How to Make Homemade Candles, According to Artist Janie Korn

Artist and wildly talented candle-maker Janie Korn shares her tips and tricks for easily creating stunning one-of-a-kind candles at home, no matter your skill level.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
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I am convinced a homemade candle might be the most charming gift you can give yourself, or a loved one. At best, it’s an intimate exercise in exploring your preferences and expressing thoughtfulness towards those you care for. At worst, it’s a small, silly mess, and yet—still worth the effort. The following tutorial and insight into the world of candle-making with the oh-so magical artist, Janie Korn, will have you setting a mood in no time. As a lover of good smells and crafty moments, I was thrilled at the prospect of making a bubbling brew of beeswax in a choose-my-own-adventure fashion with some of my favorite scents. 

A quick trip to the hobby shop (or online) and some guidance from Korn will set you up for success. 

The process only requires a few ingredients: beeswax (or soy wax, which seems to be most common at the craft store), liquid scent(s), dye, a thermometer, a double boiler setup or saucepan, wicks, and scissors. Korn suggests a hairdryer as well to help with molding wax once cooled for sculpting effects. “Pro tip for beeswax: You have to heat it well before working with it, or else it cracks. So just run a hair dryer over it so it's soft and start playing!” 

Because Korn is a sculptor, she “likes to play with form, no matter the medium.”

“Typical beeswax wrap candles look like cylindrical columns, but by cutting three strips of varying length, wrapping them around a wick, stacked with the longest strip at the bottom, medium in the center, and shortest strip at the top, you can transform the beeswax into a three-tiered birthday cake. Use pink wax and detail with white wax for frosting.” Korn’s artistry is something to behold—she shapes her candles into all different kinds of inanimate objects, and even faces—resulting in beautifully surreal 3D portraits. 

If you’re looking to start out simply by pouring wax into a container rather than mold, sculpt, or carve it yourself, you can find candle making kits that come with most of these ingredients (along with some glass jars or tea-light tins). Decidedly, this simpler method was my first approach. Korn confirmed that the store bought kits often require minimal stove time and can easily be used outdoors, should making a mess be a big concern. For my first go, I chose some vintage glassware—thrifted mugs and stemmed coupe glasses. 

If you’re like me and beginning this process knowing absolutely nothing about candles except how to light them, let me wax poetic (sorry) on the difference between soy and beeswax. Soy candles tend to produce a whiter, cooler, more fluorescent-like flame, while beeswax candles give off a more natural light. Beeswax candles typically also last longer than most other candles—it’s more dense than other waxes, so it burns slower and drips less. However, unless you have a soy allergy, please don’t lose sleep over which wax you pick, at least for your first go.

If you’re feeling creatively stumped, Korn has advice.

“Anyone trying to experiment with creativity needs to check in with themselves first—reflect on what really fills you with joy,” she says. “When you make something authentic to you, it's a really cool thing. This is a forgiving medium, so get weird, get abstract. Add buttons or glitter. Make something new and weird and unique to you.”

Still need some direction? She suggests creating something with “a charming, rustic, cabin-in-the-Catskills kind of vibe [by making a] traditional beeswax wrapped column, with pressed flowers. Press [the petals] into the base candle, then in a saucepan, heat up some beeswax, and then dip the whole candle into the liquid wax. You'll want a thin coat of it on the candle, so don't let it sit too long, because the desired effect is just a thin coating of beeswax to seal the flower, and still allow the flower to be visible. These are so stunning—imagine them served with a homemade dessert.” 

Whether you start out with a simple poured candle, or dive right into the sculpture work, I can assure you this process will bring you joy. The customization possibilities here are truly endless, and Korn’s artistry serves as great inspiration as you get acquainted with the process. 

How to Make Homemade Candles

Before you begin the candle-making process, make sure you have a clean surface to work on. Be mindful of your clothing choices and the area you are working on, in case of spills. We also suggest having two pencils or chopsticks, to secure the wick in place when the wax is still liquid.

1. Measure out how much wax you would need to fill your container, then double it. That’s how much wax you will need to melt.2. Melt the wax. Pour the wax into your double boiler and let it melt for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add fragrance oils. When your candle wax is melted, it’s time to add fragrance. Follow the instructions on your wax package for how much to add. Simply pour it into your melted wax and stir for a few seconds. While this step is totally optional, I think it’s fun and sweet.

4. Attach the wick. The wick needs to be attached to the bottom of your container before you pour in the wax. You can attach the wick by dipping it in the melting wax then quickly sticking it to the bottom of the container. Let the wax sit for five minutes to harden. Alternatively, you can superglue it.

5. Pour the wax. Before you pour the wax into your container, let it cool for a few minutes. When the temperature on the thermometer reads 140 degrees, it’s time to pour. Then, slowly pour the wax into your container, or wrap. Hold the wick in place, but don’t pull on it. You can also leave a small amount of wax in the boiler for topping off your candle later.

6. Secure the wick. To prevent your wick from swaying in the melted wax, you need to secure it in place. Lay two chopsticks across the top of the container. Sandwich the wick in between so that it stays centered while the wax hardens.

7. Allow the wax to set for four hours at room temperature.

8. Add more wax. If your candle hardened with an unsightly top (think cracks or holes) simply reheat and add your remaining wax. Let it harden.

9. Cut the wick. Your candle wick should be less than half an inch long. If, when lit, the candle flickers or has a tall flame, trim the wick. This step is also optional. Long wicks are fun to look at in my opinion, but be mindful of how they will burn.

Greer Glassman is a Thrillist contributor.
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