At its core, container candlemaking is simply following a set of necessary steps--melting wax, mixing, and pouring into a jar with a wick. But within that framework there are a ton of variations and personal flourishes that you will find, either on your own or through someone else, that will allow you to create your own style and rhythm. You will take shortcuts in some areas and draw out others. If life is a sum of all your choices, your craft is a sum of your personal adaptations to a foundational knowledge.
- Attach a wick to the center of your jar using hot glue or an adhesive circle. Hold the wick straight with a metal centering device or a clothespin.
- Measure your fragrance in a small measuring cup. The amount you use will depend on the type of wax and fragrance load should be indicated in the product description or manufacturer’s notes. For soy wax, 6-10% is standard.
- Melt the wax using a double boiler created by placing a metal pouring pitcher into a pot of hot water over low heat.
- Once the wax has been completely liquefied, remove it from the heat.
- Mix the fragrance and dye into your melted wax and then allow it to cool to its pouring temperature. This temperature should be indicated in the product description as well.
- Pour the wax slowly into your jar. If desired, leave some room for a second pour to fix any surface irregularities that may occur. Look directly over the candle to make sure the wick is centered.
- Allow the candle to harden until the surface has lightened through the center. Trim the wick to ¼”.
- Leave your candle in a cool, dark place for at least 24 hours to cure before burning.
The common types of jars you’ll encounter are glass, metal, and ceramic/porcelain. Glass canning jars are meant to withstand high temperatures and are a great place to start if you want something simple and streamlined. Thin glass can break when exposed to extreme heat or rapid temperature change so avoid anything too fragile. Since they’re fired at high temperatures, ceramic and porcelain jars are a reliable option. Check your jars for cracks and chips as these can grow when exposed to heat.
With metal jars or tins you should be conscious of the fact that the sides will be extremely hot to the touch while the candle burns and during a subsequent cooling-off period. I always avoid metal jars with soldered edges to avoid wax seeping out of the sides or bottom. Always test to make sure your jars are watertight before pouring in hot wax.
I like to measure the volume of my jars before I use them for candles. This allows me to be more exact when measuring the wax and fragrance I will need.
It’s important that you don’t use any of your supplies for other purposes (particularly not food preparation).
Heat Source: You’ll need to decide how you’re going to melt your wax. I recommend starting out with a metal pouring pitcher placed in a pot of hot water on your stovetop or a countertop burner. As I began making candles more frequently, I upgraded to a Presto Pot with a retrofitted spigot for about $75. You can find tutorials online for how to attach the spout yourself which will bring the price down considerably.
Pouring Pitcher: This is where you will melt your wax. AAA Candle Supplies has one for sale have plastic handles so you don’t burn yourself.
Measuring Cup or Scale: I suggest doing all of your measurements by volume rather than weight. This cuts out the need for a scale and will allow you to measure the exact amount of wax needed for your jar. To do this you’ll need a large glass measuring cup (at least 24 fluid ounces) with a spout as well as a smaller measuring cup for fragrance oil (somewhere between two and eight fluid ounces depending on the quantity of wax you’re planning to use at one time). If you prefer to measure by weight, use a small digital kitchen scale.
Stirring utensil: I prefer to use a large metal spoon rather than a whisk because it minimizes the amount of air that becomes trapped in the wax as it hardens.
Thermometer: Since most waxes need to cool to their pouring temperature you’ll need to use a thermometer to keep track. I suggest using an infrared thermometer. These are a less messy option than a candy thermometer because they don’t have to physically touch the wax.
Wick centerer: You can use metal centerers made specifically for candlemaking, wrap your wick around a chopstick, or thread it through the center metal hole of a clothespin. As long as the wick stays centered and taut, anything will work.
Hot Glue and/or Wick Stickers: This will be used to attach your wick.
Putty knife: I always keep one of these handy to scrape off any stray wax drops from my workspace.
Paper towels: If you clean up using cloth towels and then wash them, the wax can clog your drain or washing machine.
Soy wax is a great beginner wax for a few reasons: it’s inexpensive, can usually be found locally, and its popularity means there are a ton of resources to help you out if you need it. The drawback to using soy wax is that you will almost certainly encounter cosmetic problems such as a cracked surface or a crater in the center where the wax has fallen around the wick.
AAK Golden Brands 464 and 444 soy waxes are very popular and made from US-grown soybeans. They come in flakes which are easier to work with than slabs. There are also a lot of vegetable blend waxes, most of which include soy as well as other naturally derived waxes such as coconut, palm, and apricot. I started out with soy wax and then branched out into blends. I recommend doing this so you have a baseline to compare them to. Knowing how a soy wax candle looks, feels, and burns will give you some insight into the variations of blended wax.
