Science Projects And Candle Making
By Bob Sherman
This article will help you plan a science fair project using candles. Before continuing, I would just like to say that I will not do your project for you. This is aimed at guiding you in the right direction - you will still have to do experiments and draw your own conclusions.
Note that I am a candle maker, not a scientist. My school days are just a dim memory now and my terminology and knowledge of lab apparatus available to today's students may be inaccurate. I recommend consulting with your science teacher before committing yourself to any project.
The ideas presented here are suitable for a large age span. You should select one suited to your age and ability. A well done simple project will usually score you better than a poorly done project that is way too advanced for you.
Any good experiment needs an objective. What do you hope to learn from the experiment? Are you just seeking data to draw a conclusion from? Or are you trying to prove / disprove a theory? Some suggestions:
- Does wax color affect the burning time of the candle? - The most popular topic. Comparisons can be made between white and colors or between different colors.
- Does fragrance oil affect the burning time of the candle. - Comparisons can be made between unscented and scented or between different scents. Another possibility is comparing the same fragrance from different scent oil companies. To do this correctly you will need to make the candles yourself.
- Does the room temperature affect burning time.
- Does the shape affect burning time. - Compare the burning time of two or more candles that weigh the same, but have different shapes.
- Do drafts affect burning time. - Compare the burning time of identical candles while one is burned in a draft and the other is in a draft free room.
- Does wax color affect the burning properties of the candle. - Flame height, brightness, soot, smoke, etc... Comparisons can be made between white and colors or between different colors.
- Does fragrance oil affect the burning properties of the candle. - Flame height, brightness, soot, smoke, etc ... Comparisons can be made between unscented and scented or between different scents. Another possibility is comparing the same fragrance from different scent oil companies.
- Does altitude affect burning time. - Comparisons can be made between identical candles burned at different atmospheric pressure.
- Does altitude affect burning properties. - Comparisons can be made between identical candles burned at different atmospheric pressure.
- Does candle temperature affect burning time. - Comparisons can be made between identical candles burned in the same room. Refrigerate one candle first (or warm one candle).
- Does candle temperature affect burning properties. - Comparisons can be made between identical candles burned in the same room. Refrigerate one candle first (or warm one candle).
- Does room temperature affect burning time or burning properties. - Compare candles burned in a heated room to an air conditioned room (or unheated garage / shed). Temperature difference should be at least 20 degrees F. for best results.
- Do certain conditions increase or decrease waste products such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc... A well equipped lab will be needed for this.
- How much oxygen does a burning candle use up in a given volume (such as a typical room). Does this vary with different types of candles? Specialty equipment will be needed for this.
Of course these are just a few suggestions, and you should try and come up with some of your own.
The most important part of these experiments is to have a standard (a control, in scientific terms) to compare your results to. For example: This may just be a plain uncolored candle if your experiment is about the burning of colored candles.
Comparing Apples To Apples
In order to get accurate results it is vital to use candles that are identical in every aspect, except for the one you are testing. For example: If testing the burning properties of different colors, the only difference should be the dye color. The wax formula, size, shape, wick, etc... should all be the same in all candles.
To Make, Or To Buy
Accurate results depend on the candles being identical. Contrary to popular opinion wax is not just wax. Paraffin as well as most candle ingredients are complex compounds and will vary from one supplier / manufacturer to the next. Add to this the virtually unlimited ways in which these compounds can be combined, and you have an infinite number of possible candle formulas.
The best way to ensure accuracy is to make the candles yourself. When you make them yourself, you have total control and can easily make them identical except for the item being tested such as scent, color, etc... Note: We highly suggest parental supervision when making candles.
If you are doing a basic project and do not feel up to making the candles, follow these guidelines for purchasing candles for your experiments:
- Use candles from only one manufacturer - virtually every candle maker's wax formulas are different. Using candles from different sources will only prove what we already know - different candles burn differently.
- Purchase candles in one style only - for example: comparing tapers to votives will give very inaccurate results.
- If testing color, avoid over dipped candles - These are just white candles that have been dipped in another color and will not provide the needed element (different color wax). Candles used for this should be one color all the way through to the center.
- Avoid candles with any type of decorative effect - plain candles work best.
Depending on the complexity of your project, the equipment needed will vary. Limit your project selection to those you have access to the equipment for. Some equipment suggestions:
- Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher - For safety, an ABC type fire extinguisher is essential equipment whenever making or burning candles. NO EXCEPTIONS.
