Gel Candle Basics

Making gel candles is a lot of fun,
and there's a lot of room for creativity ...
but, there is also a lot to it.
So, I'm going to start to cover
some of the basics here and then
continue to explore some of the
various designs that can be achieved,
as well as some tips to help you
create beautiful candles.

If you have made candles before, you will
find that candle gel is quite a bit different
to work with than wax ... so, there are some
things you'll need to get used to.
The easiest thing for me was the clean up! ...
much easier with candle gel! You may find
little pieces of gel here and there, but
overall, I think it's an easier wax to
clean up after. The other thing that is
amazing is that if something didn't go
the way you planned, that it's usually
very easy to simply remelt the gel and
begin again, something that isn't quite
as simple with regular wax.

As with wax, you want to make sure to
monitor the temperature and mix your
scent thoroughly. Your wick needs to
be centered in the container if you
are making a container gel candle.
There are three densities of candle
gel ... light, medium, and high ...
the light and medium are used in
container candles and the high density
can be used for free-standing candles.
For now, I will be writing about gel
container candles and hopefully do
my own exploring in the future in
regard to free-standing gel candles,
as I have only made container candles.
Also, the topic of wax embellishments
or embedded objects or wax shapes will
topics I plan to cover in another post.

Your glassware needs to be of good
quality (thin glassware can shatter),
and your wicking and scent need to
be gel-compatible. In regard to the
wick, this means that it should have
a wire core so it will stand on its
own. There are some special gel wicks
available, which I am personally not
familiar with, as I have always used
a zinc core wicking ... one which has
not been coated with any wax.
When I first began making gel candles,
there wasn't a lot of information
out about them and I tried using
pre-waxed zinc core wicks only to
find that the wax that the wick has
been dipped in could cloud the gel.

So, I soon switched to a non-coated
wick ... only to find that once the
gel was poured, the fibers in the wick
released foamy bubbles! So, now,
I use zinc core wicks which I dip in
gel prior to securing in the bottom
of the container. I simply dip the
wick in some melted gel and allow it
to cool for a few minutes.
This prevents the bubbling.

Wicking in gel candles needs to
be secured (mounted) to the bottom
of the glass with a wick tab.
You may use the common methods for
securing a wick as with wax container
candles, but, with candle gel, you
may use the gel as your "glue" by
dipping the wick tab into hot gel
(must be hot) and immediately
centering your wick and tab in the
bottom of your glass, pressing
lightly with a metal pick (poultry
lacer works well) ... first on one
side of the tab, then on the other
to give even pressure and then allow
it to sit until cooled ... it should
form a suction with the glass.
Check it by tugging (VERY gently)
on the wick to see if it is secure.

For a safety measure, there is
another note about wicks and tabs ...
a wick tab with a longer neck is often
preferred. A shorter neck will allow
a candle to burn to the bottom of a
container ... if you have a long
stem or neck on the wick tab, the
candle will cease to burn when it
reaches the metal. In some designs,
a longer stem is not needed as there
may be something else there that will
prevent the candle from burning to
the bottom, such as in seascape gel
candles where there is sand in the
bottom of the container, etc.

For a candle scent to be compatible
with gel, it should be a "non-polar"
scent ... the practical description
of this means that it will not sink
down through the gel and concentrate
at the bottom of your candle as a
"polar" scent will. Instead, it
blends with your gel and remains
suspended within it so it is evenly
dispersed throughout the life of
the candle. A concentration of
scented oil in the bottom of the
container can ignite when the
candle burns down to the bottom.
With a non-polar scent, the scent
burns evenly along with the candle
and there is no concentration of
oil at the bottom of the candle.
(Polar scents are fine for other
types of harder waxes.)
Also, most polar scents will
cloud the gel and non-polar
scents will not. Most suppliers
can tell you if a scent is
"gel safe" ... if they can't,
or if you have a scent and you
aren't sure if it is or not,
there is a way to test it,
which I will describe later.

As for colorants ... I have always
used liquid dyes in my gel candles
for optimum clarity. Some people
use powders, which I have not tried
in gel, although I have a feeling
that you have more control with
liquid dyes. As for color blocks ...
colored wax, I know that some folks
suggest using this and many may do
so with success, but it is my
experience that these blocks are
wax with liquid dye mixed in and
the wax can somewhat cloud the gel,
or at least make it not as crystal
clear. Since over-coloring can be
a real issue and too easy to do,
it's important to only add a little
at a time and do a "drop test" ...
pour a small amount of gel out
onto a plate, allow it to cool down
a bit and roll it into a ball or
a clump and see what the color
looks like ... often times, the
color may appear lighter in the
melting pot than in reality when
it's gets into the container.

