Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sustainable Living in August: Hand-dipped Beeswax Candles

 A short introduction to making candles with beeswax a few years back was an inspiration enough to dabble with my own candle dipping project on a hot August day. Honey harvest of the season is in progress, with some coming in July, and the final collection in mid August after which point bees will be left to rest and get ready for winter. Mid August in cold climate is the time when most blossoms will be finished and despite balmy weather, with few feeding options left for the bees to explore. With each honey harvest there will be beeswax (that is if using topbar hives - more on them later), a substance important to the bees but often discarded by the busy beekeepers.

Our story begins here, with spring blossoms of trees, shrubs, plants large and small. An incredible amount of work turns nectar and pollen into the products of beehive. Beeswax is created and used as building material for combs of the hive, each comb holding some precious load - baby bees, or honey, or pollen, or members of large bee family. During honey harvest combs are removed from the hive, and crushed with honey dripping out of each cell.

Sticky, fragrant, honey rich wax is left behind - at time it is given back to the hive to feed on, or molded into beeswax bricks for sale. Most small scale, farmers' market type beekeepers either sell wax by itself or make additional income with selling candles or wax-based cosmetics. You can make either product at home and here is how you dip your own candles:

Wax Pot./ Candle Bucket:
Finding a dedicated wax pot is a number one priority. Wax is not something you will be pouring in and out of a container, so it is best stored in a pot that is used both for melting wax and dipping candles and as a storage container. Any recycled pot of adequate size will work. The depth of the pot will define how tall your candles can get. There is usually some debris in the wax, so allow about 1.5" (5 cm) extra space at the bottom for these to accumulate - there is no need to dip your candles into dirty wax.
Any tall and narrow pot works - too large a pot will require a lot of wax to be usable - to dip you need to have your pot nearly full of melted wax. I use a 5.5" diameter pot that is about 8-9" tall (something I found at a garage sale). An asparagus pot works well.

Hobby Lobby is the place to get your wick. Braided lead-free for 2-4" diameter roll of wick costs $15 for 75 yards (that is a lot of candles!). The secret here is to soak your wick for a good 5 minutes or more in hot wax before you start the actual process of making candles. Skip this step and the final product may not burn all that well.

Other supplies:
You will need a stick of some sort to hang your candles on to cool. A wider stick will keep candles from touching while cooling, I vote for wider stick.
You will need something similar to a cardboard box to rest your stick with all the candles hanging on it, while candles are cooling. Since it makes sense to dip many candles at once, your contraption will need to hold several sticks with several candles each. 

The process:
1. Begin by warming your wax in double bath (never place wax directly on the stove). This will take a very long time. If you use heat of summer sun to prep the wax, beware of bees. They will find your storage of wax, and you can forget about your project for the day as multitudes will descend. If placed in the sun, cover the pot with glass lid to keep bees away.
Once you get the wax warm and liquified, there is no need to worry about dirt, dead bees or any other inclusions. They will all sink to the bottom of the pot and the rest of the wax will be lovely and clean.
2. Cover your stove and working surfaces with newspaper. Wax drippings are hard to clean. Save yourself time and effort by covering it all up!
3. Once wax is ready, cut wicks about double of the final length of the candle PLUS 2" (5 cm). Soak the wicks in hot wax by hanging them on a stick over the wax with ends soaking.  See image below to understand what is about to happen - the wick will remain uncut during the process of dipping, you will be creating two candles at once. 

For those mechanically inclined, a dipping implement can be created that allows dipping of several sets of candles at once. Such implement will keep candles from touching once they are lifted. I must confess to dipping mine individually, though dipping them at once makes way more sense!
4. Pull out soaked wicks and let them rest about one minute. You can gently adjust them as they are likely to be bent and uneven. They will be warm to touch and pliable.
Once you got your wicks somewhat straight, you can begin. 
5. The main thing in dipping is not to be in the hurry. It makes sense to dip many candles at once - and give them about one minute of time to cool down between dips. You can use several dipping sticks with some number of candle pairs on each and do rounds that way. I find that cooking dinner and doing other house work while dipping is a good combo - gives you plenty of small pauses where needed.
Keep your wax pot on low heat. Keep dipping until satisfied. Trim bottoms of the candles, wax returned to the pot for later. Let them rest some, and get your table ready for a lovely meal with candle light! Voila - these candles are not even one hour long - illuminating a simple summer dinner meal, house smelling like warm honey.

p.s.  I think it is important to mention that I don't keep bees, but plant my garden with flowers for  every and each pollinator, particularly native and solitary pollinators. More on that later!

about The bees in permaculture
on life and death of bees


Unknown said...

Thanks Arina for the great lesson on candle dipping. I am inspired to try it! Sharon

Unknown said...

Thanks Arina for the great lesson on candle dipping, with all the practical tips. I am inspired to try it! Sharon

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to have an idea of how many hand dipped candles you can make from a pound of wax? I realize it will depend on diameter and length...but doe you have an idea?