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Archive for the ‘Soy Dork: Candle Science’ Category

FYI:  We’ll be at the Paranormal Expo at Fort William Henry in Lake George on July 2 and 3, 2011.  Come and meet us!  There are lots of novelty scents specially made for this event to check out.  We’ll also have some of our newest summer scents.  So, look for the Country Wickhouse Candles table!

Chances are that at least once in our lives, as children, teenagers, or adults, many of us have been involved in some kind of magical or paranormal experience.  And guess what?  Chances are just as high that a candle played a role in one way or another—in the room, on the table or floor, in the clearing or basement.  I’d bet a dollar there was a candle somewhere in the vicinity (if you were doing it right, that is).  Whether it be a pair of high school students in front of the mirror in the upstairs bathroom with the lights out and a candle burning, trying to summon Bloody Mary, or a dozen grown men and women in Madame Zustra’s den trying to call forth the spirits of dead relatives in the throes of a séance, candles are necessary for paranormal activity.  Why?  Believe me, I’m no expert, but as our candle shop grows and we come into contact with many different types of people and personalities, I continue to learn how relevant and ingrained the human connection to candles is, both historically and presently.  There are seriously a million uses for these things!  And we’re not just talking about having a resource to help light our world when the power goes out and leaves us in the dark.  No, candles provide much more meaning to our existence than many of us even know.  

The use of candles in magical ritual or paranormal play, no matter how dangerous, dates back farther than anyone cares to remember.  It seems only logical that candles were initially used in the absence of electricity and the light bulb, but as time moved forward, people continued to use candles despite the technological advances of the day.  You see, candles offer a certain degree of simplicity and warmth that you can’t get by using your iPod to light up a séance table.  Moreover, the candle’s inherent connection to the earth and her elements is universal and timeless.  Besides, candles are just so much spookier than flashlights and laser beams.  

Candle magic is becoming more and more popular as ghost hunting and the fascination with all things paranormal skyrockets.  (Even I’m obsessed with SyFy’s Ghost Hunters!)  The truth is, candles enhance the overall effect of any paranormal activity, primarily because the flame serves as a point of focus or meditation, whereas the actual color of the wax has meaning and can stimulate certain areas of the subconscious mind.  The same applies to scent, which we already know has the power to affect moods, recall memories, and put us in touch with the most ancient part of the brain (see “Man, That Smells…Good!” below).  It is also believed that by adding certain crushed herbs to candles, one might invoke specific feelings or powers.  For more information on the significance of colors and scents in candle magic or other paranormal ventures (like séances, 100 candles, and the like) do what I did:  Look it up on the Internet.  You wouldn’t believe how much knowledge related to this stuff is out there!  

From a purely commercial point of view, we experience our best soy candle sales during the Halloween season and then again in early summer.  Tapping into my extensive knowledge of mythology and ancient religions, I know why this is and am thankful for things like solstices and pagan holidays, especially as a candle maker.  And we take great pains to offer the colors and scents that might be of use to many practitioners of magic or seekers of the paranormal, as well as to regular customers who just want to experience a great scent.  

(Note:  Soy candles, all-natural to the core, seem to be better “spirit batteries” than paraffin candles.  We’re just sayin’…in case you were wondering.)

And by the way, all of our candles are blessed for protection…Call it a mark of the double lives we at the little candle shop known as Country Wickhouse Candles live.  After all, we want to reach everyone, dead or alive!

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Every now and then, we get questions at Country Wickhouse Candles about our “production model,” or the process by which our candles are made.  I’d invite anyone interested in watching our manufacturing process to drop by our megalithic, six-story, 90,000-square-foot factory, but we don’t have one.  True, we are remodeling a studio apartment space above our garage so we can move our operation out of the kitchen and into its own space, but you won’t find a Country Wickhouse factory or plant anywhere in the world.

So what does this mean?  It means exactly what our website claims about Country Wickhouse Candles:  Handmade, hand-poured, all-natural soy candles.  Every candle you order from us has been handled multiple times by an actual human being.  And we can do even better than that—your candle order has been handled by only two people, me or my wife.  Wax is melted, scent is pitched, and dye is added all on the white Whirlpool electric range in our kitchen.  Tins and molds are filled and wicks are pinned on the counter next to the double-basin kitchen sink.  Wax is set and released with the aid of the freezer in our Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator.  All very technical and impersonal, right?  Unfortunately, machines and robots can’t make a handmade, hand-poured, all-natural soy candle intended to leave our country kitchen and live in the warmth of your home, no matter what the container looks like.  We don’t care what Yankee, Party Lite, or Scentsy want you to believe.  It’s impossible to mass produce personality.

