Make a Butter Candle - Emergency Candle McGyver Style!

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Picture of Make a Butter Candle - Emergency Candle McGyver Style!
Most people wouldn't think of butter as a flammable substance, but in this project they are!  We're making emergency candles that burn for hours .. using some toilet paper, and a bit of butter!

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Step 1: Watch the Video!

WARNING: An open flame poses a fire hazard.  Do not use near any flammable or explosive material.  Use of this video content is at your own risk.

Step 2: Materials You'll Need

Picture of Materials You'll Need
This is about as simple as it gets.

1. Butter
2. Toilet Paper
3. Something to poke a hole

Just find some butter (Margarine will probably work as well) and a small piece of toilet paper.  (Paper towel will also work fine).

Step 3: Prepare Your Materials

Picture of Prepare Your Materials
You can cut the block of butter into as many pieces as you want.  

As a rule of thumb, I've found that 1 Tablespoon of butter will burn for about 1 hour.  I used a 4 Oz bar of butter (8 Tablespoons) and cut it in half to give me two 4-hour candles.  (4 Tablespoons each.)

Cutting the bar with the seam at the top will help minimize the paper from ripping as you cut through the block.  Also, the colder/firmer the butter is, the cleaner your cut will be.

If you're trying what I did, you should have 2 halves with the exposed butter side facing upward.  

Take something like a skewer or toothpick and poke a hole in the top at the center.  The hole should reach all the way to the bottom.

Next, take your piece of toilet paper and twist it tightly.  

I put a bend at the bottom so that when it stands next to the block of butter, only about 1/4" is exposed at the top. 

Your butter candle is now ready for assembly.

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spatuladle made it!2 months ago

That's so cool! It sizzles like bacon and smells like popcorn. Works good except it is hard to light again after you blow it out

Would the tubs of margarine work too?
Yes, margarine will work as well but, it would have to be a very severe emergency. Margarine is basically plastic that has been bleached and dyed to make it palatable. If you saw it being made you would never eat it again.

It would probably give a smokier flame, the fumes of which are potentially toxic.
Margarine is not plastic (in the sense of common plastics made from petrochemicals), that's nonsense. Margarine is plant oil that's been treated to make it solid. It could be made from various oils like palm, sunflower, canola, etc. So nothing wrong with burning those.
Although it gets off the point, the most common "vegetable" oil, the already toxic Canola (properly known as Rape Seed) is a hydrocarbon just like a petrochemical (and butter for that matter). Hydrogenation to solidify it, further toxifies it by creating a transfat. If you value your health, you'll put that under the classification of plastic.

It most definitely falls into the category of "If one likes sausages and appreciates the law, then one should never see either being made."

Incidentally, the old-fashioned white/yellow "plastic" handles on cutlery are made from milk.
The King of Random (author)  Treknology2 years ago
My wife is very health conscious and she would agree with you. I don't really know the difference, so I just trust her judgment. For that reason we don't ever find margarine in the house.

How do you make plastic handles from milk? Do you have a tutorial or a link on that?? :)
It's years since I did it in High School, so I don't remember the proportions.

1. A small amount of HCl is added to normal milk. This will cause the milk to curdle and smell like yoghurt or cheese.
2. Once the milk has separated in the same manner as curds and whey, it is filtered and pressed.
3. The "solid" is shaped or molded as required then soaked in Formaldehyde for about a week.

I guess that you could carve real cheese into the desired shape and soak that in Formaldehyde but using HCl helped industrialize the process. Homer Simpson moment: "Cheese candles, uurh!"

The final "plastic" is called casein, and I am led to believe that it was also used as a replacement for Ivory on piano keys.
The King of Random (author)  Treknology2 years ago
Wow that's great and I'd like to try it. I have HCL in the form of muriatic acid from the hardware store. What is a locally disguised form of Formaldehyde and could it be purchased at the hardware store as well??
Formaldehyde is preserving fluid. If you can't source it through a pharmacist, a vet or a mortician should be able to furnish you with an experimental quantity.
The King of Random (author)  Treknology2 years ago
Great idea! Thank so much for your reply!

Casein is a protein. The product you mention used to be called Galalith (and many other names). I made it using vinegar and HCL. The HCL result was just slightly better and faster but that could also have been due to the fact that I used a hand blender that 2nd time.

I've heard of many other awesome things you can make out of milk and curd (paint, clothes, adhesives, liquid wood, etc.) but as far as I know harmless things like vinegar, chalk, lime, borax and lignin are all you'll ever need. In former times formaldehyde was used instead of Vinegar because the result is much better and thorough and you don't need to wait days for it to dry out. But soaking the curd in a carcinogen as 2nd step in a school experiment...that puzzles me hard.
Call your teacher and threaten to sue him unless he reveals this mystery behind his galalith production!

I'm not Treknology's science teacher, but I am A science teacher, is that good enough? :D
Formaldehyde is a good biological preservative primarily because it cross-links proteins, plasticizing the biological sample. This is the main reason why it (and it's biochemical precursor, methanol) is so toxic (It has allergic and carcinogenic properties as well).
So when you use vinegar on milk protein, you are basically causing it to desiccate ... and the vinegar acidity acts as a preservative. But it's still milk protein.
Using formaldehyde is a chemical reaction that turns the milk protein into a different product, with truer "plastic" properties (Flexibility, resilience, bulk connectivity), especially if you can form it in a mold before the reaction is complete.

Treknology antioch10 months ago

Said teacher is probably long deceased. As in most classrooms, the HCl was probably weaker than that found in one's stomach, so having found references to people using vinegar instead comes as no real surprise. I don't particularly recall students handling the formaldehyde.

antioch antioch10 months ago

Just found something. Still wondering though, the formaldehyde soaking in the following article is also a last/2nd step and does nothing to improve the texture or density. Which it would supposedly do if used instead of vinegar.
I assure you both my vinegar and HCL versions were ridiculously hard and these guys soak a cheap-looking DIY trinket that's just meant to be worn around the next into formaldehyde for that final bit of superhardness?
Not sure they really thought this through properly...

You're acting like margarine is toxic and at the same time recommending that people play around with formaldehyde??? I wouldn't use it without a strong ventilation system.

I should further point out, that my comment about toxicity of margarine is something of which most people are unaware. I would expect that someone attempting to use formaldehyde WOULD be aware of potential toxicity and use it outside.

I merely described the experiment from school. I'm quite sure that King of Random use appropriate caution.
rpb Treknology2 years ago
I was under the impression that rapeseed oil (canola) is, these days, considered just as healthy as olive oil, if not more so, due its high proportion of omega-3s, and other mono-saturated fats and its low proportion of saturates. It also has a higher smoke point than olive oil and so is healthier to fry with (when an oil hits its smoke point nasty chemicals can be formed in it).

Why do you therefore call it "the already toxic Canola [oil]"?

You are right about hydrogenation being bad, however. Hydrogenation is used to solidify (usually vegetable) oils into fats but creates bad "trans fats" in the process.

Note also that *all* oils and fats are "hydrocarbons", including olive oil and essential oils that we need in our diet, yet your comparing of them to petrochemicals sounded a little like scaremongering.

I did something like this but I used rancid corn oil.
The King of Random (author)  luxstar2 years ago
The King of Random (author)  Treknology2 years ago
Good comment! In contrast, I tried burning butter made straight from the cow, and the flame was much more vibrant and more energetic than the store bought butter.
The store-bought version was probably "healthy" because low-fat milk had been used. Natural milk would definitely yield a better product.

One piece of advice: the butter is supposed to be made from the cow's milk, not the cow.
rpb Treknology2 years ago
Butter is made from cream, not milk (or low fat milk for that matter!). Butter is normally around 80% fat and 20% water. Some butter-like spreads are made with extra water and thickeners to give them a similar consistency to the higher fat butter. Traditional margarines are made with hydrogenated vegetable oil and tend to be 80% or more fat so should work well. Lower fat margarines are like the spreads and have added water and thickeners, and consequently lower fat contents. It's the fat that burns (obviously - water doesn't) so you're likely to have better luck with the highest fat products you can find. You may well find those low fat spreads don't work.
The King of Random (author)  Treknology2 years ago
For sure!
gennagonna11 months ago
I love it
dean_991 year ago
It only works with unsalted butter though.Other than that it would be good in any situation for the need of light
terezi dean_991 year ago

why doesn't it work with SALTED butter?

do you live in draper ut
site is down why?
stick of butter is a quarter pound. not full pound
dean_991 year ago
Awesome! Works great
I am definitely going to keep this in mind it's a REALLY good idea!!
I'm glad you like it. Thanks!
Bacon grease works well too. And the house smells good in the process. :)
KneXtreme2 years ago
That's really cool! I never thought that you could make a candle out of butter. I made something similar if you want to check it out
The King of Random (author)  KneXtreme2 years ago
That is a really awesome idea! Thanks for the link!!
makes perfect sense since at night i write by a lamp made from a 14cm wide by 3cm deep metal bowl using vegetable oil as fuel and a 4mm wide hand woven cotton wick. it don't smoke as long as i keep the end no more then 5-6mm from the edge of the dish and it puts out a 2-2.5 cm flame with no distinguishable smell. it holds about 30 ml and burns on that at least 4 hours before i have to fill it and i do that when about 80% of it is gone.
Awesome! Did you weave the wick yourself? I'm interested to know more efficient wicking materials.
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