I could get my hands on for a bargain (remember, shoestring budget) and believe it or not, there really wasn’t a chemical after tone to any of the ones I got. THEN, I found out (after further much more testing) that in minuscule amounts, I can even add my essential oils for aromatherapy purposes. No, they wouldn’t have the same blindingly awesome smell as the blends I was using in my wax melts, but (!!!!!) they wouldn’t catch fire like an oil spill, either. So, you know, win-win for everybody.
In closing, because I’ve ranted for entirely too long at this point, the point I want to get across to you is that anything worth doing isn’t always going to be easy. The heavens still haven’t parted just yet for me (even though I finally know how to candle) but I did have some champagne when I got my very first sale. I am by no means an expert in anything, but if you approach a problem one step at a time, you won’t feel so terribly overwhelmed by all this stuff that seems to be going wrong all at once; solve one problem (or find an answer to one question) then move on to the next. And remember, the difference between science and screwing around, is writing stuff down!