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.
1) Collect everything you’ll need before you get started. You don’t want to be leaving the room with hot wax on the stove. You should have at least:
- 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.
Hi laura, i dipped out of blogging for a while, again! but how great to see this post! I can just smell those I bet they are divine, If I had a bigger garden I would really consider keeping bee’s. xx
Warning, excuses for not keeping bees are hard to find. People actually keep them on balconies in apartments!
To be honest, the candles smell amazing when being made but, when burning, the smell of honey is pretty slight. Maybe I’m just so used to the smell of honey now (it’s ever present in my garden and in the room where I store the big bucket of honey) that I’m becoming desensitised to it – I hope not!
stop press! a room with a big bucket of honey! i hope your garden gate is still open for me! xxxxxxxxxx
Each time we harvest from our 2 hives we get something like 40 kilos of honey. We store the honey in 2 large buckets and fill it into jars from there. Yep, come on over and take a good whiff – ahhhh, honey!
I have seen candles where they have sheets of beeswax with the little holes in it wrapped around a wick – have you tried that? I think you must be de-sensitised to the smell as i swear I could smell the honey smell from here. the candles look lovely
Those sheets are the foundation beekeepers use to get the bees started in making their honeycomb. It gets them making comb the size and in the orientation that makes harvesting easier (though some beekeepers prefer to let the bees make their comb naturally). I have used this in the past, before I had my own bees, but there’s no way for me to make these sheets from my wax without buying an expensive machine. I’d have to sell my wax to the beekeeping supply store and buy back sheets. So, as lovely as the foundation candles are, I’m too obsessed with using things directly from my hive. Besides, these candles burn really slowly and last ages, those foundation candles burn really quickly since they are mainly air.
Lovely candles, we’ve made candles too. We bought a little mould that is shaped like an old fashioned hive and it makes the cutest candles!!
There are all kinds of moulds that are adorable, so far I like the big pillar and small votive candles best but I may some day get a bee hive (or little honey bear or…) mould myself.
Fascinating. How do you harvest the wax?
In a normal harvest, you have to cut the tops (called cappings) off of the honey comb to allow the honey to be spun out. Those cappings generally contain a bit of honey (which we strain out) and are otherwise just wax. We melt them down (using a solar wax melter but you could do it in the oven or on the stove) and put the melted wax through a strainer to remove any icky bits and pour it into a old takeaway food container so it can harden in a manageable chunk. We’d get about 1/2 kilo of wax per harvest this way.
When comb is old and/or messy, we cut the comb out of the frame (after spinning our as much honey as we can) and break it up (I use a potato masher) and let the rest of the honey drip out of the wax. Then melt the wax as with the cappings. This wax is generally a lot dirtier and can contain the cocoons of brood if the frame was ever used by the queen for egg laying. None of that matters, the wax melts and the good stuff runs through the sieve, the icky stuff we put into the compost. Voila, clean wax!
I am surprised at the harvest you are getting from just one season. Is that because they were established hives?
I think the super harvest is mainly because of the location. The hives were established and healthy, but we still got a lot more honey and wax per hive than any other beekeeper we’ve met. Where we live there are plenty of native plants and trees around in some parks that the bees love. We also are surrounded by back gardens full of vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees… – it is suburbia after all – and I think this is where the bees get super charged. And, the biggie, we live in Sydney where there is something in flower all the time. I don’t think the bees ever really go dormant so there might be a lot more bees in each hive.
Whatever it is, we’ve harvested 160 kilos of honey and 5 kilos of wax (the hives were super messy and we had to cut out a lot of the comb) from 2 hives this season. We may get another harvest but the bees have definitely slowed down (we’re in autumn now) and we’re robbing frames of honey from the established hives to feed the swarm which means we aren’t robbing for ourselves.
Basically we’re lucky, lucky, lucky.
Thanks so much for the post! I like to see the different ways of doing it and hear your opinion. We are hoping to do some beeswax candles soon. It’s been years since we made candles and we want to get back into it.
I was a little nervous since I haven’t made candles in about 35 years but it turned out to be really easy. I have several candles whose wicks are too small to allow anything like proper burning but I’ll just melt them down and remake better candles. There aren’t many hobbies where you can just take your finished product and rework it with nothing lost if you don’t like the first version. That takes a lot of the pressure off.
This is something I would like to try so I appreciate the information. I am obviously in the research phase.
I spent a lot of time researching. There’s so much out there – a lot of it contradictory – don’t let it overwhelm you. My advice is just try it. It’s so simple and even the failures can just be melted and turned into a new candle so there’s no real downside to trying before you’re an expert. Glad you found my blog and maybe got helped a little through your research phase.
I’d really like to try making candles. My friend who keeps bees has done some with molds. Perhaps something to try in the Autumn. I’m a bit overrun with seeds and potting just now, despite swearing I was not really going to plant any in trays this year.
Candles are so easy and the reward is there for burning in a day. Unlike seeds in trays which, though not exactly hard, do take ages to reap the benefits.
I think Autumn is the perfect season for candle making – as the temps drop and the nights grow, candles are a perfect complement to a cosy evening.
You beat us to it. 8) We purchased a little candle kit at a crafts store for our meager harvest of wax but have yet to try it. We were thinking of avoiding the hazards of melting wax on the stove by just stuffing the mold with wax bits and popping it in the oven but no one seems to do it that way. There must be a problem we are not seeing.
My guess would be that the wick would end up sagging and getting out of shape, unless you put it in after. Unless, of course, you add it after the wax melts.
The only other “problem” I can see is you can’t do too many that way. If you’re making a bunch of candles a pot is surely better. Putting several on a baking tray and then lifting it in and out of the oven would be a heavy and tip-prone exercise.
Good luck with you candles, I’ll be keenly awaiting your post on it.
Lovely! I was wondering what other fun things you were making with your bee “products.” 🙂
I think this is it. Honey makes itself, as does propolis. Wax is the only product we harvest that requires any work. We don’t get royal jelly or pollen and I don’t imagine I ever would rob the bees of those goodies so we’re done.
Looks awesome, Laura! Great step-by-step write-up. When (or better, if) I get to the point where I have enough wax one day, this will be one of my 500 blogs to pull information from. =]
“When” sounds better. No reason to wimp on with an “if”!
You’re right there – finding information isn’t the problem, it’s picking out what you think will work for you and ignoring the rest (unless you have a massive failure then it’s always good to remember some of those tips you thought you could ignore 🙂 )
Rest assured, I’ll start with your post. ;-]
Beeswax candles are always so beautiful. I’m not going to lie…I love making candles. I’ve never had the chance to try it with beeswax, but I just find it so fascinating. I am even thrilled to make them the traditional, hand-dipped way…and can even shape them to give them some design and thickness. Too bad the mint leaves didn’t work out…I wonder if you can soak mint leaves in oil and add a few drops to the wax to obtain the scent?
I’m sure I could put some essential oils in the wax for scent, but I’m not a huge fan of scented candles and since these burn for at least twice as long as normal candles, I have to be sure I want that smell around for a long time!
I’d love you to pop over for the afternoon, we could make hand-dipped candles and you could teach me some tricks. Nothing beats learning from someone with experience and passion.
Ha! Everybody I talk to acts so envious but tells me how crazy I must be at the same time. I’d like to eventually learn how to make some really fancy ones with rings of colors and intricate designs.
Colours are a bit more complicated when using beeswax – it’s already that dark golden colour so your colours won’t be true. Not that it’s impossible, just a bit of a challenge.