The most common type of wick is braided cotton but there are other variations such as zinc core. Don’t buy wicks anywhere other than a candle supply store--these will be the best quality and most dependable. You can use one wick or multiple but keep in mind that the more flames there are, the hotter your jar will become.
Wicks come on a spool or with metal tabs already attached (these are called “pre-tabbed” and are usually six inches long). Buying by the spool is more economical but labor-intensive--you’ll have to buy metal tabs separately and then attach each one by hand using pliers. I recommend using pre-tabbed wicks.
Wood wicks are also an option. They’re expensive but have a faint campfire smell and a pleasant crackle. If you go this route, choose quality wood wicks. If they’re cheap they won’t burn properly or exhibit any of the characteristics that drew you to them in the first place.
When you’re just starting out, I recommend doing your measurements by volume rather than weight. If you know exactly how much wax you need for a certain jar, you don’t have to deal with any excess after your pour. This also prevents you from having to quickly melt more wax if your candle is short.
I find the volume of my jars beforehand using a glass measuring cup and water. After my wax is melted, I can pour the exact amount I need and then use a smaller measuring cup for my fragrance oil. I mix everything together in my measuring cup, keeping it separate from the plain, unscented wax I’ve just melted. I find that with really small batches, measuring by volume is simpler and more exact.
You can measure by weight but it’s a little trickier if you’re using jars of all different sizes. If you’re making a larger batch of candles and know the weight of wax you need for each one, you may find that measuring this way is faster and more convenient.
Suggested fragrance load (the maximum amount of fragrance to be used as stated by the manufacturer) for soy wax candles is generally between 6% and 10%. I use one ounce of fragrance oil for every sixteen ounces of wax, which is a little over 6%. Check the product description of your wax to see its recommended fragrance load.
If you’re scenting your candles with essential oils you can use less than this, although the amount will vary depending on the type of oil used. I don’t recommend using essential oils in candles because they tend to vaporize at high temperatures, resulting in a very weak scent and a lot of wasted product.
You can color your candles using dye chips or liquid color drops. Liquid drops have a much more even color distribution but are extremely concentrated. It’s a lot harder to get the exact color you’re going for and pastels are almost impossible when working with small quantities of wax. Dye chips are less messy and the color is easier to control but they have to be thoroughly melted or your candles will have small spots of concentrated color. If you go this route, add the chips to your wax while it’s still being heated.
The perfect pouring temperature for soy wax is dependent on a ton of factors and is hard to discern without some guidance, since it can range from 115 °F to 165 °F. Most waxes will list the advised temperature in the product description. If you can’t find any information in the description or manufacturer’s notes, try looking it up online. There are a ton of forums where people talk about their process and what works for them. I also recommend doing some test pours at different temperatures to find the one that results in the smoothest surface.
You want to pour your wax slowly and then tap your jar gently on the edge of a table to dislodge any air bubbles. I like to leave ¼” of space between the wax and the top of my jar. If you find that you’ve filled your jar up too high, you can use a paper towel to absorb the extra wax. Dip it slowly to avoid spillage.
Since soy wax can have some surface issues, a lot of candlemakers underpour initially and then top it off once the first layer has hardened. This is called a “second pour”. If you see waxes being advertised as “single pour”, there’s a much lower likelihood of surface imperfection.
An alternative to a second pour is using a heat gun to remelt your top layer. Swirl the heat gun slowly, focusing on the edges. If you plan to use a heat gun, definitely leave some space at the top of your jar so that wax doesn’t spill over the sides.
For the best burn, make sure the candle achieves a full melt pool each time. If the wax pool doesn’t reach all the way to the sides of the jar, the candle will begin “tunnelling”, or burning straight down without melting the edges. Don’t burn your candles for more than four hours at a time. It will prolong the life of the candle as well as reduce the risk of you becoming distracted and forgetting about it.
I trim the wick to ¼” each time I light a candle. Wicks are designed to curl into themselves resulting in the excess wick disintegrating as the candle burns. This doesn’t always happen and wicks often “mushroom”, creating a large black ball on the end. If your flame smokes or flashes erratically, your wick is likely too long. Extinguish the flame, trim the wick, and relight. Don’t let the burned pieces of wick fall back into the wax--it can catch fire (this is called a “second ignition”) and is a fire hazard.
Blog Collaborator: Taylor Evans of Candle Ghoul
"Over the years of pouring my own candles, I’ve found that taking the time to make something of creative and practical value is a very personal undertaking. The candles I make feel like an extension of my tastes and interests. The joy of artistry is going beyond functionality and finding ways to create a reflection of yourself in the objects you create."