The earliest known candles (221–206 B.C.) were made from whale fat by the Chinese. Candle making remained unknown until the early Middle Ages and became a guild craft in England and France by the 13th century. With their popularity, tallow (fat from cows or sheep) became the standard material used in European candles. During the colonial era, women used tallow, beeswax, and/or bayberry wax. The growth of the whaling industry in the late 18th century produced oil from sperm whales, desired because it was harder than tallow or beeswax and would not soften or bend in summer heat. Per historians, the first "standard candles" were made from spermaceti wax.
By 1800, rapeseed oil yielded candles that produced clear, smokeless flames. In 1850, commercially viable paraffin, with a low melting point, was used to make inexpensive candles of high quality. The discovery of stearic acid, which was hard and very durable, helped elevate paraffin’s melting point, and by the end of the 19th century, most manufactured candles consisted of paraffin and stearic acid.
By 1991, U.S. agricultural chemists began to develop soybean wax, a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin. Elsewhere around the world, efforts were aimed at developing palm wax for use in candles.
Today, candles are available in an array of sizes, shapes and colors as consumer interest escalates. Many entrepreneurs have expanded their business by adding scents and specialty items. Creative candle makers now include products that feature novelty candles, aromatherapy candles, gel candles, fragrant oils, molds, dyes and additives, as well as step-by-step instructions with materials like beeswax, citronella, and whipped wax.
According to the National Candle Association (http://www.candles.org/), candles are used in 7 out of 10 U.S. households and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Of the estimated $2 billion in annual retail sales, these varieties include tapers, votives, pillars and tealights, as well as container candles (jar candles), floating, liturgical, outdoor, novelty, utility, and birthday candles. The most popular candles among U.S. consumers are the votives, pillars, and container candles. Retail costs range from $0.50 to $30, and even up to $200 or more for unique, well-crafted artisan candles. A candle’s scent, color, cost and shape determine sales, and women purchase 90% of all candles.
Candle making enthusiast David Fisher (http://candleandsoap.about.com/) cites three primary safety concerns when making candles:
1. Wax safety (to prevent fires and burns)
2. Safely using fragrance and/or essential oils that can be irritants or toxic in concentrated amounts
3. Accidents and spills
He recommends observing the following steps to keep your project safe and your project area free from damage:
• Safety First: Think ahead and stay focused; before starting and while working always think about safety.
• Prepare Your Workspace: Always cover the work area with newspapers, a tarp or old tablecloth, keeping all materials well-organized and available within easy and safe reach. Prepare for spills with newspapers or paper towels nearby, and keep your fire extinguisher and a heavy pot lid near. Always assemble tools, molds, ingredients, additives and accessories before starting.
• Work Slowly and Methodically: Make sure all children, pets, or inquisitive others will not disturb you or your setup. Follow instructions or your project guide, especially if learning a technique or trying a new variation, and go slow to avoid mistakes that may happen if you rush.
• Be Careful with Ingredients: Carefully measure and pour essential or fragrance oils; they are very concentrated and many will eat through plastics and cause stains and/or skin irritation. Immediately wipe up any drips and wash your hands. Measure them ahead of time for easy pouring and to avoid being knocked over while you work. Understand the safety requirements of the fragrances and/or essential oils you are using and essential oil safety. Exercise care with dyes and colors, especially liquid dyes; while not toxic, they can stain quickly and powerfully. One or two drops of liquid candle dye can color a pound of wax.
• Melt Wax Safely: Treat wax with respect because it can burn you quickly when it reaches 180°; it keeps getting hotter until it starts to smoke. (Melt wax in a double boiler to avoid smoking.) Always keep an eye on wax temperature and have an accurate thermometer nearby. Never leave melting wax unattended, i.e. like answering the phone in another room, going to the bathroom, or going to another room to find a missing item.
For more information on candle making, candle supplies and candle recipes, enter “candle making” into your favorite search engine, check out your neighborhood library, and visit the following websites, just a few of the many resources available for the candle making enthusiast:
• http://www.wholesalesuppliesplus.com/ (one stop shopping for candle making supplies)
• http://www.soycandles.com/ (Matt Freedman also offers YouTube videos on candle making)
• http://candleandsoap.about.com/ (David Fisher)
The more you know about your craft and use your knowledge and natural talents to distinguish your product, the greater your personal satisfaction and potential for your business to prosper.
CYNTHIA BULL (http://www.cynrje.com/) is an internationally published writer and editor who helps international authors, marketers and speakers add greater value to their products through her top-quality writing, editing and transcription services. She is the author of How To Be A Medical Transcriptionist and Winning At Work While Balancing Your Life, a contributing author of Walking with the Wise Entrepreneur (Mentors Publishing House), cited in Make BIG Profits on eBay (Entrepreneur Press), and Managing Editor of Mentors Magazine Think & Grow Rich Edition. Cynthia has created over 200 book products in the past two years for her clients and, as mentor, helps clients reach their goals through her products, experience and genuine caring. Cynthia writes this feature article exclusively for Debbie May (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.