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.