Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How a Backyard Find Led to a Pandemic Hobby: Lessons in Candle Making

Jessica Balisle

This last year has been a weird one for us all. Many of us have come up with new ways to occupy our time during the pandemic. Brett and Amanda Johnston fill some of that time by making candles. I stopped by their house in Springfield for a candle-making lesson with Brett.

  Balisle: Tell me a little bit about how you started making candles.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
The Johnstons found an antique candle-making wax pot in their backyard.

Johnston: So Amanda, my wife, started just kind of as a hobby. It's actually pretty funny, she was kind of looking for a craft, something to do. And we happened to find - we were digging out a shed from the backyard - And a friend - actually have heard him on NPR before - Dallas Jones, was helping us get rid of this shed. We were trading some stuff. But while we were digging some stuff out of the yard, we uncovered this very old, we don't have any idea how old, but it's like this wax pouring and melting pot.

Balisle: How did you know that that's what that was? Like, If I looked at that, I would just be like, "That's just a coffee pot."

Johnston: We didn’t. Amanda got on the Google-trons and figured it out. 

So with a little help from YouTube, the couple started making their own candles.

Balisle: Let's go over a quick list of supplies that you would need to get started.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
Soy wax for making candles

Johnston: You need a container or containers. Glass containers to hold the wax, or ceramic, just something that is going to withstand the heat. You need your wax. We have soy wax.

Balisle: It kind of looks like a big bag of shredded coconut.

Johnston: Yeah, it's does, for sure! And then you need wicks. There's a little base for them. And then there's these little candle dots.

I learned that these are for sticking the wick base to the bottom of the container.

Johnston: And then we use all natural 100 percent pure essential oils.

We then assemble the wicks by clamping on the base and using the candle dots to stick them to the bottom of the jars. Brett then feeds the wicks through a wick holder so it doesn’t get all willy nilly in the hot wax once the candle is poured.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
Candle making supplies

Johnston:  And that would be our filling table. So you can see a couple of candles have been filled here.

The table is covered in wax splatters. Brett already has the wax melting in the antique wax pourer. It’s set up like a double boiler on the stovetop.

Johnston: This wax needs to get to 190 [degrees fahrenheit] or above to accept the scent all the way. So while it goes up, we're going to mix some scents.

I choose rosemary, bergamot and orange essential oils. 

Johnston: How's it smelling?

Balisle: Smells good.

Balisle:  This is making me feel very mad scientisty.

Johnston: Right? Yeah.

Next we add our scent mixture to the melted wax.

Johnston: And we are going to agitate, stir. Smell that? You can smell it through the mask. Nice work.

Once the essential oils are fully mixed in, Brett pours the wax into the jars we’ve prepared with wicks.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
Brett Johnston pours the melted wax into prepared candle containers.

Balisle: These just have to cool down now, right?

Johnston: Just  sit.

Balisle: So this is a matter of keeping things very, very still.

Johnston: Yes.

Balisle: What have been some of your biggest surprises in candle making?

Johnston: That they're just all of the different variables. And so learning like truly about the temperature. But there's a patience to it, as well.

That patience goes a long way in the quality of the product.

Balisle:  You don't want to give them a gross candle, right?

Johnston: Right? You want the next candle, you give them to be better than the last candle you gave them.

The Johnstons briefly sold their candles at a local shop where there was a lot of demand. They made sure customers knew what they were getting.

Johnston: Also trying to be clear with everybody that these are hand-poured, they're not going to be perfect, you know. But hopefully they're going to smell good and make your bathroom a little brighter.

Brett tells me I have to name my new candle scent.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
A very fresh candle

 Johnston: Maybe smell it and then think about what that what would give you that smell. 

Balisle: It's a little zesty.

Johnston: Zesty.

The smell reminded me a bit of laundry, which led to warm, fresh blankets, which let to snuggling with cats, which led us to:

Johnston: Cat blanket.

Balisle: Cat blanket. I'm into that. Let's just call it cat blanket. Yeah. OK, official gavel drop.

Brett Johnson says he plans to continue his pandemic hobby of candle-making even after the pandemic ends.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.