A Beginner's Guide to Candlemaking
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Sometimes, I miss the days that I could just light a candle for the sake of setting a nice vibe.. if you're about to venture into the world of candle making, know that you can say goodbye to those days.
After you step into the world of candle making, you'll be observing a candle for how it's burning, how well the scent is "throwing," is the wick too big or too small... and more.
This blog post is meant to be an accompaniment to my class at https://wildthingpdx.com on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, but is a good starting point for you if you're planning to embark on a path as a chandler.
Choosing your wax
Many candlemakers will advise that you start here... choosing your wax. Once you're comfortable with your wax and wick choices, you'll get the hang of wicking your candles and that will make your life so much easier when you're testing.
I have been all over the board with waxes. When I started pouring candles, I crafted pillar candles using paraffin wax. Eventually, I moved to beeswax after I decided I didn't want to burn paraffin at home. A few years ago, I moved to container candles as the demand increased for these... people like to have the option of burning in a container which can (sometimes) give a feeling of assurance.
I used to use a soy wax called 464, but this wax sometimes had bumpy tops and not the best 'hot throw,' or how well you can smell the candle as it burns. I then added a bit of coconut oil to try to help with this issues, and as I dove down that rabbit hole, I was introduced to coconut wax.
I tried a few blends, but some contain paraffin, even without mentioning this to customers. For this, I started blending my own coconut wax blend which includes Coco 1 wax and soy 444. I get these waxes from https://shayandcompany.com which, for better or worse, is only a few blocks from my day job.
There are pre-blended coco/soy waxes there to try, and if you're local to Portland, OR, it is so nice not to have to pay shipping! It was also great to try out a few pounds at a time.
What is important to you? Is it important to have as natural a wax as possible? Soy and coconut waxes are processed so they're not 100% undisturbed. Beeswax is a great option, but isn't the best container wax in my opinion, as it doesn't throw fragrances that well. I am, admittedly, also highly biased towards beeswax pillar candles (coming soon!... or... eventually).
Because I haven't had a lot of experience with paraffin container blends, I'll focus on paraffin free options.
Coconut wax can be an everyday candle like mine, or offer a more luxe feel. Many distributers of luxe candle vessels offer coconut wax blends. Coconut offers a stellar, smooth top. You won't find coconut wax on its own, as it's too soft. Some popular blends outside of soy might be with beeswax, hemp, or apricot, but if paraffin free blends are important to you, make sure to do some research first.
Soy wax is popular as a natural wax option, and is readily available in many forms. You can burn it on its own or find many blends. I have the most experience with 464, millennium soy, and 444 wax. I used millennium soy for quite a while and purchased it from https://www.candlesoylutions.com/thumbnail.asp anytime I got down to Eugene, but I needed a closer option. I took a chance on 444 and found no difference in the density, hot throw, or even the percentage I use in the blend (23%) from the millennium soy.
They do sell these waxes and many others locally at Shay and Company in Milwaukie, Oregon.
One option you also have if you want to get started is to try out a kit. I do recommend these:
https://www.brambleberry.com/shop-by-craft/candles/kits (don't sleep on their lingonberry spice if you, too, may be a winter fairy)
https://www.candlescience.com/kits/ Candle Science has a high commitment to clean scents and there are a ton of resources on candle making. A great place to start!
https://www.etsy.com/shop/WaxingMoonshine?ref=shop_sugg If you're interested in working with beeswax, this is a great shop
Of course, you can piece everything together little by little, it depends on what you're ready to commit to.
Choosing your vessels
I'm a vessel hoarder. I fully admit it. I have boxes of vessels because I couldn't commit to a color, or a lid, or I bought extra for a wholesale account, or (usually), because someone had a sale.
The vessel often sets much of the aesthetic - what are you trying to go for? A farmhouse candle in a mason jar? A luxe electroplated glass jar? Something with a bit of color and flair?
It is important to consider if the vessel is safe for burning a candle. Glass should be able to withstand the high heat of a candle. Ceramics should have a fire safe coating, so don't put your candles in a straight clay vessel (pleeeeeeeease!). Bottle type jars with narrow necks should be given a pass, and plastic vessels are not safe for candles.
There are so many vessels out there, so I'll first let you know that the basic tins we used are available locally at Shay and Company, and at the candle suppliers listed above (but why would you want to pay shipping?). You can get them at Amazon, and some with the centering marks at https://oliicraft.co for those not local.
Shay and Company also carries glass vessels like amber or straight sided glass jars. These are easily available at many sites. Candle Science is one option, although they, like many other suppliers run very low in the fall.
Some more luxury options we've shopped from are:
https://dreamvessels.com (you can get 10% off with code MANDI69243)
Of course, there's more suppliers than I can name. I either have personal experience with the distributors listed above or share lattes with candlemakers that do. Some choose to order from Ali Baba or Amazon as many of the vessels are being bulk ordered from overseas and want to cut out the middle man. I don't have experience with this, and my understanding is that you can save a lot of money if you can wait for cargo shipping and are buying in bulk.
My volume isn't currently that large, but if you're interested in learning more about experiences with Ali Baba, here's some videos that have helped me in my research:
Some makers use concrete vessels or make their own... that's beyond my scope but if you happen to make ceramics, you have a whole world of possibility open to you.
The good, the bad, and the wicked... Wick selection
The wicks we use for our cotton wick candles are called "CDN" wicks. These are not available at Shay and Company, we do purchase ours from https://northwoodcandlesupply.com and they are also available at https://sixteenseventeen.com/collections/cdn-wicks and https://www.marylandwaxclub.com/products/cdn-wicks-stabilo-kst-100-pk?variant=40694791602373
I appreciate that the wicks come pre-tabbed, they're cotton, and that CDN wicks are well known for working well with coconut wax. They are also coated with a vegetable wax instead of paraffin.
