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Raw materials and candles production processes

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  • In order to produce candles, manufacturers require the following elements: stearin, wax, wicks, dyes, production machines, packaging.

    Candle Flame

    The aim of a candle is to produce a flame. If we look closer at the flame, from a scientific point of view, here is what we observe:

    When a candle is lit up, the heat from the flame melts the raw materials down (stearin and paraffin wax). The melted matter rises by capillarity to the top of the wick, and then evaporates once it reaches the extremity


    Bees produce between eleven and nineteen million kilos of wax every year.
    However, only 5.5 million kilograms reach the market, the rest of it remaining in the nature or being used by beekeepers for artificial honey making.
    Worker bees produce wax through a small gland located under their abdomen. Over one million bees are required to produce one kilo of wax.
    The composition of beeswax varies depending on the seasons, the altitude at which the bees live and the sorts of flowers and plants in which they gather: clover, orange blossoms, and sunflower or fruit trees in flower.
    China, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico, Australia and Dominican Republic are the biggest exporters of gross beeswax.


    The basis for the industrial production and good combustion of candles has been established thanks to a discovery by the French chemist Chevreul. He expounded in 1826 that oils and grease were chemical compositions of a liquid (glycerine) and a mixture of a more or less solid matter (saturated fat). He managed to decompose a mixture of saturated fat into a liquid fraction (oleine) and a hard and solid fraction (stearin). Stearin turns out to be, among others due to its colour, structure and short fusion curb, an excellent matter to be poured in metal moulds for candles. This progress was again reinforced by the introduction by Cambacérès of braided wicks. It was finally possible to produce on an industrial scale a candle that would burn clearly and regularly, that would not blacken, replacing the old soot candle.

    Paraffin wax

    For many years, the production of candles has been based on grease and beeswax. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the invention of the braided wick and the discovery of stearin completely changed the quality of the combustion of candles.
    A few years later, paraffin wax was discovered. Fuchs extracted mineral oil out of paraffin and Buchner produced the first paraffin wax in 1819. In 1830, Von Reichenbach distilled paraffin out of tar of beech wood. He gave it also the name of paraffin, stemming of the latin “parum” and “affinis”, meaning “which has less affinity”. This naming is related to the poor capacity of this matter to react to chemicals agents.
    The production of paraffin wax from coal started in Glasgow in 1845. In 1861, the industry produced 750 tons of paraffin wax, ten years later the amount had already reached 5000 tons.
    In the United States, the production of paraffin wax was developing even more. There, it was discovered that paraffin wax could be extracted from petrol, as well as from brown coal.
    In 1890, paraffin wax could be found all over the world. From that time onwards, the candle industry has the raw materials at its disposal: beeswax, stearin and paraffin wax. These raw materials can be mixed with each other: paraffin wax with stearin and paraffin wax with beeswax. Nowadays, the candle industry uses paraffin wax above all, followed by stearin. Beeswax is the least used for candle manufacturing. On the market, the rating of the paraffin wax qualities is generally based on their content in oleaginous oil:
    • non refined : approximately 5-15 %
    • semi-refined : approximately 0.5-5 %
    • entirely refined : approximately 0-0.5 %
    Some types of paraffin waxes are more expensive then others, according to the degree of refining, the colour can alter from dark yellow to white, and the oil content from 0 to 15%.
    Paraffin wax is delivered in slabs, beads or powder. It is also transported in liquid form in tank trucks.
    350,000 tons of paraffin wax is produced in Europe each year. Approximately half is delivered to the candle industry. Some qualities are better suited than others, depending on the industries they will be used for. For example the leather or textile industry, the paper and cardboard treatment industry, plastic matters, explosives, cables and even for cheese coating and chewing-gum production.

    The soul of the candle: the wick

    The discovery of stearin by Chevreul and the elaboration of the process of separation of saturated fat by Miller and Motard in 1831 led to an alteration of the wicks used for soot candles. In 1820, the Frenchman Cambacérès produced for the first time, by braiding three cotton threads of the same thickness, a wick that inclined itself towards the exterior while the candle burnt. This way the wick could burn completely without the candle needing blowing. He created this way an essential condition for the industry of wicks for candles.

    The braided cotton wick of Cambacérès still had a main disadvantage: after blowing the candle, the cotton remained so incandescent that the end of the wick would disappear, and the candle couldn’t be relit again. It was the occasion to apply for a patent for a method of treatment of wicks with chemicals. These chemical products helped to settle the combustion process.

    The manufacturer also chooses the shape of the wick according to the production method and the raw materials. For most candles in stearin or paraffin wax, a flat braided wick is used, a round one for candles in pure beeswax, as well as for candles consisting of beeswax and stearin or paraffin wax.

