Carved, rolled, filled: custom candlemaking

Martini glass gel candle from San Diego Gel Candles
  • Martini glass gel candle from San Diego Gel Candles

It’s wedding season, and I’ve got a niece with candles on her mind. Ceremonial, decorative — you name it. I’m on it.

Paul Aragon of Toby’s Candle & Soap Shop in Old Town (619-297-5426; told me about his hand-carved candles. “We use a petroleum-based product called paraffin for cut-and-curl candles. Paraffin gives the candles a translucent character, so that they glow when they burn. Paraffin also hardens enough to maintain the decorative curls we put in but remains pliable enough to work with. Natural waxes like beeswax are great, but they’re too soft to use for carved candles.”

To make a candle, said Aragon, “I take a metal mold and pour in a clear paraffin core. I’ll use five-, six-, or eight-sided star-shaped molds. Then I’ll dip that core 30 to 35 times into colored wax to add the exterior layers. The dipping takes from six to eight minutes. For wedding candles, which are usually one-and-a-half to three inches, I mainly use white wax or clear wax, but I can add any color you want. The dipping process not only builds the layers of color, it also warms the core so that I can carve it more easily. While the wax is warm and pliable, I take my knife and start shaping and carving to reveal colors — and also, the clear, translucent core. That way, when the candle burns, you get that glow effect through the openings. It’s challenging; I have only about 12 minutes before the candle gets too hard to shape. Then, after the carving is complete, I dip the candle into clear wax. That secures the carvings.”

Aragon’s candles aren’t necessarily temporary artworks. “They burn through the center, and they’ll burn for about 100 hours. If you burn it for less than that, dump out the wax when you blow it out. That way, the candle always has a fresh wick to burn. After the correct amount of time, when the candle has burned all the way down, you can put a tea light or a votive candle in where the clear core was. The carved part of the candle’s exterior becomes a candle holder, and you have a keepsake from your wedding.” Candles range from $22 to $45, depending on size.

Kourtney Krasovetz of San Diego Gel Candles (619-730-8104; offered her own twist on the standard. “The candles are in a clear glass container, which has embeds situated in a clear or light blue gel wax. Gel wax lasts five times longer than paraffin wax. A three-and-a-quarter-inch square gel-wax candle will burn for 200 hours. The embeds I use are sea-themed — corals, shells, starfish.... They’ll say, ‘It’s like an aquarium, the way it lights up and glows.’”

For weddings, “people will order the votive candles [$8.99 each, 10–20 percent discount on large orders], which have a 70-hour burn time. They give them out as wedding favors. I have other candles they’ll use as decorative pieces for reception tables [SD Gel Forever Flameless Candle, $22.99]. And sometimes, they’ll order a custom ceremony candle. They choose the shape of the glass container — I even have a ten-inch-wide martini glass with a replaceable votive candle center [$199] — and they choose the embeds and the gel color.”

Krasovetz’s non-special-order candles can be purchased at Leaping Lotus in Solana Beach or Pangea Outpost in Pacific Beach.

Finally, I spoke with Susan Short of Toadily Handmade in Mission Viejo (949-872-3941; “I use beeswax,” she began, “which is clean-burning and 100 percent natural. Some of my candles have a total burn time of 35 hours. The candles are hand-rolled from beeswax sheets and have a honeycomb texture. I have 24 colors available, from Tiffany blue to deep chocolate brown. For weddings, I have several unity candle sets [$22–$28], which consist of a two-inch by ten-inch pillar candle and two one-inch by eight-inch tapers. But I can make any size you like for the ceremony candles or center pieces.”

Prices depend on size and height. “For example, a two-and-a-quarter-inch by three-inch pillar starts at $6. I do have a storefront, but with the price of gas, it would probably be cheaper for me to ship to San Diego. Most orders take a day or two to put together; sometimes a week if it’s larger.”

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