Is A Wick Just String?

What is a wick?

A wick is typically a string or cord made from materials like cotton, linen, or paper that is used as a conductor for heat transfer in oil lamps, candles, and other devices. By drawing up fuel from a reservoir, the wick transports the fuel (candle wax or lamp oil) to the flame to feed the fire and keep it burning.

The word “wick” comes from Old English wī ̄ċe meaning “village” or “dwelling place”. This refers to how the wick acts as a home and source of fuel for the flame. In modern usage as a candle wick or lamp wick, the wick is where the fuel lives so it can combust.

Wicks are a key part of candles, oil lamps, zippo lighters, and other devices to provide an ongoing fuel source for producing light or heat safely. The wick draws liquid fuel up through capillary action and brings it close to the heat source so it can combust in a controlled manner.

History and origins

The earliest evidence of wicks being used is in ancient Egyptian lamps and candles dating back thousands of years. Wicks used in lamps and candles during ancient times were commonly made from flax or linen (Wicks (hairstyle)). These primitive wicks were used to draw lamp oil or melted candle wax upwards due to capillary action, producing a flame at the end of the wick as it burned.

Wicks have continued to be an essential component of candles and oil lamps throughout history up to the present day. Even with modern candle wicks made from materials like cotton, the basic principle remains the same as ancient wicks – allowing fuel to be drawn up to the end of the wick and ignite.

Materials Used

The most common materials used for candle wicks are cotton, paper, wood, and zinc or tin cores ( Each material has properties that make it suitable for candle wicks:

Cotton – Cotton is one of the most popular wick materials because it burns evenly and cleanly. The fibers allow the melted wax to travel up the wick through capillary action.

Paper – Paper wicks are inexpensive and easy to manufacture. However, they tend to curl and leave ash when burning.

Wood – Wooden wicks produce a pleasing crackling sound and are often used for scented candles. Wood needs to be dried thoroughly to burn properly.

a wick is a specially designed cord that uses capillary action to draw fuel up to the flame in candles, oil lamps, and other devices.

Zinc or Tin – Metal-cored wicks provide rigidity and sustain a flame well. However, zinc can produce some black soot.

Good wick materials are absorbent to draw fuel up, rigid enough to stand straight, and resistant to the heat of the flame. Wicks should burn slowly and steadily without flaring up, collapsing, or floating on the melted wax.

How wicks work

Wicks work through the principle of capillary action. Capillary action describes the ability of a liquid to flow against gravity in narrow spaces such as thin tubes. The narrow cotton fibers that make up a wick act as capillary tubes that draw liquid fuel up from the candle wax.

As the candle burns, heat melts the solid wax into a liquid state. This molten wax then gets absorbed into the cotton wick fibers. The wick acts like a sponge, soaking up the melted wax.

The wax absorbed into the wick then gets drawn up to the burning tip through capillary action. This brings fresh fuel to the flame so the candle can keep burning. The heat of the flame vaporizes the wax at the wick tip into a gas that can then combine with oxygen and burn. This process continuously transports wax from the candle reservoir to the flame via the wick [1].

Wick structure

The structure of a wick is an important factor in how it transports fuel to the flame. Wicks are typically made of braided or twisted strands of fiber. Here are some key parts of a typical wick:

  • Core – The innermost fibers that transport the fuel to the top of the wick.
  • Braid/Sheath – The outer fibers that are braided or twisted around the core for stability and structure.
  • Tip – The top end of the wick that ignites and burns.

Wick braiding and twisting play an important role in wick performance. Braiding interlaces three or more strands in an overlapping pattern. The braid helps the wick maintain its shape and provide support. Twisting takes two strands and wraps them around each other. Twisting makes the wick more supple and able to bend.

Both braiding and twisting maximize capillary action to draw fuel up the wick while providing stiffness and structure. Wicks designed for candles are often braided, while wicks for oil lamps are usually twisted. The specific braiding or twisting technique impacts how evenly the wick burns and the size of the flame (

Wick sizing

Two key factors to consider when selecting the right wick size are the diameter and length of the wick. Choosing the Right Wick Size – Candle Making Guide explains that wick diameter impacts the size of the flame and melt pool. Thicker wicks allow more fuel to be drawn up to create a larger flame and melt more wax. Thinner wicks create a smaller flame and melt pool. The diameter should be matched to the diameter of the candle container so the melt pool reaches the edges without overheating.

