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.