…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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