> TEOTWAWKI Blog: DIY Beeswax Survival Candles

6/5/12

DIY Beeswax Survival Candles

I was surprised by the overwhelming reaction to our post on DIY Survival Candles back in February--it has become by far the most popular single post on T-Blog.

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.

Supplies Needed:
  • Beeswax
  • 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
Tools Needed:
  • 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
Melt the Wax
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.
There you go! Very simple process. Unlike soy wax, beeswax is tough enough to use in pillar and votive candles - I haven't experimented there, but will probably give it a go in the near future.

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!

23 comments :

  1. AnonymousJune 05, 2012

    I have a friend who keeps bees for the honey and doesn't do much with the wax anymore, as she has already made lots of candles. She sold me about 10 lbs of nasty-looking old combs for less than $1 a lb, and taught me how to 'refine' it using hot water to get the golden colored wax with few bee-parts. I ended up with about 7 lbs of nice wax. I made simple beeswax candles similar to wha your describe using a variety of glass dishes and muffin cups as molds, and canning jars with electrical wire scrap handles for lanterns. I used bamboo skewers to hold up the wicks. The candles are very bright and unscented when burning. The warm wax has a honey odor that is very calming.

    I love your altoids can 3-wick candle! Great BoB item.

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  2. AnonymousJune 06, 2012

    Still don't understand why I'd spend the money and time to "make" candles when I can go to the dollar store around the corner and buy 10+ hour candles all day for 50 cents a pop. Materials alone would cost more than that and then there's the time factor.

    My time is more valuable to me than this.

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    Replies
    1. Check out prices for beeswax candles online. Tea lights run about a buck each. If you're looking for high quality beeswax candles, you can save some dough doing it yourself.

      Besides, as the original post and the comment below notes, saving money over cheap-o candles isn't really the point.

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    2. because 10 hour candles are really short life. A decent candle should last 40-50 hours and if you make it right, its not unusual to have a 65-70 hour candle and if you're buying the stuff from candle supply stores, you can still do it for about a buck

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    3. Not to mention, most of the candles that you would find at your local dollar store contain significant amounts of a variety of carcinogens...

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    4. Yes, Tressa. Carcinogens being a major point overiding price anyday.

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  3. AnonymousJune 06, 2012

    I'm the first anonymous above. I understand your point -- my time bills out well(telecommuting)so yes, it was an expensive lesson. I went through the process for two main reasons. First was to learn how, so it is now in my skill bank, just like canning fruit preserves. There are definitely tricks to the process, especially if you start from the discards of the honeying process. Second is that where I live, it costs $50 in gas to go buy 50 cent candles. Also remember the theme of this blog. What happens if for some reason, you've used up the store-bought and there's no easy travel to the store for replenishment? It's less than a mile to my bee-keeper friend, so as long as she has bees, I can make candles for both of us and have light.

    Another personal reasons why I prefer the beeswax is that so many of the store candles have wicks spun around lead wire, are a mix of odd chemicals, or are scented. The lead wire 'disappears' when burned -- that means breathing lead atoms and I prefer not. The scented candles are also chemical brews that trigger asthma or worse.

    Last, the flame from pure beeswax, as mentioned by the author, burns bright and steady. I've thrown out a lot of dollar store and Big Lots candles that flicker excessively, burn quickly or have flimsey wicks that won't stay lit. I made mine with stout cotton wicks and pure beeswax, so I know they will give reliable light when needed.

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  4. Money might not always been around to save the day. If you have the money than I suppose you can buy anything you want but that really isn't the point when it comes to survival skills. If you always depend on paying people to do the work for you, you won't have any knowledge or experience. And what is the point of living life if your afraid to do something fun because your time is too valuable to do it? The ultimate point of making money is enjoy it. In my opinion survival is 1 part gear, 100 parts knowledge--and you can only get knowledge one way. I made some beeswax candles a while back and I learned a lot. You might think its a simple thing but there are few little tricks I picked up along the way. For one I learned how hard beeswax was to clean up--what a mess! Sure it took me about 2 hours of work by the time all was done but it was 2 hours of a fun, new, useful experience. Don't guard your time too closely or you might end up depressed, dumb, or even dead.

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  5. Along with that info about "plain Jane" DIY survival candles- thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to making these beeswax versions.

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  6. Your two articles on candle making were so informative. I am slowly saving glass jars to try to make my first batch of soy chip candles, but now after reading this article I may switch to bee's wax.

