Sunday, January 27, 2013

doing the beeswax dippity-do (in other words, dipping beeswax candles)

6:45 a.m. The olive oil tin, filled with beeswax and a little water, is on the burner. I don’t know how long it will take for the wax to melt, as the last time I did this, the only other time I did this, I tried melting the wax on the wood stove. When I realized standing next to a hot stove dipping candles wasn’t the brightest way to go about it, I moved the tin to the kitchen, all the while feeling that carrying a hot tin of hot wax through the house wasn’t the brightest idea either. This morning, I start with the wax in the kitchen.

Beeswax in olive oil tin on the burner.

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my first acquisition of 500 lbs. of beeswax. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with all that wax, but I had some ideas. I started out struggling to make the perfect votive and also made sheets of wax to roll into candles of various sizes. I made collages by pouring wax into old hive frames, adding little cabins made of birch bark with smoke made from autumn leaves curling from the chimneys. I bought candle molds—the frog, the skep, the “happy bee” pillar—and I found a simple recipe for honey and beeswax lip balm. I’ve spent three years pouring and rolling candles, buying many more molds, making a couple, making beeswax ornaments and collages, concocting lip balm, experimenting with variations on all of the above, and breathing deep because the only thing I can figure is the smell of beeswax is so delicious I cannot stop.

8 a.m. Breakfast, a second cup of tea. The wax is melting, a little molten stuff bubbling up through the block like a geyser.

I am under the impression that most people think of dipped beeswax candles as the traditional beeswax candle, and I conjure the image of two tapers on either end of a single length of wick hanging from a wooden peg against a rustic backdrop. I’ve always wanted to dip tapers, to give that to people, but somehow getting to it became a challenge. It was well over a year ago that I watched a YouTube video on dipping, and that’s when I bought the olive oil in the tin that is now on the burner, because you need something tall enough to dip the candles into. I had to consume the olive oil, which I did, and then I cleaned the tin, put it on a shelf, thought, someday, I’ll dip tapers.

Around the time I bought the tin, I talked about dipping candles with my beeswax mentor, a long-time beekeeper and candle-maker. He told me of a contraption he’d made that enabled him to make something like a hundred pairs of candles a day, but setting up the contraption, as I recall, took five or six days. (Surely, I exaggerate; I don’t remember the details of his operation, and he hadn’t dipped in a while anyway, so.) My beeswax bible describes the dipping process as one that requires pulleys and “wheels” and “gates” and “hook boards.”

In October of last year, my sister sent me pictures she had taken of a beeswax candle-making place in Spello, Italy. The place seems to be set up as an historical restoration of sorts, but no one was there to tell her about it, so we don’t know for sure. But the images—yes, someday, I thought, I’ll dip tapers.

Spello, Italy

Someday came in December, when a customer wanted candles of a certain width to fit a holder, a holiday decoration. I decided to try dipping. It worked. Now, I’m getting back to it.

9:15 a.m. As the wax continues to melt, I brush my teeth, get dressed, do the dishes, which is so nice to do, because the kitchen water lines froze earlier this week and just unfroze yesterday. So it’s nice to have running water in the kitchen again. It was that spell of more than 24 hours below zero that did us in. Wind chills bottomed out at about 30 below, which is dang cold, but the coldest morning was the one with no wind at all, just 15 below, absolutely still and quiet. When Buster and I went out at some ungodly hour before sunrise, the snow sparkled. I almost felt like we had caught it out, caught the snow having too much fun, a gala party, while the humans huddled and shivered indoors. Buster got swamped in it; I ran out in my socks and jammies to rescue him. This morning, with 10 degrees on the thermometer, it’s downright nice.

I’ve cut ten 21-inch-long strands of 4/0 square braid cotton wick, folded the bunch in half, secured the fold with a rubber band. The plan is to dunk once all together, then separate and continue dunking one pair at a time. I brought in a clothesline, stringing it between the beams that frame the entry from the living room into the kitchen. I’ve also wrapped the olive oil tin in aluminum foil, hoping to move along this melting beeswax.

9:45 a.m. The beeswax has melted!

10:45 a.m. Each pair has been dipped 10 times, and I just finished rolling each candle back and forth on a smooth surface to straighten it, even though I’ve also been straightening each just by pulling after each dip. In addition, I sliced the drippy accumulation of wax off the end of each candle.

Ten pairs after 10 dips, hanging from a clothesline.

Breakthrough: In the middle of the second dipping I realized I had two hands and could be dipping two pairs at a time rather than one.

Mishap: Pair #10 fell into the vat. Luckily, I was able to rescue it with one finger.

Irritation: Buster is at my heels and toes as I move between the dipping tin and the clothesline.

Now: Green tea is brewing; back to work.

Note: Next time, lower the clothesline.

The eleventh dip of Pair #2.
11:45 a.m. Brilliant idea: I’ve abandoned the clothesline for a wooden drying rack. Height is perfect and it allows for hanging each pair with space between the candles, which is increasingly important as the candles thicken. Now, after 20 dips, candle width is about three quarters of an inch.

And thank you, Buster, for retiring to the sofa.

Brilliant idea.

12:15 p.m. After 25 dips, the tapers are done. Each is about seven-eighths of an inch thick at the base and seven and a half inches tall. I trimmed the bottoms after every fifth dipping and added fresh wax to the pot as needed, about two pounds overall. Now, it’s time for lunch.


{Every Sunday, you just never know.}