The making of candles from a variety of different waxes, including hand dipped and artisan candles.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||Became a guild craft in the 13th century|
The first widely used candles were made from animal-based tallow. By the 13th century candle making had become a guild craft in England and France. Beeswax candles were cleaner and less smoky than tallow but were expensive and so were mostly used in churches and for the higher end of the market.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries alternative waxes such as spermaceti, a waxy substance produced by the sperm whale, colza oil and rapeseed oil allowed for superior, cleaner burning candles. The introduction of stearin (initially manufactured from animal fats but now produced almost exclusively from palm waxes) and then paraffin wax in the 19th century meant that inexpensive, high quality candles could be manufactured that burned cleanly with no unpleasant odours.
The trade became an industrialised mass market by the 19th Century with the invention of machinery that allowed continuous production of moulded candles. Price’s Candles, who are still trading today, became the largest candle manufacturer in the world by the end of the 19th century.
The candle industry declined rapidly upon the introduction of superior methods of lighting, including kerosene and lamps and the 1879 invention of the incandescent light bulb. For today’s market, candles as marketed as decorative and luxury items.
Most candles are now mass produced from paraffin wax using a highly mechanised process. However, there are also a large number of craftspeople and companies making artisan candles and hand dipped candles. These can be made with paraffin wax or beeswax but many makers are now using alternative waxes such as soy, rapeseed and sunflower oils to appeal to the market for vegan and eco-alternatives to petrochemicals.
Modern production methods use extrusion moulding. More traditional production methods entail melting the solid fuel by the controlled application of heat. The liquid is then poured into a mould, or a wick is repeatedly immersed in the liquid to create a dipped tapered candle. Often fragrance oils, essential oils and dyes are added.
Beeswax candles can be made from rolled sheets of beeswax or using moulding and dipping techniques.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- The majority of candles are made using paraffin wax which is a non renewable resource and a pollutant, hence the environmental critique of using candles
- Other candle material is not as readily available as paraffin wax
- Mass manufacturing of candles is cheaper and quicker and so a big competition to the rest of the candle markets
The Tallow Chandlers Company have a historical interest in the craft but are no longer directly associated with the trade.
Craftspeople currently known
A list of candle makers can be found on the British Candle Manufacturers website.