For Advent a few years ago, I decided to make four giant candles for the front of the school where my wife teaches. Sadly, I was not allowed to use propane, oil, or any sort of actual flame. Solar powered lighting was an acceptable alternative.
Although the original purpose was for Advent, they could be painted any color (or striped!) for Christmas or birthday candles. Maybe a giant Menorah! Make 40 black ones and "vandalize" an aging friend’s lawn on their birthday!
Step 1: Supplies
- 2 8' lengths of 4" PVC pipe*. You don't need schedule 40. I used the thinner sewer kind with the flared end.
- 4 solar pathway lights. These don't need to be fancy, you won't see the sides. They need to be small enough to fit inside a 2L bottle.
- Spray paint for plastics. One each yellow and orange. For Advent, One pink and one purple.
- Optional: 1 can of plastic primer if your paint isn't for plastic. Or if you don't care.
- 1 can expanding foam spray.
- 4 2L bottles with cap. Any non-green bottle should work. It just so happens that my preferred beverage has a certain wasp-waisted bottle that lends itself to this project.
- Scrap sheet metal, or cookie sheet from a $1 store.
- 4 Christmas tree stands (I got these pretty cheap - maybe $3 each. Anything that will hold the pipe upright will work.)
- Leather gloves
- Small (~1/8”) and large (~3/8”) bit
- Utility knife
- Tin snips
*With more options of smaller bottles these days (1.5L, 1L, 20 oz), you might be able to use smaller diameter pipe. This would be especially handy if you are making a large number and would like smaller (cheaper) candles. You will have to find a light that works with the smaller bottle, or just do without.
Step 2: Flames: Charge
Set the four solar lights where they will be exposed to sunlight to charge them and make sure they work. Don’t forget to remove any plastic tabs from the battery.
Step 3: Candles: Cut to Size
Cut the pipes into 4' lengths. It is not critical that they be even. In fact, since these are candles (and Advent candles are lit at different times) some difference may be desirable.
Step 4: Candles: Add Wax
Find some way to stand the pipe sections upright. You can use the (tree) stands you have for the candles, but you will be painting, etc. I didn’t have the stands yet when I did this step. I used some long tomato staking rods. I drove four into the ground and put the pipes over the top so the rods were in the center. You will want to keep the pipes off the ground for painting and general cleanliness.
Use the expanding foam spray to create the look of wax melting down the side of the candle. Start by running along the top edge before turning down. Run several layers in some spots. Be random. Don't forget the foam will expand and smooth out and change the look a little. Wait for the foam to cure. If you don't like the look when it cures, add more or take some off. Or both. While you are waiting for the foam to cure, work on the flames.
Step 5: Flames: Cut to Shape
Remove the labels from the 4 2L bottles.
Cut bottom out of each 2L bottle. This will be the top, so shape the opening to look like flames. I used the contour of the bottle. Don't cut too far down because the solar light will be hidden inside.
Step 6: Flames: Paint
Now paint the inside of the bottles to resemble flames.
If you are using plastic primer, spray a coat on the INSIDE of each bottle.
Spray a little orange into the cap end (now the base) and up the sides in a few spots.*
Spray the whole inside with yellow. Don't cover too thickly, the solar light has to shine through.
You should have something vaguely flamelike.
*If you want to get fancy, start with a little yellow in the bottom. Add some heavier orange, then lighter orange up the side a little. Finish with a light coat of yellow.
Step 7: Flames: Retainer
The idea is for the flames not to be a permanent part of the candle, so they can be "lit" at the appropriate time. The inverted bottle may sit inside the pipe, but it could easily get blown or knocked out. I used a circle of sheet metal with fingers cut around the edge to grip the inside of the pipe. I think I got this idea from another instructable, but I can't remember which one now. If I ever do I will link to it.
Option 1 - Use a compass to draw 4 circles slightly larger than the ID of the pipe. Be sure to mark your center point.
Option 2 - Trace a CD. Trace the center circle, too.
Option 3 - Use a pipe end to trace 4 circles on the sheet metal. You want the circle diameter to be a little larger than the pipe inside diameter, so trace around the outside of the pipe. Find the center of the circle using the geometry you learned in grade school. It doesn't have to be perfect.
In the center of the metal circle, trace around the uncapped bottle mouth. Cut out this small circle. I used a small drill bit first, then a large drill bit, then finished it with the snips. BE CAREFUL. The drill can catch the sheet metal, turning it into a whirling knife blade. Clamp it down. Wear gloves. Keep your hands/body out of the way. The hole should be big enough to fit over the bottle mouth, but smaller than the cap. Cut out the four circles put one on each bottle. You may have to screw it onto the bottle, especially if it’s not perfectly round. Around the edge of each circle, cut inward about 2/3 of the radius. Make a cut every 1/2" or so. Wear gloves and be careful of all the sharp edges you are creating.
I made a pattern, but it's not necessary. You'll notice in one of the pictures, that I made windows to mark a circle midway. That's to mark where to stop cutting inward. Also not absolutely necessary.
Step 8: Flames: Assemble
If you can hold them in a vise, drill a small hole in each bottle cap. If you can’t do that safely, drill/poke a couple holes in the bottle near the neck. This is to let any precipitation out.
Carefully place the metal retainer over the bottle mouth (if it isn’t already) and cap the bottle to hold it in place.
Remove the pointy bit from the bottom of the solar light post (if it is a separate piece). Discard, or throw in that bin you have labeled “Bits and Bobs”. Who knows when a pointy bit will come in handy?
Slide the solar light (post first) into the bottle flame. You may have to separate the top fingers to get it in, or even cut a slit down each side to open it up enough. Once in, it should fit nicely. The post on my lights was just the right length. You may have to cut yours to adjust.
When the solar light comes on, you should have something even more flamelike.
Step 9: Candles: Paint
Remember your candles? While you've been having fun making flames, your melted wax has been setting up. Once the foam is to your satisfaction and cured, you can paint.
Trim the foam around the top inside to match the pipe ID, so the flame fits better.
The pipes will have printing all down one or more sides. If you are using a light color (like pink) you may want to clean it off or cover it up. PVC cleaner should work, or maybe a coat of white paint first. I didn't realize it was an issue until too late, so I did nothing. The purple was fine, but I put an extra coat on the pink.
I sprayed (at least) 2 coats of paint. Be sure you get into all the nooks and crannies of the dripping wax. Look at it from all angles.
Sorry for the lack of pictures on this step. Should be pretty straight forward.
Step 10: Candles: Assemble and Enjoy
Place each pipe in its (tree) stand and tighten. Put in position and cover/decorate the base if desired.
Add flames to candles as needed. Let the sun turn them on and off.
Participated in the
Make It Glow! Contest