Nothing charms the dark quite like a pure beeswax candle, especially when it is homemade by you with wax from your own hive. A few years ago, I happened upon a mold for making candles in the shape of honeybees, butterflies, dragonflies and ladybugs. Being a beekeeper, I had wax lying around and needed a use for it. The light came on and “Cute as a Bug” pure beeswax candles were born.
Why pure beeswax instead of using cheaper waxes made from paraffin or soy? Pure beeswax candles burn longer, burn cleaner (no black smoke), help to purify the air and have a tendency to drip less than paraffin candles. They also offer the benefit of a light, honey-like aroma.
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If you are a beekeeper and have pulled some frames from your hive(s) for honey extraction, you may be asking yourself, “What do I do with this waxy, sloppy mess that is left over from bottling my honey?” Well, here’s what to do. We use the wax cappings and left over wax comb to make our Cute as a Bug candles, and you can do it, too.
Melting The Wax
Many people use the double-boiler method for melting wax. The double-boiler method consists of placing a glass or metal container (such as a measuring cup) within a second container filled with water, and then applying heat. The wax is added to the inner container and thus melted. We simply use a 10-quart slow cooker that is solely dedicated to the purpose of melting wax. Whichever method you use, always remember to never heat the beeswax directly: Beeswax is highly flammable!
Pure beeswax is a solid at room temperature, will have a putty-like consistency at temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, melts at approximately 145 degrees, but will experience discoloration = around 185 degrees. Start out on a low temp and increase only as necessary.
Once the wax is melted, it may or may not need to be rendered. The wax cappings and/or comb may have pieces of dead honey bees and other forms of unwanted debris, but don’t worry—once the wax is melted, we strain is through cheesecloth to catch all of the unwanted particles.
Rendering is a very simple process, but it may need to be repeated several times in order to get your wax as clean as possible. You will need some 1- to 2-pound containers (emptied and cleaned butter containers work great), cheesecloth, large rubber bands and a ladle or measuring cup.
Cut the cheesecloth large enough to cover the container and use a rubber band to secure it. After that, you simply ladle or dip the wax, skimming from the top and being careful not to stir up the unwanted sediments, and then pour it onto the cheesecloth. Work slowly and carefully because melted wax is hot. The cheesecloth will catch any unwanted debris from the wax. Continue with this process until the melted wax in the container touches the bottom of the cheesecloth. Remember, because of the heat of the wax, the cheesecloth will droop into your container slightly.
Set the container aside and allow the wax to completely cool and harden before placing it in the freezer for approximately 10 minutes. This will aide in the release of the wax from the plastic container. After 10 minutes, remove the container from the freezer and place it upside down and smack the bottom to release the wax. Once the wax has been released, any debris will have sunk to the bottom and you can easily see if you need to repeat the rendering process.
Buzzing Right Along
Once you have acquired wax that is clean to your satisfaction, the remaining steps are quick and easily done. First, you want to clean your equipment. It looks more exhausting than it really is. Warm the double boiler or slow cooker up to melt any remaining hardened wax and debris, then take paper towels and wipe it out. It’s that simple.
Once the equipment is cleaned, place your blocks of wax into the double boiler or slow cooker, set on a low temperature and allow the beeswax to melt. At this point, you may choose to add a scent to the wax or maybe even a coloring. We have chosen to allow the natural color and aroma of the wax to prevail. After all, what scent would you put to a bug?
Once melted, you slowly ladle or dip the wax and pour into the mold. Once again, pour slowly and carefully because melted wax is hot! Allow the wax to completely cool and harden, then place it in the freezer for approximately 10 minutes for easier removal. Place wax paper on a counter top or flat surface, flip the mold upside down and simply pop the candles from the mold (like an ice cube tray). Now you have cute wax molds of bugs. But wait, they aren’t really candles yet, are they? There are a few more steps to finish your “buggy” project, because candles need wicks.
Pre-waxed votive candlewicks with an attached disc work quite well for this part of the process. Utilizing a drill, whether it is cordless, electric, a drill press or even a manual hand type, the hole is drilled from the top. Obviously, use a steady hand to drill the hole to prevent damage to the candle (if damaged, melt the candle and try again). Insert the wick from the bottom of the candle and trim the top of the wick to about 0.5 inches before burning.
Down To Bees-Ness
Pure beeswax can be purchased ready to go from many suppliers nationwide. The mold for “Cute as a Bug” is available online as well as the wicks. Use your imagination and see where it leads you. “Cute as a Bug” complete candle kits are also available through Indian Run Apiary at indianrunapiary.com.
Now you can make “Cute as a Bug” candles for yourself and I won’t tell anyone where you learned how to do it. I have been making “Cute as a Bug” pure beeswax candles for a few years and selling them at local fairs, festivals, at our shop and online. They are quite popular and they make a great homemade, natural gift.
I suggest that you take one of each of the bugs and place them on a mirrored candle plate and light. The reflection is beautiful and the smell is heavenly. The scent is very natural and clean with just a hint of honey. If you are not already a beekeeper, make some “Cute as a Bug” candles, relax and think about becoming one for the coming year. We need all the beekeepers we can get!
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.