Beautiful Beeswax Candles

From Bee Craft October 2011

Claire Waring
We look at dealing with beeswax and using it to make candles

ALTHOUGH MOST people think beekeepers do it for the honey, there are other hive by-products that can be used. One of the major ones is beeswax, the main source of which, particularly for a beginner, will be the cell cappings, removed before honey extraction. Don’t throw these away as they are a valuable commodity which has cost the colony a lot of energy to produce.

Cleaning the Wax

Save your beeswax cappings and use
them to make beautiful candles

First drain the honey from the cappings. If you have only a small amount, put them in a sieve and let the honey drain into a bowl. For larger amounts, you will need to devise a larger version of this arrangement. Once the honey has collected, you can filter it and add it to your harvest.

Next wash the cappings to remove any remaining honey adhering to the wax surface using soft water such as filtered rain water. It is worth checking whether your mains water is soft in case you can use this. The chemicals found in hard water will react with the wax and spoil it.

Beeswax can be melted over water, but
make sure the water does not boil

Place the cappings in a stainless steel or glass container, add the water, stir and then drain and dry them. Since you will lose a proportion of wax every time you filter it, save your cappings until you have a decent amount (at least 0.5 kg) to deal with. When they are dry, if you don’t have sufficient or don’t have time to deal with them immediately, put them in a plastic bag and store them in a corner of the freezer. Microscopic amounts of honey still on the wax may support mould growth at room temperatures.

Filtering

There will be dirt, even in your beeswax cappings, which must be removed before you can use it to make candles, polish and/or cosmetics. This means it has to be melted and filtered.

There is more dirt in wax than you
think, even if it looks clean

Probably the best way to melt wax is to use a double boiler. However, if you don’t have one of these, put the wax in a glass or stainless-steel container and place this on a smaller saucepan containing water. Wax can be heated directly in a container but you must put in some soft water as well. In this case, make sure the container has a volume at least twice that of the wax as the water tends to boil up in the same way as jam and you don’t want it to go all over the stove. Wax does not have a precise melting point, but it will certainly melt well below 100 °C so don’t let the water boil.

You can use a number of different materials to filter your wax. I usually use a double layer of disposable nappy liners but I have also used an old cotton shirt or surgical lint. Your filter must be sacrificial as once it is clogged with wax, you won’t be able to use it again. In this respect, surgical lint is a very expensive option but if you are thinking of entering your wax into a show, it is excellent for removing very fine pieces of dirt. Remember to put it furry side up!

A double layer of disposable nappy
liner makes a good filter

I use an old tin to support the filter. Take off both ends and then attach the filter material firmly to one end. Support this over the collecting container and pour in the wax a little at a time. Make sure that the clean wax is flowing easily out of the bottom. If the filter gets clogged and you have been too enthusiastic in adding the wax, you will have a big problem cleaning it out.

Wax Blocks

You can collect your clean wax in a variety of containers. Clean plastic soft-butter or margarine containers give you manageable blocks to deal with later. However, make sure they won’t be melted by the hot wax. You can line any container with foil and use that. Your collecting container needs to have sloping sides so that the wax block will fall out when it has set. Alternatively, you can destroy it to remove the block.

Wax shrinks as it solidifies and will come away from the container walls. Rubbing a very thin layer of a release agent, such as a silicone release spray or washing-up liquid, around the container, helps release the wax.

If you are going to make candles or polish straight away, you can use your wax while it is still liquid. Otherwise, let the blocks solidify and remove them from the containers. Wrap them in plastic and store them somewhere cool. The freezer is a good place if there is room and you can get permission.

Christmas Presents

You may be starting to think about Christmas presents and what better than some candles or polish made from your own beeswax? Done up in a gift basket with some of your honey, I can’t think of anything nicer.

Candles

The silicone moulds give very fine detail and will last for a long time if treated with care

For candles, I recommend the silicone rubber moulds that are readily available from the larger bee equipment suppliers. They are expensive but, if treated carefully, will last for a very long time and you will be able to produce hundreds of candles from them.

Insert the wick so that there is about one centimetre protruding which can be lit

There is a huge range of designs available including bears with honeypots, frogs, beefeaters, Big Ben, (red) telephone boxes and pyramids plus floating candles such as sunflowers and roses. If you want something specifically for Christmas, there are bells, Christmas trees and Santas. It is almost a question of ‘you name it, it’s available’. Moulds made from latex, metal, glass and polycarbonate are also available.

Choosing the Wick

One thing to consider with irregularly shaped candles is whether or not you expect them to be burnt (many are just kept as ornaments). Wick comes in different thicknesses and you need to choose the right one. This is one that melts the wax at the same rate as it burns. If the wick is too thin the candle will go out and if it is too thick the flame will ‘drown’ in the molten wax and the candle will smoke. With an irregular shape, the diameter of the candle varies as it burns which means it can be over-wicked at one stage and under-wicked at another Candlewick is plaited from many fine fibres so that it burns evenly. It comes in different thicknesses for different diameter candles. For a one-inch beeswax candle, purchase one-inch wick from a beekeeping supplier and you will be sure that it is correct. It will be too much for a one-inch paraffin wax candle. Don’t try to skimp. Buy some proper wick. It really isn’t expensive and is worth every penny to get a quality end-product.

Preparing the Mould

Having decided the right wick size, cut a length longer than the height of the mould. You need to have about half-an-inch protruding at the top and the extra at the bottom is used to make sure it is held vertically during production. Some people then dip the wick at the top into molten wax which can make it easier to light.

Insert the wick through the hole in the mould and, making sure it is held tautly down the centre of the mould, secure it across the bottom. You can do this with two small pieces of stick and a couple of rubber bands. Place the wick between the sticks, then use the rubber bands to hold them together and the wick firmly in place. The sticks should be longer than the diameter of the mould so that you can rest them across it.

Use more rubber bands to hold the mould together. Put down newspaper to catch any drips and then place your mould on a flat surface where it can sit undisturbed until the wax solidifies. For the latex and glass types you will have to support the moulds and make sure that they are level. The other types are self-supporting.

Support the wick in the centre of the candle and use more rubber bands to make sure the mould is held tightly closed. Pour in the molten wax slowly to avoid air bubbles and then leave the candle to cool until it is completely solid

Pouring the Candle Melt your beeswax, as above, then pour it carefully and slowly into the mould. Avoid trapping any air bubbles, particularly in an irregular design, and leave it to solidify. After a while you may see a depression appearing in the bottom where the wax has shrunk. You can make a small hole in this and top it up with some liquid beeswax.

Then you just have to wait. Don’t be impatient because a solid lump of wax can take several hours to solidify completely. It might look as though it is solid but if you remove the mould at this stage and it has not set completely, you will ruin your work. Mind you, that’s not a total disaster as you can re-melt the wax and try again. Remove the mould with care as it is easy to break off protruding bits. Finish your candle by trimming the wick level with the base and shortening it at the top if necessary. Wax the wick at the top at this stage if you wish.

There is more useful information in Recycling Beeswax by June Hughes, available from www.bee-craft.com/shop

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