These are primarily the basics of
what you will need to know before
getting started, besides the safety
precautions I have already posted.
Melting pots and some other issues
have not yet been covered ... but
we're getting there!

You may find that my "lesson plan"
here is one that starts in the
center and works its way outward ...
it's not a "step by step" ... if you
have a true interest in making gel
candles, then you will want to know
some of the dynamics ... and if you
are a creative person, it's my belief
that an understanding of what you are
working with will serve you better
than a step by step plan.

Speaking of "step by step" ...
there are plenty of them around and
I have recently read a few of them
to see what is available on the
Internet for beginners to read.
My advice, is probably to get a
good book, which I will start to
take a look at as time goes on,
as there are many websites which
offer a lot of half-knowledge, which,
when it comes to candle making, can
be dangerous. I'm going to explore
some of these next to share them ...
if you are a beginner, you will want
to know how to identify the bad
information. After reading some
good overall basics and having
an understanding of what you are
working with, then, some "steps"
are certainly in order, but it's
nice to have an understanding before
taking those steps.

It's almost ten years since I saw
my first bag of candle gel and when
I got it, it stayed in the bag with
me looking at it and touching it now
and then before I got up enough courage
to melt it and try to make a candle
with it! It seemed to strange to me!
Now, there is shared information to
read ahead of time, but back then,
there was little to nothing to go on.
Hopefully, for beginners reading some
of this material, they won't need to
poke at their gel for so long before
trying it out and making a candle!

Getting Prepared for Candlemaking

Okay ... you've got your melting pot, molds,

wax, wicks, additives, colorants, scents,
perhaps some containers or embellishments,
spoons and other assorted pieces of equipment ...
an idea of the type of candles you are going
to make, so you're all set!

Well, you're almost all set.
There are some other very important
things to consider before venturing over
to the stove. Whether you will be making
your candles in a workshop or your kitchen,
you'll need to prepare your work space
for your project before going any further.

So what's the big deal, you say? "Plenty!"
If I were to write a story about the area
where I work when I'm making candles,
I guess it would be entitled "Kitchen by Day,
Candle Workshop by Night" ... not that I only
make candles at night, but you get the idea!
A kitchen area can make a wonderful,
however temporary,transformation when
it's set up for candlemaking, as it becomes
a "mini-workshop" of sorts, complete with
stove, countertop, and sink!

Just as our kitchens take on a new persona
during candle making sessions, our attitude
and awareness must also be heightened when
we put on our"candle making caps" ... although
we are there to create, we've also got to think
of candle making safety. Preparation is the key here.
It would be much easier if this were merely an
option when making candles or soaps, but it
is an absolute MUST. A responsible crafter is
not only concerned about making things the
right way, but also about the safety of the process.

Now, I'm certainly not trying to take the fun
out of this ... to the contrary! But, this is
important information. Just as with most
other hobbies, there are those "things to
look out" for when actively involved in the
hobby. Candle and soap making are no exceptions.

Since knowledge of potential hazards can
eliminate them for the most part (you'll be
on the lookout, keeping a watchful eye),
this is what I am going to do my best to cover.
Of course, I won't be able to cover everything
and all possibilities here, but that's not exactly
the point anyway ... the point is simply to
make you aware. If reading this makes you
aware of potential situations that could arise,
then you will be well-equipped and ready for
safely making candles!

Here are some thoughts on safety
when making candles ...

Safety Thought #1:
Melting wax and pouring a candle can be
hazardous if not handled with care.

Safety Thought #2:
Wax and scented oils are substances that
can ignite, flare up, or splatter, causing
severe burns or fire.

These products all have a flashpoint,
which means that they will spontaneously
combust if the temperature reaches the
temp. of the flashpoint. I have read that
if you do not know what the flashpoint
of a wax is, do not heat above 212 degrees F.

Safety Thought #3:
When working at a stovetop ... beware!
(All sorts of things can happen here!)

Regarding equipment, here are some items
that will be very useful in making a safe
candle making area ...

Double boiler
(For use in melting wax)

Glass coffee caraffe that is safe for
stovetop, or "Presto Pot"or a "Pyrex"
tempered glass measuring cup
(for oven use) (For use in melting gel)

[Sidenote: I prefer using glass melting
pots on the stove with candle gel in
order to be able to see the color.]

