Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hermitcraft: Candles

A few months ago I posted instructions for making your official Hermit Club rushlight, or candle lantern. That left you with a cheap, serviceable product that did not, however, throw any light, because I didn't explain how to make the candles that go inside. Today, I caulk that seam.

Chandlery is a complex art, demanding skill, experience, and money. Which is why I'm not sure this counts, because these candles are cheap, easy, and homely. (Bindle technology strikes again.) But they fit perfectly in a tin-can rushlight, and properly made, burn for about a month of sitting.

You will need:

Candle wax.
A large tin can.
A sauce pan.
A stove.
Boiling water.
An empty cardboard frozen orange juice can, the kind with metal ends.
Cotton wicking.
A hammer and a small nail.
Duck tape. (It is too duck tape. Don't tape ducts with it; you'll be fined back to the Stone Age.)
Two square sticks and a rubber band.

I find much of my wax on the beach (see photo, right); the fishing fleet uses it for something. The rest comes from dripping and remnants of previous candles, and recycled candles-of-fortune. I don't care about colour, except I never melt green and red wax together, because the brownish-grey they become is literally nauseating. Also, the more colour in the wax, the slower it melts, so the bigger wick you will need.

For wicks you can buy the dedicated product from a craft store, or use heavy cotton butcher's twine right off the spool, or braid that ubiquitous small white cotton "kite string" parcel twine to the proper gauge. (My favourite option, because you can adjust the size by adding or subtracting strands. Plus it's cheap.)

The procedure:

1. Put chunks of wax in the tin can, place the can in the sauce pan, and fill the pan with boiling water to just shy of the point where the can would float.

2. Place the sauce pan over medium-low heat and keep an eye on it. Paraffin wax becomes paraffin paraffin when it melts. (That's kerosene to my American friends.) In other words, you're simmering a pan of lamp oil on your stove. You don't want it boiling, sloshing on the burner, or copping any kind of attitude.

3. While you're waiting for the wax to melt, poke a hole dead-centre of the juice can's metal bottom, using the hammer and nail. The hole should be just big enough to admit the wick; any larger, and leaks become an issue. Also, cut the juice can down about an inch and a half for optimum rushlight size. (For generic pillar candles, you can use the can uncut.)

4. Knot one end of the wicking, trim the knot close, and thread the string up through the hole. You may need to dip the unknotted end in wax first, to make it stiff. Cut the wicking off two or three inches longer than the final wick will be.

5. Duck tape the end very securely, because that stuff isn't even almost heat-proof. (See? Completely unusable for ductwork.) Use two strips, crossed and running halfway up the sides of the can, and burnish them down well all over the bottom and around the knot.

6. Rubber-band the two square sticks together at one end to make an elastic clamp. Pass the wick between its "jaws" and tighten it up so the wick remains secure and plumb in the mould. (Not enough tension and the wick will meander while the wax cools, causing the candle to perform poorly.)

7. Pour about an inch of wax in the bottom of the mould and let it cool for a few minutes. This helps prevent leaking from the wick hole. When the wax has thickened a little, fill up the mould and take the pan and melting can off the heat. Allow the candle to cool completely at room temperature, about three hours.

8. Because paraffin wax contracts as it solidifies, you will find a deep depression in the top of the cooled candle. Re-melt the remaining wax and fill it level again. When the topping-up has hardened, you can scrape off the knot with a sharp knife and pull the candle out by the wick. If it sticks, just tear away the cardboard.

If you find that your homemade candle consistently drowns (the flame burns very low, or goes out entirely), then your wick may not be big enough. (Give it a few chances; for some reason, performance can vary from sitting to sitting.) If it burns too high and threatens to burst the wax pool, the wick may need trimming. If that doesn't fix it, it's too big.

In either case, the solution is to melt the candle back down and mould another with a better wick. As the blend in your melting can changes, due to variations in the pigment content and hardness of added wax, you may need to adjust the gauge of your wicks. With time you'll develop a sixth sense for these things and seldom have to resort to repouring.

And there you are. A cheap candle, perfectly sized for your rushlight.

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