Trash to Treasure: Making Recycled Bottle Candles
I'm a big recycler. I recycle everything that our great city of Raleigh allows. So it made sense to incorporate my love of recycling into our product line at Tobacco Road Supply Co. My wife's love of (and constant purchasing of) candles combined with my enjoyment of playing with tools in the garage helped spark the idea....HEY! Recycled glass bottle candle vessels! What a grand idea....
It's not a new idea of course, but it adds a little more of a unique product to set us apart from all the other candle vendors while also doing our part to help the environment. It's a win-win. Not to mention we don't have to pay for them!
So where does this process start? The first part is to beg, borrow, and steal (just kidding, sort of) the bottles from anywhere we can. Of course we repurpose all the bottles we use personally. We also ask friends and family to save them for us. These two methods get us a pretty good supply, but not nearly enough. Next, we send out periodic messages on social media to ask neighbors and other local artisans for their help. Our neighbors have been coming through wonderfully and we just made a connection with a local restaurant to grab their bottles weekly. (Actually my sister-in-law made the connection during her dinner out last weekend... It helps to have supportive friends, family and neighbors who have always have their feelers out). One of our best sources of bottles actually comes from a local artist that does stained glass work . She gives us bottles that she finds, we cut the bottoms off and give the tops back to her. That way we're using the entire bottles! Lastly, if our bottle supply is running low we just head on over to the local recycling collection center and do a little dumpster diving in the recycled glass bin. Hey, I never said this was glamorous. In fact, we've discovered that our 7 year old son gets excited when it's time to head to the dumpster!
When we pick our own bottles it allows us to be a little more selective. There are only certain types
of bottles that we can really use. For example, the bottom of the bottles must be flat. That includes virtually all beer, liquor, and champagne bottles, but the majority of wine bottles have "punts" at the bottom. Punts are those little dents in the bottom of the bottle of most wines. I still don't have good answer as why they have them, but they aren't conducive to making candles because the wicks don't lay flat at the bottom.
Once we have the glass supply the real work begins. The first thing you need to do is remove the label. I use a small razor blade tool to scrape off what I can. Some labels come off easier than others. After I scrape the label off, I use an adhesive remover (Goo-Gone, etc.) to remove the glue that's left behind. Most bottles use stick-on labels, but some have the labels painted/etched on (Corona, etc.). I've found that these will actually come off if you soak them in a solution of water and vinegar for a few hours, but I determined that's too much extra work on top of everything I'm already doing so I don't use those bottles anymore. Once the label is off the cutting begins.
There are many different methods to cutting bottles, but the best I've found is the hot/cold method. This method is simply scoring the bottles with a diamond tip cutting device and heating and cooling so it weakens the glass at that point until it splits. The hot/cold method alone has numerous variations. After all my testing, the one I found that works the best includes 3 things: a bottle cutter, a pot of boiling water and a cold faucet. There are dozens of bottle cutters out there, but this is the one I use link. I'm sure they're all pretty similar but this one had really good reviews and I'm happy with it. I simply use the device to score a perfect circle around the bottle, submerge the score line in the boiling water for 3-5 seconds, then run it under cold water from the tap. That's it! Sometimes the bottle cracks where you don't want it to. Sometimes you need to go back and forth between hot and cold several times. How nicely the bottle splits depends on a lot of factors like how thick the glass is and how it was scored. Some bottles are very thin (most beer bottles) so they're more prone to cracking in the wrong spots. The thicker bottles (most liquor bottles) seem to cut more consistently. The point is, keep trying different methods until you find out what works best for you. Until I found what worked best for me I tried all kinds of things like the hot string method, using a candle to heat the score line, using a tea kettle of boiling water to heat the score, etc. In the end I settled on the pot and faucet.
So now that the bottles are cut they need to be sanded and smoothed. They are very sharp and often very jagged after cutting them so handle them with care. Again, I've tried many sanding methods until I found what works best for me. I started out hand sanding them with wet/dry sandpaper. It works to be sure, but man, it takes forever. I settled on using a belt sander and a disc sanding attachment on my drill.
I start out with the belt sander and 60 grit sandpaper to take the jagged edges off. Then I move to the disc sander and work my way down the line starting with 80 grit then moving down to 220 then to 400/600 and finishing it off with 800. That gives the edge a nice smooth polished look. Some people go all the way up to 6000 but I don't see the need for that. Once the edge is sanded and polished the bottle is ready for the dishwasher for one final cleaning and then it's ready to go.
At Tobacco Road Supply Co. we have two lines of recycled bottle candles. We have the Recycled Beer Bottle Collection in 8 oz. and the Recycled Wine and Spirits Collection in 12 oz. They take a little bit of extra work, but if you're looking to add a little diversity to your candle collection they're a great choice.