Introduction: Reusable Oil Burning Wicks!

About: Like Birdz of a Feather, let's flock together to create sustainably. After all, good planets are hard to find! We're a husband/wife team that takes our inspiration from everything around us; especially things …

If you're anything like me, you love the look of a real flame! A few years ago I discovered the beauty of oil burning candles. I even posted an Instructables on how to upcycle shot glasses into oil burning candles. I've since taken my original idea and pushed my oil burning wicks to the next level!

Up until now, oil candle wick options haven't been overly sustainable. Sure it's convenient to buy floating wicks, but you end up throwing away the metal tabs or cork disk. These DIY wicks, on the other hand, are pretty awesome because they're reusable and readily made from things you may already have on-hand. If sustainability is an important consideration, these wicks are a great solution. The only thing you'll need to replenish is some cotton twine.

There are benefits of using oil vs. wax candles too: no waxy mess, consistent flame height and much cheaper.

Try them out for Christmas, Hanukkah (as we did), New years or even Valentines Day (there's nothing more romantic than the glow of candle light). You can light oil candles any time of year and for any occasion! Watch the video above to see how easy these are to make.

As pretty as the shot glasses look in our own holiday display, please read the FAQ/Safety Precautions in the next step if you decide to try this 'Ible!


Step 1: Before Starting: FAQ / Safety Precautions

For this project, I upcycled a box of branded shot glasses we found in the garbage (first pic).

One of my readers asked, "how do I know if my shot glasses are heat safe"?

The only way I know of telling if glass is tempered or safety glass is to view the glass through polarized lenses in bright light - preferably sunlight. Polarized sunglasses are ideal if you happen to have a pair. If you try to view tempered glass in sunlight with a polarized pair of sunglasses, you will see lines stretching across its surface (and sometimes dark shady spots) – which is a good indicator that the glass is toughened. These are formed during the tempering process. Try this method first on a glass that you already know is heat safe: a Pyrex measuring cup or glass dish for instance that's marked microwave safe. You should notice the wavy lines I'm taking about.

Note though that even glass that is heat tempered is not guaranteed against breaking or cracking. Two of the most common causes of glass breaking due to the heat from a candle flame is first, a wick that is not centered and allowed to get too close to the side, and second is a flame that gets too close to the bottom.

To Combat Potential Problems:

  1. Fill shot glasses with enough water before adding oil. In a traditional wax candle, if the flame reaches the bottom of the container, too much heat may be concentrated at the base of the wick which could cause the glass to crack. Water in an oil burning candle will prevent that from happening because the flame never gets lower than the surface of the water. Along with the water, the design acts as an additional safety precaution to keep the heat from reaching the bottom of the wick/glass - however the water level will snuff out the flame before that happens.
  2. Centre the wick in the glass (2nd pic)! The binder clip will help you do this because of its oblong shape which will help you centre it better than if you use a store bought wick (which tends to be very small and circular).
  3. Proper cautions should be taken when burning oil candles, as with any other style candle. Protect the surface the candle is sitting on by placing it on a heat-resistant holder (I used a metal topped plant stand - Satsumas, made by Ikea which is non combustible).
  4. Keep open flames from anything flammable (we rolled up our roman shades for instance to keep them out of the way).
  5. Keep candles out of reach from small children. These particular candles only burn for just over 1/2 an hour, however, never leave a burning candle unattended.

With proper care and supervision, an oil burning candle will give you beautiful ambient light, so keep all of the above in mind :)

Step 2: Light It Up!

To light up these candles, you need nothing more than some water and olive oil, plus two garment snaps (only the post portion shown in the 2nd pic above), one binder clip for each candle, some cotton twine (only use 100% cotton).

If you can find silver binder clips for this project (vs. the traditional black), they'll blend in better to the water in your shot glasses. Just make sure they will fit into the bottom of your particular glasses.

Step 3: Pre-Soak Cotton Twine in Olive Oil

Cut a piece of 100% cotton string. I used a shot glass that was 2 1/2" high so I cut my string to that length.

