Man has relied on fire as a source of heat and light for centuries. Animal fat, also known as tallow, was once used as a means of sustaining a flame for torch light, but as you can imagine, the smoke and grease were not very pleasant...not to mention the foul smell. Then someone discovered beeswax was a more desirable alternative, but it was very costly and eventually found its way into the homes of the wealthy and into places of worship.
In the early 18th century, whale oil was used to make candles and was found to increase the burn time of tallow when used as an additive. It also produced less smoke than tallow.
Paraffin emerged in 1850 as petroleum and coal processing plants produced the waxy bi-product. It became the favored wax for burning candles because of its low cost and clean flame. Soon after, it was discovered that stearic acid raised the melting point of paraffin, so most candle makers began using a combination of paraffin and stearic acid as their wax base.
As kerosene lamps became the preferred source of light, candles lost their functional appeal…and then came the light bulb in 1879. Since that time, candles have been primarily used for decoration and enjoyment.
Paraffin is still the most common of all the candle waxes used today, but many other options have been discovered in recent years. The soy bean produces a wonderful wax for candles. Soy wax is an eco-friendly wax that produces much less smoke and toxins than petroleum-based paraffin and soy candles burn longer than candles made of paraffin.
If you are looking for a very ‘user friendly’ wax, try using bead wax. There are no double boilers or thermometers needed when using this wax to make a candle. The tiny pellets, much like large grains of sand, can be poured into a glass container surrounding a wire-core wick, and you’re done! Bead wax can be found in a variety of colors and scents, and can be layered in a glass container to create a rainbow effect.
Gel wax is another interesting medium enjoyed by candle makers. Its transparency makes it unique and fun to work with. This wax is easy to make using mineral oil and resin (about 16 ounces of oil per 25 grams of resin), or you can purchase it. You can cube it, roll it, shred it, or make it bubbly. For the most bubbles, the melting temperature should be 180 – 190 degrees F. Increase the temperature to 200 degrees F for fewer bubbles.
Some candle makers use additives to enhance their candles. Here are a few of the most common additives and their respective purpose:
Stearin (stearic acid)
Patented by two French chemists in 1811, this additive will make paraffin candles burn longer and will cause the paraffin to be more opaque. The recommended amount is 1-2 tablespoons per pound of wax.
This additive must be melted prior to adding it to the wax, and will give the paraffin a high luster and a more opaque quality. It also improves the surface texture and increases the burn time. The recommended amount is 1 teaspoon per pound of wax.
This additive also makes paraffin more opaque and helps prevent shrinkage as the wax cools. The recommended amount is 1-2 teaspoons per pound of wax.
Will provide a brilliant sheen and will help the candle burn longer. Recommended amount is ½ teaspoon per pound of wax.
Makes the paraffin wax harder. This additive must be melted separately and then added to the melted candle wax. Recommended amount is 2 tablespoons per pound of wax.