Trick Candles

One of the common things when you go to birthday parties is candles. Candles in cupcakes, brownies, cookies, ice-cream cake, just about any dessert you can think of. But no matter what medium the candle is in, on must beware of the dreaded TRICK CANDLE!

That’s right! The candles that never go out. But how do they work? And why on earth would someone create them?

Usually, when you blow out a candle, you see or smell smoke, and if you watch closely, there are still embers left over that glow red-hot. My friend Lindsey’s post summarizes it well. She writes, “To explain trick candles, let me explain regular candles first. After you blow out a regular candle, little smoke comes off the wick, and this is vaporized paraffin. Paraffin in vaporized paraffin is candle wax.” Now, if you haven’t already read my post on candles, click here to learn more! The embers left after the candle is blown out is hot enough to vaporize paraffin, but not to light it up again. However, in a trick candle, that’s exactly what you need to do. The key is to add something to the candle to make it continuously light up, even when blown out.

The most common “key” used is magnesium, as it is a metal, making a good conductor that can burn. One article states, “Inside the burning wick, the magnesium is shielded from oxygen and cooled by liquid paraffin, but once the flame goes out magnesium dust is ignited by the ember. If you watch the ember you will see tiny flecks of magnesium going off. One of them produces the heat necessary to re-light the paraffin vapor, and the candle flame comes back to life!” In other words, the magnesium is protected and cooled, but is vulnerable after the candle goes out, allowing it to be the “lighter” of the new flame, and so on and so forth.

Trick candles are cool, but some people may not like them. Then again, you can use it as a prank for your annoying older sister…


So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!

Burning Bright on the Last Night

As tonight is sadly the last night of Hanukkah, I figured I should write an Ode to Hanukkah, but I ran out of time. Instead, I sit here writing this blog post all about candles!

In honor of Hanukkah, here are eight fun facts about candles!
1. Wax is actual any term that has a waxy texture, like beeswax from honeycomb or candles! One article writes, “Without referring to any specific class of compounds, we ascribe several properties to waxes: they repel water, they are usually less dense than water, they burn, and they may be used as fuel. Wax can be of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin.” Paraffin wax is the most common term used for solid hydrocarbon in candles.
2. The wick of a candle is usually made up of cotton or nylon fibers that are tightly wound up. This makes up a type of twine that is very sturdy. There is a certain solution that all candles are treated with in a process called mordanting. This makes it flame retardant and, without it the wick would be destroyed.
3. Candles have been made from many different materials over the past five thousand years. One website states, “Through the ages, candles have been constructed from a variety of mate- rials—beeswax, yak butter, dried fish, and many others. High-quality candles in the 18th and 19th centuries were made from sperma- ceti, an oil extracted from giant cavities in the heads of sperm whales, with yields of up to three tons of fuel from a single 15-meter-long individual!” Many were made from fat, which created a nasty smell. Most candles today are made of paraffin.
4. Paraffin, as said above, is the name of the type of wax used in candles. It’s also a byproduct of crude oil. Paraffin, as stated best from an online source, “…refers to a class of hydrocarbons known as alkanes, compounds with only carbon–carbon and car- bon–hydrogen single bonds. Methane (CH4), propane (C3H8), and octane (C8H18) are other examples of alkanes.These straight-chain alkanes, like all alkanes, have the general formula CnH2n+2, since they consist of a chain of CH2 groups bonded to each other, and “capped” at each end by a hydrogen atom.” 20 carbon atoms per molecule are found in paraffin compounds.
5. When candles are lit, the wick conducts heat to the wax, which is when the melting starts. The wax has to be in liquid state, as it must travel up the wick for combustion. It travels by capillary action, which according to an article, “…refers to the ability of a liquid to travel upward through a small tube. This occurs due to the cohesion of the liquid paraffin molecules to
candle wicks serve as the fuel delivery system for candles.”
6. There are different parts to each candle. The blue toward the very center of the flame is the hottest, but the top of the flame gives off the most heat. The yellow in the center is the brightest!
7. The wick of a candle used to contain a lead core to keep them upright to help support the flame. Obviously, this led to some, um, deadly concerns. These wicks were soon removed after the health hazards became apparent, and most candles do not have that sturdy of a wick today. If one is needed, zinc is used instead.
8. The miracle of Hanukkah: after the Greeks destroyed our temples, (I skipped ahead to the end of the story) we Jews had to clean it up. However, you can only use oil that had been blessed by a rabbi at that time. There was only one jar of oil that they could use to light the eternal flame, which represented how God was always there. Anyway, it took eight days to get new oil, and the miracle is that the oil that was supposed to only last one day lasted eight, enough to get new oil!

Hanukkah, which coincided with Thanksgiving for the first time in forever, and won’t occur again for 70,000 some odd years, was a truly special occasion! It is fascinating to know so much about something I celebrate every year. Happy Holidays!

(it’s a PDF)

My Hanukkiah all lit up on the last night:

So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!