Thursday, February 5, 2015

Making Oil Candles

“Those candle flames were like the lives of men. So fragile. So deadly. Left alone, they lit and warmed. Let run rampant, they would destroy the very things they were meant to illuminate. Embryonic bonfires, each bearing a seed of destruction so potent it could tumble cities and dash kings to their knees.” 
- Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

If you remember last week I wrote a blog post about beeswax candle making. After I made that batch of candles I started thinking if there are other ways of utilizing natural flame indoors, even more economical and made of items already found at home.  The cheapskate in me was trying to find non toxic candles for free.

As it turned out, there IS something. 

Oil candles.

I've been watching a lot of survival and bushcraft videos lately. For some time now I've been focusing intently on simplifying my life and becoming more sustainable, independent of society and its consumerism as much as possible. I know I am not alone in my quest. As I found out there is ever growing segment of society with exactly the same goals and dreams as mine. Hence the abundance of material online teaching people various life hacks and survival skills.

Oil candles are extremely easy to make with the cost that's next to none. All you need is a glass container, any type of cooking oil (used or unused), material for a wick (which could be an old t-shirt) and a piece of metal bendable wire.

For the container I like to use small glass jars. Over the years I've built up a little collection of small jars because they can have unique uses. Some I use for spices and some I keep for any other purpose that might come along.  Now I can use them for oil candles.

It is the best when the jar is wider than it is tall. The larger the surface area to height ratio, the higher the efficiency.  You don't need a lot of oil to burn for hours and so it is unnecessary to fill a tall jar full of oil which you will end up just topping up instead of letting it burn all the way to the bottom. The wick needs to be cut and adjusted after each session and it is very difficult to do that when the wick is inside a tall, skinny container.  In the picture on the right I used a taller jar and filled it up with river pebbles in order to use less oil.

Salted wicks, cotton on the left, braided hemp on the right
For the wick anything natural will suffice.  I use a hemp wick that I have plenty of because I make beeswax candles.  Cotton wicks work great too.  I've made some wicks out of old, stained white cotton t-shirt which no one was going to wear any more.  You can cut small, skinny strips of t-shirt and braid them together to give them a little more body and make them sturdy. They burn great.  I've heard of people using cotton mop hair as wicks in these candles too.  Sky is the limit I guess.

Some people suggest dipping the cotton wick in the salted water and drying it out.  Oven at 200°F for 20 minutes will do a great job at drying.  The salt will make the wick very sturdy and able to stand up by itself, as well as provide greater burning efficiency.  The wick should burn slower.  I've made some salted wicks and some unsalted and the jury is still out for me on the efficiency part of salted wicks.  They are very sturdy though, which is great.

You'll have to play with the thickness of the wick and how high it sticks out above the oil surface.  Wick that is too thick will smoke which is not very suitable for the indoor use.  If the wick sticks out above the oil surface too high, it will smoke as well.  A wick that is too thin will not burn very well and will extinguish prematurely.  It took me few days to figure out the best thickness.  Now my candles burn evenly and for a long time before I need to trim the wick.

Bent aluminium wick holder
The bendable wire can be used to keep the wick in place inside the jar.  At the present I'm
using an aluminium one.  I've read that the galvanized wire has a zinc coating which should be stripped before being used. It releases toxic fumes if it's allowed to interact with heat.

The aluminium wire I'm using works great.  It bends very easy and keeps the wick in place with no problem.

As to fuel, like I already stated any cooking oil can be used.  This is where people get really creative.  New oil can be used but so can used oil. Some people use leftover oil from the fryers. When it's time to change the oil in the fryer, they keep the oil instead and use it as fuel in these candles.  My hubby has a fryer.  I already told him to keep the oil when he is ready to change it. It can be decanted and reused.  Talk about nothing going to waste.  I like that!

Some people use leftover bacon grease or any other solid cooking grease.  The solid grease works similar to a wax. You pour it in over the wick and the grease solidifies.  When the candle burns, the grease slowly melts.

You might wonder about the smell.  When the candle burns clean without any smoke, there is no smell.  If you're burning your candle outdoors and don't care about the smoke, different oils will have different smell.  I've heard that olive oils smells the least and corn oil is the worst.

Bear in mind I'm a total beginner with these.  I only started making these candles a week ago and I'm still in the learning process.  There is a wealth of information on the web though, if you like to try this out and need more detailed instructions.

One more thing I have to say.  When I first learned of oil candles, I was petrified to not touch the flame to the oil because I thought that my whole jar will go on fire.  It doesn't work that way.  The cooking oils although combustible, are not considered flammable.  They have very high flash point and ignition point.  The oil would have to be exposed to a very high temperature before it would ignite. The temperature in the regular candle is not high enough.  What burns in these candles is the wick, the oil being the accelerant. If the burning wick was to fall into the oil, it would simply extinguish.  I've tested that out to be sure.

All in all oil candles are a great thing to know about if you ever find yourself without electricity and have no candles or flashlight to use.  They can be easily put together from common household items and provide hours upon hours of light for next to no cost.

As with anything involving fire, please do your own research before you try it at home, follow common sense and stay safe!

Here is a link to an excellent article about cooking oil safety.


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