    I understand all the drawbacks of scented candles but I have been stocking up on those also. I have saved a ton of money by getting them at yard sales/thrift stores. I figure I can use them outside if needed and they are better than not having anything at all. I was able to buy 7 very large pillar candles yesterday at a thrift store for 2 bucks. If nothing else I can use them for barter items.

    I agree with the above poster about the concept that its really not about the money saved, but about the skill aquired. That is why I want to make my own.

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  7. AnonymousJune 18, 2012

    Thank you for this lesson in survival. My son is really big on learning and tell me about skills needed in case of a zombie attack or natural disaster now I can share a skill with him. I too believe in being well prepared just in case. To the person who's "time is too valuable" wake up dear if you don't learn to fish you'll starve.
    Thanks again I'll book mark this and keep checking back for more info.

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one with a son excited about learning these skills because he's worried about a Zombie apocalypse!! Hehehe ;)

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  8. Is there something you can use to make a wick besides buying them? Also would be a great survival skill to know.

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    Replies
    1. AnonymousJuly 23, 2013

      Something that may replace your wicks is hemp twine. you can find it in your local craft store and its fairly cheap. Prime the wick before use but it will burn just as well if not better than store bought wick

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    2. I just bought hemp twine through Amazon for packaging of my natural beauty products. I could also use it for the wicks on the soy candles I find very appealing and will be making. How do you prime the hemp twine? I am very new to candlemaking. Matter of fact, I've never made one!

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  9. AnonymousJune 28, 2012

    Thank you for the info. I was wondering if you have considered using a fiberglass wick instead of the cotton wick? I've read an article and a fiberglass wick is not consumed by the flame like a cotton wick. As a plus, you can add melted wax to the candle container or shave small pieces of wax and add it to the candle as it is burning. The photos I've seen shows the flame of the fiberglass wick being bigger and brighter than a normal, cotton wick. Just a thought.

    Regards

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  10. I have played with beeswax candles A LOT. I tried to make "container" beeswax candles with all of the recommendations from about 4 wick companies. All of them failed me. I ended up making my own wicks using a medium weight COTTON yarn. Braided 3 to 4 (depending on the width of the jar)strands together and dipped it in hot wax. They are great candles. Remember also, that the wax turns out SO much better with a double boiler than by heating directly above the fire. It tends to crack. My favorite are these little diddies: http://jas-townsend.com/product_info.php?cPath=30&products_id=71

    Here is a great quality beeswax for a great price!:
    http://www.sleepingbearfarms.com/shop/beeswax-raw

    I love reading all of these posts...many people think I'm crazy by messing with beeswax and making my own soap. Its the experience, not the money!

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  11. Excellent tutorial on making these. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Just completed my first batch of Beeswax candles!! Alot of fun, and fun for the kids as well. A quick breakdown of some of the things I learned.
    I used Short, half pintjars(not the jelly jars, but shorter). I bought two (1 pound) blocks of beeswax from a local craft store, total (10.00) wicks were about (1.99) for eight.
    I melted the wax in a standard tin can left over from dinner one night. One full tin can of melted wax will fill two jars. And one (1 pound) block will fill 3 and a half jars.
    I used one wick per candle.
    It was a very easy and fun project. I will be trying to make the Altoid tin candles soon and will repost. Great project!! Thanks

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  13. Is it save to put beeswax candles in glass mason jars (like the jam size or other small type jars like that with wide mouths)? Since they burn hotter - I'm concerned about the heat and the glass possibly breaking. Anyone have any insights on this?

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    Replies
    1. You CAN do this-- I've done it. But yes, beeswax burns hotter. I mix it with a cooler oil, like coconut oil or palm shortening, and it behaves really well. The only jar I've ever had break was when the wick was too tall and it tipped over and burned against the glass. Use a ratio of about 2/3 c. coconut/palm oil for each pound of beeswax.

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  14. I make mine the same way (in an old coffee can) only I keep the can and use it the next time. Since its a coffee can it has a convenient lid to keep dust, etc., out and I can store candle ends/left-overs in it to re-use with my next batch saving even more money. :)
    If the candle left-overs contain debris you can just melt and strain it through cheese cloth (or similar).

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  15. One thing I neglected to see in any of these comments is the fact that beeswax, unlike most other waxes actually fuels the fire rather than just melting, so it burns clean and rarely if ever smokes.
    A fact that even Martha Stewart used to include with her beeswax chandelier projects.

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