Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Winter is the time for craft-type projects in our home because summer is too full of garden, orchard and animal projects to have extra energy for crafts. After several yearsof bee-keeping and accumulating beeswax, I wanted to make beeswax candles, and I wanted to make them in time for Christmas gifts.
I already had a sputtering start with candle-making last winter when I thought I could just pour wax into jelly jars and have instant candles. I bought the correct sized wicks and the metal tabs to hold the wicks to the bottom of the jars. Unfortunately, the candles burned for only a short time before the flames smothered in the melted wax. It was then too close to springtime projects to investigate further, so I put candle-making aside until this winter.
Choosing Candle-Making Equipment
This time I was better prepared; I had spoken to a couple vendors who sell beeswax candles at the local Farmers Market. There seemed to be a consensus to use candle-making equipment from Mann Lake including their candle molds and wicks. I was surprised that the molds cost about $25 each, but I really wanted Christmas presents that worked, so I splurged.
Mann Lake has many molds to choose from, and importantly, they tell which size wick to order for which mold. As a "best-buy" mold, I ordered one that included three small skep-style votive candles. I also bought one 10" taper, a 7.5" spiral taper and a 3"cylinder mold along with their respective wicks and a can of "mold release." Beeswax requires all-cotton, braided wick and that's what's offered at this company whose products are for bee-keepers. The mold-release was my assurance that I could get the candle out of the mold once the wax had cooled, though the vendors had told me that vegetable oil works well too. The over-all investment seemed expensive, but the consolation prize for the large bill was free shipping.
Melting the Wax
I had started to gather wax-melting equipment last year, but improved on it this year by getting a one-quart Pyrex measuring cup. It allowed me to both melt wax and easily pour into the molds. The Pyrex cup became the top part of a "double boiler" by setting it on a cookie-cutter in an old pan that contained water.
The wax had already been washed and filtered. I read that wax that isn't cleaned well could prevent a candle from burning brightly, and You-Tube vieeos show many different ways of cleaning wax. The simplest cleaning method is to melt wax directly from the hive and just take the wax off the top as both the water and debris settle below. I wasn't taking any chances this year though, and so I re-melted and strained my stored wax through precious butter muslin that I use for cheese making. Then I was ready to begin.
Threading Beeswax Molds
Threading the molds was challenging the first time, but we (my husband was called in for this step) were able to straighten a wire hanger and, by folding the wick over the end of the wire, shove the wick through the small hole in the bottom of the candle mold. The wick is then pulled up through the mold and both centered and anchored at the top of the mold with a long bobby-pin. A mold doesn't need to be "threaded" each time if a long tail of wick is left under the mold. As the cooled candle is removed, the wick is pulled through the mold, anchored with the bobby-pin at the top, and cut from the finished candle.
The spiral taper candle cannot be pulled out of the mold as the smooth candles can. Instead, the mold is cut longitudinally and held together with sturdy rubber bands. The candles from this mold are attractive and professional looking and a pleasure to give as gifts. Even though relatively expensive, the molds are sturdy and should last as long as I can gather wax from our hives.
This first year of candle-making makes me feel like a grade-schooler bringing home a handmade project for family and friends. I really love turning all the work and precious wax from the bees into these pretty candles. However, that doesn't mean I met with total success.
Candle-Making Problems and Solutions
My definition of a "perfect candle" would be one that keeps a good flame and consumes its wax so it doesn't drip. I quickly discovered that the flame of small, votive candles still tend to "drown" as wax pools in the candle. The taper candles burn well at the slender end--but then a pool of wax accumulates as its diameter increases and the flame becomes small. By the bottom two or three inches, it tends to drip quite heavily--not good on tablecloths!
Solutions I've been offered are: pull the wick taut in the mold, but not overly taut; make sure there's no residual water in the wax; strain the wax three times through nylon paint-strainers and finally, don't burn a candle longer than two hours.
I do think a partial solution might be to use some paraffin in the beeswax because when I made a parrafin candle it burned well. To call a candle a "beeswax candle" requires that it be at least 51 percent beeswax. Perhaps even a small percent of paraffin would help these candles burn better.
I do know that beeswax candles, with either a rolled or perforated design, do not collect wax which can smoother a flame. Those candles burn well. That's the result I want when using these molds for solid candles! Perhaps some of the readers will share their experiences so we can figure this out together?
Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of the food they eat on their homestead. Mary Lou is the author of Growing Local Food, available at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.