Humorous Hand Dipped Candles

On Thursday, one of my best friends from high school, Dan, came down to visit one last time before he makes the big move to San Francisco.  Amongst our adventures of the day, we decided to try making candles to put in my beautiful new candelabra: this Manzanita Candelabra from West Elm.

I had been admiring this piece in the West Elm catalog ever since it arrived in my mailbox but the price was outrageous ($99).  There was no way I was going to spend that much on a candle holder.  I wondered for awhile if there was some way that I could make one myself with a tree branch and some spray paint but I couldn’t think of a good way to secure the candles.  Plus, I thought it would be somewhat of a fire hazard to use a real wood tree branch (the Manzanita is made of nickel and aluminum).  So in the midst of the after-Christmas sales, I happened to log on to westelm.com and much to my surprise, found the candelabra on the clearance page for nearly 50% off!  Add to that the 20% off coupon code I had and I snagged it.  It’s a good thing I did because later that day, it was completely out of stock.  The only problem was that the “mini taper candles” intended for use in the candelabra were already sold out when I placed my order.  At the time, I thought that I could just go to Michael’s and buy some of their 6″ taper candles…until I actually got the candelabra.  The candle holders are only .3 inches in diameter — definitely not a standard candle size.  After shopping around for usable candles, I was at a loss.  That’s when my sister suggested I should look for hand dipped candles.  So I thought, why not make them?

Thursday afternoon, Dan and I took another trip to Michael’s and picked up some candlemaking supplies – 1 lb. of soy wax chips and 6 ft. of wick material.  After we checked out behind lead singer of Parachute and Charlottesville native, Will Anderson (who was very cleverly “disguised” in black skinny rockstar jeans, pointy boots, and black sunglasses), we headed back to the apartment to start the candle making process.  We looked up some directions online, grabbed a pot, an old soup can, and some wax paper and got to work.

Step 1 was melting the wax in a double boiler-type setup in the old soup can, letting the wax cool a bit, and coating the wicks.  No big deal. 

The hardest part was trying to keep the wicks straight.  We found that the easiest way to do this at this stage was just to lay the wicks down on some wax paper and pull them before they dried completely.

The next step was actually dipping the candles.  This is where we ran in trouble.  Problem #1 – Though we were attempting to monitor the temperature of the wax with a thermometer, it took us an embarrasingly long time to realize that even though the burner was on the lowest setting, the wax was still too hot (by embarrasingly long time, I mean probably over an hour and after dipping the candles over 50 times with minimal results).  Once we finally had enough sense to turn the burner off and let the wax cool, we saw some serious progress.  Problem #2 – Because we were too impatient to actually let the wax dry, we started dipping the candles in ice water to help them cool.  For some reason, during our initial dipping phase, we started seeing wax accumulation on the areas on the wick that were touching the ice…and only those areas.

The end result was some oddly lumpy (and pretty crooked)candles.  These were certainly not what we remembered our hand-dipped candles looking like on Colonial Day in the fourth grade…

In the end, we had to do some creative widdling and shove the candles into their holders…but they fit.  The result wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for but somehow the handmade candles are sort of appropriate.  The “organic” shapes that the candles took not only speak to our candlemaking process but they also mimic the organic style of the candelabra itself.  They’re far from perfect but it was a pretty fun experiment.  For the record, I’ll definitely consider buying finished candles next time.

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3 thoughts on “Humorous Hand Dipped Candles

  1. I Love your candle holder!!! I spotted it and then read your post. Coincidentally, I just finished a batch of 75 hand dipped beeswax candles, yesterday. It’s actually pretty easy to hand dip candles, with a little guidance but quite the opposite without some basic valuable info. My 9yr old, 6yr. Old and I just tried it (beeswax candles) for the first time, on our own. We had great results. If you want to try it again, I’d suggest these tips (it’s totally worth it!): pre-saturate your wicks w/ hot beeswax by soaking/submerging it until you get no air more air bubbles escaping from it (or you’ll get air bubbles in your candles). Remove it and pull/stretch it until it cools in a rigid line, then trim to length (short enough not to hit the bottom if your melted wax vessel).

    We used an old, small thrift store crock pot w/ two settings to heat the wax (we didn’t have a wax thermometer). It takes For-freaking-ever to melt the blocks in it but if you turn it on in the morning, by early afternoon you’ll have melted wax that isn’t scorched. We used all the settings and sometimes even turned it off, to get the right temp. at any given point. It wasn’t a big deal.

    Let your candles mostly cool between drippings and make the dippings quick. If you get ridges (my kids called them worms), then you didn’t let the candles cool enough between drippings, if you get bubbles then the wax might be too hot (note: as in boiling, which you don’t want) or too cool to let air escape before it solidifies.

    Regularly pinch or trim the bottom of the candle to remove the little nipple that forms, or you’ll end up with a lot of wasted wax and a candle that eventually grows too long for the dipping container.

    Also (and this was key) we periodically and gently rolled our candles on a flat surface (on a sheet-like kitchen cloth on the kitchen counter) like you did as a kid making play-doh snakes. It worked out the wobbles and gave us beautifully smooth, straight candles.

    With these few tips we were able to have fun and make Really nice candles, as in: better than some of the ones we saw for sale on etsy and at craft fairs. I’m pretty confident that if we could do this (two young kids!) then you could, too. Good luck!

    Namaste,
    Natalia

    P.S. Avoid dipping the unfinished candles in water, it will cause more bubbling in the wax… But you figured that out already. ;)

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