Soak the strings in olive oil BEFORE assembling these wicks - this is integral to the success of your candle and much easier than backtracking! If you look closely at the video, I knotted a string that wasn’t saturated in olive oil first. That’s because I didn’t want to deposit oil on my camera as I stopped and started filming. Don’t forget to do this step first! If you are doing a bunch of them, pour the olive oil into a container and soak all the strings at once until thoroughly saturated.

Tie a knot in one end of the string. Insert the tip of the knotted string through the long part of the post portion of a metal snap so the knot cradles under the hole (see last picture, paying attention to the direction).

Step 4: Centre Into Binder Clip

Open a binder clip and insert the knotted end of the post, then close the clip again to tighten it against the post. Make sure it’s in the centre; if not, reposition.

Thread another metal snap through the string – again the post part, but this time the other side up (like a hat sitting on top). Squeeze together the binder clip arms, one-by-one, and remove them.

Step 5: Test One Out

Test one candle out before lighting them all. Fill a shot glass about 1/2 full with water. Then add 1/2 a heaping teaspoon of olive oil into the water; it will rise to the top and float. If you are using larger glasses, you may have to adjust these quantities.

Grab by the string and place the assembled wick into the liquid so the bottom of the binder clip rests on the bottom of the shot glass. It will stand up because the clip has a flat bottom. Remember that it’s important to centre the wick in the glass to prevent the wick from hitting the side (as described in the safety precautions).

Step 6: Prep the Rest

Once satisfied, prepare all shot glasses at once and transport them to where you will be lighting them (i.e. don’t light first and then transport!). I know I sound like a broken record, but don’t forget to soak the wicks in oil first before you light them.

Step 7: Light Them Up for the Holidays

Hubs and I celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas over the holidays. So I turned my shot glasses into a modern-day menorah to celebrate the 'Festival of Lights'.

Metal is the ideal surface to burn candles on. Since the top of our Ikea Satsumas plant stand is metal, we took advantage of that. We spray painted old fridge magnets with silver paint spelling out 'Hanukkah'! Of course, you could spell out any festive word (s) for any occasion: Comfort and Joy, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year etc. Like I mentioned earlier, these oil burning candles would be stunning for Valentines Day too. You could arrange your shot glasses into a heart shape on a large tray and put them on the table! Or arrange it linear, as we have here, but replace the blue star with a red heart.

Lead Candle

I arranged blue glass nuggets to form a Star of David around the lead candle (which is elevated higher than the rest). For a menorah, I discovered it's actually easier to have a wax candle as the lead candle to light the other oil burning candles. So I adjusted my design by adding blue aquarium gravel in the base of the shot glass for the lead candle to the candle straight up. Then I used the foil lid from a K-cup and poked a hole through the middle to insert the candle with about 1/4 of it sticking below the bottom. Just make sure you have the foil side, and not the advertising, facing up for aesthetics.

This k-cup collar serves two purposes: it keeps melted candle wax from burning your hand (a pet peeve of mine). The foil 'shield' catches the hot wax drippings as you light the other candles! It also allows the candle to sit on top of the shot glass without chance of it tipping over. Just push the bottom of the candle firmly into the aquarium gravel once the other candles are lit. As an added bonus, the candle light will bounce off the foil and give additional ambient light. If your K-cup is paper, remove the paper from the rim and then hot glue your own piece of foil onto it.

There’s nothing more beautiful than a real flame, don’t you think?!

Step 8: Cleaning

To clean these reusable wicks, disassemble them in the reverse order you put them together and recycle the remaining cotton string in the green bin (if accepted in your region). Toss the metal pieces into a mesh bag as shown and pop them into the dishwasher where you would normally load your cutlery.

When they come out, they’ll be clean, degreased and ready to use again with fresh pieces of cotton twine. This is an upcycle that you can use over and over in conjunction with the shot glasses (but of course, you’ll need to replace the cotton string for the wick each time you do).

Step 9: Vote for Us and Subscribe

If you enjoyed this sustainable 'Ible, vote for us in the 'Make it Glow' contest!

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