Some of the first known handmade candles were made from tallow, or animal fat. The fat could be obtained from different sources, such as cows, pigs (considered lard), or goats. Tallow was cheap and readily available several hundred years ago, hence the popularity of using it for making candles. There are varying qualities of tallow, depending on how much it has been processed. The lower quality tallow would still have a lot of impurities, and as you could imagine, would have a very foul odor when burning. These candles also tended to be very sooty.
Candles were made by dipping a measured thread (the wick) into a pan of hot tallow. Each time the wick was dipped into the pan of melted liquid, there would be an added layer of wax for the candle. This would be done repeatedly until the candle was the right thickness. Often, candlemakers would drape a group of wicks over a rod (broach) and dip those into the pan of tallow over and over. This would allow several candles to be created at one time.
These candles would melt easily, so they did need to be kept in a shaded, cool spot. They provided a light source and could even provide some warmth when standing directly over them. The fat from deer, goats, and elk tends to be harder and makes longer burning candles. However, many tallow candles were made from softer wax and would completely burn in a matter of a few minutes. One family could easily go through 500 candles a year! Not only were these candles used in homes, but they were also used in religious ceremonies (however, beeswax was much more preferred over tallow for such ceremonies).
Aside from the typical taper candles that were created, some of the more affluent would obtain moulded tallow candles. The moulds that were used were either pewter or tin-lined iron. These candles were considered to be more upscale and were typically made with the most refined
tallow available. Even though taper candles were relatively inexpensive, the candle was still viewed as a status symbol for several years. Wealthier people could afford to burn more than one candle at a time in their homes and this was seen as a luxury, beyond simple functional use.
If you are interested in making your own tallow candles, there are several resources out there on the world wide web that will show you just how to do that – such as this video on YouTube.
Have you ever made a candle from tallow? Tell us your experience!
Happy candle burning ~