Fire Retardant Is Better
It might seem odd that a wick, which has as its essential characteristic the ability to burn, would be made fire-retardant. But, the idea is that the
Prior to the invention of the braided wicks, wicks were simply twisted, using whatever fibers were available, including unrefined natural fiber such as hemp. Many natural plant fibers were twisted together to improvise wicks in ancient times.
Twisted wicks were unpredictable — they might fall over into the pool of melted wax and extinguish themselves, and they couldn't be relied upon to curl in a constant manner. With the coming of the braided and mordanted wick, all that changed. Our modern wicks are remarkable in that they bend at exactly 90°!Why Braided Wicks Burn Best
Braiding plays a vital role in wick preparation. Without it, the wick would not burn properly. Technically, what happens with braiding is that the air space between the braids permits air into the zone of combustion. This makes a better fire (as oxygen is needed for fire to burn). Also, the structure formed by the braid forces the wick to bend as it burns, which in turn removes the wick from the combustion zone into the oxidizing zone, where, due to the mordanting process, it burns slowly and decomposes fully as it burns down, allowing the melted wax to serve its function as fuel for the wick.When to Snuff Was Not to Dout
Prior to l850, the long-handled candlesnuffing device with a bell-shaped metal cup on a long handle, used to extinguish the flame of candles, was called a douter, from the expression “to do out (dout) the candle.” This item came into use rather late in candle history, after the advent of the braided and mordanted wick.
Prior to that time, a snuffer was a sort of scissors, with a small cup attached to one of the blades. The scissors was used to snip the wick and the little box-like cup caught the trimmings so they didn't spill into the melted wax pool. An experienced person could trim the wick neatly without putting out the flame.
The term “snuff” originally did not refer to putting out the candle, as it now does. It meant trimming the wick, usually to about ½″, periodically (while the candle was burning), to prevent excess smoke from forming. A special gadget was used for this purpose.