I love the concept of citronella candles—the idea of repelling mosquitoes with something that actually adds to the ambience instead of taking away from it. And it sure smells better than DEET. I only have one complaint: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a citronella candle in anything other than a metal bucket. Don’t get me wrong, I think a candle in a bucket can be really nice in the right setting, but it’s just not my style. That means when I use most citronella candles, they aren’t actually accomplishing what I want them to accomplish—to repel the bugs and add to the ambience. Instead, they’re getting in the way of my decor goals.
Enter DIY citronella candles and wood candleholders. This way I can maintain the natural, outdoorsy feel in a way that’s much more in my style wheelhouse. I struggled with this project to find a way to bore a large hole through a four-by-four post that was deeper than a normal hole saw, but still had a bottom. After some trial and error, I figured out a solution, and it turned out that the fixes I came up with actually improved the look of the project. That’s one of the best wins you can achieve in DIY!
The candle-making part of this post was a little trickier than I anticipated. I’ll pass on my words of wisdom to you throughout the tutorial, but, before we begin, let me start with a one quick thing: If you have a citronella candle in a bucket that’s already lying around your house, feel free to melt it down and pour it into your new DIYd holder with a new wick. Just note that the melting point we talk about is strictly for beeswax, so if you’re working with paraffin, the melting point will be different. (But that’s nothing a quick Google search can’t fix.)
Part 1: Create the citronella candleholder
I used cedar four-by-four for this candleholder because it’s easier to drill through with a hole saw than Doug fir is. Doug fir is the more cost-effective option, but for me it was an easy choice, because I already had some cedar laying around from a previous backyard project. If you have cedar four-by-four posts on hand, this is a perfect project to utilize small leftover pieces. Dunn Lumber will sell you a short piece of cedar four-by-four and your local lumber yard may do the same. Otherwise, you may want to consider how many candles you’ll be making and choose your type of wood accordingly.
Step 1: Cut the citronella candleholder
For each candle, cut your four-by-four post to one 3 ⅜” length and one ⅜” length. Trim the outside width of the short piece from a 3 ½” square to a 3 ¼” square. The larger piece will be the candleholder, and the smaller piece will be the base of the candleholder.
For all of these cuts we marked a straight line with a speed square. In order to get as straight a cut as possible, we also marked down the sides of the four-by-four with a speed square. Then, we clamped down the wood and cut with a handsaw. Because we’ll be drilling all the way through the 3 ⅜” length, we picked a section that was free of knots.
Step 2: Drill hole for candle
Mark the center of the 3 ⅜” piece and drill all the way through with a 1⁄4” drill bit. For me, this required allowing the drill to only grip the very end of the drill bit.
Clamp the wood down and use this pilot hole as a guide for the hole saw. Drill halfway down until the hole saw won’t go any farther, then flip the wood around and drill from the other direction. The pilot hole will allow the hole saw to meet up with the original hole smoothly.
If you’re not familiar with using a hole saw, it can be a little tricky at first. There’s a lot more contact than just a regular drill bit, and this means it’s more likely for the drill to catch and give you some kickback. I like to point my elbow away from the drill, creating a right angle to the drill with my arm. This is a great way to protect your wrist from getting tweaked.
To begin, first get the drill bit started in the center, then release any vertical pressure you’re putting on the drill and turn the speed up to high. High speed, light pressure. That’s the trick. Once the hole saw starts cutting, you can apply more pressure. (And you may need to, in order to continue making progress.) Just continue to be careful of kickback, and relieve pressure if the saw seems to be getting stuck. Depending on your specific board and the newness of your hole saw, it may be fairly smooth cutting through, or you may hit a lot of snags. It takes some practice to know whether a snag can be fixed with a little more pressure or a little less, or with removing the drill altogether and then returning. Every so often, cutting with a hole saw, my drill will overheat and the battery will shut down. This isn’t a big deal; just wait it out for a minute or two.
Step 3: Sand candleholder
Sand the inside of the hole, the cut edges, and the ⅜” base of the candleholder. Sand the cut corners round so they look like the manufactured edges of the four-by-four.
I used a 150-grit piece of sandpaper for the inside of the hole, and a fine/medium sanding sponge for everything else. If you have a sander, it can really speed up this process.
Step 4: Attach candleholder to base
Line up the candleholder and the ⅜” base. Center the base and glue them together. Clamp until the glue dries. I love this fast-drying wood glue because it was dry by the time I melted the wax for the candle.
Part 2: Make the citronella candle
This was my first time dabbling in candle making, and below I shared the pitfalls I ran into and the solutions I got from friends who make candles. Most of the information for this tutorial came from Joybilee Farm, so if you run into problems that differ from mine, check their website to see if they addressed it.
Step 5: Melt wax
To melt the wax we’ll create a double boiler with a Mason jar and a small saucepot. Fill the Mason jar with ½ lb (8 oz) of beeswax. The pellets do melt down quite a bit, so don’t worry if your jar is full. Place the lid of the jar (with the threaded ring on the bottom and the middle circle on the top) at the bottom of the saucepot and place the Mason jar on top. Fill the saucepot with water until the jar is halfway submerged. The weight of the beeswax should help hold down the Mason jar, but don’t overfill the water or your jar may tip over when the water boils. Heat the water to a simmer and allow the beeswax to melt. This part takes patience. (More than I was expecting!)
You’ll notice I used two different colors of wax in my candle. I love the soft, creamy color I’ve seen before in beeswax, but the kind I ordered turned out to be more refined than I was expecting, and it was bright white. I mixed it halfway with bright-yellow beeswax, so I’d still end up with that softer color. This was my aesthetic preference—choose whatever color you love for your candle.
Step 6: Prep candleholder
When the wax is partly melted, dip the metal base of a wick into the wax and secure it to the bottom of the candleholder. Prop it up with chopsticks, pencils, or skewers. Place a bobby pin around the wick for added security. You may not think you need to support your wick, but once you start pouring melted wax around the wick, it'll sag without some support.
Step 7: Add citronella oil
Once the wax has fully melted, add the citronella oil. Add two teaspoons for every ½ lb of beeswax and stir to mix.
Step 8: Pour wax into candleholder
Pour hot wax into candle holder. Leave a little melted wax in the Mason jar for later (keep it in the saucepot so it stays melted).
The ideal pouring temperature for beeswax is 144°F. If it’s too hot or too cold when the candle is poured, the wax may cave in and you’ll end up with a hole in your candle. (Not that I know this from personal experience.) Good news, though! If that happens to you, all is not lost. Melt some more wax and fill in the hole before you light the candle, and it will be as good as new.
Step 9: Top off
While the candle is cooling, the top and the sides will set first, leaving the middle near the wick for last. At this point, you’ll want to poke a hole next to the wick with a skewer or a chopstick and pour in the remaining wax you’ve kept melted. This will ensure the wick is encased completely with wax, and it will allow the candle to burn evenly.
Step 10: Cool and trim the citronella candle wick
Allow the candle to cool in a warm place away from drafts. (If the wax cools too quickly, it will crack.) Allow to cool for 48 hours before lighting your candle. Before lighting, trim the wick to ½”.
Plan to burn your candle for several hours, or until a large pool of wax is formed on the top. This way the candle will burn down evenly and will burn all of the wax, not just the middle portion.
I love the visual aesthetic of this candle that fits my style, the fact that the wax and the oil is all-natural, and the pride that comes from making something with my own two hands.