The length of the wick also matters. Choosing the Right Type of Wick and Wick Size recommends the wick length protrudes 1/4-1/2 inch above the melted wax when the candle is lit. If the wick is too short it can extinguish itself or tunnel down into the wax. If too long, it risks smoking or triggering too large of a flame. Testing wick options to find the optimal diameter and length for each candle type and size is key.

Wick maintenance

Proper wick maintenance is crucial to ensure candles burn cleanly and efficiently. The two main aspects of wick maintenance are keeping wicks trimmed and replacing wicks when needed.

As a candle burns, the wick will get longer and begin to bend over into the melted wax pool. This causes the flame to dim and smoke since the wick is no longer upright. To prevent this, candle wicks need to be trimmed to 1⁄4” before each use (source: Using wick trimmers designed specifically for the purpose, carefully trim off the darkened portion of an overgrown wick. Trimming the wick helps sustain its shape and allows the candle to burn properly.

Over time, wicks can lose their stiffness and shape, causing uneven burning and tunneling. Older wicks also tend to develop carbon buildup from the smoke, preventing them from burning efficiently. It is recommended to replace a wick after every 40-50 hours of burn time (source: When wick replacement is needed, gently remove the old wick and insert a new one of the same size and type. The wick should fit snugly against the bottom of the candle. With occasional trimming and replacement, wicks can help candles burn their best.


There have been various innovations in wick materials and structures in recent years. One major area of innovation has been the development of novel wick materials beyond traditional cotton and paper.

Wooden wicks have become popular, made from materials like bamboo or wood veneers. Wooden wicks produce a crackling sound as the wood burns, creating a pleasant sensory experience. Some companies engineering wooden wicks include Wick Innovations and Wooden Wick Co.

Wicks made from specialty yarns are also growing, like soy wax-coated wicks designed for cleaner burning. Wicks reinforced with zinc or tin coating provide structure and prevent mushrooming.

In terms of wick shapes and structures, braided wicks with multiple strands are common for greater capillary action. Hollow core wicks help provide an even burn. Some novel wick shapes include square wicks, which resist bending over.

Wick pros and cons

When choosing a wick for candles, there are some key pros and cons to consider between the main options like cotton, wood, and other specialty wicks.

Some benefits of cotton wicks include:

  • Cotton burns cooler than wood, reducing risk of scorching or soot
  • Cotton wicks are inexpensive and readily available
  • They provide a clean, even burn if properly sized

Some potential drawbacks of cotton wicks are:

  • They may produce more smoke and require more frequent trimming than wood wicks
  • Cotton can create black carbon deposits on the wax pool as the wick burns down
  • Cotton may not fully melt wax at the edges in large candles, leading to tunneling

Wooden wicks have benefits like:

  • They crackle and pop like an authentic wood fire
  • Wood wicks tend to burn hotter, fully melting all the wax
  • They produce less smoke and rarely need trimming

Some potential cons of wood wicks include:

  • The hotter burn makes them prone to scorching and excess soot
  • Wood wicks are more expensive than cotton
  • Finding the right wood wick size can require more testing

Overall, cotton and wood wicks both have pros and cons, and the right option depends on factors like the wax, fragrance, and candle design. Testing different wick types and sizes is key to balancing performance and minimizing drawbacks.

The future of wicks

The wick industry is constantly innovating and improving wick technology. Some potential future improvements for wicks include:

According to Makesy, innovations like the Ultimate Wood Wick allow for cleaner burning and more consistent performance. The wood fibers in these wicks help the wax melt and burn more efficiently (“the biggest innovation in candle making, the ultimate wood wick,” Makesy).

New automated production methods may increase efficiency and allow more customization of wicks. Vishal Byashus writes that automated cotton wick making machines “have transformed wick production, increasing both quantity and quality” (“From Threads to Technology: The Cotton Wick Making Machine Revolution,”

Smart wicks that monitor wax consumption and extinguish flames when candles burn down could improve safety. Wicks made from new materials like paper could provide alternative sustainable options.

While incremental improvements will continue, wicks are unlikely to become completely obsolete. As Seligman’s Wick predicted, wicks enable many types of candles and will continue meeting demand into the foreseeable future (“Seligman’s Wick Predicted the Tech Rally,” The basic mechanics of using a wick to draw wax into a controlled flame serves an important function for candles and some lamps.

However, if new heat or light sources replace candles and oil lamps, wicks could decrease in prevalence. But until then, improved wicks will continue helping candles burn brighter.

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