By Wendy Mae
Last year I began to make candles and this Spring I set up my first hive. I’ve been having ablast learning how to care for my honey makers! In watching the flowers bloom in theirseasons, I see in a greater measure how God orders His creation. These flowers feed my bees,and my bees, in turn, supply me with liquid gold and the base of my candle making supplies.
When I make candles I start with getting all my equipment together and setting up myworkspace. I make sure I cover all the surfaces I’ll use with vinyl tablecloths, even the floor.Beeswax is very tacky and hard to remove if it ends up where I don’t want it
I like to get the wax melting as soon as possible. Here on the wood cookstove it takes up to 2hours to melt down the 10 pounds of wax that fits in my dipping vat. So I get the blocks ofwax broken in pieces and fill the vat. The vat then goes into my stock pot which I fill with hotwater to within 2” of the top. I have another, smaller double boiler set up for extra wax, whichI’ll use to keep my vat full.
The stove is very hot to keep the double-boiler effect that melts the wax at a high temp.While the wax melts I begin to set up my work area. Everything I need is right at hand.
I start by preparing the wicks for hand-dipping pairs of candles. I cut the wick to whateverlength I choose. I have found that I like them between 10” and 12”. Then I tie washers to thebottom. Washers are perfect as weights to hold the wicks straight during the initial dippingprocess. Next I drape the prepared wicks over cardboard separators that are at least two incheswide. Any closer, and my candles may become tangled. A little notch on either side keeps thewicks in place. Near the dipping area I set up a wooden clothes dryer for the candles to coolbetween dips.
Here is a photo of a wick set that has already been dipped, but you can see the set up using the washers on the end and the cardboard to separate the wicks.
Next I wick the multi-candle dipping frame. The one I have dips 3 pairs of candles simultaneously. With it I can make candle sets that are uniform in size.
Again, this is a frame that has already been dipped.
After the wax is completely melted I set the stock pot on some soapstone blocks. That helps to keep the wax from burning and aids in maintaining the correct temperature for dipping. I make sure to monitor the temperature regularly and also stir the wax to evenly distribute the heat. The dipping temperature for beeswax is around 150° F. I find it can vary up to 155° but notlower than 150°. Of course different batches of beeswax could change that range slightly.
Now that the wax is ready I can begin the dipping process. The first thing I need to do is prime the wick by immersing the full length of the candle for about a minute. Tiny bubbles coming to the surface of the wax lets me know that the wax is penetrating the wick, driving all the air out. When the bubbles stop rising the priming is done. I do this with each pair of wicks and then with the multi-frame.
When I dip my candles, I rotate through each set, one after another. That way all the candles are at the same stage at the same time, and it allows each set to cool sufficiently between dips. I allow them to cool enough to touch, so that they are warm, but not hot. The further along in the process I go, the longer they take to cool.
After the priming I concentrate on shaping the candles. I like to accentuate the taper, so I begin with dipping the candles 3/4 of the way up the wick. I follow this with a round of 1/2 dips, then 1/4 dips. Next I change to 2/3 dips and 1/3 dips.
I have learned to go slow. I lower the candles slowly into the wax, and just as slowly bring them back out. I hold them above the vat for a few moments to prevent the wax from sheeting. I know I am going too slow if the candle does not seem to be growing. That means that the candle is actually melting in the vat. If that happens, I go a little faster. When I see that the wax is sheeting, I slow down, and within a few dips, the problem has been corrected. The candle is smooth again.
Now I can go on to full dips for the rest of the process. This can take anywhere from 22-25dips, depending on how wide I want the finished candle to be at the bottom. Standard candleholders use 3/4” candles or 7/8” candles. I have to keep in mind that the candles shrinkslightly as they cool, sometimes more than I expect.
After approximately 6 full dips the candles will need some attending before I proceed. Theframe that I’ve been using will begin to collect a lot of wax on the bottom of the candles aswell as, on the center of the frame. I trim away this excess using a plastic picnic knife scrapingit off the frame and trimming the bottom of the candles slightly. I then re-use this extra waxby putting it into my second double boiler on the stove. At this point I can also trim thewashers off the bottom of the pairs of candles I have started, as the weight of the wax isenough to keep the candle hanging straight.
During this time of adding layer upon layer of wax, I keep my eye on a number of things: thewax temperature, the stove temperature, the cooling time between dips, how the wax isadhering. I also make sure that I have enough wax in my vat to completely cover my candle.
If the level gets too low, I pour some of my reserved wax in, then check the temperature tomake sure it’s at 150° before I continue dipping.