Lids for pots
(For smothering fire, if needed)

Candy thermometer
(For checking wax or gel temperature)

Pot holders
(For handling pots, molds, etc.)

Fire extinguisher -
(Dry chemical ABC Type)
(In case of emergency)

Box of baking soda
(To smother a fire on stove)

Here are some pointers of safe handling
of wax and candle gel and what to do to
prevent a problem or what to do if one occurs.

Storing wax or candle gel ...
Always store in a cool, dry place, safely away
from any heat source or combustibles.

When melting wax ...
Leaving melting wax or candle gel
unattended should NEVER be considered ...
always stay within sight of your workspace,
or nearby, frequently checking and making
sure everything is going smoothly.

When wax or gel is almost completely melted,
do not leave your station! This is the time to
watch the temperature, prepare your additives,
molds, etc. Candle wax temperature should
not exceed 280 degrees F.

Do not use a microwave to melt wax or gel.

Make sure wax or gel does not spill onto
heating elements on stove.

Keep wax and scented oil containers
away from open flames.

Note the flashpoint of the wax you are melting.

When pouring wax or gel ...
Make sure your pouring containers are
adequate for use with high temperatures
and have a secure handle.

Always use a pot holder or have one
readily available.

Do not wear loose sleeves that can get in
your way or become a hazard.

Set your molds in a place where they will
not need to be moved until the wax or gel
hardens ... moving molds with hot wax in
them can easily spill hot wax.

Make sure you set your mold in a secure place,
away from children and pets or where they
cannot topple over.

If pouring directly from your melting pot
(i.e., glass caraffe with gel candles) ...
after pouring, wipe the side of your
melting pot under the spout, just in
case gel spilled out onto the outside ...
if dripped gel hardens on your melting
pot, it will burn off the next time your
place it on the stove.

General safety tips ...
Only purchase candle dyes and scented oils
that are specifically designed, or pre-tested,
for use in candles.

Kitchen rules apply to candlemaking ...
such as, keep all paper towels, etc. safely
away from stove, pay attention to your
attire and hair ... (no loose fabric or long
hair flowing onto stovetop)... no small
children or pets underfoot... keep distractions
(such as phone calls) to an absolute minimum
(best to focus entirely on your project and
not allow phone or other interuptions) ...
do not overcrowd your workspace ...
make sure you are standing on a secure
surface (throw rugs that will not trip you up,
wear stable shoes, etc.)

Ideally, nothing that is not supposed to
happen ever will ... if you're careful and
follow the above tips, this will be the case.

Here are a few tips, just in case
anything should occur:

If a fire ever starts on the stove ....
Smother top of double boiler with the lid ...
splashing water on wax causes it to splatter.

If some hot wax gets on your skin ...
Immediately run cold (not icy) water over
the burn area ... do not attempt to remove
the wax until it has hardened, and then
carefully lift it off.

If you overheat your wax or gel ...
Overheated wax, candle gel or scented oil
will smoke and the fumes are not safe to breath.
If smoking occurs, immediately remove
melting pot from heat source, open windows
or doors on both sides of house and use a
fan next to door or window, blowing fresh
air in or smoke out.

Always keep a fire extinguisher on hand.

Here are some tips for treating"minor"
(small area) burns ...
It's important to stop the burning process,
so you need to remove the source of heat
immediately ... seconds count!

To smother flames in case clothing should
catch fire, "STOP, DROP AND ROLL."

Never rip burned clothing from the skin ...
remove what you can, if clothing sticks to skin,
cool the material and cut away what you
can without harming skin tissue.

Cool water poured over burned area for
at least 3-5 minutes will bring the
temperature of your skin down and
prevent blistering in most cases ...
the sooner you are able to do this,
the better. Again, seconds count.

For larger burn areas, do not use ice
or cold water since it can lower body
temperature and make the burn worse.
Ointments, creams or salves may cause
infection. Since these are oil-based,
they can hold in heat and worsen the burn.
Use an antiseptic spray to relieve pain
and prevent infection before covering
with a clean dry dressing (soft,
clean, dry bandage).


Hopefully, this information has been
of value to you and hopefully, you
will use all preventative measures so
you don't ever have to use the brief
advice just given in regard to burn treatment.

With proper care and attention,
your candle making experience should
be a safe and creative hobby!