In this short tutorial, I will show you how to choose and test wicks using SASOL 6213 paraffin wax. You will make 6 candles in all, with some colour and fragrance added.
Although we will use a specific fragrance and dye in this tutorial, please feel free to change the fragrance or dye as required, as this won't change the aim of the tutorial, which is to work through the process of choosing and testing candle wicks.
This is a great beginners exercise for a number of reasons.
Firstly: we are using paraffin wax with only 5% fragrance, so the candles are relatively easy to make. This formulation has also been tested in our lab.
Secondly: vegetable or blended wax candles can be far more difficult to get right, so this is a great confidence booster for those new to the craft, or those who dived straight in with vegetable waxes.
Finally: by the end of this tutorial, you should have a working knowledge of how to choose initial wicks for a new formula, how to fully test your preferred wick and what records to keep.
As a bonus, the tutorial also shares tools for choosing wax and fragrance quantities, wick selection and burn testing.
You will also have made some candles that look nice, smell nice (hopefully) and burn well. Not bad for a first attempt.
After completing this tutorial, you can then extend what you have learned with different vessels, fragrances and colours.
Before diving into candle making, it is important that we have an understanding of how we will choose wicks for the candle(s). A great start point for this is the Wedo Wick Configurator.
Into the configurator, I have added the candle type (container candle), wax (100% paraffin) and have set the diameter to 74mm (20cl tin). This is the 'inside' diameter of the tin.
As you change these inputs, the configurator makes wick suggestions. For this example, we will choose 3 wicks to try from those listed: LX14, VRL9 and V10.
The wick configurator usually suggests two types of wicks. Those for easy to wick formulations (left column), and those for more challenging formulations (right). For highly scented candles (7%+), you will generally require wicks from the right column, whereas for less challenging blends (lower fragrance), you can often get away with those in the left column. It is always worth trying wicks from both initially, unless you have direct experience to the contrary.
Our candle will contain 0.2% colour and 5% fragrance and have a net fill weight of around 180g. To determine how much fragrance to use, we can use an online candle calculator.
To use the calculator, we add the vessel fill (180g), the number of candles we intend to make (6) and the percentage of fragrance (5%). This is shown below...
Once we enter this information, the bottom half of the calculator will provide details on the amount of wax and perfume required to make the candles...
So, to make 6 candles, we will require 1.03kg of wax and 54g of fragrance. If you are buying supplies specifically for this tutorial, we can round these down to 1kg and 50g, as we generally over-fill our perfume bottles by 3-4 grams.
In addition to fragrance, we want to dye these candles. For this, we will use Bekro dye, which is typically used at 0.2%. So, for 1kg of wax, we will need approximately 2g of dye. We will be using Violet (60/1127), but please feel free to experiment with other Bekro dyes should you prefer a different colour.
To follow this tutorial, you will require the following:
- 1kg SASOL 6213
- 50g Damson Plum, Rose and Patchouli fragrance oil (or choose your own)
- 10 x V10 wicks
- 10 x LX14 wicks
- 10 x VRL9 wicks
- 6 x 20cl Silver tins
- 10 x Wick Pads
- 1 x 10g bag of Violet (60/1127) Bekro dye (or choose your own)
- 3 x WickClaw for 20cl Tin (or 30cl Jar)
We have created a collection for this which can be found here.
We will split this tutorial down into two stages. We will initially make 3 candles, using the wicks suggested by the configurator. So, LX14, V10 and VRL9. We will then burn all three candles and choose the wick we think performed best to make the final three candles.
In the second stage, we will burn three more candles, using exactly the same wick, to ensure we have the wick selection correct.
Making the first three candles
1. Melt 500g of the SASOL 6213 in a double boiler until it reaches 65-70 Deg. C.
2. Weigh out 1g of the dye using an accurate set of scales. You can use a tin lid to hold the dye. The scales you use do not need to be as accurate as those shown, but should be accurate to at least 0.1g and ideally 0.01g (1% error).
3. Add the dye to the wax and stir steadily for 2-3 minutes until all of the dye has dissolved. Note: If you are using a red-dye, you may need to increase the temperature of the wax.
4. Add 25-27g of fragrance to the wax and oil and stir again for 2-3 minutes, ensuring the fragrance is well mixed. Note: If you elevated the wax temperature in step 3 to dissolve red dye, allow the temperature to drop to 65C before adding the fragrance.
5. Fit the wicks into three of the tins, using adhesive wick pads and mark them so you can identify which tin contains which wick. If you have a wick tool, secure the wick using a Wick Claw tool. The 30cl claw can be used, with some visual adjustment, as the 20cl tin claws are not yet in stock. This is not essential, as paraffin wax is very malleable, so wicks can be pulled straight during cooling.
