Pillar candles have been used for centuries to provide light and create ambiance. These versatile candles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials.
In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about pillar candles.
An Introduction to Pillar Candles
Pillar candles are candles crafted into a rigid, upright form that allows them to stand on their own without a container or candleholder. Unlike taper candles, pillar candles feature a thicker diameter and come in cylinder, round, square or other sculptural shapes.
The key feature that defines a pillar candle is that the wax is dense enough for the candle to be freestanding. The wax used needs to be quite firm and molded into an upright form. Pillar candles are designed to burn in an even, slow manner from the center out.
Pillar candles are available in a vast range of sizes, from small votives to large robust pillars over 3 feet tall. The most common sizes range from 3-5 inches in diameter and 3-12 inches in height. Taller pillar candles are often tapered at the top to help the wax pool as it burns.
Beyond the classic cylinder pillar, there are pillars in geometric shapes, fluted designs, bubbles, ovals and more. These sculptural pillars allow for creative arrangements and bold decorative statements.
Key Takeaway: Pillar candles are freestanding candles made of rigid wax that come in cylinder or tapered shapes to stand on their own without a container.
The History and Origins of Pillar Candles
The use of candles as a light source dates back over 5,000 years to ancient China and Egypt. Early candles were made by dipping and rolling papyrus in melted tallow or beeswax.
The invention of the pillar candle is often attributed to 18th century candlemakers in Europe. With the development of press molds, they were able to create straight-sided candles that were taller and thicker than dipped tapers. These upright candles burned longer and became known as pillar candles.
Key Takeaway: Pillar candles were developed in 18th century Europe thanks to press molds that allowed candles to be created in straight, thick shapes without containers.
Pillar candles quickly grew in popularity for lighting homes and churches. Their upright design meant they could stand on their own on candleholders and be placed lighting fixtures. Beeswax and tallow were the main waxes used for pillars in early history.
Commercial paraffin wax became popularised in the 1850s, providing a less expensive wax alternative that was ideal for making pillars. Paraffin remains the predominant wax used in pillar candle making today due to its density, rigidity and burn properties.
While pillar candles originally served as an important light source, today they are largely used decoratively to create ambiance and fragrance. Modern advancements allow pillars to incorporate colors, scents, glitter and other embellishments.
Types of Wax Used for Pillar Candles
The wax used to make a pillar candle must be rigid enough for the candle to stand upright and freestanding. The wax also impacts burn time, scent throw and surface finish. Here are the main types of waxes used in pillar candle making:
- Most widely used pillar wax due to cost and performance
- Made from petroleum, provides excellent rigidity and burn time
- Hard, dense wax that resists dents and holds fragrance well
- Clean burning with medium scent throw
- Made from soybeans, renewable and biodegradable
- Natural, non-toxic wax
- Softer than paraffin with less rigidity for pillars over 3″ diameter
- Good scent throw when blended with other waxes
- 100% natural wax made by honey bees
- Expensive but highly prized for natural honey scent
- Soft, pliable wax best blended with paraffin for pillars
- Produces a beautiful natural finish on candles
- All-natural vegetable wax made from palm oil
- Slightly softer than paraffin with creamy color
- Often blended with paraffin or soy for pillar candles
- Excellent scent throw and clean burn
Many pillar candles today feature a wax blend, combining the benefits of different waxes. Common blends include soy-paraffin, palm-paraffin, and even beeswax-paraffin to optimize burn, fragrance, and appearance.
How to Choose the Right Pillar Candle
With so many styles, sizes and wax options available, selecting the ideal pillar candles for your needs requires some consideration. Follow these tips to choose the perfect pillars:
- Consider the candle’s purpose – Will it provide ambient lighting, decorate a mantle, or use for ceremonies?
- Determine the appropriate size and shape – Measure the space and height. Round, square and sculptural pillars offer more decor options.
- Choose waxes wisely – Harder waxes like paraffin suit freestanding tapers while softer waxes work for supported votives. Blends optimize properties.
- Match your decor – Complement your color palette and style. Simple white suits minimalism while colors and shapes make bold statements.