In the end, one thing is resoundingly true:  Every Country Wickhouse candle, from the label, to the packaging, to the soy product, is carefully, thoughtfully, and personally created, not in a “production model,” but in our kitchen.

Keep smiling…We are! 

P.S.  We’ll post pictures of our new “factory” for our grand opening.  Our 90,000-square-foot plans had to be cut down to 680 square feet due to budget concerns!

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Interesting and fun facts about candles aren’t exactly the subject of Trivial Pursuit or the evening news, but there are some very intriguing pieces of knowledge associated with the commodity nonetheless.  Seriously.  Just the other day, I was browsing the National Candle Association (NCA) website (yes, there really is such a thing, and at Country Wickhouse Candles, it’s kind of our job to keep abreast of industry news) and I happened across a page full of facts and figures related to candles and the candle industry.  You wouldn’t believe, for instance, how much candles are intertwined with our very existence.  I know, that sounds extreme, but it’s true.  You can check it out for yourself on the very page I read, or you can read on.  For your convenience, which is most important to us, I’ve listed some of these facts below, taken directly from the NCA website (this statement and its corresponding link reflect my best attempt at a citation via a blog article).  Truly, you’ll be amazed.

Did you know…?

  • Candles are used in 7 out of 10 U.S. households.
  • Manufacturer surveys show that 90% of all candles are purchased by women.
  • Candle industry research indicates that the most important factors affecting candle sales are scent, color, cost, and shape.
  • Candles are principally sold in three types of retail outlets:  Specialty or gift shops; department and home décor stores; mass merchandisers (discount stores, drug store chains, grocery stores, etc.).
  • Approximately 35% of candle sales occur during the Christmas/Holiday season. Non-seasonal business accounts for approximately 65% of candle sales.
  • More than 1 billion pounds of wax are used in producing the candles sold each year in the U.S.
  • Consumers are increasingly purchasing candles as a focal point for their home décor, and for aromatherapy-like relaxation and stress reduction.
  • Fragrance is by far the most important characteristic impacting candle purchases today, with three-fourths of candle buyers saying it is “extremely important” or “very important” in their selection of a candle.
  • The majority of U.S. consumers use their candles within a week of purchase.
  • Nine out of ten candle users say they use candles to make a room feel comfortable or cozy.
  • Candle users say they most frequently burn candles in the living room (42%), followed by the kitchen (18%), and the bedroom (13%).
  • Approximately one in five women says they use candles to decorate the yard, patio, or other exterior areas, as well as the interior of their home.
  • Both men and women consider candles to be an always-acceptable and highly appreciated gift for a wide variety of occasions.
  • Candle purchasers say they view candles as an appropriate gift for the holidays (76%), as a house warming gift (74%), a hostess/dinner party gift (66%), a thank you (61%), and as adult birthday gifts (58%).

Interesting, huh?  Just when you thought you knew a lot about candles…If these facts and figures have piqued your interest or inspired your warmer side, stop by our candle shop and take a look around.  You can find us on the web here (click the link). 

Thanks for reading!  We hope to see you browsing our soy candle products!

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Soy is a bean.  And like any good bean, it must be grown.  Hello!  But how does this bean become soy wax, you ask?  Well, here’s a crash course in soy wax production and its ultimate dependence on America’s wonderful farmers.

Soybeans are either crushed mechanically or solvents are used to extract soybean oil.  After some color modification (bleaching) and refining, the oil is hydrogenated to make it more solid.  Hydrogenation is nothing more than the process by which poly- and monounsaturated oils are solidified, thus increasing viscosity.  All that’s needed to do this (just in case you have it laying around the house and want to try making soybean wax) is hydrogen, heat (somewhere in the vicinity of 280 – 500° F), and a nickel catalyst.  A nickel what?  I don’t know either.  At any rate, the whole experiment makes saturated fats that can be used as soy wax.  The drawback?  Soy wax is super soft with a low melting point, so any creative soy candle maker usually works with a soy blend that contains not only soy wax, but also other natural botanical oils.  Incidentally, what’s left of the bean after the beginning stages of the process is recycled as cattle feed.

