Beeswax Candles for Show
There is nothing to compare with the soft glowing light from a candle. When
it is enhanced by the delicate perfume of beeswax and honey you have perfection.
Making candles for the show bench is a two-fold operation. Exhibitors are
required to produce a beautiful piece of beeswax as well as a candle that,
to give a good light, must burn correctly. The candle will be judged on both
these counts and must excel in both in order to gain a place.
The first thing a candle judge will do is assess
the wax used so the beeswax must be prepared to the same standard as for
showing in the beeswax classes. The amount of wax which needs to be prepared
at one time will depend on the type of candle to be made. Moulded candles
do not need a very large supply, but the making of dipped candles needs a
considerable reservoir of melted wax. Careful straining is not only needed
for "show" - if there
are impurities in the wax they will cause the candle to splutter and flare.
Experienced exhibitors have their own preferences for straining material.
I usually find four thicknesses of a closely woven muslin fastened in an
embroidery frame an adequate system for candles.
The secret of a good candle is in the wick - it
must be the correct size in relation to the diameter of the candle. A word
of warning here. Different waxes require different thicknesses of wick; beeswax
candles need a wick about twice the thickness of that for paraffin wax candles
of the same diameter. You must know exactly what you are buying. Beekeeping
suppliers sell wick labelled for beeswax, but if you are buying from a general
candle-making shop they will probably label the wick for paraffin candles.
A good wick is plaited causing it to bend over when burning so that the tip
is burned off at the hottest part of the flame and "snuffing" (trimming of
the smoking tip) is done automatically. This was a chore that gave employment
to armies of servants in the old days. Either flat plaited wicks or square
plaited wicks are available. An advantage of the latter is that, while it
still bends over enough for its tip to burn off, it doesn’t curl so
much so that the hot flame is more central and reduces the tendency for one
side of a fat candle to burn down quicker on one side and "gutter" (i.e.
drip wax). However I find they are much more inclined to "cauliflower",
which can distort the flame. Wicks are also pickled in a weak solution of
mineral salts; this helps to reduce smoking and length of after-glow and
also improves illumination.
Having prepared the wax and the wick now comes the real skill - to make
the best beeswax into beautiful candles.
There are many different ways of making candles,
but in show schedules they often seem to be classified as "moulded" or "not moulded".
Rigid moulds are usually made of glass, plastic or metal; they may be tall
or short, fat or thin, tapered, circular, square. Flexible moulds are often
made of latex rubber but new, more solid silicone rubber moulds are now on
the market; they are available in a huge variety of fancy shapes and sizes,
some of which I feel are actually not good candle-burning shapes!
For both rigid and flexible moulds the temperature of the liquid wax and
the temperature of the room where they are made, together with careful use
of a release agent (washing-up liquid, glycerine, a mixture of the two -
everyone develops their own preference) are important, but not necessarily
the same! Silicone rubber moulds however do not need any release agent and
are split down the side making removal from the mould much easier; but you
can get a mark from the two sides of the join. Selecting the right wick for
an irregularly-shaped mould can be tricky. Candles in rigid moulds should
normally be left in until quite cold, but candles made in rubber moulds should
be removed while still warm - but not too warm! After removing the candle
from the mould, melted beeswax can be added to the exposed tip of wick by
dipping it or by wiping hot melted wax onto it.
Dipped candles: These are made by repeatedly
dipping wick into a pot of wax; at intervals the growing candles should be
rolled on a sheet of glass or similar smooth surface to keep them straight
and round. The drip ("port")
that builds up on the bottom must also be cut off at intervals. The finished
candle will be tapered to the top and its length will be dictated by the
depth of the dipping container. Here the temperature of the wax in the dipping
pot is critical - as well as the supply for topping up - otherwise the layers
may not adhere correctly. Care must also be taken not to work in a draught
or the candled will finish bent. The final dip should be deep enough to put
wax on the exposed tip of wick.
Poured candles: These are made by pouring wax down the
wick. The main advantage of this type is they can be made to any required
length. Again the candle will need rolling and the "port" cutting
off at intervals.
Rolled foundation: Perhaps the easiest and least messy candle to make.
These candles are very popular with the general public, but as there is no
great skill in making them there is not really a place for them in a show,
other than display classes.
The wax: Must be clean enough to stand inspection with a magnifying glass;
Its colour - whether deep yellow or pale cream - must be clear and bright;
It must have the delicious honey smell that comes from fresh beeswax.
Appearance - The following points will be noted by the judge:
Whatever number of candles are specified in the schedule they must match
each other in all respects - colour, symmetry.