- Factor in burn time – Larger, thicker pillars in hard waxes burn longer. Pillars over 3″ diameter can burn 80-100 hours.
- Consider scented vs unscented – Scented pillars fill a space with fragrance. Unscented allows you to add your own oils.
- Read labels for quality – Look for information on wax type, origin, dye/fragrance formulas and lead-free wicks.
Taking time to evaluate your specific needs will ensure you select the perfect pillars for any space or occasion.
Tips for Using and Displaying Pillar Candles
Here are some helpful tips for burning pillar candles safely and creatively displaying them to maximize their visual impact:
- Always place pillars on heat-safe surfaces. Use trays or plates to catch wax drips.
- Avoid drafts which can cause pillars to tunnel or smoke. Shelter candles from direct breezes.
- For the first burn, allow the wax pool to melt 1⁄4” from the outer edge to form a full melt pool.
- Trim wicks to 1⁄4” before each lighting to reduce smoking and ensure clean burns.
- Group varying heights and shapes together for dimension and visual interest.
- Layer colors and finishes like glossy, matte and glitter for texture.
- Incorporate reflective bases like mirrors or glass for luminous doubling effects.
- Display unburned pillars on mantles, entryways, windowsills and tablescapes.
- Scatter flower petals, stones or other embellishments around pillars.
- Nestle pillars inside glass hurricanes or lanterns to diffuse the glow.
With creative arrangements and thoughtful precautions, pillar candles can make a gorgeous focal point whether burning or not.
Caring for Pillar Candles
Caring properly for your pillar candles will help them burn cleanly and safely while maximizing their longevity. Here are some essential pillar candle care tips:
- Burn for at least 2 hours minimum to avoid tunneling. 4-6 hours is ideal.
- Use a candle snuffer to extinguish to avoid blowing out the flame which can cause smoking.
- Do not move a burning candle. This can cause hot wax to spill over.
- Store unused candles away from direct light or heat to help preserve color and fragrance.
- Wrap candles tightly in plastic if storing long term to lock in the scent molecules.
- Dust pillar candles periodically with a dry soft cloth turned inside out to avoid scratching.
- Change candle direction periodically so all sides get even sun exposure if sitting in windows.
- Keep wicks trimmed to 1⁄4” before lighting to prevent smoking and encourage full melt pools.
With proper care in burning, handling, trimming wicks and storage, your pillar candles will stay beautiful and deliver hours of enjoyment for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are pillar candles made?
Pillar candles are made by pouring melted wax into a mold. The wax cools and contracts slightly to release from the mold. Wicks are inserted into the center before pouring the wax or attached at the bottom first. Molds can be reusable or single use.
How do you use pillar candles?
Pillar candles can provide lighting, create ambiance, and decorate spaces. Use on heat-safe surfaces away from drafts. For first burns allow the wax to melt 1⁄4” from the outer edge to form a full melt pool. Trim wicks before each use.
What is the best wax for pillar candles?
Paraffin wax is the most commonly used for pillars due to its optimal rigidity and burn time. Soy, beeswax and palm waxes are also options, often blended with paraffin. The wax needs to be firm enough for pillars to stand upright on their own.
How long do pillar candles last?
On average, a 3” x 6” pillar candle will provide 45-60 hours of burn time. Larger, thicker pillars can last 80-100 hours. Burning the candle for at least 4 hours at a time, keeping wicks trimmed, and allowing full melt pools will maximize burn times.
Should you use a candle holder with pillar candles?
Pillar candles are designed to stand upright on their own without a holder. However, glass hurricanes and candle platforms can provide extra stability and catch wax drips. The holder should be heat-safe and not restrict airflow.
Pillar candles are a versatile candle variety that add beauty and welcoming light to any space. With options from small votives to grand sculptural pillars, they suit a wide range of decorative needs. Paraffin wax remains the pillar wax of choice, though natural soy, beeswax and palm waxes are also popular. Displaying pillars artfully and caring for them properly allows for many years of enjoyment. The warm ambiance and fine craftsmanship of pillar candles will always be treasured.