To Wax Eloquent…or at least to pour it
Okay, and once more, we are back to my weird little series about making candles as a hobby. You’ll recall that last time I had managed to melt wax in a DYI double boiler out on the gas grill in the backyard.
You’ll recall also that I talked about not creating ye olde towering inferno in the process. If you don’t remember that, and you have any intention of trying candle-making yourself, then please go check out my blog entry for November 22, 2021, “Fire, Wax, And Safety.” Because, well, er, ah, I’d just as soon not have you vanish in a cloud of fire and brimstone. It’s icky. And annoys the neighbors.
Where was I? Oh, yes. So, after a few more or less (frequently less, sometimes waaaay less), successful attempts, I managed to get the wax to melt. I had a little pool of molten lipids or whatever in a metal container. Now all I had to do was transfer the aforesaid scalding hot liquid away from the grill, across my workspace, and then into a glass container that I was using for my candle.
Easy. No sweat. Not a problem. You betcha.
Did you ever spill hot wax on some very sensitive part of your anatomy? Say, while you’re using an oven mitt that isn’t nearly as heatproof as you’d think a oven mitt would be and you are picking up a metal container (full of wax) and you are trying to schlep the damn thing across your deck, and you discover that a flower pot has mysteriously appeared in exactly the spot where you intended to put your left foot?
Please don’t answer that question.
Some things are just too painful to share.
An Evening With Candles And Lights
Soon, however, I managed to get the hang of pouring the wax. Among other things, I stopped using the oven mitt and went to a pair of heavy work gloves instead. And, also, I discovered that if you wear comfortable but relatively heat resistant clothing (long sleeves, long pants…blue jeans are good…not cargo shorts), you’re way better off.
Anyway, I took my liquid wax and filled several different containers that I’d salvaged from various sources. Then I left them to cool overnight.
That was when I made my next amusing discovery. To wit, wax shrinks when it cools. That makes sense, of course, because hot things tend to be less dense than cold ones. Hot air is less dense than cold air, which is why hot air balloons rise. (I gather, at least from what I’ve been told, that makes ordinary water — H2O — one of the more curious materials on the planet. Cold ice is less dense than liquid water, which reverses things completely. It is also why ice cubes and ice bergs float. But that’s a story for another day…and for another storyteller. Maybe a chemist.)
But, if wax shrinks, that means that funny things can happen. Like…for instance…when you fill up your candle containers the day before, and then you get up early the next morning and rush out to see the results of your handiwork… you may discover that the container you thought you’d filled right up to the tippy-top…now has a crater on top. I mean, huge. I mean, bigly huge. I mean, as in, Holy Carlsbad, Batboy, it’s a cavern!
So you have to fill it up, again, with more hot wax. Which means you have another whole wonderful opportunity to spill it on yourself. Oh, and, yes, you better be sure that the wax you add to the cavern is the same color and texture as the original pour or you can get some pretty unattractive combinations.
But I should add that that is a problem only when you don’t want it to happen. If you do want it to happen, and you intentionally add different colors and kinds of wax, you can get some pretty cool effects. My current fav way of making candles, for instance, is to do “banding.” That is, one day, I’ll pour one color wax into a container and let it cool over night. Then, the next day, I’ll pour another layer of another color wax into the same container. Then, I’ll let that cool and the next day do yet a third color. And so on.
It looks pretty nifty, really. This year, for the fourth of July, I did red, white, and blue candles. They looked good and it was dang patriotic of me, if I do say so myself. Real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, etc.
Anyway…that brings me to my next problem. You remember how I said it is a real chore to get the wicks centered? Well, you also have to keep them straight while you’re pouring the hot wax.
To this end, I’ve been using some jury-rigged contraptions meant to hold the wick in place while I’m doing the deed, and while the candle cools afterwards. In my case, that means a couple of sticks secured by rubber bands or clothes pins. That goes over the top of the container with the wick pinched between the two sticks. That’s not exactly a pellucid explanation, so maybe best to see the illustration below.
Holding That Wick Up
Okay, in theory, if everything works, and the sticks don’t slip, then the wick stays upright even while you’re pouring and while the candle cools afterwards. In practice, it works maybe 70% of the time, depending on how tight the rubber bands or clothes pins are, and whether or not the wick clip at the base of the wick (remember that?) comes loose.
Which means, if you’re unlucky, you’ve got a wick that’s way off to one side and if you try to burn the candle, it’ll be all mucky on one side and there will be a wall of unburned wax on the other and the candle may put itself out and that, to quote the great P.G. Wodehouse, eftsoons (“archaic, meanings: 1. Soon afterward; presently. 2. Once again. From Middle English eftsone, from Old English eftsōna : eft, agai.” Don’t you love it when I get all Anglo-Saxony?)
Which means, in turn, that you either have to figure out some way of whittling out the wax enough to re-straighten the candle (if the wick clip is still attached at the bottom of the container), or, and this is probably better all around, you pop the container back into your double boiler, melting the wax (without breaking the glass), pouring it back into your metal container, and starting all over again.
This is known, among those in the know, who have a refined sensibility and educated tastes, as an Oh-F*ck-Moment, and should be savored in its fullness, as one might enjoy an unexpected case of public diarrhea. In church. Or temple. While you’re wearing snow white pants. Just before addressing the assembled congregation on a matter of some delicacy.
Oh, and there’s a video camera. Recording you, as they say, for posterity.
Okay…but seriously…or as serious as I ever get…
Now, once you get past all this, and if you get the wicks to stay straight, and if you can not burn yourself with the hot wax too much, then everything gets a lot more fun. You can start making candles that will, sometimes, burn on demand. And, maybe more importantly, you can start playing with candle art, that is, you can make candles of different colors and textures, and explore interesting new shapes and containers.
And, next week, I’ll go over some of my successes in that area. Spoiler alert: probably my favorite wax sculpture candle is my infamous A&W root beer float candle, though also some of my layered candles have turned out quite nicely as well. And my biggest candle disaster? My attempt at making an “ice candle,” which was supposed to be airy and graceful, but which turned out looking like The Killer Meatloaf From Hell.
Root Beer. A Rare Success.
Oh, and one other confession…
You know that wax from the curse reversing candles that I can’t seem to get to burn?
I still haven’t figured that stuff out. I melt it down. I fill up containers with it. Everything should work. But when I light it up…it just spits at me.
Or, more precisely, it burns for a few minutes, and then goes out with a despairing gurgle. Or maybe a sneer. Or maybe a despairing sneer with a gurgle. Plus malice aforethought. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.
I’m beginning to think there’s more curse than reverse in these curse-reversing candles.
But at least it explains why despite all my efforts, certain political figures are still in office, why some of my more detested enemies have failed to spontaneously combust, and, most of all, why the Nobel Prize Committee continues to resolutely and stubbornly not call my number to arrange passage to Stockholm for the award ceremony.
Most annoying. But…maybe not unexpected.
Until next time…
Onward and Upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker