Beeswax Candles for Show

Testing the candles

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 Beeswax
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 Wick
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.

The 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.

Not Moulded
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!
Morna Stoakley