Choosing the Right Wick for Your Candle

In the food service industry, a full sized cooked hamburger patty (pictured top left) is about 4 inches wide and sits on a Kaiser bun that’s anywhere from 4 to 5 inches wide depending upon which bakery produced them. In contrast, a slider (top right) is two inches wide and sits on a 2 inch wide dinner or Hawaiian roll. As a side note I will mention that the burger and sliders pictured above were produced by one of the culinary classes that I have previously taught.

In candle making, knowing the diameter of your candles is important because different sized wicks are made for different sized candles. An HTP-1312 is one of the larger wicks on the market and can melt candles that are 4-5 inches in diameter. In contrast, the HTP 1212 works best with candles that are no more than 3 inches in diameter.

Why is this important? When I first started making food themed candles, I made the hamburger and fries candles pictured below using CD-10 wicks. The problem as I later found out when I test burned these candles was that at best, the CD-10 only burns up to a maximum diameter of 3.25 inches. This put a perfectly round hole in the center of the five inch wide burger candle and left the rest of the wax model intact.

When I used a CD-10 wick in the slider candle pictured below, it worked perfectly well because the slider was only two inches in diameter.

Early candle makers did not have the variety of choices that we have today. In 3,000 B.C., the ancient Egyptians made torches by soaking reeds in melted tallow. In later times, the Romans made the first wicks by pouring melted animal fat over cloth fibers.

Today there are hundreds of different wicks on the market. Each wick is made for a specific type of wax and for a specific burning diameter. For example, zinc cored wicks are made using natural fibers that cover a rigid zinc core. The wicks are quite stiff and are used for tea-lights, votives, and container candles. In contrast, ECO wicks are made using flat cotton wicks that are braided with paper threads. This gives the wick some rigidity without the need for having a solid core. While ECO wicks may be used with votives and containers, they may also be used for pillar candles.

Once you know the diameter at which your wick will burn, you have to determine how many wicks you will need for a given candle and where you will place them. Pictured below is a cream cheese pie candle with a blackberry garnish from many years ago when I had just started to make candles. As with the burger candle that I had made, I naively placed a single CD-10 candle wick in the middle of the candle. When I test burned it, (see picture below right), the only part of the candle that melted was the area in the immediate vicinity of the wick.

After assembling a 2nd pie, I used 3 wicks. Although I got a better melt, I wound up replacing the wicks with ones that would burn with a slightly wider diameter so that the entire candle would melt.

The need for product testing should be important for all candlemakers. Although it can be painful to actually melt a beautiful work of art, burn testing helps with several things. A test burn will confirm your choice in the size and placement of your wicks. It will allow you to check the throw scent of the fragrance that was used. By looking at the size of the flame, you can determine whether or not the wick was properly trimmed. If you note the starting and ending time for your burn test, it will also tell you how long it took for the candle to burn.

One quick word about test burning safety.

It will come as no surprise to any candlemaker that wax melts. I test burn my candles by putting them in a pie pan. The pie pan is then placed on a stainless steel prep table in the kitchen where it’s safely away from hanging drapes and other flammable items. Since I have cats, I never leave the candles unattended because bad things could happen. A cat could could take a daring leap onto the top of your table only to land in hot melted wax. If you have young children, a curious toddler reaching above his or her head could literally pull the pie pan down with unfortunate and dangerous consequences.

According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), candles cause “2% of reported home fires, 3% of home fire deaths, 6% of home fire injuries, and 4% of the direct property damage in home fires. Roughly one-third (37%) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 40% of the associated deaths and 49% of the associated injuries.”

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