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The Candlestick Corner BLOG

...from candle-lit dinners to candle safety-first. A blog by Claire - Unique Candleholders

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How candles work

With thanks to Wikepedia

Posting date: 14th March 2007 11:11

A candle is a light source usually consisting of an internal wick that rises through the center of a column of solid fuel. Prior to the mid 19th century, the majority of candles were tallow (a byproduct of beef fat rendering). The fuel now is nearly always some form of wax, with paraffin wax being the most common. Gel, soy, beeswax, and vegetable-based candles are also available. A candle manufacturer is usually known as a chandler.

Prior to the candle being ignited, the wick is saturated with the fuel in its solid form. The heat of the match or other flame being used to light the candle first melts and then vaporizes a small amount of the fuel. Once vaporized, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame then provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel, the liquified fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action, and the liquified fuel is then vaporized to burn within the candle's flame.

The burning of the fuel takes place in several distinct regions (as evidenced by the various colors that can be seen within the candle's flame). Within the bluer, hotter regions, hydrogen is being separated from the fuel and burned to form water vapor. The brighter, yellower part of the flame is the remaining carbon soot being oxidized to form carbon dioxide.

As the mass of the solid fuel is melted and consumed, the candle grows shorter. Portions of the wick that are not evaporating the liquid fuel are, ideally, consumed in the flame, limiting the exposed length of the wick and keeping the temperature and rate of fuel consumption even. Some wicks require manual trimming with scissors or a wick trimmer for even burning.

Candles can be made of paraffin (a byproduct of petroleum refining), stearin (now produced almost exclusively from palm waxes), beeswax (a byproduct of honey collection), gel (a mixture of resin and mineral oil), some plant waxes (generally palm, carnauba, bayberry, or soy), or tallow (rarely used since the introduction of affordable wax alternatives). Candles are produced in various colors, shapes, sizes and scents. The most basic production method generally entails the liquification of the solid fuel by the controlled application of heat. This liquid is then poured into a mold to produce pillar candles, a fireproof jar to produce container candles, or a wick is repeatedly immersed in the liquid to create a dipped taper. Often, fragrance oils are added to the liquid wax prior to pouring. Natural scents, in the form of essential oils, can be used, but these are usually only found in premium, small-run candles. Candles may also be colored by the addition of some sort of coloring agent. In practical terms this is almost always an aniline-based dye, although pigments can be used in some circumstances.

A candle typically produces about 13 lumens of visible light and 40 watts of heat, although this can vary depending primarily on the characteristics of the candle wick. For comparison, note that a 40 watt incandescent light bulb produces approximately 500 lumens for the same amount of power. The modern SI unit of luminous intensity, the candela, was based on an older unit called the candlepower, which represented the luminous intensity emitted by a candle made to particular specifications (a "standard candle"). The modern unit is defined in a more precise and repeatable way, but was chosen such that a candle's luminous intensity is still about one candela.

It is commonly believed that candles made of beeswax and/or soy burn more cleanly than petroleum based paraffin waxes. However highly-refined paraffin wax can burn as or more cleanly (with regards to particulates created during combustion) than natural waxes. The type of wick and inclusion of any scents and/or dyes have a much greater impact on the release of volatile compounds, particulates, and soot, regardless of the base material. The cleanest burning candles will therefore be unscented, undyed, and well constructed candles burning in a draft free area. Futhermore, the soot and emissions of a candle will be the function of a well designed candle system, balancing wax (soy, paraffin or otherwise), fragrance oil, and wick selection among other things.

Black Soot Deposition (BSD) can be a concern to those who frequently burn candles indoors and is also referred to as ghosting, carbon tracking, carbon tracing, and dirty house syndrome. Soot can be produced when candles do not burn the wax fuel completely. Scented candles are the major source of candle soot deposition. Trimming candle wicks to one fourth of an inch is recommended to keep soot production at a minimum. A flickering flame will produce more soot, therefore candles should be burned in an area free from drafts. (See [1] for more details.)

Additional debate on the use of wax in candles exist on what is "natural". Proponents of soy wax candles will note the material is biodegradable and "all natural". However, most soy beans that result in the ultimate manufacture of soy wax in candles are genetically modified.Paraffin wax, as used in candles, is also biodegradable. It also often meets the USA FDA criteria for use in foods and in contact with food.

Candle Holders

Decorative candle holders, especially those shaped as a pedestal, are called candlesticks; if multiple candles are held, the term candelabrum is also used. The root form of chandelier is from the word for candle, but now usually refers to an electric fixture. The word candelier is sometimes now used to describe a hanging fixture designed to hold multiple candles.

Many candle holders use a friction-tight socket to keep the candles upright. In this case, a candle that is slightly too wide will not fit in the holder, and a candle that is slightly too narrow will wobble. Candles that are too large can be trimmed to fit with a knife; candles that are too small can be fitted with aluminum foil. Traditionally, candles and candle holders were made in the same place, so they were appropriately sized, but international trade has combined modern candles with existing holders, which makes ill-fitting candles more common.

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