I wanted to follow up with a how-to for using beeswax for candle making. A good, 100% natural, chemical-free beeswax is the highest quality wax you can get, burning brighter and hotter for longer than other waxes. All good qualities in a survival candle.
Beeswax is more expensive than the soy wax that we used on the survival candles--around three to five times the cost, I've found. It can be purchased on Amazon and elsewhere online - look for 100% beeswax, organic, filtered, cosmetic grade and collected from bees who aren't exposed to pesticides. The wax itself will be a shade of yellow/orange and smell like honey--very pleasant, but doesn't mix well with other scents. If you have a local beekeeper, they might also be a good source to develop.
Because of its expense, beeswax is probably best when you really need to maximize your candle horsepower in a given size/weight package. If you're only going to have a few tealights or a small candle and want the best performance--as in most survival kits--beeswax is your ticket. If the size/weight to performance ratio isn't as important, I'd stick with another wax. As an example, most tea lights will burn around 3-4 hours, and a good beeswax tea light will burn 5 to 6 hours. Beeswax tea lights sell for around $1 a pop.
Beeswax also has a high melting point of 144 to 147 degrees, so if you want to leave a candle in a vehicle, beeswax is your best bet.
To make beeswax candles, the procedures are similar. Beeswax has a higher melt point, cools/hardens remarkably fast, and is a lot harder than soy wax, which means it's a heck of a lot harder to clean up--don't use your good cookware here! All safety precautions apply here - make candles at your own risk! You're working with hot wax and fire, so bad things can certainly happen.
- Wicks - square braid cotton wicks are traditionally used for beeswax candles. I'm using some random wicks that I have on hand--I think they're zinc cored--and they work, but they're not optimal. For a tea light sized beeswax candles, I've heard #4/0 square braid wicks recommended; you may want to play around with different wick sizes to get the best performance. That's on my to-do list.
- Container - I'm using plundered tealight cups and an altoid tin. Make sure it's not going to explode from heat/burst into flames.
- Wick tabs
- Melting pot/container - unlike soy wax, beeswax is very difficult to clean up, so use something you don't mind getting semi-permanently beeswaxed.
- Scissors for trimming the wick
- Gloves, hot pads, multitool - whatever you need for handling the hot container during pouring
I melt the wax in a double boiler, and use a double boiler as a safety precaution - beeswax has a flashpoint of almost 400 degrees, so it's probably not going to ignite on you if you keep an eye on it. I used an old can for melting, poured directly from the can into the containers and then chucked the can afterwards. Not fancy, but it works.
|Beeswax melting in improvised double boiler.|
You can also just use the ol' microwave to melt the wax--using a microwaveable container, take your time and keep an eye on it. I haven't tried the microwave method yet, so I can't give specific guidance there.
Again, beeswax is difficult to clean up. Dedicated candle making supplies are probably a good idea if you're going to be making 'em regularly.
Prep the Wicks and Containers
Get your wicks and containers ready for wax pouring. Thread the wicks through the tabs and trim to a rough length of where you wan them to be--I usually leave a bit extra at this point and come back and do a final trim later. Place the wick tabs into whatever container you're going to use--here I'm using aluminum tea light cups. These were salvaged from a stash of paraffin tea lights, but you can also purchase the tea light cups online from Amazon and other sellers.
Depending on the wick you're using, you may also need to "prime" the wick, which is basically tossing a length of the wick into your melted wax. You should see some air bubbles rise to the surface. Let the wick sit, submerged in the wax for about two to three minutes, then pull it out, drip the excess wax back into your melt pot and set the wick aside to cool. Make sure to straighten the wick at this point, as it will be hard and un-bendy after the wax has cooled.
The altoid tin was a bit of an unscientific experiment. I cleaned out the altoid tin and lined up 3 wick/tabs.
Pour Melt Wax into Containers
Be careful pouring, the wax will very hot! After pouring, you may need to straighten your wicks carefully. Beeswax starts firming up quickly, so don't dilly-dally if the wicks need major correcting.
|After pouring. You can see the wicks I'm using are a bit on the fat side.|
Let Wax Cool & Trim Wicks
Let the wax cool for a couple hours, though beeswax hardens up much faster than the soy waxes I've worked with. You'll also want to do a final trim of the wicks, getting them to around 1/4 an inch above your wax.
|Altoid tin candle cooling, prior to final trimming.|
As mentioned, beeswax is on the spendy side, but it is all natural good stuff, and should give you better burn times for a given size of candle.
The altoid tin experiment turned out pretty well; the candle kicks off a good amount of light and some heat, and the lid of the tin can be used as a reflector. Haven't done a full burn time test yet, but like any multi-wick candle, you can extend the life by lighting one wick at a time. With the high melt point of beeswax, could be a good addition to a car kit.
Have fun, experiment a bit and be careful!