How To Make An Improvised Candle Holder

by Paul Kirtley

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Candle raised off ground with improvised candle holder

In the dark days of the year, illumination becomes more important. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

During the shorter days of the year, evenings in camp are longer and darker.

Illumination becomes more important.

Candles give off a soft, natural light and are relatively inexpensive.

To get the best out of candles, however, it’s good to have them raised up off the ground.

Making a candle-holder from natural materials is relatively simple.

This style of candle-holder both holds the candle steady and raises it up off the ground.

Also, if you are looking for bushcraft projects for young people, this is a good one.

Making an improvised candle holder provides the opportunity to learn about the properties of some common natural materials as well as exercising some basic knife skills.


What You Will Need to Make a Candle Holder

  • a household candle
  • a strip of birch bark
  • a straight stick about 2.5cm/1 inch in diameter
  •  

    Making an improvised candle holder - the materials you need

    The materials you will need – birch bark, candle and straight stick. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Please note: strips of birch bark such as needed for this project should not be removed from live trees. It damages the tree (potentially killing it), leaves it open to infection and is unsightly.

    Birch bark is well preserved by the oils it contains and will be in good condition on dead, fallen trees long after they have hit the ground. Take your bark from dead tree trunks lying on the ground. It’s easier to collect anyway.

    The choice of wood for the stick is not critical. It is better if it is green as opposed to dead as the split (see below) is easier to create. In the example in the photos I used hazel. Sweet chestnut also works well.

    Carving The Stick

    The length of the stick determines how high the candle will be off the ground. So, first of all it should be sawed to the required length. I typically make them around 60-70cm (24-28 inches) long. This height gives a good ambient light and a good light for reading if you are sitting on the ground.

    The candle holder will be inserted into the ground, so it must have a sharp point. This is the next job. Use a knife to point the stick. The basic forehand grip and cutting strokes away from the body are all that are required.

    Hand and knife positioning for pointing

    Basic forehand knife grip and hand position. Photo: James Bath.

    Pointed stick

    Create a good, strong point. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    The candle will be held at the opposite end of the stick to the point. You must shape this opposite end so that it can be split easily and accept the birch bark.

    Gradually slim down the last 7-8cm (3 inches) of the stick creating a broad face. Stop short of the centre of the stick though.

    Broad face of chamfered end of candle holder

    Create a broad face at the top end of the candle holding stick. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Then do the same on the opposite face, leaving about 5mm (0.25 inch) thickness remaining at the end.

    Chamfered end of candle holding stick

    Leave about 5mm (0.25 inch) thickness at the end. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Splitting The Stick

    There is a right way and a wrong way to split a stick. I’m not even going to show the wrong way lest it put ideas into your head! Below is the right (i.e. safe) way to do it. Particularly for inexperienced knife users, this is the only method which should be permitted.

    Work onto a surface. Place the thinned-down end of the stick over a log. Place the tip of the knife in the centre of one of the flattened faces about 1-2cm (0.5-1.0 inches) from the end of the stick. Keep hold of the stick and make sure that pressure on the flattened end will not cause the stick (and knife) to skip towards you. Press the tip into the wood with firmness but control. This should create a controlled split in the stick. Give it a bit of a wiggle if necessary to prise the fibres in the wood apart.

    Creating the split in the top of the candle holder stick.

    Split the stick with firmness and control. Photo: James Bath.

    Now the split needs to be opened out a little. Again using the tip of the knife, and working away from yourself, shave away the inner surfaces of the split along the last 2.5cm (1 inch) of the split; create an opening a little bigger than twice the thickness of the birch bark you have collected.

    Using knife tip to pare away material from inside of split

    Use the tip of your knife to carefully shave away the inner surfaces of the split. Photo: James Bath.

    Attaching The Candle

    The strip of birch bark you have collected is what fastens the candle to the stick. It’s a versatile yet secure way of making this attachment. It can easily be adjusted to securely hold different sizes of candle.

    The first thing to do is double the bark over into a loop.

    Piece of birch bark doubled over.

    Double the bark over into a loop. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Then feed the birch bark loop down into the widened split at the end of the stick.

