Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Making Tallow Candles--part 2 (making the candles!)

We made candles on Candlemas this year. Actually I was making candles for several days, but we made them for Candlemas, and burned a lot of them during our candlelit feast that night!
If you missed part 1 (rendering the tallow) you might want to check it out... I know you can buy candle-making materials, or save wax drippings from purchased candles and use them to melt down to make your own candles. I've done those things before. But this year we had the tallow, and I very much wanted to use what we had, thus tallow candles...
For the record, tallow smells like all sorts of unpleasant while it is rendering. But if you've strained it properly, the candles have little to no odor at all. I did put a little essential oil in all of them except the dipped tapers, but so far no stink either unlit or lit!

I made three kinds of candles: dipped tapers, pillars, and container candles.

For each type, the first step is to melt the tallow (or wax, if you're using that). I did a homemade double boiler, by using an old glass jar (salsa jars are awesome for this, or a canning jar works too). Put the tallow in the jar, put the jar in a pan with a couple of inches of water, and set it to simmering until the tallow melts.
If you want a colored or scented candle, this is the time to add essential oils or colorings to the tallow. From experience, I will say that food coloring does not work well with tallow... if you want to use something solid (like dried herbs/flowers) be aware that they will all float to the top of the candle as it cools, and will not remain evenly distributed through the candle. 

While it's melting, it's time to figure out your wicks. I tried making my own from cotton string and it was not successful. After three tries at different variations (all of which failed) I just bought wick at my local craft store. I'm sure it's also available online. I happen to really like the wick that has a bit of wire up the middle, because the stiffness makes it easier to work with.
A single strand of wick is sufficient for a dipped candle, but for pillars and containers you should either do multiple wicks or a fat wick.  (I made fat wicks by braiding 3 pieces together.) Then you'll want some kind of weight on the bottom of it...many people use a washer, but I ended up using paper clips for the dipped candles, and bits of aluminum foil for the others. I just folded a bit onto the base of the wick (making it flat so that the wick could 'stand up' from it).
Then (for the pillars and container candles) I stuck the wick to the bottom of the mold/container by pouring in a teaspoon or so of the tallow, and holding the wick base in it until it cooled (you can dip the bottom of the container/mold into a bowl of cold water if you want to speed it up, but it doesn't take very long regardless).

For pillars or container candles, you now just pour the melted wax into the container (or mold, in the case of pillars). And then set it aside somewhere to let it cool. Easy peasy.

With containers, you are now all done!
container candles with rosemary essential oil and a little cooking rosemary sprinkled on top.

I don't recommend using baby food jars as containers--I was using what I had, but they get very hot and the first one I burned melted all the way down, the wick floated out, and then it re-solidified... perhaps if I only burn it for 20 minutes at a time it will be fine, but not for an hour!

With pillars, you then have to get them out of the mold...I like using a mold that I can just cut/tear off, such as a rinsed out juice can or milk carton (quart size). Try pouring it in in layers--an inch of one color, an inch of another; or a little plain, a little with lavender flowers in it, a little more plain, etc. That will make some pretty striping.
Tallow happens to be very soft, and did NOT make good pillar candles. I ended up remelting these guys and making them into container candles. However this same method does make great candles with wax, so I kept the pictures since you're more likely to be working with wax anyway. ☺
one thing my mom likes to do is crush some ice cubes and put them in before pouring in the melted liquid...it makes cool tunnels in the candles, and also helps hold the wick in place.
see about the floating flowers?
this one was so soft--and so messy (due to the food color) that it was sticky, so I rolled it in lavender... which looked cool, but fell off everywhere when I handled the candle at all. Again, not a method I recommend!
they sure were pretty for our Imbolc feast though!
Finally, for dipped tapers, you will want to make sure that your tallow-melting-jar is tall and narrow. The height of your candles will be limited by the height of the jar, and width won't do you any good, it will just take more tallow to fill it... You don't want it too hot, but it does need to remain in a liquid state...so just keep the stove on a low setting.
The typical method is to cut a wick that is twice as long as your candle height (the depth of the jar) plus about 6 inches. Then hold it from the center and dip both ends to make a pair of candles. Before dipping, I twisted a bit of each end of the wick onto a paper clip, and then hooked the two paperclips together to make space between the candles. This proved to be the easiest way to keep the two candles to hang straight and not bump each other! (After they were all done, just take a knife and gently cut off the candle just above the paper clips.) I tried some without the paperclips and I definitely recommend using them!
Now they need to hang to dry. I just stuck a row of thumbtacks along the edge of the underside of my cupboard and hung them on that. If you have hanging mug hooks or something of that nature that would work well also. The candles will probably drip a bit (tallow definitely did, I don't know for certain about wax). In any case, I laid out paper towels on my counter underneath where I hung the candles.
You will need to dip them many times in order to get a decently fat (and sturdy) candle. I did find that the many thin layers of a dipped candle was much stronger than the poured pillars, and they work just fine with the tallow. I also found that--for tallow at least--you need to wait at least 10 minutes between each dip. If you do them too close together, the tallow on the wick does not harden enough and ends up just melting again with the dip, so the candle does not get any fatter!
This is a long process--I did it for a couple of hours one day (intermittently while I was baking something else), then a couple of hours the next day, then a couple of hours the next day...of course as a mother with little ones I get interrupted a lot, but honestly I think I would get bored if I stuck to it for the several straight hours it would require to do them in one go. The dipping is quick, but the waiting between sortof demands a second project to work on concurrently...
Can I just say, it is SO COOL to look at candles that I MADE!
I recommend storing them hanging (Besides, they look so cool!!) just trim the wicks when you're ready to use them. (It can be hard to make them the same size as standard pillars, so you may find that you don't have a candle holder of the appropriate size...in that case, just make a little salt dough and make some candle holders!!)
(Edited to add...  Now that I've had a chance to actually burn the tapers, I don't recommend making tallow tapers. They burn down really fast. My 6 inch taper lasted about 10 minutes before it was just a puddle... It seems that containers are the way to go if you want to make tallow candles. If you want a free-standing candle like a pillar or taper, try something a little stiffer, like wax!)


Katie said...

I think I'll save my tallow for cooking (I only have 4 pounds), or maybe I'll make one small candle with the kids for fun. But what a great skill to have!

Kari said...

I think they look great! It was good to hear that yours didn't stink. I've read so much about tallow candles having an awful odor.

With our next steer purchase I'm definitely going to request that all the trimming be included!

Mallory said...

I'm glad you shared your experience with us all. It sounds like it was a really fun project to work do! And, even though it didn't turn out exactly how you thought, the learning is the fun part of experiments, right!?

ashley said...

Candles would be so much fun to make- and I loooove to burn them, too. :)

cc said...

These look fun and not too hard! Did the lavender smell good or does it burn weird?

Jenni said...

I put lavender essential oil in the candles with the lavender in/on them, so I got smell from that... Honestly I didn't notice much about the actual blossoms one way or the other. They just sortof fell off or sank into the liquid tallow as it melted...

esusan94 said...

Thanks for sharing how you made the candles. We just read a book called "Voyage to Freedom" for my son's 4th grade literature class and in the book they were using tallow candles to light their way in the ship & so the father could see to read his Bible. I googled tallow candles it it came to your blog.

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