Before we had rechargeable lamps, flashlights and light bulbs, we navigated through the dark with just the humble candle. Although candles may seem primitive to us now, they were infinitely useful for lighting up any room during the early days when our forefathers had no electricity. They made it possible to get things done even after dark. And then they could easily be extinguished when they weren’t in use.
But did you know that people used to have a different way of putting out lit candles?
Types of Douters
Back then, they had tools called candle douters or candle snuffers. As the name suggests, they snuffed out the flame of lit candles. There are two main types associated with candle douters. One is shaped like a bell or cone attached to a rod handle, while the other type looks like an oversized pair of scissors with a box compartment attached to it. Although both of them are commonly referred to as candle douters, they actually serve different purposes.
Bell-shaped douters were designed to put out fire by smothering it. You cover the flame with the bell and the flame dies underneath it. In a clever use of scientific principles, these candle douters work by depriving the flame of air. Fire needs oxygen in order to burn, and by covering it with the douter, you cut off its supply of air–no oxygen means no flame. Bell-shaped candle douters were useful for snuffing out candles without blowing it out and possibly burning yourself from the candle’s hot wax. They also prevented the spread of smoke which happens when you blow a candle out.
The main purpose of the scissor-shaped douters wasn’t to put out the fire. They were actually used to trim the candle wick. You see, in the old days, candles had a design that made it harder for the wick to be burned down completely. This meant that you needed to snip off the excess wick after each use. The box appendage on the scissor douters were meant to catch the trimmed threads. Trimming often caused the flame to be extinguished. So it’s easy to confuse it with the bell shaped candle snuffers that were designed to put out the flame. However an experienced person could snip off the wick without extinguishing the fire.
Decline of Use
These days however, scissor shaped candle douters have fallen out of use after braided wicks were invented. The braiding encourages a slow consistent burn that not only conserves the candle but also encourages the wick to curl back into the flame as the candle burns down. This meant that the wick gets burned more so less charred excess wick needs to be clipped off. This eliminated the need for scissor douters to snip off the wick.
Candle Douters Today
Once used widely in the 18th century, bell-shaped and scissor-shaped candle douters are a rare sight in regular homes now and are just used mostly for special occasions and rituals. These douters can be found in churches though, where they are used for putting out the fire from tall or hard to reach candles at the altar.
Also, candle douters are still valuable pieces in antique enthusiasts’ collections. For some, the classic designs of these tools have an elegant vintage charm. Others have newer douters that come in different designs and shapes. They can look like animals, people, flowers and more. Some even have unconventional designs like automatic snuffers that you can attach to the candle.
What do you think of candle douters? Do you have one of your own? Let us know about your experience with these historical tools.
Aside from Candle Douters, we also have candle holders in our ebay store, The Escape Place. Check out our page for cool candle holders.