How does a candle wick work?

 

 A candle without a wick is just a hunk of wax. The wick is what a candle is all about. The earliest known candles were basically a wick-like material coated with tallow or beeswax, not even resembling a modern candle at all.

In taper candles the wick is the structure which supports the first layers of wax that create the candle. In all candles it acts as a fuel pump, supplying liquefied wax up to the top where all of the action takes place. As a regulator, different size wicks allow different amounts of wax up into the combustion area providing different size flames.

The wick is the most important element of a candle - the heart of it. The word wick comes from Old English "weyke or wicke", Anglo Saxon "wecca", and Germanic "wieche" or "wicke". It is a name for a bundle of fibers that, when braided or twisted together, are used to draw oil or wax up into a flame to be burned in a lamp or candle.

A wick without fuel such as wax around it is just a piece of string. Because the wick is fibrous and absorbent, melted wax is absorbed into it easily. Dipping a wick in and out of melted wax several times builds up layers of wax, sufficient enough to make a taper candle.

The wick works by a principle called capillary action. Cotton fibers are spun into threads, which are bundled and braided together. The spaces between the cotton fibers, the threads, and braids act as capillaries, which cause liquids to be drawn into them. If you place a drop of water in the center of a paper towel you will see that the drop is absorbed and the wet spot expands. Where the expansion occurs is where capillary action is taking place, the candle wicking absorbs wax the same way.

Candle wicking is available in several types  Here we will discuss the two most common varieties, Flat Braid, usually used in non-beeswax tapers and in pillars; and Square Braid, which are used for beeswax tapers and pillars. Different sized wicks cause different sized flames simply because of the number of threads in the bundles. Each thread is considered a "ply", a given number of ply are bundled together. With Flat Braid wick usually only three bundles are braided together. It is braided in such a manner that all three bundles lie flat and is referred to by the number of plaits it contains. Example: (36 ply) - 3 bundles of 12 ply = 36 ply.

A 36 ply wick can draw a little bit more wax than a 30 ply wick can, which gives the 36 ply wick a larger flame. The purpose for the flatness of this wick is because it curls over to the side when it burns. This curling of the wick helps prevent excess smoking.

The Square Braid wick is referred to by a numbering system. It ranges from 6/0 (pronounced "six aught") to 1/0 from small to large, comprised of eight bundles of a quantity of ply per bundle and two bundles with a lesser quantity of ply per bundle. Example: (1/0) - 8 bundles of 4 ply with 2 bundles of 3 ply = 38 ply.

The numbering moves on to another system from #1 to #10 from small to large. This range is more robust than the #/0 system and is comprised of four bundles of a quantity of ply, four bundles of a lesser quantity, and two bundles of the lesser quantity twisted together. Example: (#4) - 4 bundles of 8 ply, 4 bundles of 7 ply, with 2 bundles of 7 ply twisted together = 74 ply.

When burning a candle with a Square Braid wick, a carbon cap forms on the top of the wick. This property is especially useful in tall glass container candles. The carbon cap radiates heat outward, which helps melt wax which is further away from the flame, reducing the amount of wax hanging on the sides of the container.

 

 
 
 

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