With the large harvest of wax from our beehives, I knew I was going to make beeswax candles. What I didn’t know was exactly how you go about making them. So I did what I always do when I’m unsure, I read. I read books and about 500 web and blog pages. I learned there were plenty of ways to make beeswax candles but really all I wanted was the cheap and easy method (that’s going to be on my tombstone).
Before I explain my candle making, it’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between beeswax and paraffin (or any other) wax candles; namely, beeswax burns much more slowly so you need a thicker wick. I tried a thinnish (by no means the thinnest) wick (15 ply cotton) in some thin candles and it was too thin. The wick burnt down too quickly and drowned in the melted wax. I kept dumping off the excess wax which will make it into future candles, but it’s not the way I want my candles to work. I will never use less than 30 ply cotton wicks in the future (the largest my local shop carries) and I may put multiple wicks in thicker candles so that they burn well. Slow wax (beeswax) means thick wick.
I won’t list everything I tried that I didn’t like (and some things I didn’t like enough even to try), I’ll just give a simple step-by-step candle making process that I’ve settled on and that I’ll keep refining until I can whip up perfect candles with ease.
- Wax (obviously).
- Cleaned and dried moulds or containers. I mainly used plastic containers: a small apple sauce cup, a large spice canister, cream containers and plastic shot glasses. I also used one glass shot glass and one terra-cotta pot. I won’t mention the terra-cotta pot experiment because that involved lining the pot with waxed paper which floated away from the edge and ended up making a messy candle.
- Wicks. 30 ply which worked well for narrow candles, thicker candles need an even thicker wick. I used long pieces of wick that I could cut to size.
- Wooden skewers (these are handy to poke holes in wax that set too much, support sagging wicks, stir wax,…)
- Spray-on vegetable oil.
- Blutac (or similar).
- Double boiler (or pot with a trivet).
- Pouring can/kettle/ladle.
- Wax paper & lots of newspaper.
2) Put your wax into a pot on a double boiler and start the water heating. It should remain just under boiling temperature to melt the wax. I had maybe 1/2 kilo of wax and it took about 45 minutes to melt. Don’t leave the pot alone, it really is a huge fire hazard.
3) Spread newspaper over your working surface. You will have drips and splashes and there’s no need to make clean-up harder than necessary.
4) While your wax is melting, start preparing the containers. I sprayed the inside of all of my containers with vegetable oil though it is only needed if you know you want to take the wax out of the mould (something you might not do if you have a pretty glass container). I put small holes in a couple of my plastic containers to I could stick the wick through.
5) Cut the wick to the desired lengths. I would suggest cutting all wicks at this point. Once you start pouring, everything happens pretty quickly.
6) When the wax is melted, dip wicks into the wax to pre-wax or prime them. Hold them in and jiggle them about until the air bubbles stop escaping. I’m not positive this is required to allow the wicks to burn well (some people claim this to be true) but it does help with wicking your moulds.
7) Remove the wicks from the wax and hold them over the pot for a few seconds. Hold each end of the wick in your fingers and pull straight (the wax shouldn’t be too hot to touch at this point but still soft enough to allow flexibility). Place straightened wicks on wax paper to dry hard.
8) Pour wax into your pouring can from your melting pot (I bought a metal creamer jug from an op shop for $2).
9) Pour wax into moulds. A candle will crack as it cools if the wax is too hot. Leaving the wax in the pouring pot for a minute or so allows it to cool slightly before pouring.
10) When the wax starts to harden at the bottom of your mould (you can see it whiten) push the wick into the bottom of the wax (as much in the centre as possible). Hold until the candle supports the wick or attach wick to a skewer (with a clothes peg, paper clip or bobby pin).
11) If your mould has a hole in the bottom, put the wick through the bottom and seal the bottom with blutac. Pour and support as above.
12) Leave candle to cool then remove from the mould (this could take a few hours for big candles).
One variation I tried was placing mint leaves into one of the plastic shot glasses. The idea was the leaves could be seen through the wax and they would add a nice scent when burning. It didn’t really work. The look was okay (though I prefer the plain golden colour) but the smell of mint was non-existent.
I don’t use scent or dyes with my candles as I like the look and smell of beeswax. There’s no reason why both couldn’t be used, though the colours will work differently than with white waxes – beeswax always has a lovely golden colour.
The candles all burned well (if they had a thick enough wick) but those plastic shot glasses melted if I kept the candle in them when lit. You have to take the candles out of any plastic mould and put them on some kind of fire-proof drip tray (a.k.a. a candle holder) to burn.
I will mention one thing I tried and didn’t like, mainly because the set-up is in the first photo above (that’s a pasta drying rack that was going to be a candle drying rack for the day). I planned to try hand-dipped candles to make some tapers. I tied nuts to the bottom of some wick and dipped it in my pot. Removed, held to cool, dipped again, repeat until the candle reaches the desired thickness. This was a mugs game IMHO. 3 problems (at least). 1) The nuts got hot and stayed hot so they melted the wax at the bottom of the forming candle. Once they were cut off (when the candle was heavy enough to hold itself straight) this problem went away but the bottom inch of the candle was gone because of this. 2) I just don’t have a pot tall enough to make nice, long tapers (made worse because of the nut issue). 3) It’s slow, dull and my arm got tired before I had anything much bigger than a birthday candle. I’m sticking with mould candles.