If a problem arises I go through the trouble shooting points. I check to see if a draft is affecting the smoothness of the wax on the candle. Is the wax temperature too hot or too cold? Is the ambient room temperature okay? I correct the problem and continue.
Immediately after the final dip of each pair of candles, I dunk them into a vat of cold water. This sets the last layer of wax and creates a nice shine on the surface of the candles.
Once the candles have cooled considerately, but not thoroughly, it’s time to cut and shape thebottoms. At this time I can cut the candles from the frame and trim the bottoms of the candlepairs. First I make a straight cut at the base of the frame through the wax and the wick in thecenter of each candle. Then I will cut off the oblong base of my candle pairs so they too arestraight. Next, I have to shape the base of each candle by holding it at an angle, pressingdown, and turning the candle at the same time on a piece of wax paper.
Finally, I roll the candles to help ease any of the crookedness that the hand-dipping process may have caused. I place a taper between layers of waxed paper, and apply gentle pressure, rolling it on a clean area of my work surface.
Voila! A nicely shaped taper candle.
After I’ve dipped my candles, I use some of the extra wax to make molded ones. The molds Iuse are made of polyurethane and are very simple to assemble.
At the bottom of each mold is a tiny hole for the wick to be threaded through. There is a similar hole through the wooden frame that holds the molds. I thread my wicking needle (which is a very useful tool!), and thread the wick through the hole in both the frame and the mold. I leave a few feet of wick attached to the bottom of the candle, which I roll up neatly and tuck into the frame, out of the way.
Because the molds are upside down, I will refer to the open end as the “top,” even though itwill actually be the bottom of the candle.
I make sure that I leave at least two inches of wick at the top of each mold, which I then wraptightly around a stick. Here, I’m using chop sticks. I adhere it using rope caulk, and alsoadhere the stick to the mold itself. I make sure that the wick is pulled tight and is in thecenter of the mold.
Now I’m ready to pour! I check the temperature of the wax to make sure it is 150° - 155°, andthen, using my pouring pitcher, I slowly pour it into my molds. Because I have not primedthese wicks already, it is very important that I go slowly, giving the wax time to be fullyabsorbed into the wick.
As you can see, this is a messy process. I’m so glad I’ve covered my surfaces with vinyl tablecloths!
Now, I leave the molds to cool overnight. When it’s time to take them out, I unwrap thesticks, and also unwrap the coils of wick that are at the bottom of the molds. I gently pull outthe cooled candles, and the wick comes right through. I leave 1/2” wick at the top of thecandle, and voila! I now have perfectly molded taper candles, and re-wicked molds!
Here I have both my hand dipped candles on the top of the photo and the molded candles to the side and bottom of the photo. Now they are ready to use and enjoy!
It is such a joy to be able to go to my candle box and pull out a pair of beautifully hand-dipped or molded candles that I've made myself. With just a few supplies you too can try your hand at candle making. I enjoy it most when I have some friends over to join in the process, or watch the home schoolers attend a class and experience the simplicity of making candles. Yet, the best part of the whole process for me is getting to smell the sweet fragrance of the bees wax. It reminds me of the whole process starting back with my bees searching out the next flower to pollinate.
I used 100% cotton, square braided, #2 wicking for all tapers using bees wax, as Shumann mentioned. Most catalogs will tell you which wicks to use for paraffin wax or bees wax.
The wax I used on these candles was purchased from a local supplier as my hives are too young for me to acquire much usable wax for candles. You can see a 20 lb block of it on the table.
You will also find that the color of the wax will differ from each other as the bees in different parts of the country will produce wax from the plants indigenous to the area. I have used this beautiful yellow wax but have also used a wax that was more tan in color from a different supplier.
I have tried to refine a small amount of the wax from my hives with pretty good success. After melting the wax down I then filtered it through window screening. There was some debris on the bottom of the pan that I scrape out before returning the wax to the pan. Just keeping it warm, I then filtered it again through 2-3 layers of cheese cloth. You may find more debris on the bottom of the pan again which can be thrown out. Then I simple poured it into any kind of plastic container with a small amount of grease inside to allow it to easily fall out once it cools. I noticed that it is good to let it cool slowly. The wax came out nearly as clean as the purchased wax and simular in color.
There are a couple of differences between molded and dipped candles that I have noticed. The biggest difference is that the dipped candles seem to burn for a greater length of time, approximately 10 hours for a 12" dipped taper verses 6 hours for a 12" molded taper. The dipped candles end out being denser by the layer effect and seem to have a cleaner burn with little to no dripping. The dipped candles are more time consuming than a molded candles but they have that personal touch to them making each one unique.