7 Tips for Making Your Own Candles, According to a Seasoned Pro
Isn’t it strange how the moment you announce a new hobby can start to feel so incredibly distant once you’re actually in the middle of it? It’s one thing to decide you want to start making your own candles, but that motivation just hits different when you’re covered in cooling wax and can not get the seventh wick you’ve tried to stay lit.
Thankfully, help has arrived, in the form of Chanel Carroll, a small business owner with her very own candle-making setup called Jean Gray Candle Company that she runs out of her apartment in Brooklyn. (It’s named after her grandmother, an Air Force wife who raised a family of six without losing herself in the process.)
In the five months Carroll’s been selling her sought-after designs, she’s definitely had moments where she wanted to give up. But she didn’t, and now she has a burgeoning business to show for it. She also has quite a bit of advice to share about sticking with your hobby even when the going gets tough, so read on for all the advice you’ll need to stay enthusiastic about candle making in the new year.
Gear up with the right supplies
Not all waxes are created equal. Paraffin wax, the cheapest, throws a stronger scent; soy wax has a softer scent but a longer burn time.
“The very first thing you have to nail down is what kind of wax you want to work with,” said Carroll, who has settled on a soy wax blend for her own candles. “That information, along with the fragrance oils you’ll be working with and the type of container you want to use, will help you narrow down the type of wicks that would be best.”
But no matter what you decide for the candles themselves, there are some must-have materials that Carroll recommends. “You’re going to need a big pour pitcher, a double boiler, a food thermometer, a stirring spoon, and a kitchen scale,” she advises. “And I recommend that you cover your workspace with some sort of protective paper because you will spill some wax while you’re working. It’s inevitable.”
Stick with standard recipes for your best chance at success
“Candle making, much like baking, is really a science,” Carroll explained. “There are specific measurements of the materials—like the wax and fragrance oils—that have to be adhered to, and certain temperature points that have to be exactly right. If they’re not perfect, it can throw everything off.”
Sure, there may eventually come a time when you can play a little faster and looser with those ratios, as candle making becomes muscle memory. But especially at the beginning, do yourself a favor and stick to a recipe.
Take advantage of expert resources
The internet is full of generous candlemakers eager to share their knowledge, and Carroll recommends taking advantage of that fact early and often. “YouTube is your friend,” she says. “Specifically, the videos by Standley Handcrafted are so helpful and informative. There are also tons of helpful candle-making groups on Facebook, and the site Candle Science is a great resource with lots of free educational materials, in addition to candle-making supplies for purchase.”
Let your own enjoyment be a guide
Like many folks, Carroll lost her job in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and suddenly found herself with a lot more free time for hobbies. She also noted that one thing she missed more than anything else was browsing in candle shops. “It was then that I had my lightbulb moment of, ‘I wonder if I could start making my own candles?’” says Carroll.
Once she’d had the idea, she didn’t waste any time before chasing her passion. “I immediately went down a YouTube tutorial rabbit hole, and by July, I was making my first candles. After giving some to friends and family and getting great feedback, I decided that this could be a small business that I would enjoy putting my time and effort into.”
Don’t let the inevitable obstacles get you down
The early stages of your process are bound to be frustrating—you’re learning a new hobby, after all—but try not to give up. For Carroll, the biggest roadblocks came during her testing phase: “Either the wax I was testing out didn’t have a good hot throw, meaning the scent of the candle wasn’t really emitting when it was lit, or the wicks I was working with wouldn’t stay lit,” she says.
But she didn’t give up, determined to make it work. “I knew it was just a matter of testing out different materials in different combinations in order to find the right fit,” Carroll says, and she was right. By the time she lit on a successful combination, she’d seen so many wrong ones that the right one never had a chance of sneaking by.
All that work had culminated in a special ratio that was all her own, right down to the unique crackling wood wicks that she now favors in all of her designs.
Give yourself a regular practice
It can be tough to fit a new hobby into your schedule, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. Instead, try Carroll’s tactic: marking out blocks of time on her schedule dedicated to specific tasks. “With anything you’re trying to add to your everyday life, whether it’s working out, meal-prepping, or keeping up with a hobby, it’s all about time management,” she says.
“For me, I block my days. I wake up, I have my coffee, and then I write out my tasks for the day, hour by hour. Maybe I’d block out an hour to label candles from 11:00 to 12:00, and then box up orders from 12:00 to 1:00. It keeps me on track with my to-do lis, and ensures that I make time for everything else in my life,” she says.
If you’re a hobbyist, your schedule will likely be less strenuous—but make sure to lock in free time to play around on a weekly or monthly basis, lest you lose track of your budding craft.
At the end of the day, though, remember that not everything is going to go the way you imagine all the time. (No matter how carefully you plan out your days.) “It’s important to have in your mind from the start that there will always be challenges along the way,” says Carroll. “But most of those challenges can be fixed with tiny tweaks to certain elements. It’s all about the pivot!”
Just remind yourself that you embarked on the candle-making journey because it was something you enjoyed. No matter how frustrated you get in the moment, it’s usually possible to work your way back to that first nugget of joy. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, after all.