Let There Be Natural Light

Make your own beeswax candles with our bulk beeswax. Available at Lehman.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Only weeks ago, we were sweltering under a hot mid-day sun while cutting hay. Now  daylight is short, we’re seeing frost and snow is in the forecast. Here on the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy has made us appreciate light even more.

My husband Bruce  inventoried the hives, and we’ve displayed our honey at the county fair. We didn’t remove all the honey. Enough must be left behind to ensure an adequate winter food supply for the bees.

Along with the honey we will find ourselves with a volume of wax. To me, the wax is nearly as valuable a commodity as the honey. I use it to create lotions and ointments, lip balms and hand creams. I’ll use my harvested herbs to add scents and flavors. I’m also on the prowl for tube and jars, the fancier or more unusual the better. My salves will provide a number of Christmas gifts. They will also be sold at the farm stand up the road. And then there’s candlemaking.

I’m sure you can get candles from any department store for considerably less money (and work, if you cast your own candles) than a genuine beeswax candle, but there are other considerations beyond price.

Paraffin, the most common ingredient in commercial candles, is a petroleum industry waste product that is bleached to white by adding a dioxin and textured with acolyn. Satiric acid is added as a hardening agent. This is a byproduct of the meat packing industry. Scented candles often get their fragrances from synthetic oils that are tested on animals. These are not necessarily things you want your family breathing in. I prefer to use an all-natural product that contains nothing that might make my children sick. Many people are sensitive to the smell of scented candles.

Genuine beeswax candles, in a set of 6 are available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. Made in America by a family-owned company.

As you might guess, my favorite way to use the wax is in candle-making. The process could not be easier. After the honey is removed from the frames, the remaining wax base is placed in a heavy pot. I keep one that is dedicated to this use as once it holds melted wax, no amount of scrubbing will get it clean again.

After the wax melts, I set the pot in a cool place and allow the wax to harden. Any remaining honey will settle on the bottom of the pot and the wax will rise to the top. You can lift it off in a solid disk.

You will find a layer of sediment on the bottom of the hardened disk. I just scrape this off and re-melt the wax over very low heat and filter it through a cheese cloth right into an old glass coffee carafe I got in a “free” box on the side of the road. Make sure the cheesecloth is fastened tightly onto the neck of the carafe. I use a large, heavy rubber band to fasten the cheescloth over the carafe and keep the cheesecloth taut.

When I’m ready to make candles, I set this glass pot on a hot plate set on the lowest setting. While the wax melts, I prepare the molds. I have several commercial molds but I also use any scavenged glass containers I can get my hands on. Often I can pick them up at yard sales or thrift shops for pennies each.

I use prepared wicking that I get in bulk from a candle supply company. Bruce built a stand to hold my long taper molds. The rest set on the stainless steel table in my summer kitchen. When the molds are ready, I fill them with hot wax and go off to find something to do. I have to work to leave the candles alone long enough to set up. Trying to pull a candle from the mold before it’s ready results in a dreadful mess and a ruined candle. (Now how do you suppose I know this?)

Beeswax tealights in sets of 9 are available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. Made in America by a family-owned company.

Occasionally a candle just won’t release from a mold. When that happens, I chill it for an hour or two and then it will generally pull right out. A lot of candles are hardened right in the jar or glass I plan to use. These tiny candles make dandy gifts and look really cute as a shelf decoration. I also make votives and tea lights and even floating candles. Some of the wax will be molded into small bars. These are great for lubricating sliding doors and stuck drawers.

Once I have the tapers set, I use a finish mold to flute the base and package in cellophane bags. After all this work, it seems a shame not to use really nice candle holders. I have been collecting for several years and I do have a really nice selection. Now that my daughter is eighteen and showing some interest in boys I’m thinking one of the Amish courting candle holders is a good idea for a Christmas gift. Karen might not agree.

Everything you need for candle-and-soap-making, in one specialized catalog. Order at Lehmans.com, or via phone at 888-438-5346.

If you don’t raise bees but would like to enjoy the pleasure of making your own candles, you can purchase wax. At Lehman’s, they’ll have all the other things you’ll need like wicking and molds. Picking up a good reference book on candle-making is probably a good idea too.

There are a couple of things you can do to get the most light out of a candle. A lamp chimney will protect the flame from drafts and make it safer to use. Setting your candle in front of a mirror will magnify the light it provides. Setting a candle stick on a glass or metal surface will make the clean-up of the wax drips a lot easier.

As always, safety comes first. Never leave a candle burning in an unattended room and protect the flame from children and pets. Keep the matches where small children won’t be tempted to help out by lighting candles themselves. Keep candles well away from drapes and curtains.

Someone asked me recently if I could make a large enough supply of candles to make it through the winter without using another source of light. The short answer is no. The longer answer is that I could as long as I went to bed when the sun set and got up at first light. In January, though, that seems a very civilized way to live.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.

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