So, what’s this got to do with farmers?  Let me remind you that soy is a bean that must be grown by the millions, and hence soy candle makers and enthusiasts must depend on the commitment, hard work, and responsibility of our nation’s farmers.  These men and women, after all, are not in the business of deciding whether we make a votive or a tealight, but rather they plant and produce a renewable resource that is all-natural and environmentally friendly.  America’s soy farmers may not be erecting solar panels or windmills (though thousands of them have and will!), but they are contributing to the ecological well-being of our planet.  And to me, that makes them heroes.  Their product is renewable, so they’re not involved in the depletion of our natural resources.  Soybean husks are recycled as cattle feed, thus nourishing livestock while offering the world a commodity that is both waste-free and biodegradable.  And like many vegetable farmers, stalks and other “plant parts” are composted, which dramatically decreases the need to use chemical fertilizers.

Ultimately, American soy farmers pose virtually no threat to our environment, and instead produce a useful vegetable from a renewable resource whose primary use is dietary and not wax.  At Country Wickhouse Candles, we may make what we believe are the best soy wax candles on the market, but we owe much of our success to the farmers who complete the dirty work none of us is willing to do.  And this isn’t just the case with soy farmers.  Each and every one of us should count ourselves grateful for the dairy, cattle, and vegetable farmers of America.  As candle makers and general consumers as well, we honor and thank our farmers.  We’d literally be nothing without them.

But perhaps Thomas Alan Orr, in the poem “Soybeans” from his work, Hammers in the Fog, captured the soybean farmer the best.  In his poem, he illustrates not only the plight of the farmer, but also how underappreciated many of them are.  Farming is not easy, and in hard times (like the ones we’re still having) it is often a battle simply to survive.  I’ve included the text of the poem below.  I hope you read it.  Its message is powerful and memorable.  Oh, and the next time you’re taking a quiet drive through the country and you see some guy or gal in a tractor in a field, pull over and thank them.  They’re most likely American farmers.

The October air was warm and musky, blowing
Over brown fields, heavy with the fragrance
Of freshly combined beans, the breath of harvest.

He was pulling a truckload onto the scales
At the elevator near the rail siding north of town
When a big Cadillac drove up. A man stepped out,
Wearing a three-piece suit and a gold pinky ring.
The man said he had just invested a hundred grand
In soybeans and wanted to see what they looked like.

The farmer stared at the man and was quiet, reaching
For the tobacco in the rear pocket of his jeans,
Where he wore his only ring, a threadbare circle rubbed
By working cans of dip and long hours on the backside
Of a hundred acre run. He scooped up a handful
Of small white beans, the pearls of the prairie, saying:

Soybeans look like a foot of water on the field in April
When you’re ready to plant and can’t get in;
Like three kids at the kitchen table
Eating macaroni and cheese five nights in a row,
Or like a broken part on the combine when
Your credit with the implement dealer is nearly tapped.

Soybeans look like prayers bouncing off the ceiling
When prices on the Chicago grain market start to drop;
Or like your old man’s tears when you tell him
How much the land might bring for subdivisions.
Soybeans look like the first good night of sleep in weeks
When you unload at the elevator and the kids get Christmas.

He spat a little juice on the tire of the Cadillac,
Laughing despite himself and saying to the man:
Now maybe you can tell me what a hundred grand looks like.

—Thomas Alan Orr, “Soybeans,” Hammers in the Fog 

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We often get questions at Country Wickhouse Candles about how properly to burn soy candles.  If a single, common issue exists, it’s with the challenge of getting an even burn with the soft wax.  This should never be a challenge, however, since any candle must be enjoyed under certain conditions.  Below you will find some helpful hints on how to burn soy candles more evenly, thus making your experience with them more enjoyable.

