Canadian Woodworking

Build a tea-light candle holder

Author: Roshaan Ganief
Photos: Roshaan Ganief
Published: February March 2012

Choose from either an Art Nouveau- or Art Deco-inspired design when making this great accent lighting project.


Today, if you enter any home, you’re likely to find some sort of candleholder with the homeowner’s favourite candle. These candles, although mainly used as a soothing escape from the day’s stresses, can also be a source of light during a power outage. There are an abundance of different candle styles and scents, which can come in varying shapes and sizes. With so many to choose from, I opt to go with a simple and understated tea light candle with a faint pleasant scent. What better way to house your candles than a well made, handcrafted, simple yet elegant and modern candleholder?

I have two patterns for you to choose from. While I will be demonstrating one design, it is just a simple matter of changing out the scroll saw patterns to get the style you are looking for. You can also easily modify the patterns to size the holder to your liking; for example, if you wanted to make the candleholder house four candles instead of three, you could easily elongate the pattern to accommodate the new length. All you will need for this project is white glue, some 5/8″ thick medium-density fibreboard (better known as MDF), wood veneers of your choice and solid wood of your choice. There is no need for fasteners or fancy joinery. Make a few to give away or make one to keep at home.

The candleholder itself reflects my love of Asian aesthetics, evident in the streamlined, minimalist design. This makes the perfect backdrop to showcase the scroll saw patterns I will be featuring. I took inspiration from two very different design movements, both of which are still very relevant today. Art Nouveau and Art Deco still influence many designers and artists. Words to describe Art Nouveau include natural, organic, sensuous and flowing; apparent in the use of stylised motifs such as insects and plant life. On the other hand, you would describe Art Deco as streamlined, industrial, geometric and graphic, as seen in the use of elaborate curves and geometric shapes, one of which is the iconic sun burst design. Whatever your style, I’m sure you will find inspiration in this project.

A couple of notes on safety when using a wooden tea light candle holder: always use the metal housing that comes with the tea lights and never leave a burning candle unattended.

You will also need some contrasting wood veneer to cover the MDF base core.

Keep the cutting list handy to ensure you have all the parts accounted for. It is best to keep most parts a bit longer and trim them to final length later. Prepare the MDF base core/block by laminating two pieces of 5/8″ thick MDF together to achieve the final 1-1/4″ thickness. Cut the MDF block to final width, but leave an extra bit in the length to be trimmed after it is veneered.

Apply Contrasting Veneer
 Veneer is glued to the MDF block in stages, starting with the two longer sides. Wood cauls provide a flat surface to transfer pressure to the glue joint.

Lots of Small Holes
Small holes must be drilled in the solid sides and top in order to insert scroll saw blade.

Cut the Design Out
 With the scroll saw, remove all the waste material. Patience is important here.

It’s a Wrap
 Use clear packing tape or masking tape to hold the sides and ends together during glue-up. Once the four pieces are in place, use cauls and clamps to apply pressure.

Easy with the Glue
 When you apply glue to the sides, ends and top, do so sparingly. The top is applied only after the sides and ends have dried and have been flushed up.

Drill Large Holes
 Set your drill presses depth stop and create spaces for the tea lights to sit.

Flush Everything Up
 Once the runners are glued in place, trim any excess off with a flush trim saw. Sand the two sides then apply a finish.

Lots of Design Options
Pretty much any design is possible. This is an Art Deco-inspired candle holder in black walnut.

Veneer the MDF block

Use some contrasting veneer of your choice to cover the MDF block. Here I’m using walnut veneer covered with solid cherry. With the aid of some cauls (in this case I am using some scrap 2x2s that were lying around the shop), I first glue the side veneer strips to the MDF block. To ensure that you don’t glue the veneers to the caul, simply run a few strips of packing tape along the cauls.

