A lot of folks carry around tea-candles and birthday type candles for fire starting and dependable light. Small candles can give you light in power outages, around camp, cabins, under a tarp shelter, or evening hikes. They can also serve to dry damp tinder and kindling for those tough fire starting times. Small tea candles are useful for all these things. But tea-style and birthday candles don’t travel well. They often end up in a cracked up pile of wax in the bottom of your gear bag. Here’s a cheap way to make your own small candles for camp and trail use that will stand up to the rigors of trail travel. The materials you need are super simple. Most of which you probably have already. I used spent .45 casings for the candle cups. Your next trip to your local range will probably yield plenty casings. Small cut up strips of 100% cotton t-shirt serve as the wicks. A handheld propane torch melts the wax in a cut up tin can (empty contents appropriately).
The pliers hold the can while it’s over the heat, and pouring of the molten wax is done with a gloved hand directly into the casings. Out of all this, the wax itself was all that I bought. I purchased "Gulf Wax" from my local grocer. It’s a paraffin wax commonly used in canning and candle making, and I’ve had great success with it. I purchased a 1 pound package for under $4. The package contains 4 ¼ pound bars. I found the wax in my local grocers baking isle. If my two stop-light town has it, you can probably find it near you. Any similar wax should work just fine.
Start by setting out your casings. I found that I could successfully fill 8 or so without the wax cooling while I was working with it. Next, cut your wicks. 100% cotton is a must. Nylon, poly, and similar material will just melt, not ‘wick’ the wax up like it needs to. I’ve found that thicker wicks make a larger flame, and vice versa. If you’re using these little candles for light, 1/8 wide wicks are just about right. Thicker wicks yield a larger flame but reduce burn time. This gives you a large flame for fire building, drying tinder, and similar.
Cut your wicks long enough so that they rest on the bottom of the casing, and stick out around ¼" over the top. Place the wicks in the casings, at the edge, with the top over the side. I’ve found this to be the best way to get a full burn and keep the wick from falling into the casing while the candle is lit.Next up is to prepare the wax. I’ve found I get it to melt easier if I shave it up instead of trying to melt chunks. Wax is deceiving, so shave plenty. You’d be surprised how it much it takes to make your little candles. It doesn’t matter if you shave too much, since it can be re-heated and used over and over during your candle-making sessions in the future. And, this is a pretty cheap do it yourself project with materials that are readily available.
Place the shaving into a handy can, and warm slowly over the flame. A camp stove, or something similar will work fine if you’re not using a small propane torch.When the wax is entirely molten, pour it into the opposite side of the casing from the wick. This is done to ensure the wick stays in place while you fill the casings. I experimented with using thin wire to hold the wick up, but I don’t think this is necessary. Gentle pouring and making sure the wick is placed over the edge of the casing will keep it put while filling with wax.Now all you have to do is wait ’til the wax cools. I set mine outside in the cold to speed it up, but if you’re going to leave them on your work bench they shouldn’t take too long to harden up. Remember, wax shrinks as it cools, so you’ll likely have some divots or empty holes in your candles. These can be ‘topped off’ with more wax if you want the best burn time. I’ve experimented with shotgun shell candles, but the plastic hulls end up burning and melting into a mess. Other casings or random containers can all be experimented with. Copper pipe caps would be a neat option for a long burning version.
With a full, ‘topped off’ candle, I was averaging 12 to 15 minutes of burn time. It depends on the size of wick you use, but I was easily getting 12 minutes with a thicker wick. This is plenty of time to get your fire built, dry your tinder, or get the ingredients cut up for evening dinner. Four or five of these candles in your possibles pouch can give you up to an hour of light, fire building, cook time, or whatever. I’ve also found that they can be used to warm cold fingers. A few of these small candles in your hunting pack would warm cold fingers on a duck blind. A great thing about these little candles is their durability. Water is repelled by the wax, and the casing keeps the candle in one piece for when you need it. Spend a couple bucks on the wax and an hour tinkering with making a dozen and you’ll end up with them scattered through all your gear. Have fun and be careful…