Soy Just Ain’t Paraffin:  I know, horrible grammar!  But you get the point.  One of the most important things to remember when dealing with soy candles is that they DO NOT burn the same way paraffin candles do.  Some (if not all) paraffin candles contain PETROLEUM, and I don’t know about you, but if I were made of petroleum, I’d burn hot and completely, too.  Unfortunately, so many people own petroleum-based candles that they have become the standard by which all candles are judged and used.  When considering the environmental impact of paraffin candle products (not to mention the smoke and soot their wicks produce), EVERYONE should be burning SOY candles instead.  With all this in mind, let’s talk about properly burning soy.

Wick Length:  NEVER follow the 1/8-inch wick rule with soy candles.  Instead, keep your wicks at 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch long for an even burn.  Most wicks in soy candles already come in these lengths.

An example of an even burn in a soy candle tin.

Tins (and Other Containers):  Again, mind your wick length and keep it at 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch long.  ALWAYS place any container on a LEVEL surface, and NEVER burn longer than 1.5 hours at a time.  And of course, never leave a candle unattended.  Another great idea for more evenly-burning candles is the use of a CANDLE TOPPER, which will more evenly distribute wick heat.

A votive holder.

Votives:  Follow the wick rule above and ALWAYS burn votives in VOTIVE HOLDERS.  These holders act like small containers, and as the container heats, it helps in the proper melting of the soy wax.

The metal wick tab at the bottom of a tealight cup.

Tealights:  This is a common concern among folks who’d like to see every ounce of soy wax melt and disappear.  The bad news is, this will never happen.  Use the same wick lengths as above, and as soon as the tealight extinguishes itself, the show’s over.  The metal wick tab at the bottom of the tealight container will never burn (unless you use a blowtorch), so for safety reasons, throw the tealight away when it burns down to this point and puts itself out.  It may be hard, but it’s time to say goodbye and move on when you can see the wick tab.

Unburned (Unused) Soy Wax:  But wait!  Just because ALL the soy wax in your container hasn’t melted doesn’t mean that it’s been wasted.  Remember that soy wax is all-natural and biodegradable.  It is also one of the best NATURAL SKIN MOISTURIZERS on the planet.  Claw it out of your containers and rub it into dry skin.  It even replenishes cuticles.  And it smells good, too!  Go ahead, it won’t hurt you…it will only help!

Hopefully these tips will aid you in burning soy candles more successfully.  The most important thing to remember is that soy is VERY SOFT, and hence we must take some unique (albeit subtle) approaches to using them.  Follow the tips above and you’ll have no problems with any soy candle product you ever own…and if you do, let us know.  We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Burn on, wise soy candle-burning person!  You care about yourself and your environment…Thank you!

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…You get the idea, and maybe even a vague recollection of the famed (or not so famous) rhyme.  So, my wife makes candles―SOY candles―and good ones, too.  They smell great, are all natural, environmentally friendly, hand-poured, handmade…but we once had a heck of a time trying to figure out the wick-to-wax mystery as we tried to solve what we called the “posthole” or “well-digging” effect.  In other words, some of our candles (mostly the larger tins) were burning straight down the center, leaving about a pound of wax untouched, as if the wick were digging a well or preparing a hole to set a post into the middle of the wax.  Not only was this frustrating us, but also we learned that many folks making soy candles were experiencing the same disappointment.

Back to the drawing board again, and again, and again until at last the code was cracked, which we did over the course of a few months and hundreds of trials.  Why so many attempts?  Because we reevaluated everything, trying not only different types and sizes of wicks, but also various blends and types of soy wax, all the while praying to remember from experiment to experiment what combinations we’d already tried so as NOT to repeat the failure.  (Taking notes throughout each experiment might have been helpful, I know.)  In the end, we solved the problem, and that very solution some might think painfully obvious.  But there is as much science to candle making as there is art, and the process by which one creates a truly fragrant, even-burning soy candle in a tin is not quite as simple as it sounds.  Nevertheless, to make your craft more enjoyable and less frustrating, I’m about to pass on what my wife and I learned while pursuing the aforementioned mystery.

