A candle is a solid block of fuel (commonly wax) and an embedded wick, which is lit to provide light, and sometimes heat.
Today, most candles are made from paraffin. Candles can also be made from beeswax, soy and other plant waxes, and tallow (a by-product of beef-fat rendering). Gel candles are made from a mixture of paraffin and plastic.
A candle manufacturer is traditionally known as a chandler. Various devices have been invented to hold candles, from simple tabletop candle holders, to elaborate chandeliers.
The heat of the match used to light the candle melts and vaporizes a small amount of fuel. Once vaporized, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel, the liquefied fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action, and the liquefied fuel is then vaporized to burn within the candle's flame.
The burning of the fuel takes place in several distinct regions (as evidenced by the various colors that can be seen within the candle's flame). Within the bluer regions, hydrogen is being separated from the fuel and burned to form water vapor. The brighter, yellower part of the flame is the remaining carbon being oxidized to form carbon dioxide.
As the mass of solid fuel is melted and consumed, the candle grows shorter. Portions of the wick that are not emitting vaporized fuel are consumed in the flame. The incineration of the wick limits the exposed length of the wick, thus maintaining a constant burning temperature and rate of fuel consumption. Some wicks require regular trimming with scissors (or a specialized wick trimmer), usually to about one-quarter inch (~0.7 cm), to promote slower, steady burning, and also to prevent smoking. In early times, the wick needed to be trimmed quite frequently, and special candle-scissors, referred to as "snuffers" until the 20th century, were produced for this purpose, often combined with an extinguisher. Nowadays, however, the wick is constructed so that it curves over as it burns (see picture on the right), so that the end of the wick protrudes into the hot zone of the flame and is then consumed by fire—a self-trimming wick.
Candle making was developed independently in many countries throughout history. The earliest known candles were made from whale fat by the Chinese, during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). In early China and Japan, tapers were made with wax from insects and seeds, wrapped in paper. In India, wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles. During the first century AD, indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest fused oil from the eulachon, or "candlefish", for illumination.
A close-up image of a candle showing the wick and the various parts of the flame
In Europe, the Middle-East and Africa, where lamp oil made from olives was readily available, candle making remained unkown until the early middle-ages
300 - 1 BC
Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BC) was the first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). His mausoleum, which was rediscovered in the 1990s, twenty-two miles east of Xi'an, contained candles made from whale fat. The word zhú 燭 in Chinese originally meant torch and could have the Warring States Period (403–221 BC); some excavated bronzewares from that era feature a pricket thought to hold a candle. The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) Jizhupian dictionary of about 40 BC hints at candles being made of beeswax, while the Book of Jin (compiled in 648) covering the Jin Dynasty (265–420) makes a solid reference to the beeswax candle in regards to its use by the statesman Zhou Yi (d. 322). An excavated earthenware bowl from the 4th century AD, located at the Luoyang Museum, has a hollowed socket where traces of wax were found.
Wax from boiling cinnamon was used for temple candles in India.
Generally these Chinese candles were molded in paper tubes, using rolled rice paper for the wick, and wax from an indigenous insect that was combined with seeds.
Japanese candles were made from wax extracted from tree nuts.
1 AD - 1500 AD
There is a fish called the eulachon or "candlefish", a type of smelt which is found from Oregon to Alaska. During the first century AD, indigenous people from this region used oil from this fish for illumination. A simple candle could be made by putting the dried fish on a forked stick and then lighting it. The first candles to appear in Europe were made by nomadic tribes in the late Roman era, but are thought to have been in use much earlier in the colder climates of Northern Europe, where olive oil was scarce. These early candles were made from tallow, or animal fat. The tallow was put into the melting pot, then poured into molds made of bronze. A trough underneath would catch the excess wax and return it to the melting pot. For the wick, a cord, usually made from the pith of rushes, was suspended from a horizontal rod over the mold when the tallow was poured in. After the fall of the Roman Empire, when the availability of olive oil became increasingly scarce, and therefore expensive, the use of tallow candles spread across Western Europe. Later wax candles made from various plant extracts replaced tallow as the preferred source of illumination.
In Africa and the Middle East, candle-making remained relatively unknown due to the availability of olive oil for burning in lamps.
Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet
Manufacturing of candles
The oldest candle manufacturers still in existence are Rathbornes Candles, founded in Dublin in 1488.
Making candles for timekeeping
Although candles could not be used to find a specific time they were instrumental in able to indicate passage of predetermined periods of time. For example the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great (c. 849 - 899) used graduated candles also known as candle-clocks. He used this candle to divide up his day into equal periods of study and prayer, royal duties, and rest. There were lines around the side to show the passing of each hour. Later, 24-hour candles were invented based on the same concept. During the Sung dynasty in China (960–1279) calibrated candles and sticks of incense measured time. The concept of this clock utilized six different threads with weights on the end. These were draped over an incense stick at regular intervals and as the incense burned, the threads simultaneously burned one by one and the weights dropped onto a sounding plate below. Sometimes the sticks of incense had varying so that hours were marked by a change in fragrance.
The candle clock was also used as a timer. A heavy nail inserted onto the candle at the indicted mark would fall down onto a hard surface after the wax surrounding the nail melted.
Profession of Candle Making
Candles were also commonplace in many households scattered throughout Europe. In England and France candle making had become a guild graft by the 13 century. These candle makers (chandlers) went from house to house making candles from fats saved from the kitchen or sold their own candles from within their shops.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the popularity of candles is shown by their use in Candlemas and on Saint Lucy festivities. Tallow, fat from cows or sheep, became the standard material used in candles in Europe. The Tallow Chandlers Company of London was formed in about 1300 in London, and in 1456 was granted a coat of arms. Dating from about 1330, the Wax Chandlers Company acquired its charter in 1484. By 1415, tallow candles were used in street lighting. The trade of the chandler is also recorded by the more picturesque name of "smeremongere", since they oversaw the manufacture of sauces, vinegar, soap and cheese. The unpleasant smell of tallow candles is due to the glycerine they contain. For churches and royal events, candles from beeswax were used, as the smell was usually less unpleasant. The smell of the manufacturing process was so unpleasant that it was banned by ordinance in several cities. The first candle mould comes from 15th century Paris