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Working With Wax – 1. Introduction

Working With Wax – 1. Introduction
I’ve tried my hand at many crafts in the past. Some were more successful than others but one craft I enjoyed more than most was making candles and wax melts. I even sold them for a while!


I have put together a series of short guides on working with wax, so that you can explore this craft too. First, I will give you a brief introduction to working with wax, then we’ll move on to making simple wax melts. Finally, I’ll show you how to make container candles.

Scented wax items make fab christmas presents for family and friend and with my guide you’ll have those gifts sorted in no time!

Working with wax to make candles and wax melts is a very rewarding and satisfying experience. It gives you the absolute freedom to be in control of the way your house smells and offers an avenue for you to turn your hobby into a business, if you wish. This tutorial is designed to arm you with the basic knowledge required to understand the different types of wax, the ways they behave and the tools required to work with them effectively. In the tutorials following this one, I will teach you the techniques and methods used in creating wax melts and candles.

I do not profess to be an expert on working with wax, but I have created this series of tutorials as a guide for a beginner to use. When I began my journey with wax, I was forced to spend hours pouring over the Internet to gain the knowledge to make my products. To save you spending this time, I’m sharing the knowledge I gained and some of my experiences with you here.

Types Of Wax

Paraffin
Paraffin wax is a by-product of the petrol industry and is the type of wax you will see most in candles and wax melts available on the high street. It is available to buy as a pre-blended pillar or container version as well as raw paraffin to which you are required to add your own additives such as stearin or microhard.

Soy
Soy wax is a natural product made from the soya bean. It is creamier and mostly softer than paraffin wax and usually much more opaque. It is also available as pillar or container varieties and there is generally no need to use any additives unless for specialist applications. An interesting feature of soy wax is it’s ability for spillages to be removed with hot, soapy water which is not possible with other types of wax. In addition to this, soy wax is often thought of as a ‘greener’ wax as it produces less carbon when burning that other kinds.

There are a number of other different waxes available on the market for making candles, including beeswax and gel wax, but these will not be covered in these tutorials as I have no experience with these waxes yet!

Wax Blends

Pillar Blend
This type of wax is used mainly for creating pillar candles and wax melts. It is designed to shrink when cooling to aid release from metal moulds and tends to be much harder than container wax. As a consequence of this, it tends to be fairly brittle. For ease of use and the many benefits mentioned previously, I recommend using soy pillar blend for tarts and pillar candles. For very intricate moulds, however, you may find that it is better to mix this with some container blend soy or paraffin to make the finished product less likely to snap at vulnerable points either when removing from the mould or during its lifetime.

Container Blend
This blend, as the name suggests, is used when making candles held within a container. It is usually much softer and creamier than pillar wax, as it is designed to melt easily and evenly and provide a good adhesion to the container. In order to facilitate this, it does not shrink when cooling. Some people use container blend wax for all of their wax melts, but I find it to be far too difficult to remove from moulds with little extra benefits over pillar blend melts. Both soy and paraffin wax are available in container blend but I find soy to be the trickier of the two to get right.

As soy is a natural product, each batch made by the producers behaves in a slightly different way. This means testing every new batch of wax to ensure the wicks you are using are correct for the particular batch and fragrance and involves buying very large batches to eliminate unnecessary testing. For this reason, I prefer to use a high quality container paraffin for my containers and eliminate costly and time-consuming repeat tests.

Equipment

Most of the equipment needed to work with wax can already be found in the average kitchen. With just a small outlay for the additional items, you can be making your own wax creations in no time!

Scales
A good set of scales is essential. As you will see later on, using the correct amount of fragrance to wax is very important to ensure a safe and quality product. Digital scales are especially good as they tend to be most accurate and can be bought from most supermarkets for little over £10.00.

Double Boiler
Whatever type of wax you use, it is essential it is melted in a double boiler. This allows the wax to melt slowly and prevents it from burning easily. Burned wax smells and looks awful and is definitely something you want to avoid – don’t ask me how I know! There are specialist metal jugs designed for this purpose but when starting out, a pyrex jug in a pan of boiling water is more than sufficient.

Thermometer
Getting the right temperatures with wax is extremely important. In order for your colours and fragrances to mix sufficiently, wax needs to be held at the correct temperature and this can only be achieved with a thermometer. A simple cook’s thermometer is perfect and should cost no more than £3.00 at many high street stores.

Moulds
These are the one item that you probably won’t have in your kitchen. Moulds are made from many different materials but most are either metal or silicone. Both types are suitable for use with soy wax, but paraffin wax may corrode silicone moulds over time. For wax melts, the traditional fluted round shape is the most popular, although I often make melts in a regular ice cude tray. There are also many makers of novelty silicone ice cube trays which are perfect for use with wax, although some colour bleeding may occur from the mould to the product (testing is essential here).

Colours
There are two main types of colours available for use with wax – dye chips and liquid colours. Dye chips are usually supplied in a small, hard chip which you can then break up into smaller pieces to use with your projects. These are the weaker of the two types of colourant but are very easy to use and to store.

Liquid colours, whilst much stronger, can be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to cleaning up; they will stain anything they touch including your skin so you will need to be extremely careful or you will have rainbow hands in no time! However, with liquid colours it is possible to achieve a darker and deeper colour than is possible with dye chips.

Different waxes will react differently to colours. Soy wax usually achieves mostly pastel colours, even from the darkest dye chips. The only way to achieve a darker colour with soy is to use liquid colours. Paraffin, however, takes colour much more readily and will reach a darker colour with dye chips.

Wicks
There are a plethora of types of wicks available on the market right now and the best way to find what works for you is to test them. I tend to use LX wicks, as I find these to be most reliable and consistent for me but every candle maker has a different preference. There are many factors to consider when deciding on the size of your wicks – type of wax, colours, fragrances and size of the candle will all need to be considered. It is essential to keep a log of your trial burns for wicks to ensure you remember which ones to use for next time.

As a rough guide, you should expect that soy candles will require a larger wick than the equivalent sized candle in paraffin. I tend to use LX 16s and 18s for most of my containers with container paraffin.

Wicks can be bought either as a continuous length wound on a spindle or in shorter lengths, pre-waxed and with metal sustainers attached – sufficient for one candle each. I tend to buy waxed wicks as I find them to be easier and quicker to use.

Fragrance
You may use any of the fragrance oils or essential oils on the market in your candles – most are suitable. The only kinds that should not be used are water-based fragrances which can causes the wax to seize and become unusable (much like adding water to melting chocolate).

As a general guide for fragrance oils, you can work with up to 10% fragrance in soy wax and 6% in paraffin wax. However, I tend to limit the fragrance in my soy items to 8% as I find 10% too strong. You may wish to vary the amount used for different fragrances, dependent on the strength of that particular fragrance.

Essential oils should be used much more sparingly with a maximum concentration of 2%. In reality, you may not even want or need to use this much – again, testing is essential.

Containers
When making container candles, having the correct containers to hand is essential. These do not have to cost a great deal but they do have to be suitable. You must ensure that the containers you use are non-porous and will stand up to the heat of a the hot wax during manufacture and the burning candle during use. Most glasses designed for use with votive candles or tealights are suitable, as is glazed pottery such as teacups and trinket boxes.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading… I’ll be back soon to tell you how to make wax melts!


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