We have now enjoyed three seasons of beekeeping. Each year brings new challenges, successes and failures. It is a constant learning process, which is part of the fascination of beekeeping. Just when we think we have it figured out, something unexpected happens. The whole endeavor is a good reminder that, like so many things, no matter how hard we try, we are not in control of the outcome.
Besides the honey that we enjoy all year long, another byproduct of beekeeping is the wax that you collect from uncapping the frames to harvest the honey. The first two years there was just not enough to do anything with, but we decided after this season that we finally had enough to attempt making candles.
Our storage method for the wax has not been anything elaborate. After letting the cappings drain for several days to remove as much of the honey as possible, we just placed the cappings in a plastic grocery bag and put it in the pantry. Each year we just added to the grocery bag. Here is what our collection of cappings looked like when we started the candle-making process.
The cappings are by no means pure wax. Mixed in with the wax are plant particles, bee parts, etc. The challenge is to clean the wax and get it ready for making some lovely beeswax candles.
The first thing we did to prepare the wax was to rinse it under hot water. We placed the cappings in the nylon mesh bag that we use for draining the honey out of the cappings after harvesting. The purpose of the rinsing is to try to remove any remaining honey. Based on the color of the water, it appears that some honey was rinsed away.
After much on-line research, we concluded that the next step was to melt the cappings in a pan filled with some hot water. Once the cappings were melted, we removed the pan from the heat and let it cool. The wax rises to the top to harden and most of the miscellaneous particles either settle on the bottom of the pan, or float at the top of the water and then stick to the bottom of the wax. Using a knife, we scraped away the bottom layer of the wax.
Because the wax still appeared “dirty”, we repeated this process in the hot water two more times. By the third time, it was finally looking fairly clean after it cooled, with just a few remaining particles present. We then used a double-boiler to melt the wax. Beeswax is flammable, so it is safest to use indirect heat for melting. (And make sure to use an old pan and utensils, because the wax is impossible to remove once you are finished with the project!).
To remove the remaining bits in the melted wax, we took an old nylon and stretched it over a plastic bowl to use as a filter and it worked fabulous!
We had previously ordered candle-making supplies from Mann Lake, Ltd., our favorite beekeeping supply company. We ordered a votive candle mold, wicking supplies, and small metal discs to put on the bottom of the candles.
To prepare the mold for the wax, we threaded the wick up through the bottom of each mold and held it centered with a bobby-pin.
It was a little tricky pouring the hot wax into the molds. I think we will look for some type of container with a spout next year to help with the precision when we are pouring.
We were surprised at how quickly the wax cooled and hardened in the molds – they were usually ready in about 30 minutes. In the meantime, we just left the hot wax in the double-boiler on the stove turned on very low, just enough to keep it liquid.
To remove the candles from the mold only required a little twist of the mold and pulling it out by the wick. We then just clipped the wick with a scissors and put the bobby-pin back to hold the wick centered for the next pour.
We only had one votive mold so the process of pouring the candles was quite lengthy. In the end, we ended up with 30 lovely beeswax votive candles.
As with all of our projects, we did research and planning in advance, but had to improvise along the way to try to achieve our desired result. The candle-making process turned out to be a time-consuming one, partly because we struggled to get the wax clean and also because we only had one mold. For our next venture in candle-making, we will definitely purchase another mold. We may try tapers next time.
Based on the amount of time and effort it took to make these 30 votives, I can certainly understand why beeswax candles are costly. It was a great project for our Christmas break though, and one we all enjoyed.
The sweet smell and slow burn of these will be enjoyed each time we light one in the coming year.