Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Long before I even thought about becoming a beekeeper, my mom taught me how to make beeswax candles. In fact, making beeswax candles is what first got me interested in keeping bees! Here is a brief overview of how I produce my own candles for use and sale.
If you are using wax from your own hives, or have purchased wax that has not been cleaned, you will need to clean it before beginning. I first give the wax a pre-cleaning. I put it in a large bucket, then add warm water and swish it around for a bit. The wax floats while honey residue sinks to the bottom. I skim off the wax, and set it on paper towels to dry. When the wax is mostly dry I am ready to clean and filter it. I was lucky enough to be given two large pots to use as a double boiler. I simply take the rinsed raw wax, and melt it down in the double boiler. Be sure to never leave melting wax unattended! If it spills on a hot surface, it can catch on fire. When it is completely melted I pour it through a strainer that has been lined with a paper towel to trap any of the remaining debris. I like to strain the wax into a cleaned cardboard-type milk or orange juice container. A benefit to the cardboard-type containers is that when the wax has cooled and hardened it is easy to peel away from the wax. You will be left with nice blocks of clean beeswax! If there was any honey left in the wax it will sink to the bottom of the container. I save this “cooked” honey to feed back to my bees.
Another method for cleaning is to place the beeswax into a pot of water and bring the water to a simmer so the beeswax melts. Then, allow it to cool. The beeswax will float and clump up on the top of the water, while the debris/honey separates and sinks. The beeswax can be lifted out of the water and the water can be thrown away.
Once you have clean beeswax you can get ready to make some candles! I melt my beeswax in a metal “pouring container” set inside another pot with some water in it to make a double boiler. Again, be sure to never leave melting wax unattended! I like to keep the water at a simmer so the wax melts, but does not overheat.
Preparing Candle Molds
While the wax is melting I get to work preparing the candle molds. There are many types of candle molds to choose from. There are tapers, pillars, and many shapes such as beehives and bears. Pictured here are polyurethane taper molds, metal taper molds, and polyurethane shaped molds. I prefer the polyurethane molds as they allow the finished candle to be removed more easily.
You will need to “wick” the candle molds before pouring the wax. Most taper candles and shaped candles use 2/10 wicking, while candles with a larger diameter such as pillar candles will need larger wicking to burn properly. When purchasing candles molds they usually come with instructions to tell you what size wicking to purchase. I also recommend purchasing a “wicking needle”. This is exactly what it sounds like - it looks like a very long, thick needle. The wick goes through the eye on one end and the pointed end can be pushed though the mold to pull the wick up through the middle of the mold. If using metal molds, you should also purchase candle mold sealer. This looks like play-dough, and can be pushed around the outside of the mold to prevent hot, liquid wax from leaking out.
To make it easier to remove the candles from the mold after they have hardened, I recommend “mold release”. This is a spray that you can use to lightly coat the inside of the mold. Finally, the wicking must be held tightly so it is straight up the center of the mold. I find the simplest way to do this is to secure it with a bobby pin across the top of the mold. Be sure to leave enough wicking hanging out of one end to be able to hang onto it to pull the finished candle out of the mold. Shown here are several types of candle molds, ready for the next step, pouring the wax.
Pouring the Wax
When the wax is completely melted, carefully pour the wax into the prepared molds. Be VERY careful with this step! The wax is hot, and can adhere to your skin if it is spilled on it. To prevent injury I recommend wearing shoes that cover your feet (no flip flops or sandals), and wearing an apron or other protective clothing in case the wax spills or splatters.
I fill the molds directly to the top, and then watch it for a few minutes. The wax tends to “sink” as it gets absorbed by the wicking. I usually need to top if off with a little more hot wax. Then, let it sit until the wax has completely cooled and hardened.
Removing and Finishing the Candle
After the wax has set, you can remove the candle from the mold. Remove the bobby pins and the mold seal if you used it. With the polyurethane molds I grasp the wicking, and gently pull/wiggle the candle until it pops out of the mold. With metal molds, I find that running the mold under hot water for a few minutes helps it to release more easily. Then, I trim any excess wax off of the bottom of the candle, and trim the wicking on each end. Another great thing about candle making is that if you make a mistake or do not like the look of the candle, you can just melt the candle and try again!
Enjoying your Candles!
Now you have a beautiful, beeswax candle! Beeswax candles burn cleanly, and do not give off a heavy, perfume aroma. They also make great, practical gifts. You may find that if you do not burn your candles right away, they develop a whitish film. This is called “bloom”, and is a natural occurrence caused by the oils in the beeswax settling on the surface of the candle. If you do not like the look of bloom, you can remove it by wiping the candle with a soft cloth, or running it under warm water.
For more details on making candles and purchasing supplies, I recommend checking out your local beekeeping supply company. Your local library is also a good place to find books on candle making. Have fun!
Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith Freeman. You can visit them at www.BeesOfTheWoods.com.