Candles with Unrefined Beeswax
by staff writer
Historians believe the
first candles were made from beeswax in ancient Egypt, and despite thousands of
years of technological advancement, beeswax remains among the best candle making
materials. You can find purified beeswax sheets and pellets in most craft
stores, but with a little extra work and a lot less money, you can make your own
candles from unrefined beeswax.
If you don't raise your own bees, you may be able to buy unrefined beeswax or
raw cappings from a local apiary. A few specialty retailers also carry unrefined
beeswax, but it tends to be fairly expensive. Avoid buying beeswax for candle
making from a retail source unless it is labeled as 100% pure and unrefined.
Otherwise, you may wind up with a mixture of purified beeswax and paraffin,
which won't burn as slowly or as cleanly as pure beeswax.
Preparing the Beeswax
If you're starting with raw cappings, you'll need to wash them before use to
remove excess honey and other contaminants. Place the cappings in a large
plastic bucket; add enough water to cover, and strain through cheesecloth or a
sieve. The cappings don't have to be perfectly clean, and a little honey left in
the mixture will give your candles a sweet natural fragrance.
Place the cappings or block of beeswax in an old coffee can or other deep metal
container. Fill a large pot with four or five inches of water, and put the
coffee can in the water -- it should float slightly. If the can sinks until it
is flat against the bottom of the pan, you can use a metal cookie cutter to
elevate the can about half an inch to prevent scorching.
Bring the water to a low simmer over medium heat. Solid blocks of beeswax may
take a few hours to melt, but keep a close eye on the wax while it heats. Once
the beeswax has melted, the temperature will increase rapidly and you'll need to
reduce the heat to prevent it from burning. Try to maintain the melted wax at
about 145 degrees; if the temperature exceeds 160 degrees, the beeswax will
begin to burn.
If the beeswax you're working with hasn't been filtered, it may contain dead
bees and other solid debris. You can filter out unwanted material by pouring the
beeswax through several layers of cheesecloth or an old t-shirt, but proceed
carefully and wear heat-proof gloves. Spilled beeswax sticks to the skin and can
cause serious burns.
Making the Candles
Once the beeswax is melted and filtered, you can start making candles. Molded or
container candles are the simplest to make -- simply pour the beeswax into the
greased mold or container and allow to cool. If the molds don't include a wick
channel, you can suspend the wick from the top of the mold with a pencil. Once
the beeswax has cooled completely and you've trimmed the wick, the candles are
ready to use.
To make dipped candles, you'll need to cut lengths of wick a little more than
twice as long as you want the candles to be. Prepare the wicks by dipping them
into the wax once and allowing them to cool completely. This will help the
beeswax adhere to the wicks as you dip them to build layers.
Bend the wicks in half, and dip them quickly into the wax while holding the
center in a gloved hand. As you dip each wick, hang it from a dowel rod and
allow it to cool for a few minutes before you dip again. Continue this process
until the candles reach the desired diameter. Trim the wicks to 1/4" before
Although making your own beeswax candles is a fairly time-consuming process,
it's not hard to master with a little practice. Many people enjoy the experience
of making candles the old-fashioned way, but unrefined beeswax candles are also
a superior product. Your handmade candles will last much longer and burn more
cleanly than paraffin or gel candles. Unlike purified beeswax candles, they will
also fill your home with the sweet fragrance of real honey.