6. Split the wax mixture between the 3 tins evenly and allow the tins to cool in a room with reasonable ambient temperature (around 20 Deg.C +/- 3 Deg.C). Ensure the wicks are central.
7. Once the candles have cooled fully, there will be some sinking/curvature on top of the candle. This is normal with paraffin waxes, as they shrink rather than forming a crust, which is a good thing.
Initial Burn Tests - Wick Selection
Once the candles have a smooth flat surface and have cooled fully (ideally overnight), you can conduct initial/exploratory burn tests using the three wicks suggested by the configurator tool; LX14, VRL9 and V10.
Trim the wicks to 1cm and then light all three in a draft free room, allowing the candles to burn for 4 hours at a time. After 4 hours, extinguish the candles and allow to cool fully (at least 2 hours).
Image: Initial 4-hour burn for the wicks suggested by Wedo's Wick Configurator
Repeat this cycle, making sure to trim the wicks as required (i.e. to remove clubbing or excess wick) before re-lighting. Be sure to take notes, or even photos, to help you determine which (if any) of the recommended wicks are performing best during each cycle and overall.
Do not discount any candles at this stage, as paraffin waxes tend to leave some residue in the early burns. You should burn all three candles fully. Once the candles have burned to completion, which should take 30-40 hours, make a decision on which of the three wicks burned the best overall.
What you will probably find is that most of the wicks club during the first 2-3 burns, but then there is much less clubbing in the latter burns. Some wicks will club more than others, or have smaller/larger flames, but most of thos recommended by Wedo should be suitable or almost suitable for this particular formulation. Not all fragrances/formulations give this result and you may need to up-wick (VRL11, V12 etc) or try other wicks completely (i.e. Stabilo, ECO, CL).
Image: LX14 and V10 in the later stages of initial burn testing
Now, with a preferred wick chosen, make the remaining three candles using your chosen wick (i.e. V10) and using the same manufacturing process as before.
Note: It is possible to conduct initial burn testing in baking trays, foil takeaway trays etc, but we will not cover this in this tutorial. We tend to do these tests in vessels these days, as wicks can quickly be changed using an apple-corer. The one thing we have learned over the years is to test several wicks during initial burn testing, rather than one or two, as this can greatly reduce test time. It takes 5 minutes to pour a candle, but 30-40 hours to burn one, so within reason, you are better making lots and identifying a good wick more quickly.
Confirmatory Burn Tests
It is not wise to make assumptions based on how a single candle burns, so we always recommend doing a confirmatory burn, using at least 3 candles. For larger production runs, higher quantities may give additional data on the likely variation within the batch. There will always be variation between candles and all we are trying to do is to ensure that this variability is well understood and that our formulation (wick/wax/oil) is safe.
As with the first three candles, it is recommended that you burn the candles in 4 hour cycles, although you may wish to vary this to more closely reflect foreseeable misuse. For example, you could do the following:
Candle 1: 4 hour cycles, wick trimming as required
Candle 2: 6 hour cycles, wick trimming as required
Candle 3: 3-6 hour cycles (random) with no wick trimming
During confirmatory burn testing, it is a good idea to keep physical or digital records for each candle under test, recording the results of each burn cycle. Examples of the types of data you may wish to capture are:
- Start weight
- Start time
- Stop weight
- Stop time
- Wax consumed (for this cycle)
- Burn time (Stop Time - Start Time)
- Consumption per hour (Wax consumed / Burn time)
- 3.5g/hr to 4.5g/hr is a good target for this size of candle
- Flame height (measure after 2 hours)
- Should be under 40mm for a candle of this size
- Wick curvature
- Should not curl into wax
- Afterglow time (how long wick smokes after you extinguish)
- Ideally less than 20 seconds.
- Notes: I.e. any visible soot, clubbing etc
An example of what this may look like is shown below. You would need one of these for each candle, so 3 in total. You can download this template here.
These notes will be very useful in recording your tests and provide good evidence if you are ever visited by Trading Standards that you are taking product safety seriously and most importantly, doing so will reduce any risk to end users.
Once these candles complete burning, you will have a good understanding of how the formulation behaves and can either confidently self-certify the product as 'safe', or go back to the drawing board and try some different wicks.
This was a simple tutorial, but the process is generally the same for choosing candle wicks for any candle. As you become more experienced with your chosen wax, you won't need to use the wick configurator so often, as you will know which wicks generally work in various sizes of vessel.
When you run into trouble, with new fragrances, start with wick 'yield' as a comparison metric. Yield (crudely) is a measure of power, so wicks with similar yield should create melt pools of similar diameter. It is not perfect, but can help to select possible starting wicks from wick families you are unfamiliar with. All wicks sold on the Candle Shack website have a yield listed against them.