    The round wick (which is more of a V shape than a round shape) is consistent of cotton threads and a soul that makes it firm. In order for the wick to lean over the exterior of the flame, a few threads are interlaced asymmetrically to create a small artificial tension in the wick.

    For every type of wick, the number of threads, the thickness and cotton quality must be chosen.

    For the choice of the wick, it is very important to know what raw material is used. Indeed, the viscosity of the stearin being strong, more cotton threads are needed to obtain a sufficient absorption capacity. Stearin does not give the same heat quantity as paraffin wax. As a result, stearin candles require thicker wicks. Paraffin wax is soaked more easily, which allows a thinner wick. For beeswax, a thicker wick is compulsory. Besides, it is in the beeswax candles that we see the biggest wicks.

    Finally, the quality of the wick must be chosen according to the shape of the candle and the production method. The stretching of the candle creates a bigger pulling effort on the wick. Consequently, a flat wick can be pulled more.
    Combustion trials must allow finding the most suitable wick. If the candle leaks, it is possible that the wick is too thin. If the candle produces soot, it can be because the wick is too thick. If the candle is re-dipped to be covered in a harder and possibly coloured layer, in a wax of a higher fusion point, it is possible to choose a thinner wick to avoid soot, while the re-dipping will avoid dripping.

    Candles, a symphony of colours

    Apart from traditional white candles, coloured candles are making their place on the market. Thanks to special pigment colours, coloured candles can become as fixed to the light as an oriental carpet.

    For candles re-dipped in colour, we use dyes with pigments. For entirely tinted candles, we use soluble to greasy colours.

    The colours must fit certain requirements. They must not have a negative effect on the quality of the burning. They must not “migrate” either, some part of the candles’ surface seem more coloured than others.

    Most of the time, the dyes are applied on the exterior of the candle by the method of dripping.

    The mixture of the dyes with the raw materials also requires a lot of experience from the candle manufacturer, in order to guarantee a constant colour. The colour industry develops and conceives, in accordance with the candle producers, a variety of standard colours. Along with this, with their own colourists and in their own laboratories, they can meet the requirements of their clients and create new colours which are in fashion, and that add up to the existing pallet.

    Methods of production of candles and tapers

    The discovery of stearin, paraffin wax and braided wicks in the last century were the beginning of the new era of industrialisation. These last thirty years have been even more prolific in this area than all the previous centuries.
    When we look at the ancient engravings of the Middle-Ages, we can notice that almost all the modern methods were already there at a prototype stage.

    From dipping to stretching candles continuously

    It was difficult to make nice round candles with a smooth surface with soot. It was done by dipping, one of the oldest methods for candle making. The wick was plunged repeatedly in liquid wax, in order to obtain the wished diameter. Then a method to produce several candles at a time was invented. A certain amount of wicks of the same length were suspended on a wooden beam, then were plunged into a container filled with wax, which itself had most of the time been melted on a fire in the corner of the workshop. At each dip, the coupled candles thickened about one millimetre.

    Nowadays the dipping method is still used, but it has been adapted to entirely automated installations, operated electronically, in which many wicks are plunged together in a mixture of paraffin, and then removed. The raw material solidifies, and the task can be repeated until the candle reaches the required thickness.

    Another dripping method which is still used in the industry for church candles, and especially for the biggest and largest altar candles, is the “spoon pouring” method. Liquid wax is poured along the suspended wicks with a spoon, until the taper candle reaches the wished size.

    The idea of thickening a wick in order for it to become a candle by alternatively plunging it in warm liquid wax and removing it for it to harden brings us to the first stretching lines.

    By turning a wooden drum by means of a crank, the wick passed at the bottom of its race in liquefied wax that was in a copper basin placed between the two drums, and during the top the race, the wax would cool down. The thickness of the candle could be adjusted thanks to a copper disk that was provided with small holes of lessening diameters. Once the required diameter obtained, the section of the candle was placed on a long table and cut to the wished lengths.


    A wick is introduced in a tube shaped mould, which is then filled with liquid wax. Once it has cooled down, a candle can be removed from it.

    From pressing to extruding

    The most recent production process is candle pressing. This became possible once paraffin wax became more commonly used, and once it was possible to transform liquid paraffin wax into powder. Applying great pressure on this powder in the moulds makes the mass agglomerate, so forming a candle.

    The idea of using powder for the bigger candles, pillar candles, only rose in the late sixties.

    In spite of all this technology, ancient production methods are still used in Europe and all around the world. Hence, candles and taper candles are still hand rolled, altar tapers poured in a single mould, relief candles poured in rubber shapes, and hand painted, tapers decorated with three dimensional accessories, hand painted texts and/or scenes.