If the first component of a candle is wax, it follows that the next is the wick. Indeed, the wick is the heart of the candle, not only in that it lies at the center but also in that it is what determines if a candle will burn, and how well it will do so. One might even make a case that the wick is the single most important part of the candle. In fact, one can make — not a candle — but at least a light with only a wick and some oil. Remember, in earlier times, before candlemaking was discovered and evolved, these puddles of oil with a wick immersed in them, called rushlights, were one of the few sources of illumination indoors after dark.

How are wicks made?

Today's wick is a braided (sometimes cored) bunch of threads, usually made of cotton but sometimes of linen or other fabric. The braided material is then subjected to a process known as “mordanting,” which means that it is pickled in a chemical solution that is intended to make it fire-retardant.

Select the Best: Wick, That Is

Choosing the correct wick for your candle is most important. However, it can be difficult to determine precisely what wick is best for a particular candle.

Few people make their own wicks these days. Candlemaking suppliers sell packaged wicks to those who choose to make their own candles. These prepackaged wicks will usually have recommendations printed on the label, such as, “Use this wick for 2″-diameter candles.” Unfortunately, although such instructions are a useful guide, they aren't always the complete story. Other considerations besides the candle's diameter must be taken into account, especially the wax, with its various components.

Braided wicks come in a flat type and a square-braided type, in a full range of sizes. The flat-braided type is just like a braid of hair: a three-strand braid made of many tiny threads. Flat-braided wicks are sized according to the number of these small threads, called “plies,” in each wick. It follows that the larger the number of plies, the larger the wick. When flat-braided wicks bend while burning, they may get off-center on the oxidation side of the flame.

Square-braided wicks look like square columns with rounded corners. They are available in various sizes and are classified according to different numbering systems. Square-braided wicks are labeled “for use in beeswax candles, also pillars, blocks, and novelties.” One writer says that her experience is “that a ″ square-braided wick is roughly equivalent to a 30-ply flat braid,” and that square-braided wicks tend to stand straighter and remain centered in the burning candle.

Candlemaking suppliers ordinarily classify their wicks by the diameter of the candle:

0–1″ = extra small;

2–3″ = large;

1–2″ = small;

4″ or greater = extra large.

Special wicks for container candles are available in small, medium, and large sizes.

A third type of wick is known as cored. These wicks are woven around a central core — made of paper, cotton, zinc, or lead — that holds them upright. These are metal-core wicks designed for longer-burning candles. Floating candles require a special floating-candle wick.

Use Your Supplier

In choosing wicks, your supplier is your best friend. In the beginning, follow the instructions that come with your supplies, or that you find in the suppliers' catalogs. As you experiment — especially with waxes other than beeswax and paraffin, or if you use very large containers — you may find that you need further information about wicks and how to use them. Your supplier is usually happy to provide any additional information and help you with troubleshooting if your candle doesn't burn well.

One source reports using primed, all-cotton shoelaces as wicks in very large block candles. However, unless you are trying to recreate a Colonial lifestyle, you are advised to use purchased wicks. The chemicals used for the mordanting process are apparently a closely guarded trade secret.

Wick Sustainers

These are little metal disks that are used to anchor the wick in container candles, votives, and tealights. Wick sustainers are available wherever candlemaking supplies are sold. To use, you push the wick through a small hole in the sustainer and pinch the metal together so that it sits flat on the container base.

Wicking Needles

Wicking needles are made of steel and come in sizes from 4″–l0″ long. With an elongated hole in one end, they look a lot like darning needles, and you can even use a large darning needle for wicking. You'll need several sizes of this useful tool.

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