Make a Butter Candle - Emergency Candle McGyver Style!




About: Random Weekend Projects

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

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

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.

Step 4:

Using your skewer or toothpick, push the make-shift wick down into the hole until it touches the bottom.  Give it a little twist to release, and pull the stick back out. 

If you did it right, you should only have 1/4" of the wick poking out of the center.

The wick needs a little starter fuel, and that can be added by rubbing the wick tip down into the exposed butter at the top.

Time to light it!

When you strike your match, hold the flame near the butter at the base of the wick.  The butter needs to melt a little for the flame to become self-sustaining, so it may take a couple of seconds.  

Step 5: We Have Light!

You may see the flame dim down for a few seconds at the beginning, but once the butter warms up a little, the flame should grow right back up to full size. 

This works for the same reason a candle does.  As the butter melts, it's wicked up into the toilet paper stem and vaporized by the heat. The vapor is flammable, and it's acting as the fuel for the flame.

These butter candles burned for 4 hours each, giving a total of 8 hours of heat and light from the original bar.

Note:  After a couple of hours, the butter warms up to the point where it melts and the wick may fall over.  In this case, it's useful to take a paperclip and make a support for the wick.  To do this from the beginning, just insert the wick and paperclip together from the bottom of the butter block.

Dropping the candles down into something like a glass can help protect them from drafts, and reduce the risk of your candle becoming a fire hazard.  You also have the added benefit of an interesting DIY ambiance to your room.  

Step 6: Other Projects

Well, now you know how to make a simple emergency candle with some toilet paper, and a bit of butter!

If you haven't see the video yet, it's not too late.  Watch it here!

If you like this project perhaps you'll like some of my others. Check them out at

Step 7:

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129 Discussions


6 years ago

It only works with unsalted butter though.Other than that it would be good in any situation for the need of light

2 replies
Allie Gilbert

3 years ago

I like how it is a just in case thing because sometimes you might not have a light source

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.

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.

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.

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!


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

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.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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.