How to make pillar candles?
One recurring question on the forums is: "What is the ideal candle to get started in candlemaking?"
In my honnest opinion, the answer is: a pillar candle.
Maybe the pillar is not the easiest candle to make but it has many advantages:
it can be made with very few, basic supplies,
it offers different difficulty levels, from basic to advanced, which make it interesting,
it uses different techniques often used in candle making,
it is likely to create most of the problems you will be faced with in this hobby.
In other words, a pillar candle is a perfect teacher!
The pillar we are about to make is the most basic you can make: a single color, unscented.
Time needed: about 1 hour (+ cooling)
1 polycarbonate or metallic mold, square or cylinder-shaped (you can also use a Coke tin with one end removed - see article "Homemade molds"),
450g (1 pound) pillar blend (see the note below),
1 wick adapted to the diameter of your mold,
candle dye of your choice if you want some color,
some mold sealer,
a wick holder, purchased or homemade,
1 wicking needle (or an old, thin knitting needle).
and, of course, the usual tools like double boiler, thermometer, melting pots, freezer paper, etc.
Note For this example project, I have used a wax mix of 80% paraffin wax and 20% stearic acid. Because of this rather high percentage of stearic acid, you will notice on the pictures that my pillar shows a nice snowflake (or mottled) effect.
If you don't like this effect, recuce the amount of stearic acid or use Vybar instead.
How to make a pillar candle?
Prepare your pillar wax blend and start melting it in the double boiler. It should reach a temperature between 180°F and 190°F.
Cut a length of wick equal to the height of your mold PLUS 6 centimeters and prime the wick. Not only will a primed wick burn better the first time you light it but its stifness will also make it much easier to thread it through the mold's wick hole.
Now that the wick is ready, prepare your mold. You'll have to thread the wick through the hole in the bottom of the mold (if you're using a homemade mold, you'll have to make this hole yourself, perfectly centered); it must stick up 2 or 3 centimeters from each side of the mold.
At the bottom side of the mold, push the wick flat against the bottom and cover it with enough mold sealer to hide it entirely. Don't be thrifty with mold sealer: it can be reused and, moreover, its presence will prevent the liquid paraffin from escaping the mold and run off all over the countertop. It will also need to resist the pulling created by the wick holder on the other end of the mold.
The wick holder is used to keep the wick tight (hence the pulling I just talked about) and correctly centered inside the mold.
If you use the double boiler method exclusively, you may skip this step and go directly to the next one.
In my case, I use a slow cooker to melt a large volume of wax at once so I need to preheat the pouring jug I will use before I transfer the amount of hot paraffin needed for the pillar into it. This is necessary because the low temperature of a non heated metallic pouring jug would make the temperature of the paraffin poured inside fall too much. To preheat my pouring jug, I usually use a heatgun but you could also place your pouring jug (only if it's made of metal) a few moments in a warm oven (trouble is that the handle get quite hot as well).
Make sure that the temperature of the wax is still somewhere between 180°F and 190°F.
You can now add candle dye, if you want to. Stir scrupulously with an old spoon or a long wooden stick (barbecue stick) but not too forcefully so that you won't create air bubbles.
CAUTION: a tiny amount of candle dye is enough to colour a large amount of wax, so start with a very small quantity and add some if necessary. Don't forget that the color you see in liquid paraffin won't be the same as that of the cooled down, finished candle.
To get an idea of what the final color will be like, pour a small amount of paraffin in a plastic cup and put it in the fridge for ten minutes: the color of the wax in the cup should be very close to that of the finished candle. Add more dye if necessary.
Verify once again the temperature of the paraffin. If it drops under the 180°F mark, put the pouring pot back into the double boiler pan until the temperature reaches 180°F again.
If you are going to use a metallic mold, it's a good idea to preheat the mold using, for instance, a heatgun or by placing it during ten minutes on a hot heater.
Now, pour the paraffin into the mold, slowly and not from too high to avoid the formation of air bubbles in the wax. CAUTION: if you realize that you won't have enough wax to completely fill up your mold, be sure to keep a small amount of wax to fill the shrinking hole that will form at the top of the candle. If you fail to do so, you will find it really difficult to make a new batch of wax of the exact same shade of color.
Hit the sides of the mold (gently, don't break or dent it) with a wooden spoon to free any trapped air bubbles. You'll see these bubbles raise to the surface where they should burst and disappear (this will more than likely be the case if you poured the wax at the right temperature).
When the wax starts to settle and cool off (after an average 30 to 45 minutes, although it depends on the size of your candle and the room temperature), you will see a well taking shape, between the sides of the mold and the wick. We call this well the shrinking well.
This is a normal phenomenon due to the very nature of paraffin: as almost everything in the world, wax expands when heated and shrinks as it cools. The small amount of wax we've kept in the pouring pot will be used to fill up this well. But before you do so, we need to make sure that no air pockets are present under the wax surface, along the wick. Take your wicking or knitting needle and poke a few deep holes, vertically, all around the wick. Poke deep enough holes but don't force your way through though. Poke 4 to 6 holes at different places around the wick; these holes are called release holes.
Bring the leftover wax back to a temperature of 190°F in the double boiler (for a second pour, the wax must be 10°F (6°C) warmer than it was for the initial pour).
When it's there, very carefully fill up the shrinking well around the wick.
CAUTION: it is very important that you don't pour higher than the initial wax level; just fill the well, don't pour any higher or your candle will show a nasty line where the initial wax level has been.
Pick up your wicking needle again and push it gently in the existing release holes (they will appear darker in the newly poured wax). If you see air bubbles raising to the surface, you'll understand why it was worth the while poking relief holes: any air pocket along the wick will make sure the flame goes out so better get rid of them.
Unless you're making a very large pillar, you shouldn't have to make a third pour as it's unlikely that a new well will develop. However, should it be the case, then just repeat the previous step.
When your candle has entirely cooled off (and this could take some time, up to two hours or more) and the mold is cool to the touch, remove the mold sealer and the wick holder. Gently press the mold between your hands, upside down, to help release the candle inside. If necessary, pretend you're going to hit the move against the countertop but stop your motion abruptly. The candle should pop out quite easily.
Do not hit the mold against a hard surface. Do not hit it too hard either. Don't use a knife to try and release a stuck candle. If it really won't come out of the mold, put the mold in the fridge (not in the freezer) during 10 minutes and try again.
Trim the wick at the bottom of the candle. When you've unmolded the candle, the side that was at the top of the mold has become the bottom of the candle. Because of the second pour you've made, the bottom side is neither very nice to look at nor level so we will now take care of that by rubbing the base of the candle against the hot surface of an old pan.
After this operation, your candle should be perfectly level.
Almost there! The last thing to do now is to trim the other side of the wick (the one at the top of the candle) to a length of 5 millimeters.
Congratulations, you've just made your first pillar candle!
As you will see, there are hundreds of projects to be made based on this simple pillar candle, from very simple to utterly complicated. A few examples are multicolored layers, "chunk" pillars and much, much more!
Take a look at the "Candlemaking Projects" part of the site for more ideas.
The most interesting candle for beginners: the pillar candle