Once the side veneers have dried and been trimmed flush and sanded smooth, proceed to glue the top and bottom veneers to the MDF block. There is no need to veneer the ends of the block; however, it is essential that if you veneer one side, you must veneer the exact opposite side. Since the veneer is so thin, glue tends to squeeze out through the pores of the wood; therefore, it is important to use some kind of buffer, in this case some wax paper, to prevent the veneer from being glued to the clamping cauls. After the veneer has adhered to the MDF block, trim all edges flush with a sharp utility knife and cut the veneered block to final length. Be careful not to chip any of the veneer.

Fit the Solid Sides First

Before you attach the paper patterns to the solid wood, it is necessary to mitre all the sides and ends. It is best to take the measurements for the parts right from the veneered block. Attach the paper patterns to the parts using temporary spray adhesive. It is important to align the patterns precisely onto the parts. I attach the patterns to the squared right edge of the top piece and the right mitred side of the side piece. I also tape a scrap backer to the parts to prevent tear-out. Proceed to drill the blade entry holes. While you’re at it, also go ahead and drill locating pilot holes for aligning the 1 -5/8″ diameter forstner bit at a later step.

Now it’s time to cut out the pattern with a scroll saw. I use a #2/0 scroll saw blade to cut out the delicate parts of the whiplash cherry blossom and a #5 blade to cut out the linear lines of the Art Deco sun burst. If possible, start in the center with the most delicate parts and work your way to the perimeter with the least delicate parts.

Glue mitred sides, ends, then top to veneered block

After the designs are cut out, promptly remove the paper pattern. The longer you leave the paper on the wood, the harder it is to remove it. A great tip for gluing mitres together is to use clear packing tape or masking tape on each corner and just wrap the pieces onto each other. Clear packing tape makes a great clamp and you can easily see through it to verify the fit of the mitres. Masking tape is more common though. Spread glue onto all mitres with a glue brush and also onto inside faces with a glue roller. Make sure to use glue sparingly on the scrolled out parts to prevent excessive glue squeeze-out.

In addition to the taped mitred corners, I also clamp all sides. I like to use my shop-made T-stands for a hassle-free glue-up. They simply provide clearance for the clamps and ensure a flat glue-up.

After the assembly has dried, flush all edges and sand the top and bottom of assembly to a smooth finish. With the top scrolled part flipped upside down, spread an even layer of glue onto the part using a glue roller. Flip the top right side up and place it onto the veneered block by carefully aligning the corners.

Use clear packing tape or masking tape to tape the top in place to prevent it from wanting to move as clamping pressure is applied to the assembly.

Drill recesses for tea lights

Use a drill press equipped with a 1-5/8″ diameter forstner bit to drill the recesses which will house the tea light candles. First, make sure to set the depth stop appropriately. Use the pilot holes drilled earlier to help align the forstner bit and plunge down a little bit at a time to clear away the chips to form the recess. Make sure to set the speed of your drill press accordingly. The rule of thumb is the bigger the bit, the slower the speed.

Cut dadoes for the runners

Lay out the shallow 1/8″ deep recesses or dadoes that will house the runners to about an inch in from the ends of the assembly. Equip your table saw with a stacked dado blade set and stack it to 3/4″ inch thickness. Attach a wooden sacrificial fence to your table saw mitre gauge. Use your layout lines to position and clamp a stop block to the fence. Now all you have to do is cut one dado and simply flip the assembly end for end against the stop block to cut the other dado in the exact same location. If you don’t have a dado blade set, you could simply use your combination table saw blade to nibble away material to create the dado.

Cut the runners to fit the dado. Leave the runners with some extra length, so that you can flush it up with a flush trim saw after it is glued in place. Now all you have to do is sand the whole assembly to a smooth finish and apply your finish of choice.

Roshaan Ganief - [email protected]

Recently dubbed a “crazy cat lady” for reasons unknown to her, Roshaan Ganief is honing her skills as a fine woodworker; skills she acquired through the Fine Furniture Program at Camosun College in beautiful British Columbia.

1 comment

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  2. Love your candle holders !
    Will definitely be making some in the future.
    Plan to be using chittum wood.

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