Moulding should be clear; no join mark must show and no release agent should
remain. Smooth surfaces must be really smooth.
The wicks must be correctly positioned - centred at the top and at the bottom (This can be checked immediately after filling the mould).
Does the wick look like the right size? (Only burning will confirm this)
Is the wick waxed?
Lighting and Burning: The schedule must always indicate that the judge will
light one candle; failure to do so would be like judging honey without tasting
it. Show organisers need to provide a draught-free area in which to do this.
The difficulty of organising such an area may be one of the reasons why candle
classes are not included in many shows.
Firstly, the candle must light easily. If there is no wax on the wick above
the finished candle it may go out before the flame ever reaches the wax -
and that’s the end of your entry.
Then it must burn well. The flame should be bright and even; the wick should
curve so it does not smoke; if the wick is too thin it will not burn the
wax up fast enough and excess melted wax will run down the side (guttering),
and if the wick is too large the candle will burn with a small flame and
give off smoke. The molten pool will also collect any dirt left in the wax.
The candles must be burned for at least an hour during which the judge watches
their performance. Fat candles over 1½" diameter may need to
be burned for up to two hours - ideally they should be burned to below the
shoulder of the mould or their performance may not be properly judged.
Extinguishing: The candles are next extinguished - the flame must be blown
out, not suppressed by any other means. To do this place a cupped hand immediately
behind the flame and give a short, sharp, tight-lipped, tongued blow directly
at the flame - a bit like a discreet, dry spit! The afterglow is observed
and should last from 10-20 seconds. If it goes on for too long it may consume
too much of the wick and the candle will be hard to relight. An evenly braided
and correctly pickled wick will perform best.
Relighting: The candles must then be allowed to cool properly before re-lighting.
At least twenty minutes is needed for the wax to cool enough for the smaller
candles but a big fat entry might need as much as an hour. The candle should
re-light easily - in "real life" one rarely burns a candle right
through at one go.
The burning performance is again carefully noted.
With so many aspects to consider I think it is essential to work to
a points system for judging candles. I use the following (giving the highest
mark for best):
Appearance - 12 points (three each for colour, cleanliness, symmetry/moulding,
wick). Lighting - 5 points.
Burning performance - 9 points (three each for flame - size & colour,
pool of wax - guttering, wick curve/size).
Extinguishing - 5 points. Re-lighting - 5 points. Re-burning - 5 points.
As with all points systems anomalies can arise and you can find yourself
with a candle of poor appearance that burns extremely well!
Candles have to be displayed erect - in other words
in some kind of holder. If this holder is not referred to specifically in
the schedule then it should not be part of the judging. However if it is
blatantly unsafe (badly fitting so the candle falls out and is a fire hazard,
or made of pretty lace and also a fire hazard) it might count against the
exhibitor in a close contest. With increasing interest in candle entries,
and greater awareness of safety precautions a standard holder has been introduced
- currently it is a crude nail in a piece of wood. No-one would deny that
a beautiful candle deserves a beautiful candlestick, but exhibitors’ candlesticks
can be come familiar to judges and a possible cause of embarrassment. Honey
jars have been standard for showing for many years. Perhaps a standard glass
holder or a black metal cup holder could be specified, or even supplied,
for dipped and narrow moulded candles, and flat black holders with a central
spike used for fatter moulded candles.
You can read in greater detail about making candles in various books, but
it really is a craft where practice makes perfect - or at least takes you
on the way. The only way to learn is to make them - and burn them. Wick size
is critical; wax temperature and room temperature are important; mould lubricant
is also important. Use the same mould to make candles with different size
wicks and compare their burning performance over a period of time; try different
release agents; should the mould be warm, or should the room be warmer or
cooler? Try different wicks for dipping and again test burn them. It is the
only way to find out how your wax and your methods work. Considerable patience
is needed and adequate space in which to work is a great help.
A brief word about coloured candles. I love dark green and red candles at
Christmas so I add wax-soluble dye to poor-coloured beeswax. If you use bleached
beeswax you will lose the honey aroma from your candle - half its value!
While I do not think dyed beeswax has a place in standard candle classes,
is there perhaps a place for them in display classes? The schedule should
make clear what's (and what is not) allowed.
Beeswax candles are beautiful to look at, they burn with a glorious light
and give off a lovely smell and are thoroughly luxurious articles. They are
not really all that difficult to make and are most acceptable presents. If
you are just making them for home use then the colour of the wax is not quite
so important. As long as it is clean and free from impurities they can still
give off a memorable light and aroma.
So happy candle-making!