Beeswax & Candles

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BEESWAX AND CANDLEMAKING

Copyright 1997, 2003, by Janice D. Green

HOW BEES MAKE BEESWAX

Worker honeybees have four special glands under their bodies that convert the sugar in honey to beeswax. When the workers are the right age, they position themselves near where the honeycomb is being built. Other worker bees collect the wax as it is produced, chew it up, and shape it into honeycombs.

Honeycombs are built from the top down. Each cell has six sides making maximum use of the space in the combs. The cells are side by side, and the bottoms of the cells connect with the bottoms of other cells on the opposite side of the honeycomb.

Some of the honeycomb cells are used for the brood which is the nursery where eggs are layed and nursed until they emmerge as adult bees. Other honeycomb cells are used to store honey, while others store pollen. Once the cells are filled, they are capped with additional beeswax.

When honey is sold in the comb, the comb can be eaten along with the honey, something many consider quite a treat where the sweetest honey is found.

HOW BEESWAX IS HARVESTED AND CLEANED

One of the by-products of extracting honey is cappings, the covers on the individual cells in the honeycomb. These cappings, made of beeswax, are cut or knocked off the comb before the honey is spun out of the combs. This is what is melted down to get the light yellow beeswax that is used in making candles.

The cappings are spun or left to drain until as much honey as possible can be extracted from them. They are then rinsed to remove the remaining honey. Next the wax must be melted and filtered. One way of doing this is to place the cappings in a tightly woven cloth bag and weight it down in a stainless steel or ceramic pot of boiling water to which vinegar has been added. The melted wax will pass through the bag and float on top of the water where it can be skimmed off.

The wax will still require further refining or filtering. Most impurities in wax will either float to the top or settle to the bottom while the wax is melted. The wax is heated and poured over water and vinegar. After it cools the impurities are cut away from the cake of beeswax. This process may be repeated several times. The wax may also be poured through a thick filter such as sweatshirt fabric or through an ultra-fine fabric such as organza silk to remove the impurities.

Beeswax is used for many things, and not all uses require the same degree of purity. Candles require a highly refined product if they are to be acceptable.

CANDLEMAKING

My mother was always one to dabble in various arts and crafts, so I have "played" with candlemaking a little as a youth. Now that I am into beekeeping as well, I am getting into beeswax seriously. I consider myself a beginner at candlemaking at the present, so I expect to update this report as I learn.

The first rule is don't burn your house down. Beeswax is HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. NEVER LEAVE THE STOVE FOR A MINUTE!! Heat beeswax over boiling water. Do not heat it directly over your stove eye without having boiling water under it. You can make your own system out of old or cheap pans rather than messing up your good cookware if you like. It is pretty difficult to clean up the mess. If you have a gas stove, buy or borrow an electric hot plate rather than use the stove due to the fire hazzard.

The second rule is do not heat beeswax in aluminum or steel or it will discolor the wax. Use stainless steel or pyrex glassware to contain the wax. You might make up a double boiler type situation by using an old pan, any type, to contain the water. Melt your beeswax in a 2-cup or larger glass measuring cup or coffee pot if you plan to pour the wax into molds. If you plan to dip the wax, try using a deep heavyweight jar and give it plenty of support to keep it from tipping over. Put something like jar rings or a small cake rack or trivet to keep the container of wax from touching the bottom of the pan of water. Otherwise the wax can still get too hot.

Another general tip is to pour the mold until it is full. Don't start and stop or you will have a line around the candle between the two batches of wax. As the wax cools it will make a hole down the middle which you will have to go back and fill in, but it won't show since it is inside and probably on the bottom.

Candles don't have to have expensive molds, though there are some darling molds available. Some things that can be used for molds are balloons, eggshells, plastic bags (if they are tough enough), plastic cups.... If your candle comes out looking a little rough, polish it with a cloth or heat it carefully with a hair dryer or dip it quickly into hot water. If you aren't sure your improvised mold will take the heat, fill it over a glass pie pan. There can be a little varience in the temperature of the wax when you pour it, so don't make it any hotter than it has to be for the balloons or plastic bags, etc.