Our first assumed culprit in the “posthole” conspiracy was the wick.  Why not?  Always blame the wick!  Anyway, the more our candles burned straight down the center, the more we figured that the wick was not big enough.  Beginner’s error.  At one point, my wife would have no doubt been willing to stick a piece of towrope into the tins in order to get the wax to melt more evenly.  However…point to consider:  A larger wick does not mean a more even burn, especially when working exclusively with soy.  Soy is a very SOFT wax, and the hotter and stronger a wick burns, the less time the soy wax has to melt.  It’s literally like passing a red-hot knife through butter.  Because of the extreme heat and the added element of a very soft medium, only the immediate point of contact is affected.  There is simply no time for the outer wax to burn.  What we needed instead, was a smaller wick that burned longer at a lower temperature, thus giving the surrounding soy wax a chance to melt.

If you can’t blame the wick (which we kind of did, anyway), blame the wax.  Mostly logical, right?  Well, in this case the wax had a hand in the scandal, too.  We soon discovered that soft wax subjected to high heat burns very fast, a point established already with the wick problem.  SOFT WAX + HOT WICK = WELL-DIGGING CANDLE!  Unacceptable.  And so we realized that we had to “meet in the middle” and more appropriately mate wick to wax.  Luckily for us, soy wax is available with a few different melting points.  Soy wax labeled “125,” for example, melts at about 125° F.  This is very soft soy wax, and unfortunately the only type we thought was available.  Wrong!  Darned beginners!  Looking back now, I’m amazed at how far we’ve come…Second point to consider:  Wax products with low melting points burn very easily, and when matched with a large, hot wick, hardly have a chance to exist.  And now to our happy medium.

Many of you (especially the seasoned candle makers) might be shaking your heads by now, wondering how we ever survived in this business.  But soy is a tricky thing…really.  Our conclusion came slowly, yet it came, and we discovered that the secret to an evenly-burning soy candle in a tin is a matter of a smaller wick and a soy wax with a higher melting point, say 135 – 145° F.  By manipulating the melting point of our wax, and maintaining a medium wick, we could control the size of the wax pool during burning.  We could even get the wax to burn right to the sides of the tin.

In all seriousness, candle making becomes much more of a challenge (especially in the nuances of the craft) when working exclusively with soy.  Many blends are available from pure soy to natural botanical blends.  And each kind may have various melting points.  The trick is patience and the endurance to try and try again.  In the end, you won’t just have a good candle, but a perfect one.

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It seemed appropriate, considering the name of this blog, that my first article (“Man, That Smells…Good!”) should have been about “smells” and their influence over the body and mind, since scent surrounds me and you everyday and everywhere.  But very rarely do we appreciate the environmental stimulants coursing around us, or how they make us feel and act. 

Though my intention in this forum is far from an obsessive tendency to blog about candles (even if my wife and I are relatively passionate about the soy candle craft), I did intend to offer a place where we could chat about things like candle science and the obvious presence of candles in our lives.  After all, as many people in this country who own a pair of underwear also have a candle of some kind around the house, whether for ornament, emergency, or necessity.  So, we’re blogging about one of the most familiar objects in our culture, as well as in the cultures of many people on our planet.  We also wanted a spot to bring to light issues like the environment, conservation, recycling, and respect for our world at large.  So, we’ll be blogging these things, too. 

NOTE:  In case you’re wondering whether I have a clue as to how to use pronouns correctly, “we”  refers to me and my wife, the beautiful young lady (see her up there in the picture next to the good looking, very lucky guy?) who actually and brilliantly runs Country Wickhouse Candles.  She proofs each and every blog post, and is actively involved in the ideas and elements that make our modest business what it is…Oh, and she says, “Hi.”

BUT…our primary focus here is to have fun, meet interesting people (no matter what your opinions), and share some of what we know (and don’t know) about all sorts of things.  For this very reason, I have a file in my File Cabinet (over there on the sidebar) called “I’m Babbling Again…What?” that will contain snippets of thought and snapshots of life that might strike me from time to time. Also in the File Cabinet are all my files on candle science (“Soy Dork:  Candle Science”) and reasons why we should all value soy candles (“Why You (Really) Need Soy Candles”).  Of course, like any fragrant flower, the File Cabinet will grow…

On these notes, let me personally welcome you to “Life Smells, So Smile!”  Hello!  Nice to meet you; we’re so glad you came.  And we wouldn’t be a little country candle store if we didn’t remind you to come again…and often.

Read on!

Brian & Kelly Doe

(Yes, that really IS our last name.  I don’t think you could come up with a joke we haven’t already heard…really.)

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