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Candle Making Basics - Points of Interests

Block Characteristics

The standard block of paraffin wax is 10 or 11 lbs. (depending upon the producer), and usually measures 1-1/2" or 2" x 11" x 19". It is generally translucent, almost (skim) milky white, with fine bubbles, mottling, and sometimes scales. Some variations may have fine cracks, fissures, and may crumble apart while others may appear to be perfectly smooth and solid.

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Hardness

The hardness of a wax is measured by a standardized process called "needle penetration." It is an indication of how far a needle can penetrate the wax at a temperature of 77°F. The higher the number, the softer the wax; the lower the number, the harder the wax.

Generally, soft waxes are recommended for container candles and votives, medium waxes are for pillars, and hard waxes are for hurricane shells and overdips.

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Melt Point

The melt point of a wax is the temperature that it starts to turn from a solid to a liquid, or from a liquid to a solid. To properly melt the wax for candle making it needs to be heated up to 190°F regardless of the specified melt point of the wax. (This is just a base line reference. Different techniques may require different wax temperatures.) Bringing the wax up to 190°F helps facilitate the incorporation of dyes and additives.

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Flash Point

Most paraffin waxes have a flash point around 395°F. When it reaches its flash point it may not smoke or bubble, it will usually just explode, splattering flaming wax in all directions. To avoid this catastrophe, always use the double boiling method to melt your wax. Water boils at 212° F, which is well below the flash point of any paraffin wax.

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Break a Block

The easiest method for breaking up a block of wax is to prop one end up on a block of wood with the other end on the ground. Hit it in the center with a hammer, make sure to follow through with the swing, and the block should roughly break in half. It is a good idea to use some safety glasses while breaking the waxes to avoid getting any pieces in your eyes. You can repeat the process with each piece until you end up with chunks that are about 2" x 4" x 4". These are small enough to easily fit into a standard melting pot.

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Effects of Heating and Cooling

When melted wax heats up, it expands and increases in volume. When the liquid wax cools down, it contracts and decreases in volume. The liquid wax cools and solidifies from the outside inward. As it cools it goes through gradual phases, from cloudiness, to a slush like consistency, to a paste like mass, and finally a solid. Paraffin is crystalline in nature, so as it cools the crystals "grow" in phase inward toward the center of the mass. Since wax contracts as it cools you will often find that the exposed surface becomes concave or "sinks" in. This is part of the nature of paraffin wax, and though it may be minimized it can not be prevented.

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Sink Hole

A sink hole in the bottom of a candle may be fixed by allowing the wax to cool, and then filling in the hole with more wax. It may be necessary to repeat this procedure several times.

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Fumes

Paraffin wax is non-toxic. The scent you experience coming from hot melted wax is harmless, but may cause a reaction of nausea or dizziness with individuals with sensitive olfactory systems.

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Surface Effects

The higher the temperature of the wax during the pour, the finer the finish will be on the exterior of the candle. We recommend pouring at about 190°F for a smooth finish on a pillar candle, and 170°F for a votive (made with low melt point wax). For a rustic "cold pour" look, pour the wax at about 10°F above the melt point of the wax, or lower.

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