With 464 soy wax, I used HTP or CD wicks (also cotton). With beeswax I've either used rolled cotton wicks, ECO wicks, or hemp wicks.
Just as it's hard to guide you on what wax you should choose, guiding you to a wick will be hard without knowing what you are working with, although there are some great resources.
One of my favorite wicking guides is found here:
... and if you want to here more about the differences between wick classes, this is a very helpful video:
So, where to start?
My recommendation is to use the wick selection guide listed above, then try a sampler pack of wicks and the same fragrance oil to test them in your candle. You may flirt with a couple types, for example, if you're using soy wax you may try HTP and CD and see which one has a better hot throw for you.Both HTP and CD wicks are available in Portland at Shay and Company, and are widely available at candle suppliers.
Finely, the Fragrances...
I'm gonna be a killjoy here and tell you to worry about fragrances last. Why?
If you're anything like me... you open an email to a new fragrance oil release from your favorite supplier aaaaand....
I have a condition I call SNFS.
Despite having an awesome collection, I ended up with 4 different rose scents, 6 different pumpkins, three vanilla, 4 patchoulis...
You get the picture.
I'm here to tell you that there's not a lot of difference between hot apple streusel, apple cider doughnut, and apple turnover. Don't. Do. It.
It can be so hard in the beginning to find ones that work, and if you're anything like me, and using fragrances in soap, candles, lotions, and more, it complicates matters further in trying to find one that works in a variety of mediums.
There are a seemingly unending number of fragrance suppliers that you can choose from. I get a lot of my scents from Shay and Company and Candle Science, who I'm impressed by their commitments to clean scents without parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde. I also didn't want any ingredients on the prop 65 list, so I'm covered there.
There are too, too many fragrances in my collection to list, but after these two, I probably have the most fragrances from:
All of these companies sell sample sizes. I usually try for a 2-4 ounce bottle so I can get the oil in a couple of candles and see how it preforms.
OK, that's a lie. I used to do that. Now I buy only 16 ounce sizes at a minimum and then either destash them or blend them. That is a whole other story I won't get into now, but it's coming.
If I were to go back a couple of years and give myself advice, I'd say this:
1- Pick a few fragrances that you gravitate towards, or one from each category. Do you like clean? Fruity? Earthy? Bakery scents? Pick some of your favorite scents and then go hunting! If you're in Portland, you can smell the offerings at Shay and Company. (For florals, I love their jasmine and their rose).
2- Ask a friend their favorite fragrance and gift them a tester candle. Was it what they expected as a fan of that scent?
3- Make sure these fragrances are not being discontinued
4- Read the reviews! There is gold in there! How was the throw of the candle? In what wax? Maybe the fragrance was great in a parasoy blend but awful in 464 wax. Candlemakers often share how they're going to blend, brand, or what they liked better in their review.
These are totally optional but here's where I get my eco-dyes:
Liquid dyes are super easy to work with and I'm happy with these formulations for being more mother Earth friendly...
I sometimes use dye chips, and these are paraffin free and work well with natural waxes, especially soy. Remember to do a wick test with dyes as they can alter the wicking needs, especially with highly concentrated/saturated colors.
https://www.candlesoylutions.com/thumbnail.asp look for "flutter dyes."
When I started candle making, I used a double boiler method. They used to sell plastic melt bags which were a nightmare and you couldn't pay me to go back to those.
Now, I use metal pouring pitchers, but I've also used tempered glass pyrex containers, pitchers, and mason jars. Whatever vessel you're using, I recommend keeping it separate from that you would use for food preparation.
Again, Shay and Company has you covered for pouring pitchers, and I've also purchased them from candle suppliers above. I've also purchased from this supplier:
With coconut wax, I used whatever pot I had because the clean up is so easy. I don't recommend that for beeswax or paraffin pillar wax as this may take out the pot with it - so thrift that pot so you can just use the one.
I did upgrade to a wax melter as I started to sell more and more candles, and I am about ready to upgrade to a larger one. It has made the process of candle making so much easier, and also helps to heat my wax to the desired temperature, as with a double boiler it's nearly impossible to get the wax over 200 degrees, especially with large volumes.
After melting the wax, you need to pour into your vessel with the wick already attached. I do this using glue dots, but you can also use hot glue. The reason I don't do this is because they're very hard to get off after and repurpose the vessel, or when I put my wick in off center.
Keeping your wick secure and pulled taut either by using popsicle sticks, hair pins, pencils... I've used it all but I highly recommend wick centering rods so you can get a nice firm wick placement, reducing the chance of your wick falling over during burn.
I use both this type:
... and this type...
Finally, you'll need some candle warning labels which are also widely available. For our specialty candles, we print some of our own, but it's way easier to just peel and stick.
Ahhhhh, social media.
I have a love/hate/cat reel relationship with mediums like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I love the inspiration and community that comes with it, but sometimes I see people throw around information and guidance that is sometimes misleading, sometimes false, and sometimes dangerous. So keep this in mind when you are exploring. That said, here's some groups I think are pretty calm on Facebook:
DIY Candle Making Beginner to Advanced
For the <3 of coconut wax Beginner to Advanced
These are some channels I've followed on YouTube that I feel give very sound advice:
https://www.youtube.com/c/BlackTieBarnCandleCo (the candle review videos are super helpful!)
oh... and of course this one :-)
Let's get started!
Now that you have the tools to get started, come by my YouTube channel and let's make a candle together!
Here is the link for my candle testing sheets: