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Beeswax candles: some curiosities and how to make them
Candles hark back to a time when they were a vital component of life. Lamps and candles have lit the night for humankind throughout the ages. One would be hard put to find a person that does not enjoy an attractive, clearly burning candle. The soft, soothing glow of a candle provides welcome relief from the harsh glare of electric bulbs and sickly light of fluorescent tubes. A candle is a very simple but amazing system: the wax and the wick are all the candle needs to make light and heat. The wax is the fuel for the candle. When you light the wick, the heat of the flame melts the wax around it, the wick then absorbs this liquid wax and sucks it up to the top. The heat of the flame changes this liquid into a gas called wax vapor: the wicks brings the wax up to become vapor. It is the vapor that burns, but the flame also needs oxygen to keep burning.
In this day of ever expanding technological advance, the humble candle is undergoing an amazing renaissance, but its magic never really died, it merely went underground during the time when people were so fascinated with the mechanical and manufactured products of their own brain. The candle has never ceased to fascinate human beings, despite the development of the electric light bulb: a candle offers a real experience, fire you can see, heat you can feel, colors to delight the eyes and aromas to smell. We now use candles mostly for decoration on festive occasions, or to dress up our dinner table- we appreciate candles for the sense of calm they create. In today's technology-driven world with its ever more hectic pace, candles bring us rest and respite by providing a general mood of warmth and relaxation- and enhancing romantic moments.
My own sense of the amazing interest in and use of candles is that it is a reaction against the alienating experience of all that is technological and, therefore, soulless. As an exemplar of the soul, the candle provides something that switching on the electric lights can never offer...so, hail to the candle and to its burgeoning return to our daily lives!
Fire, the essence of a candle, is one of the four (or five) elements basic to life on earth, and it is an element fraught with mystery: Fire fascinates us, whatever its form, we are irresistibly drawn to its magic and mystery. There are many sacred arts, but the making and keeping of fire is among the first in importance to humanity. Even today, in this ultra-modern world, there are still areas where artificial light is provided not by a power plant, but by a simple candle and in times of power outages we again must rely on candles, just like our Ancestors!
The use of candles and improvements in candlemaking have paralleled human history; we do not have much accurate detail about the use of candles in ancient times, however, references to candles and candlelighting have been found that date as far back as 3,000 BC. Most of this clues have been discovered in Egypt and in the island of Crete. Also the French cavemen used candles while etching and painting the walls; some remains of candles made out of animal fats are found in the French cave areas.
Beeswax candles have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian rulers dating back to 3000 BC, and they were made much as rolled beeswax candles are today- usually conical in shape and with a reed for a wick. In the tombe of the king Tutankhamen was discovered a bronze candleholder and this discovery led to crediting the ancient Egyptians for being the first to develop candles. We also do know that the Egyptians used rushlights for light; these rushlights were made by dipping grasses or reeds in melted wax or fat and they were described by the Roman historian Pliny and also they had been quite common to countryfolk living in the villages of northern and central Europe quite recently. Historians also believe that the Egyptians made candles by dripping bees' wax on leave stems.
In antiquity, were very used the lamps: people began to craft lamps to hold the oil and its rush or wick. These were made of soft natural stone, like soapstone, or out of clay, beautifully made and decorated, but some were made of hard precious stone (such as quartz, serpentine and lapis lazuli). In those days, people considered fire to be sacred and treated its containers with respect, devoting great care to their making.
The oldest actual candle fragment ever found was unearthed by archaeologists near Avignon, France; the fragment has been dated to the first century AD. It is so the Romans to have been given credit for developing the wick candle. These Roman wick candles were used for lighting travelers on their way, illuminating homes and public places, and for burning at night in the temples and public places, especially those used for worship to Roman Gods, though we know that the Romans also made use of torches, both for interior and exterior lighting. Finally, the annals of ancient Ireland record candles "as thick as a man's body and the length of a hero's spear." These massive candles were customarily burned all night outside the tents of warrior kings.
the benefits of beeswax candles
To make the body of a candle, use the beeswax, not the paraffin. The best is the more ancient: beeswax, a natural wax extracted from honeybees (the bees use this substance in constructing their honeycombs). When burned, gives off a pleasant and natural honey aroma and essential oils can also be added to it; in addition to its natural golden shade, beeswax is available in white and other colors, or you can add any color you like. You can buy beeswax in honeycomb sheets, blocks or beads. Of course, it is a little bit pricier than paraffin, which is commonly used, but I recommed it greatly because the candles so made last longer and, of course, improve your health rather than weaken it, and moreover it is a great wax to use when working with children. The candles were always made of beeswax, only in the last century, they were replaced by paraffin candles. But paraffin is made from the sludge that sits at the bottom of barrels of crude oil; the sludge is then bleached with benzene and treated with other chemical solvents. So, when you burn paraffin candles, they put out soot and smoke, along with toxins and carcinogens, including very harmful chemicals dispersed by the commonly used lead-core wicks. You would probably never burn paraffin candles unless the bad smell they produce (comparable to diesel fumes) were not covered up by synthetic fragrances, many of which are irritants or toxins themselves: now you know.
At least, beeswax candles are very desirable: unlike paraffin, they don't drip, don't sputter, and don't smoke, but they do burn a long time and with a brighter light. Plus, just by lighting a beeswax candle, people suffering from asthma, allergies and sinus problems have reported significant improvements in their symptoms. Their breathing became much easier and their sleep less disturbed after burning pure beeswax candles in their bedrooms for a few hours before bedtime. Some asthmatics even claim that their symptoms vanished completely after burning beeswax candles all day for several days or weeks. Burning beeswax produces negative ions: they clean the air of dust, mold, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants responsible for numerous chemical sensitivities.
a simple project
Time for creativity!!!
Think of yourself as a chef, turning plain wax into an attractive main dish using color dyes and fragrances as spices. Like in cooking, preparation and execution in candle making are best not rushed. Candlemaking is an ancient craft that hasn't lost its appeal. Indeed, creating handmade candles is surprisingly easy to do at home and there's no end to the variations and decorative possibilities...and who among us can resist the allure of a flikering flame?
What type of candles do you like? Candles can be made in any shape and color, here some examples (just to tickle your fancy!) :
-tapers: they are long and slim, the classical ones; tapers stand best in tall, slender candleholders.
-pillars: they stand on their own and are usually 7 centimeters wide or more. They can be round, square or other shapes.
-votives: they are small, round candles made in molds. They come many scented and colors and they also fit well into small glass cup candleholders.
-floating: these candles are made by molding or cutting small shapes from wax. They are often shaped as flowers or little tarts. Since wax floats, these candles can be grouped toghter in a wide bowl of water: the effect is simply beautiful (this is also an ancient way of use both in Europe and India).
-tea lights: these are very small candles that sit in their own metal dishes. They are very often used to heat scented wax in special pots.
(A word of advice learned the hard way: wax can be stubborn to remove completely from pots, pans and accessories, so don't use the good cookware or utensiles when making candles!)
The wick size must be matched to suit the diameter of the candle for proper burning. A wick that is too small will quickly drown in a pool of melted wax. A candle frequently drips when there is too much melted wax, because the wick can't absorb, or take up, the wax fast enough, so it spills over the sides of the candle.
On the contrary, a wick that is too large will create a lot of smoke, sputter and burn too hot with a large flame. Most regular-size candles require just one central wick for proper burning, but very large candles may require two or more evenly spaced wicks (never more than five!).
The cotton core wick, which is usually made up of strands "braided" around a thick cotton center, is highly recommended and it makes perfect poured and dipped beeswax candles. The commercial wicks are relatively inexepensive but also homemade wicks made of paper or twine or even of cotton are recommended: do as you wish!
Homemade candles of beeswax are usualy hand-dipped, rolled or molded:
Beeswax usually comes in sheets that do not have to be melted to make candles: this is the easiest way to make a very beautiful and very scented candle. The sheets are embossed with a honeycomb pattern and come in a huge variety of colors
In brief: for each candle, use an 20 cm x 41 cm sheet of beeswax cut in half. Lay the sheet on a flat surface with one of the shorter ends of the rectangle facing you. Carefully lay the wick out straight along the end, with some hanging off on either side. Start rolling the beeswax over the wick just enough to completely cover it. With the warmth from your fingers, gently pinch the wax around the wick to make sure it does not slip out. With this metod, you can easily manufacture several candles in less than a minute.
If you want to make a square candle, just fllatten each side with a hard object as you roll; if you want to make a shorter candle, cut the short side of the beeswax sheet in half prior to rolling it. For a larger candle, you can use as many sheets of beeswax consecutively as you need to reach your desired diameter. Wait at least a day, preferably longer, before lighting your new masterpiece (this is a common rule).
The process of making dipped candles is time-consuming, but the end result is truly beautiful- Hand-dipped candles are made by dipping a wick repeatedly into a pot of melted beeswax building the candle layer by layer. To make many candles, it is best to attach a number of wicks to a rod or rack for simultaneous dipping:
1) Melt the beeswax in a tall container- the container can be placed in a hot water bath to keep the wax melted.
2) Tie a lead fishing weight to one end of wicking (to make it hang straight) and begin dipping.
3) Let each coat of wax cool before dipping again. The more you dip, the thicker the candle becomes.
You can even add color and scent: very elegant!
The molded candles are very beautiful because of the huge variety of molds for candlemaking- from conventional tapers to complex figurines. It is incredibily easy to make such candles: just melt the beeswax, pour it into the mold and add color and scent if you like. Insert the wick, let it cool and remove the mold.
Add dried herbs to the melted wax just before pouring it into the mould. The best of all herbs for this purpose is the rosemary, which gives the candle a wonderfully aromatic scent. Dried lavender stalks snipped into short lenghts with scissors also give a sweet scent. Other good herbs for this purpose include hyssop, savory, thyme, germander, bergamot and mint. The resulting candles will be translucent and a pale grey-green color, filled with suspended leaves. Fragrance oils and scents are potent- a little goes a long way. Common scents include lavender, lilac, honeysuckle, rose, jasmine, hyacinth, blueberry, orange, apple, peach, sandalwood, mint, vanilla, cinnamon etc. but scents can also be combined to create unique results. This one however is an inexact science governed by trial and error: let your creativity and your nose be your guide! The available fragrances in fact are in every imaginable scent or flavor you can conjure up, and if you dream up a new one it can be created too....the imperative is: leave the field open to the imagination and to the taste!