Balloons can be filled with cold water and dipped into the wax several times to make a shell of wax on the outside of the balloon. Don't use wax that is too hot or you might risk bursting the balloon and getting water in the melted wax. After emptying and removing the water balloon, the shell can be trimmed at the top to look like a tulip. The shell is not a candle in itself, but it can hold a small candle and be placed in a pool of water to float. It is quite beautiful to watch, especially after dark.

Eggshells can be a pain in the neck, but if you only do a few you can enjoy working with them. First blow the raw eggs out. Prick a small hole on each end of the egg. Put a long needle through the yolk and stir around a little bit. Then shake it and blow. I am just now considering the risk of salmonella--that wasn't a concern when I tried it years ago. Wash the eggs very well before starting and think of some way to be sure no raw egg comes in contact with your mouth. Next rinse out the inside of the egg and give it some time to dry out. Put the wick through the middle and tape well at the bottom. Set eggs in a carton to fill. I don't remember now how I got the wax into the small hole at the top of the egg--funnel or a fine lip on a measuring cup or ladle, I suppose.

I made owl candles out of small freezer bags--the kind that preceeded the zipper bags we use today. They were long and narrow and did not have pleats in them. Whether you can still find them or not may be another matter. The corners of the bag were pressed just so as the wax cooled to encourage the center to dip in making the corners look like the tufts on the owl's head. Pick one side to be the front of the owl, and while the wax is still warm enough to manipulate, press slight indentions to make the eyes. After the wax becomes firm, remove the bag and paint on black or green eyes and an orange beak.

Plastic cups, even paper cups, can be used as molds. The bathroom size cups aren't a whole lot bigger than the popular votive candles.

We have had fun finding small items to fill that remain a part of the candle. There is a lot of pretty glassware available to put the votive candles in. Just pour the beeswax in and insert the wick from the top. If you can buy wicks that are already stiffened you can use them by hanging them into the wax after pouring it. Hold them up at the top with extra long bobby pins or needles. You can also stiffen your own wicks by dipping them into the wax and holding them straight until they cool. Be sure to use the right thickness of wick to match the thickness of the candle. Check with the instructions on the wick packaging--I'm still learning about this. If the wick is too small it will burn out because excess wax will pool around it and smother it.

We also made candles with tiny clay flowerpots. We threaded the wicks through the hole in the bottom and plugged it with a ball of wax. At the top we used a long hairpin to hold it straight up.

Beeswax can also be carved, so you might consider using a larger container and a heavy wick (Twist two together) to make a block candle. Then whittle away to make an origingal creation.

Let me know what you do try and how it comes out. If you have a digital camera, take some pictures. Maybe I could put something you did on the page as well.



Many Uses for Beeswax

Beeswax is one of the most versitle substances known to mankind. Of its many thousands of uses, here are some:

 

WEB PAGES ABOUT BEESWAX CANDLES

Mann Lake Ltd (Minnesota, USA) Large supplier of equipment and beeswax.

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Wax your string or thread to make it stronger. Lubricate a fishing line.

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Fix a sticky drawer or window.

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Make polish or wood finish.

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Make elegant candles, Christ-mas ornaments, figurines.

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Make molds, sculptures.

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Dye fabric (batik), Easter eggs.

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Lotions and salves.

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Cosmetics & hair care products.

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Smooth rough spot on braces or dentures.

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Moustache wax.

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Sealing wax.

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Waterproofing.

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Sawblades, zippers and tape measures.

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Rustproof exposed iron, steel.

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Skis, snow shovels.

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Leather softener and polish.

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Coating for fresh fruit, cheese.

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Etching.

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Preserve cut flowers and other fragile objects.

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Soap Making.

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Gun cleaning and preservation.

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Nail & screw coating (avoids split wood).

bulletCrack, or scratch filler.