Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Simple Request Leads to a "Smart" Candle Snuffer

     Okay, this story is a little different but still very much in keeping with my interest in the history of our sensible ancestors. My wife routinely makes beeswax candles, using a period style tin mold. For her, it's more about dealing with our predictable power-outages, rather than some kind of living history. She recently asked if I would make her a couple of candle snuffers, along the lines of the one we purchased years ago, at Sturbridge Village.

My Copies of 19th Century Tin Snuffers
Image Lindy Miller 2011

    Not the biggest of challenges but to keep it fun, I started with an image search on Google. I was looking for any original 19th century snuffers to use as models. I was successful in my initial search, finding a couple of suitable examples but then, one really cool version jumped right off the page. It suddenly reminded me of a "mechanical" snuffer I found on an online auction, years ago. Luckily, I had saved a picture of the "patented" automatic snuffer, in a file.

Patented Automatic Snuffer
from an Online Auction

     What I liked most about the Google image snuffer, was its simplicity and easily understood mechanics. I thought to myself, I can make the simple tin "Witch's Hat" versions to fill the need but a replica of the mechanical marvel would rate as a Christmas gift, for sure.

From "The End of Energy Obesity"
by Peter Tartzakian
Image Courtesy Google

     Continuing my research for examples of the automatic variety, I discovered a drawing from the 1860's of yet another version. The first Google image was identified in a book as 18th century and I seem to remember that the Patented example was from the 1880's ( I haven't found the exact record yet ). Either way, these little devices apparently saw service over time, or were just a recuring novelty.

The Reverend Thomas Butler's Version
Circa 1860's
Image Courtesy dorsetforyou.com

My Replica on the Job
      For the replica, I chose brass as I had some flat stock in various thicknesses. I used a springy brass for the clamp and a heavier gauge for the arms and snuffer. The best part is that the dang thing works. It works great. Such a simple idea but considering what candles cost our ancestors in time, it's no wonder they thought of a way to manage their consumption.

     For the curious, the way it works is, you clamp the mechanism on the candle below where you want it to burn to and then stab the arm into the candle's middle. The trick is to make sure the stabbing arm goes deep enough to allow the dropping arm (snuffer) to lean past straight-up, a little towards the candle. What happens is that when the candle burns down far enough, it releases the stabber and down comes the snuffer. It's actually fun to watch, but that's just me. My wife loved the gift and now has snuffers with options. As the saying goes, "waste not, want not".

"Good Night !"


  1. Hi Jim,
    Came across your blog by happenstance...have really enjoyed reading your posts! Suddenly, I thought...hey, I know this name! I think we may know someone in common. David Swarens is a dear friend of mine here in San Diego, and he's mentioned you often. I made his wife a dress from one of the Chile'n'Crackers patterns with your calico buttons. One of my favorite dresses I've made. Great blog!

  2. Is there somewhere to purchase one of these or something similar to it?