Colonial candle making is a common arts and crafts project that produces beautiful results. For women in Colonial America, making candles was necessary because there was no electricity and families needed a source of light. Colonial taper candles were the most commonly created candles during this time.
Woman used tallow (animal fat) to make candles. These candles had an unpleasant smell and did not burn well. If you were in the elite class, you could make your candles from beeswax, which smelled and burned better, but this candle making substance was not widely available.
A New Discovery
Soon colonists realized that bayberries could produce a pleasant fragrance when added to the wax and were much cleaner to burn. The only problem with bayberries was that it took an abundance of them to make just one candle. The time and effort to produce these types of candles was hard on the women. Bayberry wax can still be found in select locations today.
Using Whale Oil
In the 1700s, it was discovered that whale oil could be used in candle making. The wax produced from whale oil was called spermaceti wax. While the scent was still nothing to behold, the candles made from this wax burned longer and stood the heat during the summer months to provide light at night for the colonists.
Making Colonial Candles
If you want to try your hand at making authentic Colonial candles, you can purchase bayberry wax. Melt and pour the wax just as you would for any other type of candle wax. You can also choose to pick your own bayberries, but this is only really feasible for people living in the North Coast regions and parts of Canada. If you decide to pick your own bayberries, you will need approximately six pounds of berries to make one pound of wax.
The molds used in Colonial times consisted of wooden boxes. They did not have access to the many different styles and materials of molds we have today. In addition, while we have specially designed wicks that are made to burn for extended periods of time, women in Colonial times generally used cotton strands to make their wicks. This required much maintenance to keep the candles burning.
Materials Needed For Colonial Candles:
Wax (either bayberry or paraffin)
Tin coffee can that is deep and narrow
Taper wick, non-waxed
Melt your wax in a tin coffee can (or other metal can) that is deep and narrow. Make sure the tin is clean and dry.
Colonial women did not have pre-tabbed wicks. In order to make a wick that was used in Colonial times, you will need to tie one end of your taper wick to a washer. This will weigh down your wick as you prime it by hand. The washer end is what will be submerged into the wax.
Dip your wick into melted wax a few times to make sure it is covered completely with wax.
Once the wax is melted, you will need to place your coffee can on a heat-resistant surface. Begin dipping your wick into the can and taking it out while holding the wick at the top. Repeat this in-and-out motion a few times, leaving a little bit of time in between each dip. Don't let the wax cool too much. Stir it often to distribute the heat, and reheat when necessary. Continue dipping until your candle is the size that you want. This is a tedious process, so be patient.
Hang your taper candle on a hanger using a small clip at the tip of your wick to let the candle cool completely.
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