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May 08, 2007

Playing with Fire: RRR Striped Candles

Despite a lapse in blogging, I'm still knitting, but it's not blogworthy yet. Last night I 1) punched a hole in my left index finger with the knitting needle (size 3, cotton blend yarn with zero stretch, say no more) and 2) ripped back over half way because the object was too big and I want to do the sides differently. I'm making this thing up as I go.

So in the mean time, an earth-friendly project for you to try: RRR Striped Candles.

First, an explanation of my RRR claims for this project:

Reduce: Buy fewer candles by using all the wax you already have. Melt wax without using gas or electricity (yes, it takes longer to melt wax over candle flames, but that's why I call it "playing with fire! LOL).

Reuse: Use your candle and canning jars over and over again, and reuse metal wick bases.

Recycle: Melt "used up" candles into new ones, and use bits of metal for wick bases.

Cautions and Warnings: Playing with fire can be dangerous. Choose a fire-proof work surface and do not leave burning/melting wax unattended. Keep children and pets away. Use potholders or gloves to avoid burning yourself. Use your noggin!


Materials:

Wire core candle wick (I use Yaley Medium Wire, item number 110161 (yes, a 75 yard spool, purchased with a 40% off coupon long ago)

Wax scraps (remains in jar candles, taper stubs, faded votives, etc., but NO CRAYONS--it is a myth that they're good for coloring candles)

Wide mouth canning jars (pint, half pint) or clean, empty candle jars

Potholder(s) or gripper-dot gardening gloves you don't mind getting waxy

Timer

Optional: bowl with ice cubes and water, or refrigerator, or cold outdoors.

Method:

Set up a couple of jars as shown here on a fireproof surface such as your stove top, large cooky sheet, or sink with the drain stoppered (you DO NOT want to get wax down the drain). Light the candle in the lower jar and put bits of wax to melt in the upper jar. Don't put too much wax in; you don't want it to overflow.

While the first stripe is melting, prepare the wick. It should be about an inch longer than the target jar is deep and needs a small metal base. You can use a used base or fashion one from an all metal paperclip, pour spout, or whatever is in your metal recycling jar. The idea is to have enough horizontal surface to hold the wick upright.

Even though the wax isn't ready to pour a stripe, pour a puddle into the bottom of the target jar and stick the wick base in it, centering the wick in the jar and supporting the wick until the wax hardens enough to support the wick. Straighten the wick gently.

Now wait for the timer to ring. When it does, check the melting wax. If necessary, you can reset the timer. You can also sneak in a few more bits of wax if there's room.

When there's a good-sized puddle of melted wax in the upper jar, use your potholders/gloves to pour it into the target jar. Put the target jar in a cooler spot than next to the burning candle.

Repeat.

Nuances for Success:

The candles I liked best had stripes in the same color family. This is one way of experimenting with color theory; you can try adding bits of blue, green, and yellow wax to red to vary the colors of the stripes, for example.

To get wax out of containers too small to melt in, put them in the freezer for a while and then bang them on a padded hard surface (e.g. potholder or folded towel on the counter). Wax shrinks when it's cold.

For better melting and burning, mix types of candle wax (taper, jar, votive, parowax, beeswax) to sort of "average" the wax. Each type has different characteristics and melting points.

To prevent the hole-in-the-middle problem from wax cooling more slowly in the middle, pour shallow stripes and let the candle cool really well between pours. A shallow stripe will still "dish" a little, but much less than a deep stripe.

To prevent bits of wick, black gunk, or wick bases from being poured into the target jars, pour slowly and then scrape the gunk out with a popscicle stick (or similar object) before adding more wax.

If you have really gunked up wax, you can pour hot wax through a filter of some kind. I used a piece of calico in a beat up wire strainer. Or take the bottom out of an empty tin can and rubberband or wire a piece of fabric or paper coffee filter to it. Just be careful not to spill wax all over!

For faster results, set up several pairs of jars and target jars.

After each pour, encourage the wick to stay in the center.

To relieve boredom, knit between rings of the timer. Or even do housework. Nah!

Cleaning Up:

While a freshly-emptied jar is still hot, wipe it inside and out with absorbent paper (which makes good fire starter later if you have a woodstove or fireplace). If you don't see any more wax, you can wash it safely.

If you have a bunch of candle holders or containers that need cleaning, you can put them upside down on a newspaper covered cooky sheet and bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Most of the wax runs down into the newspaper. Wipe the hot containers with absorbent paper and wash. Again, the waxy paper is good for fire starting. You could also compost it (assuming no metal is attached), but you shouldn't recycle it.

Enjoying the Results:

The pint canning jar candles with the size of wire wick I use burn down leaving a coating of wax on the sides about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. It makes for an attractive glow. When the candle burns out, I'll be able to put a votive in the bottom to continue enjoying the glow.

One of the negative side effects of burning candles is soot. I have found that I can prevent much of the soot by 1) putting the candle out by pushing the wick briefly into its pool of wax using a chopstick and 2) trimming wicks to a quarter inch before lighting them again.

As Annie says, burn, baby, burn!


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