Many consumers and even candle makers do not fully comprehend the complexity of the wicks they use in their candles each day. To novices, the candle wick is often thought of as a commodity or an afterthought, whereas to the professional candle manufacturer, the wick is the single most important component within the candle system and choosing a candle wick is often the key stage in product development.
The aim of this article is to shed some light on the end-to-end processes used in manufacturing candle wicks. Hopefully, having read this article, you will have a new found respect for the humble candle wick and will never look at one quite the same again.
There are several wick manufacturers in the world and the technological and quality systems they use are nothing short of incredible. Some of the best known manufacturers, and their locations are shown below:
- Wedo (Germany)
- Heinz Jahnsen (Germany) - Now part of Wedo
- Henschke Docht (Germany)
- Atkins & Pearse (USA)
- São Vitor (Brazil)
- Monterosa Zelandi (Italy)
- Pi Torras S.A. (Spain)
- Hayes & Finch (UK)
Wick Braiding & Treatment
Candle wick manufacturers take raw cotton and other materials (such as paper, linen, zinc) and braid them together to create technical braids that deliver optimal burn profiles in various candle systems. Wicks can be braided in different ways and can have stability threads added to improve posture. Once braided, wicks are usually chemically treated to further improve their performance.
With so many braiding techniques, components and chemical treatments, there are a huge variety of wicks available from each of the above suppliers. In fact, the two largest companies (Wedo and Atkins & Pearse) have so many wicks in their libraries, that they can provide a wick for almost any candle system.
The below You Tube video (from Wedo) shows some of the technology used in the manufacturing of raw candle wick.
Before a braided and treated spool of candle wick can be used, it is usually waxed and rolled onto a drum.
Many novice candle makers buy loose (unwaxed) wick, as they think this is cost effective or more 'craftlike'. However, this is not usually a good idea.
We recommend that you use pre-waxed wick, coated with a high melt-point wax wherever possible. Unlike loose (unwaxed) wick, pre-waxing will keep the wick upright and maintain fuel delivery and consistent tension throughout the burn.
If you wax wicks at home, the results will most likely be less effective and will have more variation. Variation is the enemy of every serious candle maker!
We currently use paraffin based wick-wax, as we have not yet found a vegetable wax wick wax that has a sufficiently high melt point, combined with the correct plasticity to survive winding onto drums. The amount of wax used on a wick is negligible, so we would recommend using pre-waxed wick assemblies, even if you are making natural wax candles.
Once the wick has been waxed, the final stage in the process is making pre-tabbed assemblies.
Making Pre-Tabbed Wick Assemblies
Wick assemblies are lengths of pre-waxed wick, cut to length and fitted with a steel sustainer. They are made in a two stage process: waxing and cutting.
Stage 1: Wick Waxing
The first stage of the process dips raw wick through a molten pool of wick wax then through 'sizing' dies several times. During this coating and cooling process, the wick tension and wax temperature is carefully controlled to ensure that the wick is consistent. The waxed wick is cooled and wound onto a wooden drum. It can then be used on an automatic wick inserter, or cut into wick assemblies for hand wicking.
Stage 2: Wick Crimping and Cutting
The second stage utilises a wick cutting machine. This system feeds a pre-determined length of waxed wick through a sustainer, crimps the sustainer to the wick and then cuts the assembly to length.
There are several different types of sustainers in use today. They are classified according to three main criteria:
- Diameter: Typically 15mm or 20mm in diameter.
- Hole Size: This is the size of the hole that the wick is fed through.
- Neck Length: Most wick makers use a 3mm neck as standard. A safer alternative is the long-neck sustainer. These usually have a 6.4mm tall neck, but other lengths are becoming available. These are more expensive, but they offer enhanced safety and can significantly decrease the likelihood of glass overheating in the final stages of the burn.
We use long-neck sustainers on almost all of our wick assemblies. The only exceptions are tea-light wicks and very thick wicks which require a 3mm hole in the sustainer. We feel that this assists you in meeting your safety obligations and we have absorbed this cost so you don't have to. Ikea (Europe's biggest seller of candles) moved to long-neck sustainers several years ago and have reported a reduction in complaints and candle fires, so there is strong evidence to suggest that the long-neck sustainer results in safer candles.
I hope you found this short article on wick manufacturing interesting and that you learned something new. To find out a bit more about the different families of wicks and how to choose the right one for your candle, check our 'Choosing a Candle Wick' article.