    Feeding the birch bark loop into the split stick

    Feed the birch bark into the split. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Keep working the birch bark down into the narrower part of the split until the bark is completely within the split and the bark is held securely. Then insert the candle into the loop. All you need to do now is adjust the loop size so it holds the candle securely against the flat face at the end of the stick. Using your thumb to push against the opposite face helps pull the bark through the split.

    Inserting candle into holder

    Once the bark is fully in the split and held securely, insert the candle. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Adjusting the birch bark so the handle is held tightly

    Adjust the bark loop so it holds the candle tightly. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Candle held securely in improvised candle holder

    Candle held securely in improvised candle holder. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    That’s it. All you need to do now is push the stick into the ground and light the candle when you need it.

    Candle burning in improvised candle holder

    A candle held up off the ground provides a good ambient light. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

    Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

    Bushcraft Knife Safety For Children

    Can I Use a Lock Knife for Bushcraft?

    How To Make A Folding Bucksaw

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    Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

     

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Windy

Thanks for this Paul. It will help illuminate St. Andrews night for my we sojourn in the woods tonight.

If the BBC did a show called Top Of The Blogs this would surely be in this weeks top 10.

Windy.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Windy,

Thanks for your praise. Have a braw evening in the woods and wee dram for me 🙂

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Lee

Simple but effective! I will have a go at this when I go for my winter camp in a couple of weeks!
Nice to see a new article on here! Always look forward to reading them.

All the best.

Lee

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Lee,

Nice to hear from you – you’re right, it’s been a while 🙂

Let me know how you get on with making use of this idea.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Rody Klop

Paul first of all have a merry Christmas and a happy new year. This article is simple and brilliant. Want to go out again and just try it out. Where are the candles …….(annoying my wife now..;-) ).

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Rody,

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and happy New Year to you too my friend.

Thanks for your feedback on the article. I hope you found your candles! 🙂

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Chris Davis

Very good Paul, its true, the simple way is very often the best way!
Thanks for the tip.
I would like to take this chance to wish you and yours a very happy Yule!
All the best for the new year.
Chris.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Chris,

Thank you – and the same to you and yours. I hope you have a wonderful festive season 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Austin Lill

First off, many thanks for agreeing to write some stuff for Scouting magazine, it really helps to put the out in scout. I’ve got the Feb/ Mar issue off so thanks for stepping up to the plate with that one too!

Good point about the flammability of Birch bark, I’ve used tea lights to make these and found that the radius helps keep the flame away from the bark. They are also small enough to double up the bark in a figure-of-eight shape to hold two but I’ve never tried it with candles.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

My pleasure Austin. Good idea with the tea-lights. I’ve not tried the figure-8 configuration but I can imaging it will work very well.

I have a couple of other candle tricks up my sleeve so will likely share them too. One of them will be in the Feb/Mar issue of Get Active.

Enjoy your time off!

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Bean

Another good one Paul, i saw this in the Scouting Magazine. thank you for agreeing to publish articles there.
This is a great thing to do with my scouts and I guess we will be making a few on our next camp. I guess we will also try to find a way to add a windshield, or these will suffer in a breeze.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

My pleasure. I’m very happy to be able to contribute to the Scout Association’s publications. I’m glad you agree it’s a good project for your Scouts.

Yes, they do suffer if exposed directly to a breeze – it causes the candles to burn down more quickly if nothing else – but I generally try to find sheltered camping spots, where I don’t have to be exposed to the breeze either 🙂

If you do find it breezy in camp, then you can position the candle holders in the lee of larger trees to shield them.

Also, you can use plastic drinks bottles to make a transparent cover for them. This is a neat solution if you find discarded bottles (i.e. litter) or have used bottles in camp and would otherwise dispose of them. I don’t advocate taking the bottles specifically for this purpose.

Have fun experimenting with this idea.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

AdamG

A nice simple method.

I will try it out the next time I’m in the woods.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi again Adam,

Glad you like this one. Please let me know how you get on with it.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Douglas Sonn

It’s a very simple and functional design. I think it’s very practical^^

Reply

Steve MARTIN

Hi Paul very informative and very simple.
Do you use parrafin lamps on your trips. If so do you have a recommended type/make and what makes it so.
Enjoying the articles
Steve M

Reply

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