Wednesday, March 2, 2011

They Light Up My Life

For our history course this homeschooling year we are reading about the early American colonies.  Currently we're learning about the ways the people in the colonies went about their daily lives. A recent lesson was on heat and light in colonial homes. The primary insight to be gained was simply how fortunate we are to live in an age when a mere flick of a switch fills our spaces with light and heat.

When the boys saw this drawing in the history book, they were amazed that the colonists made such big candles!

So of course, after reading about candle-making, what better hands-on application would there be but to melt some wax and get at it?
We began by cutting up and melting old bits of used candles that I had in a stash in my studio. More than half of the candles we used were bees wax candle ends from church altar candles but we had to supplement those with paraffin candles which are not as healthy to use. The scent from the melted wax was predominantly bees wax so I knew the wax was okay. I would not recommend making candles from paraffin wax only as the fumes are carcenogenic.

We melted the wax in simple tin cans in boiling water on the stove top. Though I used the tallest can we could find, it was only about five inches, so our candles were not very tall.

Making dipped, tapered candles takes patience. You begin by dipping the cotton wick into the warm wax for a single second and then letting it cool and harden.

The trick is to carefully dip the wick into the wax and coat it in layers, cooling it completely between dips until the candle begins to build up in size.

At first the kids began to show signs of very short attention spans, but as soon as they began to see the candles take shape they became much more enthusiastic.

In the end they couldn't be torn away from the project and continued to dip candles for four hours!

The quality of the shapes improved with each new attempt. These candles should dimly illuminate one corner of one room in our home for about, oh... twenty minutes.

The kids were immensely proud to supply a bit of candle light for dinner but they are hoarding the rest of the candles like gold. Colonial life anyone?


  1. Such fun! I keep a tin coffee can with wax in it. When the urge strikes we can melt the wax and dip candles! (I cheated and added vanilla scent from Michael's to our wax.) We haven't done colors though. Must try.

  2. Looks like a fun, easy, project. We might try that soon. My daughter says, "They look like carrots." :)

  3. My moms next post will be shortly after their house burns down because the boys are reading in there room by candle light.

  4. Carrots was the consensus for sure.

    Ah, Neal. You know them too well. Maybe I should confiscate...

  5. Also Neal, you are going to be tapped to teach them the colonial way of starting a fire without matches!

  6. You are mean Neal. :-( :( :/


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