All's Right By Candlelight

By DiAnne Crown

September 4, 2012 5 min read

No matter how lovely the furnishings, flowers and china, nothing completes the evening ambiance of a dining room, garden or reception hall like candlelight. According to the National Candle Association, "candles are perhaps one of the most enjoyable and affordable luxury items available to everyone. They are beautiful and magical, infusing the home with color and fragrance. They can create a special warmth and ambiance to bring a special sense of calm and well-being."

Here are tips from Cardinal Hill Candles and Crafts owner Bill Waldmire for selecting and burning candles for your next holiday gathering.

Arlene and Bill Waldmire have made and sold candles from their shop inside a rustic central Illinois corncrib for more than 40 years. At first glance, the dimly lit shop looks closer to rough than rustic. It's full of antiques, craft supplies and historic Route 66 memorabilia, with bare and slightly uneven wood floors. A wood-burning stove warms the air in cold weather, and Bill is known to offer visitors a cup of coffee, a bottle of water or a Pepsi while they shop. "We're not very fancy," Bill says. "The store has a friendly old-time ambiance."

But the candles are flawless, the selection is vast, and the owners are pros.

"We make all our own candles by hand," Bill continues. "We use soy wax in our container candles because it burns cleaner than petroleum wax (paraffin), and it's a low-melt wax." Soy wax, he explains, melts at about 125 degrees and drips, so it needs to be contained. "All of our freestanding candles, tapers and pillars, are still made of petroleum wax because it's a higher melt (145 degrees), harder, dripless wax. Ideally, a freestanding candle should consume itself without any drips. Arlene is very proud the candles don't drip."

As for the container candles, "A container candle should not leave any wax on the sides when it burns, and no hole in the middle," Waldmire continues. A properly sized wick is the key: too large and the candle will smoke; too small and the wick will burn straight down the middle without burning the surrounding wax.

The Waldmires take stock and custom orders for candles in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors and scents (and scent-free) throughout the year, use good quality dense wax hardened with a little stearic acid for their tapers, and test every batch for burn time and quality. However, if you're planning to buy off of the nearby craft store shelf for your next special event, here are the Waldmires' suggestions for success:

--Unfamiliar brand? Buy one and test it.

--When burning candles in your room, make sure they aren't placed in a breeze, whether from an air vent, a doorway or people moving around nearby. Moving air causes the wick to burn to one side and the flame to produce soot.

--For a dinner table, use candles of an appropriate height, i.e., nothing so tall it will inhibit conversation or obstruct guests' views of one another.

--Beeswax is popular in the fall and winter for its pleasant, natural scent, but it is very expensive and does drip.

--If you've purchased commercial tapers that drip, place a bobeche around them. This is a little glass plate with a hole just big enough to fit around the candle. It won't catch drips for long, but it will protect the table for a few minutes until you extinguish the flame.

--Waldmire recommends snuffing rather than blowing out taper candle flames. This helps prevent melted wax from being blown off the top of the candles and keeps smoke to a minimum. To extinguish a container candle flame, use a nonflammable tool to gently push the wick into the melted wax and then lift it up straight again.

--For clean, even container candle burning, burn until the melted wax reaches the sides of the container. As a rule, don't burn for more than three or four hours at a time. Never leave a candle burning unattended. And don't allow the wick to rest on the glass.

--For best results, always keep a candlewick trimmed to 1/4 inch.

"Everybody knows candles are a nice effect for a dinner table or a nice party," says Waldmire. For more information about Cardinal Hill Candles and Crafts, to purchase wicks, scent or color chips or bulk wax, or to place a special order, call the Waldmires at 217-498-9375.

For more information online, search "how to burn a candle properly," and visit the National Candle Association at http://www.candles.org.

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