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Your workplace

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Your workplace

There is probably one thing every candlemaking enthusiast has done at one point or another, especially at the very beginning: requisition the kitchen.

If that's not a real problem as long as you only make the odd candle now and then, once your production starts increasing, it quickly becomes advisable to have a room dedicated to your activity. What room should you choose? What do you need in there and what can you do without? How do you set it up? This article will try and answer all of these questions.

image © Puystory

If pretty much everyone makes their baby steps in the kitchen, it's for one good reason: there is everything you need in there. A heat source (the stove), electricity, water and natural light. It can be said that candlemaking has a lot in common with cooking...

But claiming the kitchen long term may not be possible. The various supplies we need for our hobby tend to quickly multiply as time goes by and take more and more space; Moreover, some substances, like fragrance oils, do not mix well with prepared food and can be a health hazard. Before you get evicted heavy-handedly by the room's primary dweller or, in case you are that primary dweller, before you run out of space on the countertop, it's probably a good idea to start thinking about a place dedicated to your activity where you won't have to move everything twice a day.

In function of the size and configuration of your home, you will have more or less options to set up your workplace. In a small flat where every room already has a purpose, it is very much possible that the kitchen will be your only choice; if that's the case, being well organized is essential. Keep all your supplies in one or two storage boxes with a lid (the Curver type) that you will store away in a closet or under a bed when you're done.

But if you have enough space at your disposal, let's talk about what you need and what your options are.

The minimum equipment your workplace needs

As I said earlier, the kitchen offers everything you need in one single room but in theory you don't need anything at all, except maybe an electrical outlet...

I have set up my candlemaking workplace in a section of the basement, a small space about 65 square feet without a heat source, a tap or a window, where my only company is the furnace. It works perfectly for me.

Which room is the right fit?

In an ideal world, the room you choose should be at least 55 square feet with no humidity, where temperature is more or less constant and, if at all possible, enjoys a natural light source.

Possible candidates (some with conditions) are: the attic, the garage, the basement, any room that you don't use, the garden shed. But beware! In the garden shed, for example, as well as in the attic if it's not properly insulated, the wide variations in temperature (ice cold in the winter, suffocatingly hot in the summer) can seriously hinder your candlemaking projects at certain times of the year, or even prevent them entirely. The basement, depending on the case, can be too damp or also suffer from big differences in temperature. The garage is generally a safe choice if you have enough room to move around.

At the end of the day, it's mainly the large differences in temperature that will cause the biggest problem. Besides the fact that working for hours in a freezer or in a sauna can be far from enjoyable, temperature also has a big influence on the cooling times of your candles and, as a result, on their appearance. A small basement generally doesn't get too hot during the summer months and is easy to heat with a small electric heater when winter comes. In a garden shed, it's an entirely different story!

The (complete or partial) lack of natural light is not a real issue. My basement workplace gets no natural light whatsoever but if you make a well thought choice of artificial lighting, you will soon forget the absence of windows.

The available space and its furnishing

I'm comfy in my 65 square feet but to be perfectly honest, the room shouldn't be any smaller. It required some organisation to end up being usable and comfortable. For example, a regular-size kitchen table would take up too much space and would not work at all.

So I bought a second-hand Ikea sideboard (a Norden model that unfortunately does not exist in that size anymore in the new catalog), a perfect fit because of its dimensions (74 inches long and only 16 inches deep) and its multiple storage options, 3 drawers and two shelves.

That depth is more than enough to fit a large wax melter and leaves plenty of place to move around, even in a small room. With its 74 inches, it offers enough work area to divide it into a melting section, a pouring section and a cooling section. If you take into account the number of these sideboards Ikea sold in the years it was available, there's no doubt you will easily find one for a good price on your favorite second-hand website. Of course, you can also create your work table from scratch if you're at least a little into DIY, or to choose another piece of furniture that will fit your room as well as your needs. The only important thing is that it's perfectly level: if you work table isn't level, your candles won't be either.

You should also consider getting a shelving unit, not too deep either, to store small equipment and finished candles and maybe a drawer unit with high drawers to keep your metal molds safely away from shocks and dust. Even with these three elements in the room (sideboard, shelving unit and drawer unit), I still have plenty of room to move around freely without banging into anything. And if you can claim a bigger room, it's even better!

The heat source

A portable electric cooker with single or dual hot plate is more than enough for your double boiler needs

A sine qua non to make candles is the ability to melt wax. That's not a problem when you work in the kitchen but if you settle anywhere else, you will have to make sure you have a heat source. Avoid gas cookers at all costs: they are too dangerous to use in a small room, especially the attic or the basement. Get yourself a portable electric cooker with single or dual hot plate; it doesn't use much space on your work table and does exactly what it says on the tin.

Even if you purchase it new, its price is pretty democratic. An entry-level model (all you need, really) will set you back about thirty dollars.

The water source

A Jerrycan with a tap underneath can easily compensate for the lack of a water point

If you use the double boiler method to melt your wax, you will need a water source to regularly add some liquid to your melting installation. No water is needed if you're using a slow cooker or a wax melter but in any case, it's always advisable to have some water by the hand. If the room you're going to occupy doesn't have a tap, there's no need to remove it from your list just because of that: for about ten dollars, you can purchase a 2.5 or 5 gallon Jerrycan with a built-in faucet. Even for a double boiler, that's more than enough, even if it means you'll have to fill it up every other week.

An electrical outlet

It's very hard to do without, whether you're using a slow cooker or an electric hot plate. And you might want to use your heatgun or your glue gun every now and then. If the room you're planning to use doesn't come equipped with an electrical outlet, it may be possible to bring an extension cable to there, even if it means putting it away when you're done working. It does not happen very often that bringing electricity to a room is impossible but of course, each case is unique. The lack of an electricity source is probably the only thing that would disqualify an otherwise perfectly suitable room.

The light source

The ultimate luxury would be a workplace with a large window that opens into the garden and allows for plenty of natural light. But that's rarely possible. In my basement, no window but a good fluorescent lighting fixture that shines a light very close to daylight. Avoid working in an underlit or overlit area, and don't use light bulbs that generate a yellowish light; you would have a really hard time getting the colors of your candles right.

If your work table is pushed against a wall and your only light source is at the center of the ceiling, consider getting an extra light source, like a flexible desk lamp you can clamp to the side of the table; this will save you working in your own shadow.

On top of these purely practical considerations, one essential point to never lose sight of is your safety. It is of such paramount importance that it is discussed in a separate article than I would recommend you read carefully!
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