Cold weather and candlelight go together like that old horse and carriage, so it’s sort of fitting that winter offers ready-made molds for good, earthy candles.
Snow is a natural mold for the pouring of candles. You can make any shape or size you want, and every piece is one of a kind. Unusual forms — even undercuts — are no problem, because a finished candle doesn’t have to slip out of a rigid mold — once it has hardened, you can just dig it out of its drift!
Ice can be used to make some good forms, too, though you have to work a little harder to get it ready for your wax. On the other hand, all you have to do to start an ice mold is set a container of water outside to freeze, so it’s really a pretty easy process.
Cold weather candles don’t have to be made on a frozen, blowy hillside. You can work either directly in the outside snow or gather a bucketful and bring it inside where it’s warm. Inside is more comfortable, of course, but you do have to work a little faster so your mold won’t melt in mid project.
Just about everybody knows the basic materials needed for candle making: treated wax or remelted candles, good quality wicking rather than string or twine, wax base dyes, and oil base scents. You should already be familiar with these necessities of candle craft before you start splashing wax around in the snowdrifts.
The wax for snow- and ice-molded candles does not have to reach a particularly high temperature so long as it’s completely molten and hot enough for the dye to mix well. To make your snow mold, simply dig out the shape you want and pack and smooth the inside wall. (If there are holes in the surface, wax will run through and you’ll lose some or end up with irregularities that you’ll have to remove later.)
Pour the hot wax into the impression and, as soon as the edges and top of the pour become opaque, insert a piece of wire — a straight length of coat hanger will do nicely — wherever you want the wick to go. Once the wire is firmly hardened into the wax (which will be much faster than for an ordinary mold due to the low temperature of the snow) lift or dig the candle out and let it harden completely. Then remove the wire, insert your wick, and pour in additional wax as necessary to anchor the wicking. Voila! A candle with a textured surface and an unusual shape!
This method is ideal for making the tops of mushroom candles. The stems, too, can be poured in snow, if you want them uncoated, or can be sand-cast for a multi- textured effect. Stems and tops are then joined by simply heating the wax and pressing them together.
Candle molds made from ice require a bit more preparation, unless you happen to have a frozen lake nearby and want to just chip out a hollow form with an ice pick. The chipped out shape I like best produces a candle with the texture and appearance of a gnarled old tree trunk. To make it, first fill a container — such as a cut off milk carton — with water. Then place a smaller, unbreakable container (maybe a tin can or paper cup) inside the larger one. Fill the cup with something heavy so it won’t bob around in the water.
Now, put the whole thing outside, or in the freezer if you live in a balmy climate, and let it harden. As the mold freezes, the water will exert pressure against the cup, bending it and forming a knotted, irregular but still basically vertical impression.
When the ice has completely hardened, remove the small container. (You may have to run a little hot water inside or around it to loosen the can enough to get it out.) Chip away bits of ice at the top of your impression if you want it to look as if roots are coming out of the trunk of your tree. Or, if you want a completely irregular shape, remove the entire block of ice, crack it, and replace the pieces, which will leave small open spaces between the chunks for wax to seep into.
Finally, pour hot wax into the ice mold and, again, add a wire when the pour begins to harden. Remove the candle as soon as possible if you want a shiny surface, or leave it until the surrounding ice melts away if you prefer a cloudy finish. The wax will harden into complex ridges and swirls that are impossible to reproduce with a standard mold.
Once you get started you can add your own touches: bits of glass or beads pressed into the snow where they can be picked up by the wax, leather thongs imbedded in the candles so that they may be hung up, two colors of wax poured in layers, or whatever suits your fancy. The possibilities are endless when you use nature’s most versatile molding compound — cold water.
(Update from 2011 — A great resource on Candlemaking the Natural Way is available in the MOTHER bookstore.)