MYOG – Make Your Own Bushman’s Pocket Candlestick Tin

This is a dead-easy project. Dads or mums, build one of these with your son or daughter. Scout or Guide leaders, use it as a project for camping weekends or slow weeknight meetings. Guys and gals, put one together for those rustic bushwalking or hiking trips and amaze your mates.

It’s a candle holder in a tin designed so that when it’s all packed up it’s pocket-sized and easy to carry around with you for use when you’re swaggin’ it next to a creek or river, or eating a feed of damper and bushman’s stew on a camp table. It’s not windproof or waterproof, nor is it meant to be. It’s just a way to hold a candle and to reflect a bit of light. Same sort of concept as a traditional slush lamp, but without the bad smell. For high performance in bad conditions, use a proper glass or mica-windowed candle lantern like a Stonebridge or a Swiss Army/Excelsior Lux type. Keep the candle away from wind, water and of course, from flammable materials and vegetation while lit.

The Original

The Bushman’s Candlestick Holder is based on an Australian-made WWI-era private purchase candle holder called “The Soldier’s Friend”. This was pretty much a “flat fifty” cigarette tin with a hinged lid, a tinplate candle socket and a matchbox holder fitted inside. It was first sold to Aussie Diggers deploying over to Palestine or the Western Front from the end of 1915. Judging from the amount of them which still exist, they were a popular item, made and sold in their tens or even hundreds of thousands. You can still find them today, but the price varies anywhere from about $20 up to around $200.

Here’s some pics of an original held by the Australian War Memorial (REL37869)

The “Soldier’s Friend” Camp Pocket Candlestick all closed up in its tin.
Opened up, you can see “The Soldier’s Friend” has a tin candlestick socket and a match case. It’s designed to hold two candles and a box of matches.

The Tin.

A 2-oz tobacco tin works pretty well for these, or you can use a Supercheap Auto gift card tin like I have. Strip the paint for a more authentic look and feel. The sheet metal of the tin will begin to oxidise and patinate and look great, or you can paint it any colour you like.

A Supercheap Auto gift card tin with the paint stripped.

Unfortunately, the rounded corners of these types of tins mean that the lid can’t be easily made to sit up to act as a reflector. It just won’t sit properly. No worries, we’ll make it a hinged lid. I hinge mine on the short side so the lid sits as high as possible when opened up. This adds a bit of a wind break and works better as a reflector.

The same tin before stripping. This early idea dispensed completely with the concept of a plug.

The hinge is nothing more than some wire. You make three sets of holes in the end of the closed up tin, put a loop of wire through each one and then twist the ends of the wire together (inside the tin, so the wire won’t tear the inside of your pocket to pieces). Cut off the excess wire and open and close the lid a few times to make sure it works. If the lid won’t sit at a 90 degree angle to the tin, then tighten up your hinges by twisting the wire a bit more.

The earlier version set up and in use. The candle is pushed through the hole in the bottom of the tin. A vintage Marbles waterproof match safe and a couple of spare candle stubs are carried in the tin.

Unlike the original “Soldier’s Friend”, we’re just going to poke a hole in the bottom of the tin. If you want to get creative and make a proper candle socket, go for it. This works fine so I’ll run with it. To poke the hole I used a screwdriver, then using my knife I cut four equally spaced slits in the edges of the hole and forced a candle into it until the hole was big enough for the candle to pass through. Sure, you’re left with a big hole in your tin, but the original “Soldier’s Friend” had one too. If this worries you, you can make up a plug as you’ll see below.

The Candles

I used normal household candles you’ll find at a supermarket. Mine are white paraffin, but you could use beeswax or tallow candles if you wanted to be more “authentic”.  I cut these candles in half for use with my Swiss Army folding candle lanterns, so I just used those same half candles for this project. If you want a longer candle, you can safely cut your candles to the same length as the inside of the tin. As long as they lay down inside the tin so the tin can be closed up, that’s all you want.

The plugged Pocket Candlestick Tin all packed up ready for the lid to be closed.

The Matches

I’ve used a normal sized box of redheads, a normal sized box of 1940s Federal brand matches, a nickeled brass Marbles match safe and a tin wax vesta box full of strike-anywhere vintage Swan Vestas matches. You could fit a Zippo lighter or even a plastic Bic lighter in there if you wanted. Whatever. I choose to use waterproof matches since the tin has a dirty great hole in it. It doesn’t matter too much if your candles themselves get wet, but if your matches did, you’d be back to old-time quartz and steel or fire by friction just to get your candle lit.

The Plug

Having a big hole in your tin vexes me. In fact, having any hole in my tin vexes me. When I make charcloth I never use the “poke a hole in a tin and throw the whole lot in the fire” method. Then you have ruined a perfectly good tin. I use the bushman’s method which I’ll post about another time. This whole pocket candlestick project ruins a perfectly good tin too, but I came up with a way to (mostly) waterproof it.

Using a spare cork from an old army enamel water bottle, I cut it down (and the hardware the cork uses) and then forced the cork into the hole until it sealed nicely. I tied off the cork’s string to one of the wire hinges on the tin and then ran a strip of elastoplast (cloth medical tape) over the three sets of hinge-holes I made.

The plugged bushman’s pocket candle stick tin assembled and lit. Note the cork plug tied off to one of the wire hinges.

Now the tin has a cork plug fitted and water can’t come in through the hinge holes. To use, pull out the plug, open the lid, sit a candle in the plug hole and light it.

Given a tin, a candle and a swiss army knife, it shouldn’t take the average adult more than about 5 minutes to put one of these projects together. Easy-peasy.

The bottom of the closed up tin with the plug fitted. The plug doesn’t stick out too far, the whole thing is still pocket-sized.

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