Votive candles are among the quickest and easiest candles to make, but they can also have a great impact on your home decor. A collection of warm, welcoming votives can serve as a simple centerpiece or decorate your fireplace mantle.
Votive candles are considered “molded” candles because the hot wax is poured into a mold and allowed to cool before the finished candle is placed in a votive cup.
The only equipment needed to make votive candles is some kind of double boiler, wax, wicks, wick tabs, and votive molds, as well as any coloring or fragrance additives you might like to use.
The double boiler is necessary to melt the wax over gentle heat (heating wax directly in a pan on the stovetop can cause it to overheat and it may catch on fire). You can make your own double boiler from two old kitchen pots (you won’t want to use a pan you have melted wax in for food after you have used it for wax) or a kitchen pot and a pitcher designed for melting wax. The pitcher is a good idea because it has a spout, which allows you to pour the wax without making a mess. You can also buy double boilers specifically made for working with candles, but it isn’t necessary to have one.
Put a couple of inches of water in the bottom pot, then add the top pot or pitcher. You can use your stovetop burners to melt the wax, but if you’re prone to crafty messes it would make sense to invest in a hot plate (you can pick one up at just about any discount retailer for around $10). Then you can cover your whole work surface with newspaper or cardboard (large cardboard cutting mats designed for sewing projects are great for this purpose, and you can cut your wax on it too) and pick the mess up when you’re done.
The wax sold in craft stores is perfect for making votive candles, and you should also be able to find either pre-tabbed wicks made especially for votive candles or lengths of wick you can cut and tab yourself. The tab is important because it helps the wick stand up straight in the mold. There are special types of wick made especially for the small size and long burning time required of votive candles (such as the 36-24-24 “P” wick), but you aren’t likely to find these specialty types locally unless you happen to live near a candle supply store.
Whatever type of wick is available where you shop will work fine for votives. Look for wicks that are pre-waxed, as this also helps the wick stand straight. A zinc-cored wick can also be used; these will stand very straight but may be harder to find and will not completely burn away as the candle is used.
If you buy a quantity of wick that needs to be cut down to votive size, hold the wick beside the mold and cut it (with scissors or wire cutters if you’re using zinc-core wick) an inch or two taller than the mold. This will allow you to adjust the wick after the wax has been poured. Wick tabs are small metal pieces (usually square) with a hole in the middle through which you can thread the wick and then press the edges of the hole together to keep the wick in place. Straighten the wick as much as possible before placing it in the mold.
The amount of wax you will need depends on the number of candles you are making. Metal votive molds often come in sets of three, so that is a good number, to begin with. Wax usually comes in either one-pound or ten-pound blocks; if you are new to candlemaking, start with the small amount. Using a craft knife or reclaimed kitchen knife, cut a piece of wax off the block.
Aim for around half a pound of wax, but know that it is always better to have more melted wax than you need than not enough. Never overfill your melting vessel and never leave it unattended while the wax is melting. Should a fire occur, cover the melting pot with a lid and turn off the heat.
Of course, you can make plain white, unscented votive candles, but the sky is the limit in terms of colors and fragrances. Votives are fun because they allow you to experiment on a small scale. You can find many color bricks and fragrance additives at your local craft shop. Both types of products are very intense just a small amount of color or a few drops of fragrance can make a big difference. Each candle is a learning experience. You may want to keep track of how much of these additives you use in each batch so you can discover the color and fragrance combination that you like best.
For three votive candles, you will probably not want to use more than a quarter of a block of colorant (be careful, this can stain clothing, carpets, etc.) and three or four drops of liquid fragrance. You can add these while the wax is melting. You may also want to use a long wooden skewer to gently stir the wax as it melts.
Many craft guides say that there is an optimal temperature for pouring wax to create the best candles (for votives it is said to be around 175 degrees F). But if you do not want to take your wax’s temperature your candles should suffer no ill effects as long as you wait for all the wax and additives in the pan to melt and do not wait so long afterward that the wax is smoking or has caught on fire.
There are two possible methods for making your votive candle from this point. You will want to try each and see what is easier for you. The first is to simply place your tabbed wick in the votive mold before pouring the wax, taking care to set the wick in the center of the mold. This method is a little less frightening for beginners, but the wick likely will move off-center as you pour the wax, so you will have to stand it up straight again after you pour. If you don’t fill the molds too full, you can set a toothpick or wooden skewer across the top of the mold for the wick to lean against until the wax begins to harden.
The other method involves pouring the wax into an empty mold and allowing it to cool slightly before inserting the wick. You really have to be paying attention to your candles so you don’t wait too long to put the wick in (watch for the outside edges of the candle to congeal slightly). Using this method, the tab will stick to the bottom of the mold and should stand up straight more easily. It requires some practice to do this right. And if your wicks don’t end up perfectly straight don’t worry. Votives are so small and burn so completely that all the wax should melt even if the wick is slightly off-center.
Whichever method you use, pour the wax just almost to the top of the mold, reserving a small amount of melted wax. You will need this wax later because as the candle cools the wax contracts and will leave an indentation in your candle. You save a bit of wax so it will match the color and fragrance of the main part of the candle. Allow the wax to cool for a few hours before re-melting the reserved wax and pouring it into the molds, being careful not to overflow the molds.
Again allow the candles to cool completely before removing them from the molds. They should come out easily, but if they do not, put the candles in the freezer for about five minutes, then roll the mold in your hand while squeezing gently to help the candle come out. If the problem persists, you may want to spray your molds with release spray (you can get silicone sprays made for working with candles or use cooking spray) before putting in the wick or pouring the wax. This will make your candles shiny, too.
Votive candles are designed to be burned in votive cups rather than on a candle plate. The wax should disappear completely as the candle is burned; each candle’s life should be about 15 hours.
Votive candles are a simple, sophisticated, and cheap addition to your home; they make great gifts and are even better to keep for yourself. Let your imagination run wild and color your home with candles.