- Fish tank - Handy for insuring that candle is unaffected by drafts, while still allowing observation during burning. Also offers some degree of safety by isolating flames.
- Heat and flame resistant surface. Candles should only be burned on a non flammable surface.This may be as simple as a ceramic tile, or a plate designed to burn candles on.
- Timer - basic equipment for any project involving burning time.
- Light Meter - If your project is about the brightness of burning candles, some form of light meter will be needed to measure the output of the burning candles.
- Ruler - a basic tool for measuring flame size.
- Thermometer - for measuring heat output.
- More advanced projects may require less common analysis equipment. Please consult with your teacher to see if such equipment is available for your use.
Since there are so many possibilities, the following is a sample experiment. For this example, we are going to see if the wax color has any effect on burning time.
- Place the control candle (uncolored) on a heat resistant surface inside a fish tank (uncovered) in a relatively draft free room. Burn only one candle at a time as the heat from adjacent candles may affect the burning.
- Light the candle and start the timer.
- Burn until the candle goes out. Record total burn time.Do not leave the burning candle unattended.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 for each color candle to be tested.
- Compare results.
- For more accurate results, multiple candles of each type should be burned i.e. - 3 control, 3 of each color. The average burn time for each color should be used for final analysis. This method also provides you with more data to chart and will show if the differences in burn time are statistically insignificant.
- Weighing - as an alternative to burning to the end, candles can be weighed before lighting, burned for a set period of time (2 hours for example), then weighed again to determine how much wax was consumed. Much data can then be extrapolated from this information, such as rate of consumption, potential burning time, etc... Do not attempt this without a very accurate scale (capable of weighing to about .1 gram).
Pulling It All Together
You probably did this project because it was assigned by your science teacher. Hopefully, you leaned something and had some fun in the process. Here are some suggestions for improving your grade:
- When applicable display the burned candles to show the actual results. If your results are very close, this will at the very least show that you actually did the experiments.
- When permitted, set up a display of an actual test burning or at the very least a static display showing the conditions used during testing. If burning is permitted, candles should be isolated from accidental touching by placing them in a glass box or fish tank.
- Graphs - A large chart displaying your data in a graph will pretty much explain the test data at a glance.
- A board displaying photographs with captions is helpful.
- Make sure you included enough experiments to be statistically accurate.
- Type all data.
- Put it in a nice binder
- Present it both in table form (a spreadsheet is handy for this), and graphically (graphs).
- Include photographs when possible.
- Be verbose. Elaborate on everything you did, expected, and learned.
- Detail the step by step process.
- Include what you wanted to find out.
- Include what results you expected.
- Include what results you obtained.
- If the results obtained were different than those expected, form a theory as to why it differed.
- Include a bibliography if applicable.
Just some final instructions here:
- DO NOT send me email asking for data on any of these concepts. I don't have any, and don't know of any that has been published. I will ignore any questions of this type. I will also ignore any questions about burning properties of colored wax - the answer is in the FAQ. Or even better - actually do the experiment and get your answer. I am not trying to be obnoxious here, but my job description does not include supplying answers to your science homework - questions of this type just waste my time.
- DO contact me (use the FAQ link on the Navigation bar to the left) if you have actual candle making questions - that is questions about how to actually make candles which are not covered in my free course or other instructions.
- DO follow all the safety rules if you make or burn candles.
- DO get parental permission and assistance if you are under 18 years old.
- DO select a project suited to your age and ability.
Disclaimer: The information presented here is accurate to the best of my knowledge and common candle making practices as of the time of this writing. The origins of this article were written in the late 1990's and it has been updated over the years including major changes in January 2006 and June 2011. The author and the publisher accept no liability for the use or misuse of any of the information presented in this article. This article is presented for informational purposes and is used at your own risk.
Author: Bob Sherman
Publisher: Bobby's Craft Boutique Inc.
This article is provided free of charge for use. Candles may be made and sold using this design royalty free, however no portion of this article may be reproduced for publication elsewhere without express permission from Bobby's Craft Boutique Inc. with the following exceptions:
- Non profit organizations such as religious groups, scouts, 4h, etc... may use this information without permission for printed materials provided it is used without modification and credit is given to both the author and onestopcandle.com
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