Customer Review

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Serious Hobbyist. A few minor blemishes., September 16, 2005
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This review is from: The Candlemaker's Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Rolling, Pouring, Dipping, and Decorating Your Own Candles (Paperback)
`The Candlemaker's Companion' by Betty Oppenheimer is a the very first book I have read on home candlemaking, and I got it primarily as a source for techniques for decorating commercially made candles, but I am happy to report that it lives up to its subtitle of `A Complete Guide to Rolling, Pouring, Dipping, and Decorating Your Own Candles'

The author states and I agree wholeheartedly that there are a lot of similarities between candlemaking and cooking, as long as you don't push the analogy too hard. Both skills use chemistry, heat, and measuring in roughly the same amounts, somewhere between a teaspoon (5 ml) and five pounds. And, if Ms. Oppenheimer's book were to be compared to a cookbook, it would not be to the Betty Crocker / Better Homes and Gardens / `Joy of Cooking' genre of lots of recipes with little why and wherefores or to the `Gourmet Magazine' / Martha Steward school of emphasis on elegance and entertaining or to the Eric Rippert / Thomas Keller / Daniel Boulud school of cuisine as high art. It can be most closely compared to Alton Brown of `Good Eats' and Shirley Corriher of `Cookwise' where the why of things is given just as much importance as the how and how much.

As someone totally new to the candlemaking craft, I am really impressed by how many variables go into making a successful candle. A matter so humble as the wick requires a whole chapter, and the first long chapter to boot. Dismiss any notions that any length of cotton string can serve as a wick. After reading this book, I am convinced that your conventional kitchen twine will fail miserably as a wick, regardless of the thickness of the candle or any other variable entering the picture. The best wicks are braided from many, many strands of cotton in such a way that as they burn, they bend so their tip reaches out to the outer layer of flame and becomes oxidized (turned to ash) without smoking as a result of partial burning.

As a former chemist, the varieties of waxes are a bit more familiar to me, but the variety and techniques of additives to the wax involves a second major section, albeit not even as long as the chapter on wicks. Heating wax is one place where the parallels to cooking are significant, as the range of temperatures are similar to deep frying, and safety measures are similar.

The variety of techniques for making candles is also familiar; as I have dealt with all sorts of candles, including poured, dipped, rolled, and sculpted. What is unfamiliar is the amount of care one needs in the selection of the best combination of wicks and waxes for each technique. Buying your 11 pound block of paraffin and some coloring at your local craft store, throwing it all into a heating pot, and pouring the result into a mold with wick will probably lead to a less than perfect result.

This brings up the fact that like baking and unlike savory cooking, candlemaking measurements must really be pretty precise, which, among other things, means you really do need a pretty accurate scale for measuring weight. The author makes no suggestions, but I will chime in and say that the type which are best for cooking, the digital, dual unit electronic models are really the best. And, largely agreeing with the author, I will say that this is the ONLY tool that you can share between your kitchen and your candlemaking bench. The author, from long experience, I am sure, says that any tool you use for candlemaking will acquire traces of wax that you will invariably be unable to clean from the tool. This includes all other types of measuring devices.

This brings me to the fact that the author has some serious weaknesses in her discussion of measurements. At the top of the list is her mistaking a gallon for 3.76 milliliters (ml) rather than 3.76 Liters. This means she is off by a factor of 1000! While this may not cause any problems for anyone ignoring the metric measurements, it can cause serious headscratching for someone not thoroughly familiar with the metric system, is valiantly trying to work with it for all its obvious examples. My more general issue with Ms. Oppenheimer's measurements is that she interchangeably uses volumes, weights, and relative size (parts). My suggestion would be to stick primarily to metric weights and do conversions to volume only when really necessary, as when you are figuring out how much wax you need to fill a particular vessel to a particular level.

My only other major issue I could find with the book is in the fact that Ms. Oppenheimer makes a reference to the color wheel as if this device typically taught in the seventh grade were a working part of all her reader's everyday knowledge. While I have a vague notion of what the color wheel looks like and how its used, I have no certainty that I know where to find one which will work with pigments (one of the things I do remember is that there are different color wheels for combining pigments and beams of light.)

Regarding my original purpose for buying this book, I can state that it gives many sound looking techniques for decorating the outside of commercially purchased candles, although I did find a few slips in lists of materials which I would consider a major flaw in a cooking recipe.

I recommend this book for the `sophisticated' beginner who is willing, as the author wisely suggests, to do a little experimentation in pursuit of the hobby. If you just want to knock off a few votive candles, buy a ready-made kit for the purpose.

Recommended, with warning to keep your brain fully engaged as your read.
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